Demand for people with interpersonal skills has been on the rise for decades. Harvard research shows that, over a 30-year period, jobs that require a lot of social interaction grew by 12 percentage points, while the number of not-so-social jobs shrank. That’s why we can’t afford to let our communication skills slide, even in this age of remote work and digital communication tools.
Let’s explore why interpersonal communication is still a vital skill for success, then look at practical ways to sharpen up your own communication skills.
Why communication still matters
Perhaps the most compelling argument is that communication skills can't be outsourced to machines. Or at least not to the same extent as other tasks and jobs will be. Sure, chatbots may be able to handle straightforward communications with ease, but they've got nothing on our ability to communicate in a lively, engaging, and, above all, human way.
After all, so much of communication comes down to instinctual non-verbal communication. Humans are (for the most part) wired to pick up on these subtle communication cues and respond accordingly. Think about it, if you're in an important meeting and your nonverbal signals show that you're bored, distracted, and barely listening, how likely is it that your boss will notice? Pretty darn likely. This is why humans will always be better communicators than machines.
Communication is also an integral part of collaboration – it's how we persuade others, negotiate and resolve conflicts. Great communicators are not just clear and precise; they're typically seen as more likable, which makes it easier to bring people on board with ideas and bring projects to life. In this way, communication is linked to creativity because turning your ideas into action – the very definition of creativity – often requires the help of others. So if you can become a better communicator, you'll become a better team player and, in turn, be better equipped to bring your ideas to life.
12 interpersonal communication tips
Here are my top techniques for enhancing interpersonal communication:
1. Listen actively and intently. People often forget that listening is the fourth pillar of good communication (alongside oral, written, and non-verbal communication). When others are talking, do you actively show you're listening? You can do this by nodding, making encouraging “mmm-hmm” sounds, making eye contact, taking notes, and asking relevant follow-up questions.
2. Detach from your phone. I make it a rule to never have my phone on in a meeting – it’s just not fair to everyone else in the meeting. I highly recommend either leaving your phone elsewhere or switching it off for meetings.
3. Consider your goal and audience. In all kinds of communication, you want to tailor your communication to your goal and audience, both in terms of style (for example, the language you use) and the medium (email, telephone call, face-to-face). Think about what it is you want to achieve, what action you want the audience to take, and then decide on the best method to achieve that goal.
4. Brush up on your written communication skills. Spelling and grammar matter, so always proofread any written communications before you hit send. Make sure your message is clear and free of ramblings. Also, be wary of sarcasm because it's really hard to convey in writing. If you want to portray a particular emotion, try using emojis to reinforce the underlying sentiment.
5. Tell a story. When you’re communicating a lot of info – such as in a presentation – try to tell a story rather than relying on straight facts and figures. Before you start, distill the information down to one core message, then craft a narrative that really drives that message home, preferably linking the info to real-world events or anecdotes that demonstrate why it matters. Basically, you’re aiming to attach emotions to the information you’re delivering, but in a simple, authentic way.
6. Over-communicate. One key thing I've learned from experience is to over-communicate. Even if you think you've made something crystal clear, say it again. And maybe again after that. This brings me to the need to…
7. Recap information. At the end of a meeting, call presentation, or even a written report, always quickly summarize the key points. Also, take the opportunity to reiterate any actions that others need to take. Then check for understanding by asking whether it all makes sense and whether anyone needs further clarification.
What about if you’re working remotely and your communication now primarily takes place over Zoom, email, and instant messaging? These bonus tips will help:
8. Acknowledge that communicating remotely is different from communicating in person. This is especially important if you're used to communicating with your colleagues face-to-face but now spend more time working remotely. You may, for example, need to make meetings shorter. An hour-long video meeting could feel too long, even if that’s how long the meeting used to take when you were all in the office.
9. Use the right communication tool for the right task. For example, you might use Slack for informal conversations, email for formal work-related requests, and project management software for project status updates.
10. Where possible, embrace video as the default remote meeting format. Because, in audio-only calls, you lose those precious non-verbal signals that are such an important part of communication.
11. Remember that you’re on camera. When you’re on a video call, always remember others can see you! Don’t reach for your phone. Watch your body language and facial expressions. And make plenty of eye contact with the camera.
12. And don't forget to make time for casual interactions of the sort you'd have every day if you were in the office together.