What Is Interpersonal Communication? Definition and 3 Myths

Posted by Bridget Beirne
March 30, 2015

by Lei Han

We're pleased to bring you another guest post! About today's guest blogger: Lei Han is a Stanford Engineer and a Wharton MBA with over 15 years of business experience. She is the founder of BeMyCareerCoach.com and enjoys writing about career development and is passionate in helping professionals work smart and achieve success.You can follow her on Twitter @bemycareercoach. Thanks, Lei!

Effective interpersonal communication at work is essential to your career success. Yet it’s often not clearly understood nor easy to improve. After researching on Google regarding how others discuss interpersonal communication, I will offer my own perspective – a detailed definition of what it is and 3 most common myths about it.

What is Interpersonal Communication?

Wikipedia defines interpersonal communication as “the process that we use to communicate our ideas, thoughts, and feelings to another person.” Though I agree with this definition, I find it vague.  I define interpersonal communication as the process we use to build relationships with others through communication by effectively doing the following:
  • Understanding the other’s situation – in order to build a relationship with someone, we need to be aware of where the other person is coming from.
  • Communicating in the right manner – it’s not just what we say that matters but also the tone we use and how we say it.  Additionally, by considering our understanding of the other person, we figure out how to best communicate our intentions and ideas to that particular individual.

  • Influencing them to listen and/or take action as needed  People are more likely to listen to us when we listen first to them and make efforts to establish common grounds. When we approach any communication with the intention to create a win-win situation, that’s when we will maximize our influence on others and inspire them to action.

At the end of the day, the purpose of communication is to reach a common understanding, build a better Interpersonal-communicationrelationship, and/or agree on what to do next if action is required.

3 Most Common Myths 

It’s immensely difficult to improve these skills if you still believe in some common myths.  Here are three of the most common myths:
  1. Myth #1: Focus just on the facts:  Facts are important in a conversation but can’t be the only focus.  Often we spend too much time figuring out what facts we want to communicate and too little time on how we want to communicate them.  Every person we speak to is human with insecurities, ambitions, and biases.   So remember the common adage: “It’s not what you say, but how you make people feel that matters.”
  2. Myth #2: If I am right, I can say so:  It’s never a good idea to kick someone when they are down.  If someone on your team makes a mistake, communicate that but focus the conversation more on where to go from there and allow them to recover.  If your customer over-billed you, you still don’t want to over-step in your communication. Approach the situation gently and patiently.  It’s always better for the relationship if you give others the benefit of the doubt.

  3. Myth #3: Sugar coat bad news:  Bad news like a layoff message or a message to your boss about a mistake you made at work is difficult to deliver.  It’s important to deliver the message tactfully, but this is not the same as sugar coating.  Sugar coating implies being not direct or clear about the gravity of the message.  While sugar coating a message may make you feel more comfortable, it could confuse the other person or make the listener feel patronized.  Sincerity and a focus on moving forward will help more.   Whatever happened already happened.  So be straightforward and focus on next steps.

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