Interpersonal Communication In The Workplace

Nov 04, 2019

Interpersonal communication in the workplace -- what is it and what are some tips to get better at it?  In this blog, I am going to give you a super simple definition of interpersonal communication and also give you three tips to hone your skills. 

Let me first define interpersonal communication:  All communication with other people is interpersonal.  Interpersonal simply means existing or occurring between persons.  In other words, communication between people. 

Anyone who has had an argument with a significant other has probably heard this or said this themselves, “It wasn’t what you said, it was how you said it.”

This is absolutely true, which is why clarity can get lost in texting, and why we use emojis to help clarify what we are seeking to communicate. 

The most famous study done on interpersonal communication was by Albert Mehrabian, a professor at UCLA.

Albert Mehrabian is currently Professor Emeritus of Psychology, UCLA. He is most well

known for his publications on the relative importance of verbal and nonverbal messages.

Mehrabian comes to two main conclusions in his studies:

  1. There are basically three elements in any face-to-face communication:
  • Words
  • Tone of voice
  • Nonverbal behavior


  1. The non-verbal elements are particularly important for communicating feelings and attitudes, especially when they are inconsistent, i.e., if words disagree with the tone of voice and nonverbal behavior, people tend to believe the tonality and nonverbal behavior.


  1. According to Mehrabian, the three elements in point #1 account differently toward our response to the person who puts forward a message concerning their feelings.  Words account for 7%, tone of voice accounts for 38%, and body language accounts for 55%.

They are often abbreviated as the "3 Vs" for Verbal, Vocal & Visual.

 For effective and meaningful communication about emotions, these three parts of the

message need to support each other - they have to be "congruent.”  For example, go HERE

Bearing the above study in mind, here are three tips to improve interpersonal communication:

  1. People cannot hear you until they have been heard.

If you really want to share an idea with a group of people or an individual, don’t be the first to speak.

Donnie has a big idea that he knows will take the organization to the next level.  He has his weekly appointment with his boss James, and he cannot wait to share the idea.  Just before walking in the door he remembers a YouTube video he watched from Influence Trainer on Interpersonal Communication and he changes his strategy.  Instead of launching out with his idea immediately, he decides to wait and answer all of James’ questions first and then share. 

Donnie sits down and reports that he has completed all of the projects that James gave him from the previous week.  He asks James if he has any questions about the numbers or if he wants to dig deeper.  James does want to dig a little deeper into one spreadsheet that he will have to present to his boss later that day.  James is happy and the meeting is over. Donnie gathers his items and just as he is standing up to leave he says, “James would you have a moment available? Could I share one last item with you?” 

James obliges him, the guy is standing for goodness’ sake, it shouldn’t take that long.  James is no longer stressed out about his next meeting with his boss because he has all of his questions answered.  James is ripe for a new idea.  Donnie launches in and the rest is history.  This is the most influential way you could communicate within your organization if you desire to impact the outcome of a given situation. 

  1. Practice the Platinum Rule.

The golden rule is to treat people how you want to be treated; the platinum rule is to treat people how they want to be treated. 

Suzy is the office manager of a small accounting firm and she loves to walk around the office after she comes back from lunch and says hi to each person.  It brings her such joy and she knows that she personally always welcomes a friendly interruption to her day.  Bill, on the other hand, enjoys a quiet work environment and social interactions bring on slight anxiety and really drain him of energy.  The last thing he wants after lunch is a random interruption where he will be expected to make small talk and pretend like he enjoys the conversation.  Suzy is treating people the way she wants to be treated, but how much more would Bill respect Suzy and enjoy work if she took the time to understand how Bill would like to be treated and respond accordingly?

  1. When it comes to conflict or correction use the plus-minus-plus method.

Share something you admire or appreciate about the person.  Inform them of the behavior or actions that need to change and then share one more positive quality of the person and end with the ideal. 

Jim is continually late to work.  Here’s an example of how the conversation with his supervisor could unfold: “Hi Jim, I brought you to my office today to share a few items with you.  First and foremost, I want to tell you that your attitude at work is great and you really light up the whole place.  Unfortunately, I also have to point out that you were late for the 3rd time in 2 weeks and according to the handbook I have to write you up.  Jim, we love having you around the office, and I know that you can get here on time.  I believe that you will get this under control and with your attitude and great skill with the customers, you will be well on your way to achieving employee of the month. I know you have it in you.” 

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