5 Quick Tips for Improving Interpersonal Communication Skills

Posted by Bridget Beirne
November 13, 2015

Bridget Beirne Team OvationRemember the myth of Sisyphus? Sisyphus, as a punishment for his bad attitude, was doomed to roll an enormous boulder up a great hill each day, only to watch helplessly as it rolled back down to the bottom when he reached the hill's apex. Imagine doing THAT for eternity. (Hence the reason we describe some never-ending, lose-lose efforts as "Sisyphean Tasks...") He had to suffer the pain of being trapped, endlessly, performing an incredibly difficult job for which there would never be a positive outcome.

Do you ever feel that improving the communication within your team is a Sisyphean Task? That you just can't change the way your team communicates? And if you could, that it might not be worth the effort? You can, and it is. Chances are, if you and your team are dealing with poor interpersonal communication skills, you've noticed a few unfortunate side effects:

  • Low morale: Ah, yes. The slippery slope of less-than-stellar communication: Person A and Person B can't seem to get through to each other. Person A feels ignored; Person B feels dominated. Slowly, they start to avoid each other. They try to keep interactions to a minimum. They CRINGE at the thought of speaking. They start to resent each other for feeling discomfort in their own office. They don't want to engage. They don't want to come to work.

         Sound familiar?

  • Decreased productivity: Even if everyone gets along and enjoys working together, interpersonal communication struggles can still rear their ugly heads. When management can't effectively give feedback, assign tasks, or communicate directives, it's hard for the team to know what to do. If team members can't express their problems, initiate their own ideas, or handle their own issues, you get into endless loops of failed, incomplete, or off-base projects. Instead of getting MORE done, everyone wastes time achieving less.

Guess what? You're not Sisyphus. You can break the cycle and interpersonal communication skillsimprove the interpersonal communication on your team. And it doesn't have to take as long as rolling a boulder uphill. Get started with these 5 quick tips:

1. Acknowledge the problem: Seriously. Sounds simple, but get the work started by broaching the subject with your team: "I feel we're having some trouble communicating within our team. How does everyone else feel? What can we improve?" Just thinking that you would like to change the way you communicate isn't enough. Start the conversation.

2. Monitor how much you are saying: Who's doing all of the talking? What you're saying is certainly important, but don't forget about how MUCH you're saying. Communication is, obviously, a two-way street. Watch the faces and body language of those you are speaking to: have they tuned out, due to your lengthy one-way talk? Turn it around, and ask THEM a question. Then be prepared to listen.

3. Pay attention to what you're NOT saying: Remember, your body is communicating just as much to the person you are speaking with as your actual words. Do you ever receive confused or mixed feedback after a discussion that you thought went particularly well? It could be because your body was communicating something different than your words. As a result, the other party may have felt judged, dismissed, or unwanted. Send positive non-verbal communication. Maintain comfortable eye contact, use open gestures, and don't forget to smile when appropriate. This will help ensure that your body matches your message.

4. Embrace the phrases "I don't know" and "What do you think?": Again, it's important to get other people talking. Allow yourself to ask for, and truly process, the input of others. Even if you end up going a different way, your team will feel heard and valued. "I don't know" is a powerful phrase; it takes strength and emotional intelligence to admit you don't have the answers all of the time. "What do you think?" has the ability to bestow trust, confidence, and interest on your conversation partner.

5. Be clear: Don't be afraid to recap or check for meaning after a conversation. It's helpful to set clear directives and keep everyone on the same track. It will also continue to point out communication issues, and give your team a chance to work them out. Productivity benefits from clarity, and all this talking is surely good for morale.

You can stop fighting the uphill battle against problematic communication, and move towards positive interpersonal communication skills. Win one for productivity and morale in on your team. 

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