Soft Skills For Dummies
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Effective interpersonal communication is a critical soft skill, both in professional and personal interactions. It's the process by which people exchange information, feelings, and intention through active listening and verbal and nonverbal messages.

To successfully communicate with others both at work and in life, you must first be able to connect with them. I want to repeat that because it’s so important: Connect first. Communicate second.

That means you have to listen. Listen first and talk second. Wait. What? Who does that? People with effective interpersonal communication skills, that’s who.

Interpersonal communication is all about making connections; it focuses on building meaningful relationships.

Listening first, talking second

Human beings have one mouth and two ears for a reason: so I would listen twice as much as I speak. Sadly, that’s not the way it works most of the time. Our ears may work perfectly well, and we may hear just fine. The problem is I don’t put them to work often enough. I don’t really listen.

The difference between hearing and listening is important:

  • Hearing is what happens when you receive the auditory stimulus of someone else speaking, and you go through motions of listening: nodding your head and/or changing your expressions while your mind and/or your fingers are busy doing something else.
  • Listening is what happens when you receive the auditory stimulus but you also connect and communicate with your entire person and keep your mind focused on the message the speaker is conveying. Listening tells the person speaking to you, “I’m here, front and center, and I hear you. I get it.”

Framing the walls of disconnection

Making a connection with someone when you’re hearing but not listening is hard. If you’re doing something other than focusing on the conversation happening right in front of you — for example, thinking about what you want for lunch or what you want to do this weekend — rather than building an effective relationship, you’re erecting a wall of disconnection blocks that keeps you from really communicating and connecting.

We need to talk about those pesky disconnection blocks and how people build walls with them. As they say, knowledge is power.

The following are common disconnection blocks that get in the way of successful communication. Not all of them come into play in every personal and professional communication situation, but being aware of them when communicating with others at work and in life is essential. Think about your listening skills as you review each block.

  • Rehearsing: When someone is talking and you’re busy silently rehearsing or planning your own reply, you’re breaking your listening concentration and blocking the opportunity for a real connection.
  • Judging: If you’re focused on how the person you’re communicating with is dressed or how they look or speak, you can prejudge the speaker, dismiss their idea as unimportant or uninformed, and put up a disconnect block.
  • Identifying: When you’re listening to someone tell a story but are so occupied thinking about your own experience that you launch into your own story before the person is finished telling theirs, you may lose sight of what the other person was trying to communicate, and you definitely miss the connection.
  • Advising: If you try to offer advice before a person has finished explaining a situation, you may not fully understand the situation.
  • Sparring: If you’re focused on disagreeing with what someone is saying, you’re probably not giving that person an honest chance to fully express their thoughts.
  • Put-downs: When you use sarcastic comments to put down someone’s point of view, you can draw that person into an argumentative conversation in which neither of you hears a word the other says. The result: dis-connection.
  • Being right: If you’re so intent on proving your point or adamantly refusing to admit to any wrongdoing, you may end up twisting the facts, shouting, and making excuses. These actions may confuse and upset both you and the person you’re talking to.
  • Derailing: When you suddenly change the subject while someone is talking or joke about what they’re saying, you’re likely to weaken that speaker’s trust in both you and your ability to show understanding.
  • Smoothing over: When you’ll do anything to avoid conflict or often choose to agree with what someone is saying simply because you want others to like you, you may appear to be supportive. However, never expressing a personal point of view is an obvious signal that you aren’t fully engaged in the conversation.
  • Daydreaming: If you tune out while someone is talking to you and let your mind wander from random thought to random thought, you’ve completely disconnected from the conversation.

Listen with curiosity. Speak with honesty. Act with integrity. The greatest problem with communication is that people don’t listen to understand. They listen to reply. When you listen with curiosity, you don’t listen with the intent to reply. You listen for what’s behind the words.

Completing the connection with the three Vs

Effective interpersonal communication is less about how well you’re able to converse and more about how well you’re able to be understood. Your ability to make that oh-so-important connection comes into play.

Connecting and communicating effectively with others is as easy as the three Vs: the visual, the vocal, and the verbal components of a conversation. The three Vs represent how much information you give and receive when you communicate with others. When you incorporate all three Vs into your interpersonal communication skill set, your personal and professional interactions can be amazingly easy, effective, and successful.

To create and cultivate effective interpersonal communication skills and to make a 100 percent genuine connection with another person, you must communicate with your entire being: your ears, your eyes, your words, and your heart!

Doing the math

Most people probably think “verbal” is the most important of the three Vs for effective communication. After all, if you’re not saying anything, how can you possibly communicate?

The real math tells a different story:

  • Visual interpersonal communication (your body language) controls 55 percent of all interpersonal communication. Talk about actions speaking louder than words!
  • Vocal interpersonal communication (the tone, quality, and rate of your speaking voice) controls 38 percent of all interpersonal communication.
  • Verbal interpersonal communication (the actual words spoken) controls only 7 percent of all interpersonal communication.
Surprise, surprise. On the interpersonal communication importance scale, verbal skills come in dead last. Yep. You read that right.

Ninety-three percent of all information given and received in every single conversation is directly related to nonverbal communication skills, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that for effective and successful communicators, how you say it counts more than what you say.

Lucky for you, you only need to sharpen two tools to cultivate your nonverbal communication skills, and you already have both: your eyes and your ears. When you connect with your ears, you give every conversation a 38 percent interpersonal communication boost. Add in your eyes, and you get an extra 55 percent of successful interpersonal communication and connection power.

Speaking from the heart

Because nonverbal communication elements make up 93 percent of each personal connection, finding a way to make the verbal element — the 7 percent — really, really count is crucial.

Every single word matters. And to make the words matter, you also have to connect with your heart by speaking with sincerity and honesty. The ability to share and care matters as much in interpersonal communication as it does with your attitude.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Cindi Reiman is the President and Founder of the American Hospitality Academy (AHA), a company that has been providing leadership training and internships since 1986. AHA created Soft Skills AHA, which provides curriculums and professional development programs focusing on career readiness and the essential employability traits needed to be successful both in the workplace, and in life.

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