Interpersonal Communication: What it is, Why it Matters, and How to Improve It

Laura Moss

Sr. Content Marketing Manager

16 minute read

illustration of people communicating in various ways

Between the various digital communication channels used in the modern workplace and the increasing number of employees working remotely, interpersonal communication is more important than ever.

And the need for top-notch interpersonal communication skills will only increase.

In fact, jobs that require effective communication and high levels of social interaction have grown by 12 percentage points in the last 30 years.

Demand for less-social jobs decreased by 3.3 percentage points during that same period, according to Harvard research.

Today, companies can’t afford to not hire effective communicators, and individual employees must improve their own interpersonal communication skills if they want to succeed.

 

What is interpersonal communication?

Put simply, interpersonal communication is the exchange of information among people. Information can include thoughts, ideas, feelings, and more.

This communication occurs both verbally — with words — and non-verbally, encompassing facial expressions, gestures, body language, and tone of voice.

In the workplace, interpersonal communication occurs in a variety of forms: in team meetings, on client calls, in memos and emails, during performance reviews, while giving employee feedback, and even casually over lunch or during watercooler chats.

Our individual interpersonal communication skills have been in development since we began communicating as children, and these skills vary from person to person. However, we can take steps to improve our ability to communicate, and we’ll explore various techniques to do this later in the article.

 

Types of interpersonal communication

There are four types of interpersonal communication — oral, verbal, nonverbal, and listening — and mastering each of these is key to success in the modern workplace.

1. Oral communication

This refers to any form of spoken communication, such as public speaking, phone calls, podcasting, or speaking up during a staff meeting.

It involves your word choice, tone and pitch of your voice, talking speed, and even your use — or lack thereof — of filler words like “uh, “um,” and “like.”

Research shows our ability to communicate orally is even more important to helping us land a job than we may realize.

A 2015 study published in the Association for Psychological Science found that candidates were rated as more competent and intelligent — and were ranked as more hireable — when evaluators heard the candidates make their pitch instead of simply reading their written statements.

2. Verbal communication

This encompasses all types of written communication, including emails, reports, Slack messages, texts, presentation slides, and more.

But it isn’t just words alone — it also entails the various methods that we use to enhance verbal communication and make our meaning clear, such as employing GIFs and emojis.

With today’s increasingly remote workforce, it’s more important than ever for employees to possess strong verbal communication skills.

The ability to write clearly can even help us land a job more easily and get promoted faster. In fact, a Grammarly study that analyzed 100 LinkedIn profiles found that professionals with fewer grammatical errors achieved higher positions and were more likely to be promoted.

3. Nonverbal communication

This is any type of communication that doesn’t involve words. It encompasses everything from body language and hand gestures to eye contact and even what you’re wearing and what’s visible in the background of your Zoom call.

To get a sense of just how important nonverbal communication is, consider how easily you can change the meaning of a message by using air quotes or even simply saying “Have a nice day!” in a friendly way versus with a sarcastic tone.

Communicating with a visual component, such as in a video call, is a great way to ensure that nonverbal communication cues aren’t lost during transmission.

4. Listening

Listening is a key part of communication that doesn’t involve just hearing what someone says, but also actively understanding what they say.

You’ll often hear people tout the importance of “active listening” or showing a speaker that they have your attention and you’re interested in what they have to say.

Aspects of active listening involve making eye contact, nodding your head, taking notes, and saying things like “mm-hmm” to indicate understanding.

woman giving presentation at work
 

Why is interpersonal communication important?

You no doubt understand the necessity of being able to communicate well and pass information from one party to another.

But there’s more to interpersonal communication in the workplace than just effectively delivering a message.

People with strong interpersonal communication skills

  • have higher emotional intelligence
  • make connections easily
  • maintain relationships
  • understand how to motivate people
  • know how to “read a room”
  • make effective leaders

In other words, mastering these skills makes you more likable — and more hireable.

In fact, communication and interpersonal skills remain at the top of the list of what matters most to recruiters, according to a Harris Interactive/Wall Street Journal business school survey. In a survey of nearly 1,000 employers, the 2017 Corporate Recruiters Survey Report concluded that listening and oral communication skills are the most sought after ones in potential hires.

Workplaces that hire people with excellent interpersonal communication abilities and that work to nurture these skills in their employees also reap numerous benefits, including the following:

  • They’re more productive.
  • They have higher morale.
  • They experience fewer conflicts among workers.
  • They have higher employe engagement.
  • They have less employee churn.
Related: Employee engagement need a boost? Try out these surefire strategies.
 

Clearly, interpersonal communication skills have far-reaching effects throughout an organization, so let’s take a look at some powerful ways you can enhance your own.

 

Barriers to effective interpersonal communication

Before we dive in to how to improve communication skills, let’s first take a look at what interpersonal barriers of communication can be detrimental to workplace relationships and the organization as a whole.

Physical barriers

Accessibility can create interpersonal communication barriers. These can be especially challenging for remote employees who aren’t in the same office and can’t physically meet in person.

But physical barriers also include connection issues, disruptive environments, acoustic interference, weather conditions, and more.

Language barriers

When we speak different languages, communication is understandably more challenging.

But even if both parties do speak the same language, they may have different levels of mastery or they may speak various dialects.

Emotional barriers

These interpersonal barriers of communication relate to how we process information and the impressions and emotions we attach to communications.

All of our communications — whether we’re the sender or receiver — are filtered through our personal experiences and the emotions tied to them, and this open us up to differences in understanding.

Learn more about communication barriers in the workplace and how to overcome them.

5 simple tips to improve your interpersonal communication skills

Everyone can benefit from learning how to communicate better, so here are easy-to-implement strategies to help you do just that.

1. Consider these questions first:

  • Who’s your audience? We communicate differently to different audiences. Consider how you’d address your manager vs. an intern, a new hire vs. a seasoned employee, or a native English speaker vs. someone who doesn’t speak the language as well.
  • What’s your goal? Are you informing, persuading, asking for something, etc.?
  • What do you want the message recipient to do? Consider the action you want the receiver to take as a result of your communication
  • What’s the best way to accomplish this? Should you send an email or a Slack message? Make a request in passing or set up a formal discussion?
Related: How’s your marketing communications strategy? Take it to the next level..
 

2. Recap key points.

At the conclusion of a call, presentation, or lengthy email, provide a quick summary of what you’ve discussed. You may also want to include action points that detail specifically what you need from the recipient.

3. Check for understanding.

What’s the easiest way to ensure your communication was received effectively? Asking. This can be as simple as inquiring, “Did that make sense?” or having the recipient summarize what you’ve covered.

4. Give acknowledgement.

Listening is an essential component of communication, so show that you’re listening or that the message has been received. You can do this by nodding, asking a follow-up question, or even “clicking” like or using an emoji if you’re communicating online.

5. Ask for feedback.

The best way to ensure you continually improve your interpersonal communication skills is to ask people to share feedback with you on a regular basis.

 

Interpersonal communication tips for remote workers

The tips outlined above can be used to improve your interpersonal communication skills no matter your work situation. However, interpersonal communication can be especially challenging for employees who work remotely and get little to no face time with their teammates.

Let’s take a look at specific ways remote workers can hone their interpersonal communication skills.

1. Learn communication preferences.

We all have our preferred way of doing things. For example, you may prefer keeping all communications in Slack, your colleague may prefer to talk on the phone.

And some forms of communication are simply a better fit for certain situations. A performance evaluation, for example, is better suited for a face-to-face talk, even if it’s via Zoom, because it allows both parties to more easily pick up on nonverbal cues.

Take both the situation at hand and your teammates’ preferences into consideration when determining the best way to communicate to ensure your talks are successful for both of you.

2. Have verbal conversations.

Even if both you and your co-workers prefer to email each other or chat via Slack, it’s still important to engage in regular verbal conversations.

So much of interpersonal communication occurs outside of the actual words we use, so taking the time to chat on the phone or talk face-to-face via Google Meet is important to keep the lines of communication open.

3. Define the means of communication.

Preferences are important to consider when communicating, but it can be beneficial to establish company policies around certain communications as well.

An organization may require that employee feedback be given one-on-one and in face-to-face via Zoom, for example. However, day-to-day communications that affect entire teams or the organization as a whole may be kept in Slack for transparency and to prevent communication silos from forming.

4. Be mindful of time differences.

Remote teams often aren’t only working in various locations — they’re also working in various time zones.

Be aware of these differences when messaging your co-workers and scheduling time to chat.

Need a little help to keep track of your distributed team? There’s no shortage of apps and Slack integrations to make it a breeze.

5. Schedule virtual ‘water cooler chats’

Much of your remote workday is no doubt devoted to work communications. But it’s important to engage in informal talks with your teammates as well to establish closer relationships and help you both communicate and work together more effectively.

Here at EveryoneSocial, for example, we have monthly meetups called Nosh where groups of employees meet virtually for lunch.

Another easy way to get your distributed team chatting is to use the Donut app for Slack, which regularly pairs up teammates for chit chat.

 

Check out some other ways to engage remote employees.

The tool you need to improve interpersonal communication in the workplace

There are countless communication tools available today, but only an employee-advocacy tool like EveryoneSocial creates a true workplace community.

Our unique platform connects employees at all levels of the organization, allows them to engage with another, lets them create content, and keeps everyone from the interns to the C-Suite up to date.

Take a look at how EveryoneSocial does everything from streamline internal comms to inspire your employees to post about the company.

Book a demo to learn how we can help you achieve all your communications goals.


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