Flourish Blog

Four keys to healthy interpersonal communications

June 5, 2017 by Kathy Ferguson Litton

Every relationship in life is built on a foundation that cannot be ignored. This foundation affects your marriage, family, work, ministry and your ability to connect with your community. It is also is critical element in all areas leadership and creating influence. It is a basic competency that may be easily overlooked yet it sets up all other competencies.

This foundation is interpersonal communication, which is best defined as the process by which people exchange information, feelings, and meaning through verbal and non-verbal messages: it is face-to-face communication.

Business culture in recent decades has turned it’s attention to a phrase called “soft skills” that complements “hard skills” which is knowledge, skills of a trade or subject matter expertise. Soft skills include interpersonal communication, emotional IQ, alongside conflict management; team building as well as social graces and friendliness. It is clearly recognized in corporate culture that soft skills drive success, plus make huge difference in leadership quotient.

The same is true in ministry context. Knowledge of doctrine or strategy or team building — all hard skills that without the corresponding soft skill of interpersonal communication will be stunted, ineffective and perhaps even damaging. We need to recognize that we are leading people not systems. Interpersonal communication is vital in leadership and influence. It builds relationships, creates positive impressions, develops rapport and is foundational in establishing trust.

Trust me it will take far more than knowledge or ministry acumen to create positive, engaging first impressions, negotiate difficult situations, solve conflicts, share passionate transferable vision with people or counsel the hurting. Plus you need soft skills to create emotional connections with your 13 year old or to have empathy for the immigrant new to your neighborhood.

How good are your interactions with people? Here is the tricky thing — to best assess this you need to invite outsiders to give you an honest evaluation. Being self aware of yourself and others is vital part of communication if you lack self-awareness you are probably unable to accurately gauge whether or not you communication skills are strong or weak. Seek an outsider who you know to be strong in this area and ask them to evaluate you. Even if they deliver brutal news it will be to your benefit.

Each of us are naturally wired a certain way in this area but no matter how skilled we are or not we can enhance, improve and develop those skills with knowledge and practice. Since this competency affects all others we should all eagerly lean into growth in this area. People who are really strong in this area stay life long learners.

Consider these four keys to healthy interpersonal communications:

Start with this focus: “It’s not about YOU, it’s about THEM.”

(Oddly enough, this is from Clint Eastwood.) This is where we have to squash our task driven tendencies or our inner orator. The focus is on THEM and the “exchange of ideas and feelings in face-to-face settings.” This is not a monologue but a dialogue. We are not there to impress or instruct. Quite honestly this is not always easy for ministry types. As leaders and speakers we can slip into “performance” mode because it is what we do. Don’t defer to your ministry script. This can be damaging, as we create face-to-face, authentic relationships. Give them your full attention, be real and be open hearted.

Ask questions.

Gathering facts and inquiring about feelings is always critical to interpersonal communication. Questions say, “I care” enough to want to extract more input from you. Even in an awkward first impression moment or small talk at dinner asking questions is always a win. Being interested in others is always appropriate. Develop the skill of asking the second question. For instance “Where did you go to college?” is followed by “Why did you pick that school?’ Be highly engaged by digging deeper with follow up questions.

Listen actively and purposefully.

This needs to be genuine listening not merely the illusion of listening. Reflective listening is when you are observing and taking in non-verbals to gauge emotions. You should listen as much as you speak. You also should heed this advice from Peter F. Drucker, “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.” Noticeably omitted topics can tell you volumes.

Give attention to non-verbal’s.

Simply put this is anything besides words. It means tone, gestures, physical proximity, facial expressions, and body language. A gentle touch on someone’s shoulder demonstrates care or may diffuse emotion. A warm expression welcomes. Merely smiling can be a game changer.

Trust me these skills are mandatory not optional.

Begin by seeking the evaluation of a trusted friend or colleague. Pursue growth in this area and never stop being a learner. This will yield precious fruit in your home, ministry, leadership and in connecting with a lost world.

Consider these ideas to assess your communication skills.

  • On a scale of 1-10 (10 being high) rate yourself at interpersonal communication per the definition above.
  • Now share the definition with trusted friend ask them to rate you.
  • Based on the definition can you identify a friend or colleague that is very strong in this area? Share four or five things you see them do well as they engage people.
  • Which of the four components do you feel that you have some strength in presently? Which is a present weakness?
  • What recent conversation or interchange have you had recently where one of these components was missing and the conversation suffered badly because of it?

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