Communication is not just about conveying information. It is an art that, when mastered, can determine success or failure in business. Every conversation holds potential. We can harness that potential to build lasting relationships, influence others’ decisions, and create effective teams.
So, I invite you on a journey through 10 practical tips that will elevate your interpersonal communication skills to a much higher level.
- Active Listening
Have you ever found yourself talking to someone only to realize that they weren’t listening to a word you said? Have you noticed that instead of listening, you start thinking about what you’ll say in response before the other person finishes speaking? If so, you know how frustrating that can be.
If you don’t listen to someone, you have no chance of building a good relationship with them. I remember that my relationship with my boss in one of my early jobs suffered greatly due to a lack of feeling heard. I was working in an advertising agency and was sharing my idea for a new ad with my boss. I believed the idea had comedic potential, and when I noticed a smile on my listener’s face, I felt I had a good chance of convincing him of the idea. At one point, my boss burst into laughter, even to the point of loud giggles. I quickly realized that he wasn’t laughing at my story but at something that had popped into his own mind.
“Sorry,” he said after a while, “but when you started talking, it reminded me of a story from when I was…”
And he started telling his own story. That meant he hadn’t been listening to me for a long time. He was just wandering among his own thoughts and memories. I don’t remember his funny story at all now. I don’t even remember my supposedly brilliant ad idea. But I vividly remember how I felt then: hurt and humiliated. I carried resentment towards my boss for a long time, and our relationship never normalized.
It was a painful lesson for me. I knew how it feels to be ignored, and since then, I have attached great importance to always trying to listen with full focus. Do I always succeed? No, not always. But sincere efforts pay off.
Active listening is a challenging skill, especially when someone speaks in long, convoluted sentences, and various thoughts swirl in our minds: Did I pay the electricity bill? Did I turn off the iron?
Active listening is an ability that requires concentration on the here and now. Larry King, an American television journalist, summed up this approach perfectly: “Every morning, I remind myself: nothing I say today will teach me anything. If I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.”
It’s worth taking those words to heart.
- Clarity and Precision
Anyone who has ever tried to assemble furniture made by a subpar woodworking company knows how frustrating it can be. It’s not necessarily because the quality of the materials is poor; it’s mainly because the assembly instructions are unclear. On the other hand, IKEA instructions set the standard for effective guidance. Each step is depicted in a large image, and none of them contains more information than necessary. In contrast, inferior manufacturers seem to save on instruction sheets. They combine multiple steps into one large and complicated multi-step instruction, lacking precise explanations and leaving ample room for interpretation. I know this because a few weeks ago, I had the unpleasant experience of assembling a desk from a less-than-reputable furniture manufacturer. I told myself, “Never again!”
When instructing or explaining, try to follow the IKEA approach. Provide step-by-step instructions. Don’t rush, be precise and accurate. Don’t bombard with excessive information; choose only the truly essential points. Precision in communication does not mean inundating recipients with everything we know; it means selecting key messages and conveying them in an essential manner.
How can you achieve mastery in this area? I recommend my training on straightforward business communication, which you can learn more about HERE>. In the workshops, we practice extracting the essence from messages, and the goal of the training is to communicate simply, understandably, and effectively.
Empathy is another fundamental component of effective interpersonal communication in business. It is an aspect that is often underestimated but holds immense significance. Empathy is not about softness, submissiveness, displaying sensitivity, or weakness. It is the ability to see things from others’ perspectives and to share their emotions. Empathy enables a deeper understanding of the needs, expectations, and emotional state of our conversation partners, which, in turn, helps build lasting, beneficial business relationships.
These relationships are not only good and lasting for the sake of it. Empathy simply pays off.
An excellent example that illustrates the role of empathy in business is the story of Toms Shoes. Its founder, Blake Mycoskie, saw many children running barefoot during a trip to Argentina because they couldn’t afford shoes. Mycoskie felt a strong empathy for these children and decided to help.
He created a footwear brand where, for every pair of shoes sold in developed countries, the company would donate a pair of shoes to children in poorer countries. This business strategy, based on empathy and understanding, not only helped many children but also brought tremendous success to the company. Thanks to empathy, Toms Shoes was able to understand the needs of its customers and build a brand that has a real impact on the world.
Therefore, empathy is not just a soft skill useful in interpersonal relationships. It is a powerful tool that helps understand different perspectives, needs, and expectations. In business, empathy helps understand the customer’s needs, allowing for better alignment of offerings, services, or products with those needs. Empathy also aids in conflict resolution by allowing us to see where the other party might be right and what the source of misunderstanding is.
Remember, empathy is not only the ability to understand others’ feelings and emotions. It is primarily the ability to respond to those emotions in an appropriate and constructive manner. By applying empathy in business, you can build stronger, more satisfying relationships with customers, business partners, and your team.
- Assertiveness in Communication
You cannot talk about effective interpersonal communication without mentioning assertiveness. Assertiveness is the ability to express thoughts, feelings, and needs in a direct, honest, and appropriate manner without violating others’ rights and boundaries. In a business context, assertiveness is crucial for building and maintaining healthy relationships, managing conflicts, negotiating, and effective leadership.
My approach to assertiveness, while also practicing empathy, is as follows: Respect others. But also respect yourself.
So, if you feel that someone is pressuring you to do something against your will, stop and think. Consider whether if you do what someone asks of you, you will be able to look in the mirror with pride. Or look at the situation from a different perspective. How would you watch a movie with two characters, one being pushed against the wall? Would you help the one being pushed? Or would you help the one doing the pushing? Which of them would you show respect?
Be assertive while maintaining respect for others and yourself. You have the right to refuse. You have the right to set boundaries. As long as you express your position while maintaining respect for others. Be firm but not offensive. Calmness, assertiveness, and respect are the best companions to assertiveness.
- Skillful Questioning
Questions are the key to understanding other people. Asking the right question can open doors to deeper understanding, generate ideas, and even resolve conflicts. By using effective questions, we can increase our knowledge, understand the context, uncover hidden issues, and strive for real solutions.
One of the more interesting approaches to team management was proposed by David Rock in his book “Quiet Leadership.” Rock encourages leaders to ask questions that are focused on thinking. What makes a good question? Those that do not provide ready-made answers but encourage employees to make the effort to find those answers themselves. Examples?
“How can I best help you think this through?” “How much have you thought about this?” “What would help you most from my side?”
David Marquet, on the other hand, reminds us in his book “Leadership Language” not to overuse closed-ended questions. Instead of asking, “Are we doing this project?” it’s better to ask, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how strongly do you feel about doing this project?” Such an open-ended question doesn’t limit the response to a suggested “yes,” especially when the question is posed by a boss. Skillful questioning fosters openness for discussion. And open discussion leads to more interesting perspectives, better ideas, and consequently, better results.
- Building Trust
Trust is the foundation of effective interpersonal communication, especially in a business context. Without trust, even the most persuasive arguments may prove ineffective. Building trust requires time, consistency, and authenticity.
The story of Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Group, perfectly illustrates how trust can impact communication. Branson is known for his informal communication style, which helps him build strong relationships based on trust with employees, business partners, and customers.
Branson: “The way you communicate can have a profound effect – you have to do what you say and say what you do. But most importantly, you have to create a culture where people can be themselves, be creative, develop, and have fun. Then, you can start with business and end with family.”
In practice, Branson regularly meets with employees at all levels of his company, often without formalities, listening to their ideas, concerns, and suggestions. This openness and accessibility helped him build strong relationships based on trust, which translated into a robust corporate culture and employee loyalty.
In his communication with customers as well, Branson focuses on building trust. He is open and honest, not afraid to admit mistakes, and when things go wrong, he strives to rectify the situation quickly and learn from those mistakes.
It always pays off.
- Giving Effective Feedback
Regardless of whether you are a team leader, colleague, or boss, the ability to provide effective feedback is essential for building healthy relationships and achieving results. Here are a few tips on how to do it:
a) Foster a positive attitude: Before giving feedback, ensure that your mindset is focused on constructive aspects of the situation. Your attitude and the tone in which you deliver feedback can influence how it is received. Strive to speak in a calming and positive manner.
b) Be specific: When giving feedback, strive to be as specific as possible. Instead of saying, “Your work wasn’t good,” say, “I noticed you had difficulties meeting deadlines in the recent project. Can we discuss how to improve that?”
c) Use “I” instead of “you”: Instead of starting with “You always…,” try saying, “I noticed that…” This makes the other person feel less attacked and more receptive to listening to your point of view.
d) Allow room for response: After providing your feedback, give the other person time to reflect and respond. Allow for an open discussion and be prepared to receive feedback in return.
e) Provide suggestions for improvement: Feedback should always include suggestions on how to improve specific behaviors or results. Instead of just pointing out what went wrong, indicate possible solutions or ask the person to consider specific steps.
In summary, effective interpersonal communication is an art that requires practice and the utilization of key skills. Active listening, clarity and precision, empathy, assertiveness, the ability to ask good questions, building trust, and providing effective feedback are crucial elements of this process.
It is important to understand that developing these skills takes time and effort. It is worthwhile to practice them regularly, but to practice them correctly, it is valuable to follow the appropriate patterns. What are these patterns? Ask me about my training on Simple Communication in Business.
In my communication training, I focus on a purely practical approach, without theorizing or speaking in general terms about communication. This is because I am guided by the idea of simple communication. Simple for the recipients. Although not necessarily easy for its creators.