Workplace Interpersonal Skills: Tips for Improving Communication
As a freelance writer my negative co-worker issues are limited. Writing at home is not all cake and flowers but at least I don’t have to deal with co-workers like Phil anymore. Phil had super interpersonal skills. He loved to interrupt and finish my sentences. He verbally attacked anyone who voiced ideas that varied from his and he cut the effectiveness of our workplace team. On the other hand my co-worker Kate got along with everyone, she was well-respected, and we all wanted to hear and accept her ideas.
The ability to get along with others at your workplace is a talent that requires interpersonal skills. For some this talent comes naturally. People like Kate have interpersonal skills comprised of various elements but the key ingredient is great communication skills.
You may be the smartest and most fascinating individual at your workplace but unless you can communicate clearly your colleagues will never know. What’s worse is that poor communication skills can limit your ability to achieve workplace prosperity – between Phil and Kate who do you think was promoted this year? Want a hint? It wasn’t Phil.
Luckily everyone can work to develop or improve their communication skills. All it takes are a few easy tools in your communication toolbox and some practice. Developing these skills will ultimately pay off. You’ll be more effective, respected, and happier; a sure recipe for success in the workplace.
What Is Interpersonal Communication?
The short answer is that it’s not cell phone time or the memos you send. Interpersonal communication is good old face to face time. Responses are usually immediate and body language is evident. You may be able to pick up on subtle communication variances that include tone and speech patterns. This type of communication includes speeches, watercooler chit-chat, meetings, fights, and more – generally communication that occurs in person.
Tool #1: Self Expression in Communication
- Think carefully about what you say before you say it.
- Get in tune with the background, feelings, and knowledge base of your audience. The responses you get to what you say can rely heavily on these factors.
- Don’t speak in generalizations. Adapt your thoughts precisely to the idea at hand.
- Be genuine. Your colleagues want to hear your opinions. A constant “yes” man grows old quickly. When appropriate, go ahead and say “no.”
- Make sure that everyone understands your idea before moving on to a new idea.
- Speak clearly, pleasantly, and with confidence. Throw in a smile or two.
- Use humor. If you’re a natural with the comedy cleverness don’t be afraid to use it. Don’t overdo it but many people are more comfortable with someone who can make them chuckle. Tactful humor in the right situation can relax your entire work team.
Tool #2: Effective Responses in Communication
- Be assertive. Assertiveness is a form of self expression but it’s a good tool for responses because non-assertiveness affects your responses to others. By ignoring your personal feelings you have failed to express yourself and reduced the effectiveness of the whole team. Your colleagues deserve honest feedback.
- Specify why you agree or disagree. Be descriptive, and tactful. Tact does not give you permission to be less assertive it simply suggests that you phrase your comments in a more positive light when possible.
- Unfortunately verbal attacks happen; even in the workplace. It should go without saying, but making tasteless jokes, being rude or overly loud, and invading someone’s space is not ok.
- Give positive feedback. It’s sometimes easier to say what we don’t like. But everyone appreciates positive reinforcement.
Tool #3: Active Listening in Communication
Listening is an often forgotten but key element of communication. You can’t respond appropriately to a co-worker if you hear zip of what they’re saying.
- Actively listen to others. Active listening is when you listen with the intention to hear and grasp what someone is trying to communicate.
- If you’re doing a good job of active listening you should be able to recall and repeat what your co-worker communicates to you. This is helpful to your co-worker because it lets her know that her message was communicated properly.
- Always give undivided attention to the current speaker.
- Show that you are interested in what’s being said. You can do this verbally or by making eye contact. Conversely, pay attention to what you shouldn’t do. Don’t rush, interrupt, or finish the speaker’s sentences. And try not to leave abruptly. At least whisper an, “Excuse me.”
- Watch your body language. Too much fidgeting, tapping your pen or fingers, eye rolling, or one that I’m a pro at -- making exasperated faces (I didn’t say it was good) all show that you don’t care what someone is saying.
Worry Point 1: “What about when someone does verbally attack me? Is it okay to take it outside at this point?”
I’m not a huge advocate of the co-worker fist fight scenario. The best first course of action is to stay calm. Ask the attacker to explain specifically what you said or did to make them irritated. You can address relevant issue brought up but if your attacker continues to escalate or gives overly emotional responses it’s best to dismiss them. Sometimes all you can do is take it outside. As in take yourself outside to cool off. Talk to an understanding colleague. Talk to your supervisor. If all else fails talk to your Human Resource department. It’s a tough situation but keep your chin up. Folks who verbally attack others will get complaints and usually don’t stick around forever.
Worry Point 2: “But I’m so shy. None of your tips will work for me!”
True, if you’re naturally shy you may have to try hard to develop good communication skills. Remember that you are a worthwhile person who has great ideas to share. Your opinions count and may help advance your team forward. And take it from me; being an extrovert isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I’ve had to learn to talk quieter and slower. Plus I do tend to blurt words out helter skelter. Development of communication skills isn’t harder if you’re shy or outgoing – just different.
Keep in Mind:
No one has absolutely perfect communication skills every single day of their life. Work on developing your skills but don’t stress about it. Once you’ve developed some of these skills the rest will come easier. Your colleagues will feel more connected to you. Your supervisor will be impressed. Heck, if you’re already the supervisor you might be on your way to owning the company.
Want to see how your communication skills rate? Hop on over to Optimal Thinking and take their cool “Rate My Communication Skills” test.