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The importance of interpersonal skills
The importance of interpersonal skills

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1 Communication

The basis of good communication seems very simple, it is speaking or writing clearly such that any message you (the sender) intend to send to someone else (the receiver) is exactly the one which they receive. This means that as well as the detailed content of the message, we have to give some thought to the language we use e.g. ask ourselves if the receiving person might misunderstand any words or phrases we use. We must also be aware of the way we deliver the message – what's known as the medium – e.g. can the message be conveyed by phone or email or does it require a face-to-face meeting with the receiving person?

Yet even when we have thought carefully about these things, achieving successful communication is often rather more difficult than it seems. This is partly because any single message, especially one of many sent and received during a busy working day, can be subject to distractions such as external noises or our thoughts dwelling on other matters. As a result, the sender may not be concentrating fully on the message they are trying to send and the receiver may not be concentrating on the message they are being given. Consider Figure 1, below.

Described image
Figure 1 The communication process and distractions

You can see that the individuals in the picture are being distracted both by external noises and their responses to them, and by other tasks they intend to do next. It seems unlikely then in this situation that the received message will end up being the same as the intended message. When we are sending messages to others, we need to check how effective our communication process has been by being open to feedback. In other words, we need to check whether the receiving person's understanding of the message is the same as ours. In face-to-face meetings we could start by observing the facial expressions or body language of the receiver. We could also check whether the receiver has any questions. In written or email communications we could end by including our phone number ‘for further details or questions’.

In terms of your own communication skills, it is important to give just as much of your attention to a message you are receiving as to one you are giving. Listening, for example, as well as being a method for gathering information, can convey your interest in what the other person is concerned with. This in itself can have a positive effect on your relationship with them and, if you are their manager, their motivation. Asking questions for clarification of the detail of the message can also convey that you have understood the message and that you want to respond to it appropriately.