To ensure quality results, whether you’re collaborating on a project, delegating a task, or managing a team, it’s absolutely essential that what you intend to say comes across correctly to your listener. Clear and effective communication goes hand-in-hand with building interpersonal skills in the workplace. These interpersonal skills form the foundation for securing people’s trust and inspiring them to put forward their best efforts. So, it’s important to pay attention to how you communicate—and that goes beyond choosing your words with care.
Interpersonal communication consists of three elements: words, tone of voice and body language. To help you become more aware of the way you routinely communicate in the workplace and identify areas for improvement, here's a detailed breakdown of each component, with some practical pointers:
Visuals. Of these three elements, you may be surprised to learn that body language is the biggest factor in face-to-face communication. It can also speak volumes when you communicate with team members screen-to-screen. When your body language is in sync with and supports the words coming out of your mouth, people are highly likely to believe what you’re saying and view you as trustworthy. When there’s a contradiction between your words and your body language, however, people tend to place more stock in what they see than what they hear. In addition to your posture and hand gestures, body language includes:
- Eye contact. In most Western culture, eye contact is expected when communicating. It’s a sign of courtesy and respect. Failing to look your listener in the eye indicates apathy, disinterest or, worse, dishonesty. Maintaining eye contact with your listener also helps ensure that what you’re saying is understood.
- Facial expression. The human face is naturally expressive and able to convey a range of emotions, from excitement to contemplation to irritation. As they listen to your words, people will read your face for information. If you want to be seen as a sensitive individual, avoid keeping a poker face. Let others see some of your emotions through facial expressions, like an eyebrow raised in surprise or an encouraging smile.
- Object language, or how we visually present ourselves to others. Yes, good grooming matters, and so do your clothes, your hairstyle, and even how you keep your office. Something seemingly as small as a wrinkled shirt or cluttered desk can distract listeners from your message, not to mention make you look sloppy and careless.
Vocals. Often, people pay more attention to how you sound when you’re speaking than to what you’re actually saying. In addition to tone of voice, which can range from stern to monotonous to confident and reassuring, vocals include:
- Rate. On average, Americans speak at 125 to 150 words per minute, depending on which part of the country you’re from. If you speak too fast for your listener’s comfort level, let alone comprehension, your message can get lost. Take a breath and adapt your pacing—but avoid talking too slow and coming across as condescending.
- Pitch. Regardless of age or gender, people with deep voices are generally perceived as more persuasive than those with higher-pitched voices. Lowering pitch also tends to minimize a nasal vocal quality, which many listeners find annoying.
- Inflection. The emphasis you place on certain words when you are speaking, inflection tells others how you feel about what you are saying. Without the right inflection, a powerful message can lose its impact.
Verbals (the words, phrases, and sentences you use). Again, you might be surprised, but words play the smallest part in how your message is received by others in the workplace. That’s because verbal communication is culturally interpreted and easily misunderstood, shaped by our own personal experiences, and often used imprecisely. However, you still need to choose your words with care. Be careful not to use loaded words with the potential to offend or make the listener uncomfortable—and refrain from making any ethnic, racial, religious, or political references, even humorously. By investing time and thought in choosing and using words that are considerate of others, you’ll deliver a more sincere message that gets heard. And you’ll be seen as a person whom all kinds of people can trust and respect.
By recognizing how to best use these three key interpersonal skills in the workplace, you’ll be well on your way to creating much more effective communication, building stronger working relationships and gaining improved results.