The Basics of Communicating with Others

Some key questions to get you started in understanding interpersonal communication skills:

What are interpersonal communication skills?

Interpersonal communication skills are the tools we use to let others know what we think, feel, need and want. And they are how we let others know that we understand what they think, feel, need and want.

What are the benefits of improving interpersonal communication skills?

Even those who are individual contributors in the workplace need to be able to communicate effectively with bosses and customers. Most people have colleagues with whom they need to communicate in order to be successful at their job. Every one of us has her/his own preferred style of communicating with others. In addition, given our unique histories, we have different strategies for communicating in different types of situations. As a result, there is a very real possibility that when two of us get together there are certain circumstances in which we are less effective at communicating with each other than we would like. By increasing your repertoire of interpersonal communication skills, you can increase your overall effectiveness and perhaps your job satisfaction.

Are there specific interpersonal communication skills?

Yes. Active listening or assertive communications are two examples of interpersonal communication skills. In addition, there are techniques for certain circumstances, such as communicating in difficult situations or communicating upwards, that can be useful.

How do I know if I need to improve my interpersonal skills and, if so, which ones?

Every one of us can benefit from improving our interpersonal skills. We each have certain situations that are more difficult for us and/or have particular communications skills that we would like to improve. You can assess your own interpersonal communications skill level and/or you can ask for feedback from others.

One approach is to think about three or four situations where an interaction with someone else did not go as well as you would have liked. You may be able to organize your recollection and identify patterns to help you see areas where you could improve.

How can I actually improve my interpersonal communication skills?

As with any skills development, once you have identified the need and feel motivated to make a change, you need to be introduced to new strategies and tools, and seek out opportunities to practice and to receive feedback. Try approaching this as a project plan. Identify your goal. Pick two or three approaches to getting there. Maybe register for two workshops and read one book.

Identify explicit opportunities to practice and ask a trusted colleague to give you feedback. The Gourmet's Guide to Giving Feedback article might be helpful if you are working on how to give someone constructive feedback.

Don't forget: Interpersonal skills development is a life-long challenge. Pick something specific to learn, practice, expect some awkward moments, learn from them and celebrate your progress.