Improving your interpersonal communication skills is one of the best things you can do to improve every aspect of your life. If you want happy personal relationships, to be a good friend and family member, and to understand the people in your life and have them understand you, this is an essential step. It’s also essential in your work life as well. It will help you improve your work relationships, give you the tools you need to impress your boss and clients, and boost your confidence. With good skills in this area, you will be able to do anything, even achieve that dream that you’ve put on the back burner for too long.
Interpersonal communication is the exchange of ideas between two people. And improving your skills in this area means working on the processes and tools you use to communicate and interact with other people. There is no room for shame or embarrassment in this process. You will probably find out things you didn’t know about yourself, and discover personal weaknesses that you’ve been hiding from for most of your life. For some reason, working on your communication skills can bring all of this into the light, which is why it can be a difficult and slightly frustrating process. But going through it, facing your weaknesses and deficiencies, can be the key to great relationships and career success and satisfaction. And once you’ve started on this journey, you’ll be happy you did even when it’s upsetting or embarrassing.
Do you think that your interpersonal communication could use some work? Do you often find yourself misunderstood, or worse, offending people in some way? How would your life improve if you could communicate better with everyone you meet?
Are you a Good Communicator?
Before you start working on your interpersonal communication skills, you need to understand what a good communicator looks like. This is not a one size fits all concept. Everyone has their own unique way of doing things and this applies to communication as well. But there are several qualities that good communicators share, including the following:
- Good listening skills.
- Open mindedness.
- Empathy for others.
- The ability to perspective shift and see lots of different points of view.
- Cultural sensitivity.
- The ability to read body language well.
- A high level of emotional intelligence.
- A positive mindset.
Where do you stand on each of these skills? Have you ever considered how important they are to good interpersonal communication? Or do you just tend to open your mouth and let words fall out? If you struggle with some of these ideas, or just don’t think about them, it might be time to start evaluating your communication style and making some upgrades.
The Causes of Communication Problems
You communicate with people every day. Whether it’s with friends, family, workmates, or just with the lady at your local store, you talk and exchange information. In fact, you communicate so often that it seems ridiculous to have problems with it. Shouldn’t practice make perfect? But this often isn’t the case. There are numerous things that can cause communication problems and a lot of them you probably don’t think about before you speak to someone. But if you’re going to improve your interpersonal communication skills, you need to be aware of these issues and have strategies in mind to overcome them. The following issues can and do cause a lot of communication problems:
You live in a global world and that means you encounter people who speak a different native language to you on a regular basis. You might share a language, probably English if you’re reading this, but having English as a second language isn’t the same as being a native speaker. There are nuances to language that only a native speaker can understand and this can create difficulties that you might not even consider. Your native language creates your thoughts and your ability to think in a way that isn’t fully understood, but can be vital in interactions. It can create misunderstandings and disconnections as well as expectations that not everyone in the interaction shares. So when you’re talking to someone who isn’t a native English speaker, there will be always be differences in thought and communication that must be overcome.
The globalization of the world has put a lot of different cultures in close proximity and this can create misunderstandings as well. Every culture is different, and this makes their communication styles different as well. This can affect the way people express themselves, the way they understand words or ideas, or even the way they interpret your communication. It can be difficult to overcome this issue, as you can’t understand another culture on the same level that you know your own, but sensitivity and openness can help.
Everyone is unique and this means that they see the world through a different lens, process it differently and react differently. Personality differences may seem interesting in theory, but they can cause a lot of problems with communication in reality.
Emotional awareness levels (EQ)
Your Emotional intelligence is pivotal to your ability to communicate better with people. When you’re emotionally intelligent you have a good understanding of your own emotions as well as the emotions of others. You’re sensitive to emotion, and adjust your communication in response. And you have the self-control and self-awareness to understand when emotions are causing problems as well as the skills to make the situation better. This is a difficult set of skills and something you will have to work on throughout your life if you want to be proficient.
Basic Communication Skills
When you’re working on your interpersonal communication skills you need to start with the basics. This work may seem fairly simple at first, like it’s not really worth doing. But you need these foundation skills to be really strong if you want to advance. And through the process you’ll probably find that you’re not as good at these skills as you thought. These basic skills are:
Non-verbal skills are what you don’t say. Your body language, your facial expression, eye contact, and your tone of voice are a big part of these communication skills. In fact, most research suggests that around 80% of what you say is non-verbal, which means that what you don’t say may be far more important than what you do say.
You might think that you listen all the time, but in reality a lot of people don’t listen very well. They’re too busy thinking about what they’re going to say rather than listening with an open and active mind. In fact, research shows that if you’re trying to do something else while someone is talking, such as thinking about your reply, then you’re not listening. So if you’re guilty of multitasking or doing anything other than paying attention to the person talking, you definitely need to work on your listening skills.
You probably talk all the time, but how much do you actually think about what comes out of your mouth? Before important communications, do you plan for problems? Anticipate misunderstandings and how to overcome them? Or do you tend to wing it and expect the best? And how many times have you been disappointed by that strategy?
Improving your Non-Verbal Skills
Improving your non-verbal communication skills is a matter of time and practice. It isn’t something that you can learn from a book, and you will never be finished learning about this aspect of interpersonal communication. But by developing good habits in this area, you will vastly improve your ability to understand non-verbal communication. And that means that you’ll be able to send and receive messages more clearly. Important tips to start you on this journey include the following:
- Watch other people’s body language when they talk. This will be difficult and distracting at first, but keep working on it until it becomes second nature
- Research body language. This is a complicated issue and there’s a lot of information out there.
- Pay attention to your own body language, you might be surprised at the signals you’re sending.
Improving your Verbal Skills
Improving your verbal skills may make you feel a little silly and stilted at first. However, this will quickly change as you notice the improvements in your speech and in the way people react to you. Key strategies for improving your verbal communication include the following:
- Practice clarity in the way you talk (be direct).
- Think about your word choices.
- Ask for feedback from friends or workmates.
- Before an interaction, think about potentials for misunderstanding and how you could overcome them.
Improving your Listening Skills
Learning to actively listen and be a good listener can be the most difficult part of this process. Lots of people think they’re good listeners when most of the time they’re just waiting to talk and aren’t listening at all. Active listening skills are rare these days but they’re also essential for good communication. They make the other person feel heard and understood, and this is the most important key to better communication. To work on your listening skills try the following ideas:
- Focus on the other person and don’t let anything else occupy your mind.
- Reflect back what the other person is saying in your own words to ensure that you understood.
- Be patient.
- Make sure your body language is encouraging.
Advanced Interpersonal Communication
Your emotional intelligence includes a lot of qualities, traits and tendencies that affect your communication. Emotional intelligence is an idea that has been a big part of personal development thinking for a number of years. Most of the time, Daniel Goleman’s book of the same name is cited as the beginning of the importance of these ideas, but it is by no means the last work on the topic. If you’re emotionally intelligent it means that you have the ability to recognize, control and express your emotions in constructive ways as well as the skills necessary to have good relationships with others.
The benefits of improving your emotional intelligence includes the following:
- Improved physical health because you become more aware of your body and can sense potential problems.
- Increased mental health as you start to sense points of stress and deal with them before they become a problem.
- Better academic and career performance.
- Better relationships.
- Increased social intelligence, which allows you to read other people better and interact with them on their level.
Obviously, a big part of emotional intelligence is both personal and interpersonal communication. You can’t have healthy relationships if you don’t communicate very well. And you can’t communicate well without a deep understanding of yourself and of the people around you. Having a high level of emotional intelligence doesn’t mean that you’ll be perfect and it doesn’t mean that your relationships will be either. To be human is to be flawed, and no matter how intelligent you become in this area you will still make mistakes, and the people around you will make mistakes. However, you can’t change other people or force them to develop their own emotional intelligence. All you can do is work on your own and watch how the world around you reacts to the new skills and abilities you bring to it.
There are several different skills related to emotional intelligence that can negatively or positively impact your interpersonal communication and the first is your personal skills. Your personal skills include your own emotional awareness, your self-control and your ability to self-motivate when necessary. By building on these skills, you can improve your awareness of your emotions without letting them influence your behavior or your choices in negative or destructive ways. Building on these skills takes a lot of internal work and it’s never ending. But doing it will improve your relationship and your life in thousands of big and small ways.
The second set of skills that affect your communication and your relationships involves empathy. Empathy is the ability to feel the emotions of other people. It allows you to understand what others are feeling and to share their pain. This may sound unpleasant, but it’s also essential. Empathy allows people to connect better in relationships. It encourages compassion and kindness. And it drives people to take action against injustice or abuse. But empathy is also a growing problem these days. Studies have shown that empathy levels among college students have declined 50 percent over the last 30 years, though there is no consensus on the cause of this issue. These frightening statistics mean that if you want to expand your emotional intelligence and improve your interpersonal communication you should probably start by increasing your empathy.
Once you have built your personal skills and have worked on your empathy you can start improving your social skills. It’s important that you follow this process, as working on your skills in this order allows you to build your understanding in the correct order so you can move smoothly through the levels. Your social skills are basically your ability to influence and manage other people’s emotions. This may seem manipulative, but it’s an essential skills that allows you to communicate and interact effectively with the people around you.
Improving your Personal Skills
Working on your personal skills gives you more emotional control, helps you to make better decisions, allows for closer and more mutually satisfying personal bonds and gives you greater confidence. After all, there’s nothing that builds your confidence more than knowing exactly who you are and what you can do as well as being certain about your ability to cope in almost any situation. You need to work on your personal skills first, before you start to work on your social skills, because they give you the foundation to understand others as well as the ability to connect to them on a deeper and more authentic level.
Some ideas for working on your personal skills include the following:
- Take up meditation or mindfulness, this will allow you to become more aware of your emotions.
- Keep a journal, because there’s no point in learning about your emotions if you don’t remember them ten minutes later.
- Ask yourself why. Too often we feel emotions without really understanding where they’re coming from. The more you ask yourself this question the better you will get at identifying causes.
- Don’t judge or edit. You may encounter feelings or even reasons that are embarrassing or even a little disturbing. Try to explore without judging during this process.
- Listen to your body instead of blocking it out.
- Ask other people for help. This is particularly useful if you have a friend who’s very emotionally aware and can tell you what you’re feeling in detail.
- Make connections between your emotions in the moment and moments in the past when you felt the same. This will help you to immediately identify emotions in the present.
Working on Empathy
There are a number of things that can block your ability to sense and feel the pain of others. This is even natural to some extent. After all, if human beings felt every emotion from other people it would render them unable to do anything else. But sometimes people can go too far with this. If you think you need to work on your empathy, here are some ideas that can help:
- Be curious and ask questions about other people’s experience. This forces you to listen, think and imagine, and can allow you to see things through a new perspective.
- Listen rather than judging or thinking about what you want to say next. Remember that you’re not listening if you’re multitasking at the same time.
- Challenge yourself to understand a very different point of view. This may mean talking to someone you disagree with and asking questions until you can see how they came to form their opinions.
- Be more aware of non-verbal communication, because reading and even mimicking these cues can be the key to understanding and sensing the emotions of others.
Improving your Social Skills
Working on your social skills is a little complicated. There are a number of different skills, and the skill you work on depends on your own needs, abilities and weaknesses. Some important social skills include the following:
- Leadership skills
- Persuasion and management skills
- Conflict management skills
- Adapting to change
As you can see, there are a lot of things you can work on in this area. The following ideas are a good place to start when you’re trying to grow in this part of your life:
- Interact more, not only with people you know but with strangers. This will often reveal gaps in your interpersonal communication skills that need to be addressed.
- Choose one skill to work on.
Interpersonal communication may seem like a simple, every day thing that you don’t need to improve on or even think about. But in reality, a lot of people struggle with this aspect of life. When you have trouble in this area, it can be tempting to blame other people You may even assume that they’re inept at communication or are willfully making conflict. But even in cases when this is true, you can’t change other people. You can only change yourself and improve the way you communicate and interact with other people. This won’t solve all of your problems with other people, but it will definitely help. It can also be the key to you forming better relationships, which will help you achieve the personal and professional success that you’ve been looking for.
Do you regularly work on your communication skills? Share with us below a time when doing so improved a relationship or made a bad situation better in some way.