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Develop interpersonal communication for workplace success

The use of technology in the workplace grows by the day. Accordingly, it's easy to think technical skills are more valuable than soft skills. But according to the LinkedIn 2023 Most In-Demand Skills Report, this isn't true1. The report found communication is the second-most in-demand skill. Leadership skills are the fourth. And teamwork is the 10th. This shows the importance of interpersonal skills. Want to boost your career? It's time to start sharpening your interpersonal communication skills.

What are interpersonal communication skills in the workplace?

Interpersonal communication has been under valued in the workplace. But, it has been a part of organizational psychology for decades. Peter Hartley’s Dance Model of Communication2 is a good way to understand what interpersonal communication is. Take two dancers with different rhythms, styles and temperaments, Hartley's model states that:

"Partners have to coordinate their movements and arrive at a mutual understanding of where they are going. There are rules and skills but there are also flexibilities – dancers can inject their own style into the movements". This shows communication is a two-way process between individuals with different communication styles. A good communicator understands this, and adjusts to a partner’s style.

Contrasted this with the Arrow Model. This states that communication is “Like shooting an arrow at a target. A one-way activity based primarily on the skills of the sender”.

Given that people have different communication styles, it’s clear that the Dance Model is most suited to the modern workplace. Research has shown that teams who have a more adaptive style of communication are better able to leverage employees' unique skills and abilities to enhance teamwork and productivity3.

But what does interpersonal communication in the workplace involve? We can break it down into three categories.

Written and verbal communication

Effective communication involves understanding different communication styles. A skilled communicator knows that different people communicate in different ways. They can adjust their communication depending on who they're speaking to. They also know that people have different ways of weighing information. Another way of saying this is that people vary in their convincer inputs. The four main convincer inputs are:

The four main convincer inputs are:

Problems begin when you use the wrong inputs for a person. Let's say you need to convince your boss to increase the budget for a project.

Being aware of their convincer inputs means you can tailor your approach to their style.

If they're convinced by seeing, giving them pages of text to read isn't going to be effective. Showing them graphs, infographics or visual presentations is going to be better.

Emotional Intelligence

One of the broader shifts in the past few decades is the recognition of emotional intelligence in the workplace. This awareness can be attributed to Daniel Goleman's seminal book Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ4.

Goleman says that awareness of our own emotional lives, as well as the emotional lives of others, is critical for success. As an example, consider the difference between these two scenarios:

A small team is working on a highly stressful project with a tight deadline. Emotionally intelligent people know emotions will be involved, and can mitigate their impact. If the rest of the team is stressed out, they get it. These people are probably still just as stressed as everyone else, but they can respond to that stress proactively, instead of reactively.

Team members with less developed emotional intelligence are more likely to add to the climate of stress. They may be more likely to engage in bullying, or other harmful behaviors. Their communication can become more hostile or toxic, or they become less able to speak to people on their terms.

If you had an important project, who would you want on your team?

Indeed, studies show that emotional intelligence is positively correlated with higher job performance and negatively correlated with burnout5.

Understanding Body Language

Another aspect of interpersonal communication is the ability to understand body language. The debate around what percentage of communication is verbal versus non-verbal has been contested for some time. However, most experts rate non-verbal communication as making up 70 to 90% of all communication6. Part of this discrepancy could be to do with different communication styles.

Some people are Affective Communicators while others are Neutral Communicators.Affective Communicators typically give off more non-verbal or physical cues. If you work with Affective Communicators and you are not attuned to body language, the chances are you're missing out on a lot of messages.

Let’s examine how this could play out in the workplace:

Leaders with poor body language skills may not recognise that their team is overwhelmed, or stressed out by a workload. They may assume that if they haven’t received any complaints that everything is fine. A leader who is skilled in reading body language can detect more subtle cues, and can use this information to guide their decisions.

The good news is that through coaching, you can learn to read body language more effectively.

Improve your EQ and Nonverbal communication skills with F4S

Do you want to connect with your team better? By developing your EQ and other communication skills with F4S, you can pick up on more subtle cues, empathize with your team and build stronger relationships.

Start with the robust, scientifically validated F4S assessment to determine your colleagues’ unique motivation traits, then you can learn how best to communicate with them based on their traits and communication styles.

F4S team dashboard shows and ranks team motivations

F4S team dashboard

With our structured AI-assisted coaching sessions, you can develop the skills you need to enhance your social skills, and your career.

Why interpersonal skills are important in the workplace

A successful organization often involves people with a range of different communication styles and motivational traits collaborating together. For this kind of collaboration to work, interpersonal communication skills are vital.

Here are some ways that interpersonal skills make a difference:

Resolving conflict

Strong interpersonal communicators are masters at conflict management. When conflict arises at work (as it inevitably does), strong conflict resolution skills make all the difference. When conflict arises, adept communicators are able to nip it in the bud, or stop it from happening in the first place.

Stronger leadership

To be a successful leader in the modern workplace, being an effective communicator is vital. Teams led by strong communicators consistently outperform those that aren't, on a range of metrics, including7:

  • Employee retention
  • Productivity
  • Financial performance

This is achieved by building relationships with their team and galvanizing them around common goals. Gone are the days when effective leadership is about presenting as 'strong' or authoritarian. Instead, effective leaders see themselves as servants.

In his book 'Leaders Eat Last', Simon Sinek argues that successful leaders prioritize the well-being of their team members first8. All of this is made possible by having well-developed communication skills.

Crisis management

While the ability to communicate can often steer organizations away from crisis, when crisis is unavoidable, some organizations are better equipped to bounce back. Leaders who know how to communicate with their team in times of crisis are better at delegating, keeping morale high and maintaining employee productivity.

Contrasting this with a leader with poor communication, you'll often see the opposite effect.

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How to improve interpersonal communication skills at work

You might think of interpersonal skills as being a 'you have it or you don't' type of trait. Just like some people are tall and others are short. However, research paints a different picture. Interpersonal communication is a skill that can be developed. Studies have shown that people are able to become better communicators and develop their emotional intelligence9. What's more, organizations can leverage these developments to achieve their goals.

Here are some practices that individuals and organizations can adopt to improve communication:


The connection between interpersonal communication and meditation may not be immediately clear. How could sitting alone in silence improve your social skills? Contradictory as it might seem, research10 has shown that people with a regular meditation practice are:

  • More emotionally intelligent
  • Calmer and clearer communicators
  • Easier to get along with
  • Better at handling stress

They're also more flexible and adaptable to situations, needs and differences in the workplace. It's no wonder that meditation is practiced by elite athletes, CEOs and other top performers.

Sounds like a no-brainer, right? If you've tried to get into meditation, you'll realize why sticking to it can be so difficult.

It's important to understand the science of habit formation so you can make your meditation practice stick.


In many ways, journaling is like building a healthy dialogue with yourself. You can explore everything that's on your mind in a safe and judgment-free space. Your worries, concerns, goals and ambitions – anything that you need to get off your mind and onto paper. Journaling has been shown to improve emotional intelligence, empathy and ultimately, develop a person's communication skills11.

Consider how journaling can improve communication at work with the following scenario:

You've been feeling frustrated with a co-worker. You have a meeting with them tomorrow to discuss a project and you’re worried that frustrations will boil over.

What do you do?

If you have a journaling habit, you can effectively practice what you're going to say and form a plan of action. In a way, it's as though you can test-run the meeting in advance and steer the meeting towards a more positive outcome. It's far easier to do this on the page of your journal than by simply thinking about the meeting. You're less likely to ruminate or catastrophize12, which might improve your chances of a favorable outcome.

Practice active listening

We all know the feeling when we're speaking to someone who isn't listening to us or who we feel is simply waiting for their turn to speak. Sadly, research13 has shown that this is far too common a problem. This style of listening makes people feel not seen, as though their ideas aren't valued or that they're unappreciated.

While in a normal social setting this may be a mere annoyance, in a workplace, it can cause major problems. This is why practising active listening is so important.

Active listening involves being fully present, asking questions and showing an authentic interest in the speaker. Instead of interjecting with your opinions or ideas, show respect to the speaker by giving them your undivided attention.

Developing your active listening skills at work has been shown to enhance a culture of collaboration, creativity and employee engagement. This is because workers who feel listened to feel valued and empowered to give their best ideas and efforts.

Improve your listening skills

Build a culture where constructive criticism is valued

If you've ever been in a workplace where your team avoids giving and receiving constructive criticism, you know the problems it can cause.

While many people avoid constructive criticism for fear of judgment, it's often the case that this can cause more problems in the long term. What could be as simple as pointing out how work could be improved can turn into gossip or bullying. Resentments can begin to rise and communication can break down.

To avoid this, it's important to normalize constructive criticism in your company culture.

When giving constructive feedback, be sure that you:

  • Are specific
  • Balance the positive with the negative
  • Make it about the work, never make it personal
  • Practice what you preach – demonstrate that you’re willing to receive feedback

Frequently asked questions

How do interpersonal skills help me build better client relationships?

Navigating the complexities of client interactions can be tough. But with strong interpersonal skills, you can communicate your goals and ideas more effectively, build strong rapport, and earn your client's trust.

How can interpersonal skills help me achieve my business goals?

The modern-day workplace often involves working with a wide range of people, often under tight deadlines on important projects. To ensure complex objectives are understood, and a spirit of collaboration is fostered while trust is earned, you’ll need strong interpersonal skills. It can also strengthen your negotiation skills, and other key business skills.

Why do interpersonal skills matter at work?

Strong interpersonal skills allow individuals to express their ideas clearly, actively listen to others, and work together without fear of judgment or failure. It creates a positive environment that enhances productivity, efficiency, and teamwork.


1. LinkedIn 2023 Most In-Demand Skills: Learn the skills companies need most, Available at: https://www.linkedin.com/business/learning/blog/top-skills-and-courses/most-in-demand-skills

2. Hartley, P,(1993), Interpersonal Communication,

3. Emerson, M, (2022), Is Your Workplace Communication Style as Effective as it Could Be? Available at: https://professional.dce.harvard.edu/blog/is-your-workplace-communication-style-as-effective-as-it-could-be/

4. Goleman, D (2005), Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, Available at: https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/587647-emotional-intelligence

5. Gong, Z, (2021), The Influence of Emotional Intelligence on Job Burnout, Available at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02707/full

6. How Much of Communication is Nonverbal? Available at: https://online.utpb.edu/about-us/articles/communication/how-much-of-communication-is-nonverbal/

7. Tian, H (2020), The Impact of Transformational Leadership on Employee Retention: Mediation and Moderation Through Organizational Citizenship Behavior and Communication, Available at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.00314/full

8. Sinek, S, (2014), Leaders Eat Last, Available at: https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/16144853

9. Bergman, S, (2020), The Dynamics of Developing Leadership Communication in Organisations, Available at: http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1474318/FULLTEXT01.pdf

10. Davis, D, (2012), What Are The Benefits of Mindfulness? Available at: https://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/07-08/ce-corner

11. The Many Benefits of Journaling For Students, Available at:  https://www.gcu.edu/blog/gcu-experience/many-benefits-journaling-students

12. Journaling For Mental Health, Available at: https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentID=4552&ContentTypeID=1

13. Osten, C (2016), Are You Really Listening, or Just Waiting to Talk? , Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/the-right-balance/201610/are-you-really-listening-or-just-waiting-talk

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