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Interpersonal skills

In this video, Associate Professor Colin Higgins outlines the importance of interpersonal communication in the workplace.
COLIN HIGGINS: When we talk about effective communication in the workplace, we also need to think about the interpersonal skills that shape the relationships we form. I’m Associate Professor Colin Higgins, the MBA director in the faculty of business and law at Deakin University. Interpersonal skills are those aspects of communication which may be verbal, but can also be nonverbal, that create the right vibe, in terms of how we interact with others. I sometimes think of the vibe as the rhythm of how we work together and how we communicate. For example, does it feel right and comfortable when I’m talking to someone? Am I getting my message across? Am I creating an atmosphere that brings out the best in others?
Am I making it easy for people to communicate openly and honestly with me? Whatever our role or industry, it’s important that we create the right vibe for our audience. When dealing with managers, we want to convey confidence in our work. We also need to deal with members of our team, and we might also have people reporting to us. Interpersonal skills are critical for ensuring our communication is effective at all levels and with all the different people we work with. In my own work, I often need to communicate with senior executives.
I need to get my point of view across, sometimes convince them to do things that might create more work, and sometimes I need to get their agreement for something that needs to be done or changed. I also regularly communicate with my peers. These are usually people I don’t have any formal authority over, but I still need to get them on board to help me to do my work. In my role, I also have people reporting to me. Often, I’m very busy, but I’ve learned that it’s necessary to invest in the interpersonal skills that make communicating and building relationships with people effective.
In my experience– and there’s also research to back this up– people with strong interpersonal skills are better communicators, and are often more successful in their personal and professional lives. And this is what I think a lot of employers are getting at when they seek good written and oral communication skills. So what are they? What are these interpersonal skills? Essentially, they’re the things we do to create that comfortable rhythm in our communications. They include active listening, being present and focused when someone is talking to you. They involve aspects of body language. Are we showing interest in what people are saying to us? And are we adopting a stance that shows we’re taking someone seriously and genuinely interested in their views?
They involve asking meaningful questions, and respecting where people are coming from, and engaging seriously with the point of view being expressed. So we could think of the interpersonal skills as the emotional part of communication. It’s how we approach communication, how we treat those we’re communicating with, and thinking carefully about creating the right conditions for our communication to be effective.
Whether you’re needing to ‘manage up’, work regularly as part of a team, or have people reporting to you, the interpersonal aspects of communication are critical to your effectiveness. In this video, Colin Higgins outlines the importance of interpersonal communication in the workplace.
Interpersonal communication encompasses a wide of set of knowledge and practice-based skills, including knowing who you are talking to, for what purpose and why. It also involves less tangible qualities such as the rhythm, quality or ‘vibe’ of your conversations.
While interpersonal communication comes more naturally to some than others, developing your interpersonal skills to ensure effective communication is a skill that also takes practice.
Taking time to reflect on your interpersonal skills and develop new techniques can deliver many practical benefits, including gaining agreement, influencing others and fostering more positive and productive relationships.

Your task

Watch the video from Colin and then try one or more of the following exercises by referring to these tips for effective interpersonal communication:
  1. Think of a situation from either your working or personal life where your interpersonal communication was effective and ‘easy’. What made it so? How would you describe the rhythm or ‘vibe’ of this communication? Which of Colin’s tips contributed most to the positive nature of this communication?
  2. Reflect on a situation where communication was difficult and the reasons why. Next, refer to Colin’s tips and identify three practical steps you could adopt to either avoid or overcome these challenges in the future.
  3. Ask a friend or trusted work colleague to give you some honest feedback about how well you communicate – focusing specifically on your interpersonal skills. Were you surprised by this feedback? Which tips could you learn from and why?
In the comments, discuss what you learned from these exercises and how you might apply this to your future interpersonal communications.
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