How would you define interpersonal communication? It’s simple, really. The most straightforward, basic interpersonal communication meaning is "face-to-face communication." But there is so much more to effective interpersonal communication.
In fact, there is a whole range of interpersonal communication skills, and we’re about to explore the topic at length. You will see how communication and interpersonal skills make up a valuable part of success in the workplace, especially for positions like Project Managers. We’ll even supply you with a few interpersonal communication examples while answering “what is interpersonal communication?”
What Is Interpersonal Communication?
Interpersonal communication is exchanging information, meaning, feelings, and opinions between two or more people via verbal and non-verbal means. Although we mentioned “face-to-face” communication previously, today’s technology compels us to expand its definition to include media such as phone calls and online messaging.
What About Intrapersonal Communication?
You may have heard the term “intrapersonal communication” and wondered if it’s related to interpersonal communication. The words are opposites, actually. “Inter” refers to dealings between people, groups, or other entities (e.g., intercontinental, international). “Intra,” on the other hand, describes actions within a person or a group. For example, an intranet is a private digital network that exists solely within a company or organization.
Intrapersonal communication describes how we communicate with ourselves, including an accurate idea of our perceptions, expectations, and concepts.
Types of Interpersonal Communication
The first step in answering “what is interpersonal communication?” is breaking it down into four distinct types.
- Verbal: In other words, speaking. This term covers the words you use, how persuasively you speak, the language you use, which words you emphasize, and even the use of affirmative sounds and short phrases like “Yup” or “Uh-huh.”
- Listening: You can make a good case for listening as the most important interpersonal communication skill. It covers the ability to listen attentively, whether you’re using your ears to listen “in-person” or some other means, say, over the Internet. Listening also includes special techniques like reflection and clarification. The best listeners are people who can focus their attention on the speaker to make the latter feel like they're the sole and most important person in the room.
- The Written Word: Thanks to the Internet age and situations requiring isolation (e.g., the pandemic), good written communication skills have become an asset. Whether you're on social media, in the workplace, or even texting on your phone, you must know how to get your point across in writing. This type includes emojis, grammar, clarity, tone, and even punctuation. After all, there's a vast difference between "Let's eat, Grandma!" and "Let's eat Grandma!"
- Non-Verbal: This final type covers body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, and gestures. Again, it's essential that the listener picks up and correctly interprets non-verbal cues.
Elements of Interpersonal Communication
Now that we’ve established the types of interpersonal communication, we can take the next step in understanding this concept by breaking it down into six separate elements to answer “what is interpersonal communication?”.
- The Communicating Parties: There’s no communication without a sender and a receiver. However, many people mistake assigning only one speaker and one listener to the conversation. Effective interpersonal communication requires all parties to assume both roles, sending and receiving the message at the appropriate time.
- The Message Itself: This element covers the information in all possible forms, including speech and non-verbal communication.
- Extraneous Noise: Noise includes anything that interferes with, distorts, or overpowers the message. This element comprises everything from physically-based noises (e.g., traffic sounds, a screaming baby at the next table over) to more abstract difficulties such as cultural misunderstanding, overblown corporate jargon, showing disinterest, or inappropriate body language.
- Feedback: This element blurs the line with the “sender and receiver” idea, but it’s distinct enough to be considered separate. Feedback is limited to immediate reactions to a sent message. Feedback could be anything from verbal (e.g., “I agree,” or “I’m confused; what do you mean?”) to non-verbal (e.g., facial expressions, changes in body language/stance).
- Context: Have you ever heard the phrase “Read the room!”? That means the speaker should be paying attention to the general mood and atmosphere of the listeners and where they are. Context includes physical location, the mood/emotional climate of the audience, and social context.
- The Channel: This element covers moving the message from the sender to the receiver and refers to vision and speech.
What Is Interpersonal Communication? The Four Principles of Interpersonal Communication
We have one more set of breakdowns to cover. Whenever you communicate with people, you should keep in mind these four principles. If you do, your interpersonal communication technique will improve, and your messages will be more effective.
- It’s Unavoidable: Unless you’re a hermit living in a cave, you will inevitably interact with others in one manner or another. Even if you’re a shut-in, thanks to something like a quarantine, you will still have the opportunity for interpersonal communication (e.g., phone, Skype, texting).
- It’s Irreversible: You may be familiar with the phrase “I can’t unsee that.” You can't take back what you have written or said. Even if you make amends with an apology or try to walk back your comments, people don't forget words easily. And remember, Internet content is forever.
- It’s Complicated: You would think the act of speaking and hearing would be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, everyday life is complicated and interpersonal communication is filled with pitfalls. Not everyone has the same frame of reference or is equally adept at picking up subtle clues or getting the hint. Some speakers assume that everything they say is taken the right way because the listeners must obviously be on the same wavelength as they are (spoiler alert: this is not always the case).
- It’s Contextual: Sometimes, we can't control what people hear our message, where they are, their mood and mindset, and their level of comprehension. But, again, this harkens to the section dealing with interpersonal communication elements, specifically the context.
Interpersonal Communication Examples
Here are some common examples of interpersonal communication. You will notice how they reference the different interpersonal communication types.
- Emails: This example is a ubiquitous form of interpersonal communication in our era of increased online usage. Unfortunately, we can't always communicate nuance and tone, leading to misunderstandings. Consequently, you need good written communication skills.
- Phone calls: Yes, people still use their smartphones for actual speaking! However, since most phone calls lack visual cues, you should have strong verbal communication skills.
- Presentations: You know what this involves if you've ever heard a lecture or been in a business meeting. Presentations typically incorporate every type of interpersonal communication. The speaker needs good verbal skills, uses gestures and expressions effectively, refers to written texts and other visual aids, and understands how the audience feels and receives the message.
- Texting: You knew we’d touch upon this one, right? Texting is less formal and structured than emails, so the communicator should grasp casual conversation skills.
Interpersonal Communication Uses
We inevitably employ interpersonal communication in many different situations and contexts, whether at work or home. We use this vital skill to:
- Impart and gather information
- Influence the attitudes and behaviors of others
- Create contacts, make friends, and maintain relationships
- Make sense of our world and better understand our experiences in it
- Express our personal needs and understand the needs of others
- Make decisions and solve problems
- Set social and professional boundaries
- Provide and receive needed emotional support
- Anticipate and predict people’s behavior
- Regulate the balance of power in a workplace or social circle
The Importance of Interpersonal Communication
Interpersonal communication is a valuable "soft skill" in many job descriptions. Strong interpersonal communication skills help people better express their emotions and thoughts and cultivate a stronger sense of empathy for others.
Interpersonal communication is also a vital part of being a team player or a group leader, things that recruiters are always looking for.
If you have solid interpersonal communication skills, you can clearly express your intentions and thoughts, enriching your professional relationships and personal life.
So many conflicts stem from simple misunderstandings. Strong interpersonal communication skills help reduce the likelihood of these misunderstandings, which subsequently lowers the risk of arguments, hurt feelings, grudges, and problems with morale.
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Would You Like to Become a Project Manager?
Let's face it; not everyone is cut out to be a leader. Unfortunately, people are often placed in managerial roles because they have the work experience and hard skillsets but have no idea how to speak to people, motivate them, and keep group cohesion and morale consistently high.
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