Interpersonal Communication: Boosting the Productivity of Your Conversations

We spend a lot of time conversing with others on a daily basis. Think about how often we tend to find ourselves engaged in a conversation with important consequences but is severely lacking in structure, often leading to lost time figuring out what it is the other person is trying to convey. Regardless of the issue being presented, interpersonal communication skills are a key factor in improving the efficiency and meaningfulness of any conversation.

Perhaps a coworker is trying to explain a complex issue, a brainstorming session to solve a problem is spiraling out of control or an interpersonal conflict arises. In these situations, we typically either hide from any uncomfortable situations and hope the issue disappears or we go full-hog into addressing the issue without using filters on the words we use. Both of those reactions can lead to making a small issue worse.

So, how can we learn to communicate better with one another to get the information we need efficiently while ensuring all participants of the conversation feel satisfied with their voices being heard? Your power lies in how you frame the things you say. For instance, instead of posing your question as a demand (When will that project be completed?), frame it in a way that gives them the opportunity to convey a need or request (What do you need to finish the project efficiently?).

There are four basic elements to any conflict.

  1. Observation — Take in the essence of the moment. Note the physical aspects of your surrounding and the person you are speaking with. What are your senses (i.e. sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell) telling you? Examine the context of the situation. “This is what I am hearing…”, “I get the impression you want…”
  2. Feeling — What is the other person’s body language telling you? Are they showing signs of distress? Joy? Instead of using words like “overlooked”, “devalued” or similar, which imply judgment or bias, look for words that describe your experience. “When this happens, I feel like…”, “I feel lost because…”
  3. Need — Needs are universal. They go beyond cultural conditioning. What is lacking that would make you feel better? What needs are they trying to convey to you? The need to feel accepted? Do you need space? More appreciation? A sense of belonging? Better balance? Support? More security? Articulate what it is you need to move forward. “Because I value…”, “I need…”
  4. Request — Should be something immediately doable. What is the request they are making? What requests do you have? There are three types of requests: Action, Feedback, and Clarity. What category does their request fall into? “I wonder if…”, “Would you be able to…”

Request vs. Demand: Often includes threats of punishment or offer of reward. “If you don’t…”, “If you…, then I will…”

Request vs. Wish: Wishes are often very vague and deal with something in the future. “If only I could…”, “I wish you would just…”

Following these guidelines when assessing the circumstances surrounding interpersonal communication or conflict will lead you to be able to ask the right questions, give better answers and convey information better. This is a skill that will show you are an active-listener and others will take notice of a more charismatic and deeper-thinking you.

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