What is Interpersonal Communication and Why is it Important?

In today's fast-paced world, effective interpersonal communication is a valuable skill, both in your personal life and in the workplace. Whether you’re a student about to step into the professional world or someone already engaged with it, understanding what interpersonal communication is and why it's crucial can have a real impact on your successes as well as your relationships.

Interpersonal communication is the exchange of information, thoughts, feelings, and ideas between two or more individuals. It's a dynamic process that involves both verbal and non-verbal cues and happens through speaking, writing or even through body language and facial expressions. Simply put, it's how we connect with others through words and gestures, and is an essential part of human interaction.

Types of Interpersonal Communication

Interpersonal communication includes:

  • Verbal communication: This is the most straightforward and commonly recognised form of interpersonal interaction. It uses speech to convey ideas, express feelings, and exchange information. It involves face-to-face conversations, phone calls and video calls. 

  • Non-verbal communication: This is the cues and signals we transmit without using words. It includes body language, facial expressions, gestures, eye contact, and even the tone of your voice. Non-verbal communication often reveals more information than words alone and it plays a vital role in understanding the emotions and intentions of others. 

  • Written communication: This is the exchange of information through writing. It might be text messages, emails, reports, memos, letters, or any other written document. Effective written communication is essential in both academic and professional settings, as it helps convey ideas clearly and professionally.

The Importance of Interpersonal Communication

Interpersonal communication is extremely important in our personal relationships, in the workplace and in society in general.

  • Interpersonal communication is the key to strong relationships. It helps us understand each other's needs, solve problems, and share our feelings. With good communication, we can work through issues, address conflicts and make our relationships happier. Talking openly to our loved ones gives us comfort and builds trust, while sharing our thoughts and feelings helps us feel closer during tough times. 
  • In the workplace we often need to work with different teams. When we communicate openly and clearly, it ensures that everyone is on the same page, leading to more effective teamwork. If you're a boss or manager, good communication is a must. You need to share your vision, give feedback, and motivate your team to reach common goals. Finally, just like in your personal life, problems can pop up at work. Clear and open communication means resolving issues before they grow out of proportion and impact on productivity.
  • In social contexts we need effective interpersonal communication to bridge cultural gaps. Our world is becoming increasingly globalised, and understanding and respecting different communication norms and customs is crucial for international relations.

Key Techniques for Improving Interpersonal Communication

Improving your interpersonal communication skills is an ongoing process that can greatly benefit your personal and professional life. Here are some key techniques to consider:

  • 1. Active listening:

    This involves giving your full attention to the speaker, making an effort to understand their perspective, and responding thoughtfully. This technique helps build trust and shows respect for the speaker. To practice active listening:

    • Maintain eye contact
    • Avoid interrupting the speaker
    • Ask clarifying questions to ensure you understand
    • Show empathy by acknowledging the speaker's feelings
  • 2. Giving and receiving feedback:

Constructive feedback is crucial for growth and improvement. When giving feedback, be specific, focus on behaviour rather than personality, and offer suggestions for improvement. When receiving feedback, be open-minded and willing to learn from it.

  • 3. The role of empathy:

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. It's a powerful tool for building rapport and resolving conflicts. To be more empathetic:

    • Put yourself in the other person's shoes
    • Validate their emotions by saying things like, "I can understand why you feel that way."
    • Use reflective listening. This technique involve communicating back to the speaker what they said to you, confirming that you understood their point of view

4. Managing non-verbal cues.

This involves paying attention to your body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions to ensure they match your intended message

Being aware of both your own non-verbal cues and those of others can lead to better relationships, improved understanding, and more successful communication overall.

Common Barriers and How to Overcome Them

Despite the importance of interpersonal communication, there are barriers that can get in the way of effective communication. These include:

    • Cultural differences. Educate yourself about different cultures and their communication norms. Be respectful and open-minded when interacting with individuals from diverse backgrounds.

    • Emotional barriers. Recognise your own emotions and how they affect your communication. Practice emotional intelligence by identifying and managing your feelings. When you are interacting with someone in an emotional state, offer support and understanding.

    • Physical distractions. Minimise distractions in your environment, such as noise or clutter, when you are engaging in important conversations. Choose a suitable location for communication, whether it's a quiet room or a well-lit area for online communication.

Improving your interpersonal communication skills is an ongoing process. Be patient with yourself, and request feedback from others to identify areas where you could improve. With practice, you can become a more effective and empathetic communicator, strengthening your relationships and achieving greater success in both your personal and work life.

About The IIE’s Varsity College

The Independent Institute of Education (The IIE) of which Varsity College is a brand, is South Africa’s largest registered and accredited private provider of higher education. At Varsity College we understand that no two students are the same or learn the same. That’s why we make sure a student’s education is shaped around them; how they like to learn, what they are passionate about, what makes them tick, and what makes them thrive. Our Education by Design approach allows students to grow into their best, and creates a space where they can live, learn and play – their way. Learn more about communication studies at the IIE’s Varsity College.