Why interpersonal communication is important in the workplace
We are constantly communicating.
For example, the average professional spends about 28% of their work day reading and answering email, checking email 15 times per day or more. It’s estimated that executives can be in meetings for up to 23 hours per week. In 2020, Microsoft Teams reached 115 million daily active users, sending millions of chats per day.
Between the communications we consume and the messages we share ourselves, it seems we are sometimes on communication overload. The question is, how effective are those communications? Are they always understood? Do they meet the goal of the message? Do they help improve and maintain relationships, or the opposite?
Interpersonal communication skills are a critical part of daily life. Here is more information about what those skills are, why they are important for the workplace, and how to improve them.
What is interpersonal communication?
Simply put, interpersonal communication is communication between people.
There are essentially three forms of interpersonal communication: verbal, written, or non-verbal.
- Verbal communication: The use of spoken words to convey a verbal message. Examples include a conversation, speech or presentation, or talking over the phone.
- Written communication: Sending messages, instructions, or details in written form, such as letters, emails, reports, manuals, memos, etc.
- Non-verbal communication: Includes facial expressions, gestures, body language, touch, and even appearance. The way you listen, look, move, and react can say something.
If a person has strong interpersonal communication skills, they are likely to be effective at communicating points, messages, feelings, and thoughts to others. Not only is this important in daily interactions with family, friends, and even strangers, it’s also an essential skill in the workplace.
Examples of interpersonal skills
These are some examples of skills that are important in the workplace and help ensure the success of employees, their colleagues, and the business as a whole:
Active listening · Verbal communication · Written communication · Business etiquette · Adaptability · Flexibility · Willingness to change · Lifelong learner · Honest · Ethical · Personable · Empathetic · Positive · Optimistic · Encouraging · Professional · Accountable · Reliable · Resourceful · Team player · Supportive · Collaborative · Hard working · Motivated
If you’re applying or interviewing for a job, using some of these words on your resume or cover letter can help show the hiring manager you have strong interpersonal skills and can be successful at their organization.
Elements of interpersonal communication
So, what does it mean to be an effective communicator? In theory, there are a few elements of interpersonal communication that help ensure this:
There needs to be at least two people to have effective communication - the communicator and the receiver of the message. Knowing how many people will be receiving the message can help the communicator create a message that reaches everyone.
Regardless of how you communicate your message, whether verbally, in an email, or through body language and gestures, there needs to be something you’re trying to communicate.
Noise is anything that interferes with this message, keeping it from being understood by the receiver or causing it to be inaccurate. It could be physical, such as music or a TV, or psychological, like the receiver being distracted. It could also be something the sender does, including too much jargon or language barriers. The communicator should try to eliminate as much noise as possible.
This is how the communication actually occurs. It’s important to communicate on a channel that will resonate with or reach your audience. Examples include face-to-face, emails, social media, internet web pages, smartphones, newspapers, or others.
Have you ever read an email or text message and misunderstood what the person was saying or how they were saying it? Context is how the message is interpreted, and strong interpersonal communication skills can help ensure the message is interpreted the way you intended, especially if sent via written channels.
This is the response to the message. If there is none, the communication was not effective. If the receiver gets the message, that’s positive feedback. Most communications should be open to receiving feedback, either in the form of a brainstorm, answers to questions, or conversation.
Why interpersonal communication is key in the workplace
Having strong interpersonal communication skills is key to a company’s success, as well as for your own success, development, and productivity. Effective interpersonal communication can make the following easier:
When you’re able to communicate and discuss problems, brainstorm, listen to ideas and respect other peoples’ views, coming up with and implementing solutions becomes more effective and easier.
In addition to solving problems, those with effective interpersonal communication skills are able to resolve conflicts between themselves and colleagues quickly and efficiently, without causing more problems.
Meeting business goals
When leaders and managers can communicate effectively and efficiently, employees will likely feel they have clear direction and goals to help them accomplish their tasks. Aligning employees with the company’s mission and goals, and ensuring they have the tools to get there, can help prevent them from feeling frustrated, disconnected, or overwhelmed.
Lack of transparency can also lead to frustration and disconnect with employees. When a leader or manager uses good interpersonal communication skills, they can improve trust in the workplace, as well as overall business communication.
Openness to change
Change can be scary, especially for employees who have been with the company or in a role for an extended period of time. When leaders can communicate effectively and ensure employees understand the change, they may feel more supported and aligned with the organization’s needs.
Interpersonal communication can help improve relationships between colleagues, which helps ensure an organization has a strong company culture. The workplace becomes more positive and supportive instead of negative or overridden with conflict. In turn, this supports employee productivity and satisfaction.
The more effectively you’re able to communicate, the less likely it is that your employees will misunderstand or believe or spread gossip or rumors. A leader’s verbal, written, and non-verbal communication skills all play a role in communicating successfully.
Communication can be powerful and can lead to meaningful and personal relationships within the workplace. Not only is this important for leaders and their teams, but also for colleagues. Healthy relationships can make employees more productive and help them work better together.
Effective management and leadership
To be an effective and successful leader, you must have interpersonal communication skills. You’ll be expected to help your team solve problems, meet goals, and communicate properly. You’ll also be responsible for fostering a positive and transparent culture with your team. The ability to speak and write well can help make this easier.
Communication skills are often listed as a key skill to have when applying for a job or promotion. If you seek to advance your career, these skills are necessary.
With about 27% of the U.S. workforce today working remotely, interpersonal communications skills are more important than ever before. And it’s estimated that more than 36 million Americans will be remote by 2025, so this trend will continue to grow.
Being able to communicate and be productive through technology, such as video conferencing, phone calls, emails, and online chat, helps ensure success with remote teams.
Generally, those with strong communication skills often make effective leaders and managers. They can be trusted to have positive outcomes at work, are pleasant to work with, and maintain relationships with colleagues. They also know how to motivate people while also encouraging success. This not only makes you a more likable person in the workplace, but also more appealing as a new hire.
How to improve communication in the workplace
You don’t have to be a leader or manager to help encourage improved communication with your colleagues. The more effective you are at communicating, the more successful you will all be. If there’s room for improvement, there are a few things you can do to overcome those weaknesses and better the situation:
Know your audience
Not everyone communicates the same, and not everyone can be communicated to in the same way. For example, some team members may be very direct, while others may be timider. Some focus on relationships and culture, while others are focused on outcomes and goals. It’s important that your message is understood, so knowing how to share that message with those on your team can ensure it’s effectively shared.
Check your body language
When you’re having a conversation, the receiver is likely watching your face and body language. This is especially true on video conferencing when you can only see the person’s face. Sit or stand with good posture, uncross your arms, and make eye contact. While someone is speaking, occasionally nod your head to show you’re engaged and listening.
Meeting with your team on a regular basis can help ensure transparency and foster a culture where employees feel they can openly communicate with each other and with you. You should also meet 1:1 with others when possible to give them an opportunity to speak with you.
When possible, give positive feedback (both verbally and written) to your team. Encourage them when they are doing well and meeting goals. And when providing criticism or negative feedback, do so in a constructive way. When possible, make it a private conversation. Do not criticize, but instead offer suggestions for how to improve next time.
Take notes and send recaps
When in meetings or talking with someone else, take notes on what was discussed. Be sure to include next steps and timelines or deadlines when possible. Then, share this information via email so it’s documented and all parties involved have the same information.
If you can, schedule communication training sessions. Bring in an expert to help your team learn how to communicate effectively and improve their skills.
Overall, it’s important to regularly ask yourself these questions related to your communication:
- Who do you perceive yourself to be?
- How do others perceive you?
- How do you want others to perceive you, if #1 and #2 differ?
Knowing how you perceive yourself and want to be perceived, as well as how others perceive you, can help point you in the direction of improving your communication and reaching your communication goals.