interpersonal communicationWe’ve been communicating since we first entered this world. Over time, we added language, experience, and awareness to help us get better at interpersonal communication. And though we’ve done it our whole lives, it is still complex. We often fail in effectively communicating our messages. Looking at the world and the world of work today, it is easy to see that interpersonal communication is more important then ever, and more complicated too. Why is that? And how can we keep getting better, despite these changes?

More Communication Happens Asynchronously

In the big picture it wasn’t that long ago that (except for a letter, telegraph, telegram or more recently, a phone call), all communication happened synchronously – face to face in real time.  As we shift the time between the sending and receiving of messages and lose the full complement of auditory and visual clues, it gets more challenging for a communication message to be fully and correctly understood.  What did they mean?  What was their intent?  Even if we follow up with a question, we must wait for their response, and our brains have time to keep thinking, and perhaps make more (incorrect) assumptions.

If you have ever had miscommunication start from text messages, you know what I mean.

More Tools Are Used to Communicate

Except for the various forms of video calling, all the newer communication tools and platforms are asynchronous.  And while these tools provide flexibility, they don’t always improve our ability to create complete communication. And the tools themselves can become a barrier.

Do both parties know how to use the tool?  Do you have accepted etiquette or agreements about how and when to use these tools?  This isn’t just a point about the latest app or tool either.  Odds are you have had an extended email exchange go sideways – but when you pick up the phone or walk down the hall, the communication gets clearer as the misunderstanding fade.  The problem wasn’t the message or the senders, but that the wrong tool was being used for that communication outcome.

We Have Less Common Context

As our world becomes more global and diverse, communication gets more complex.  The complexity comes from more than cultural and language differences, though those are critical.  It extends to the information that we consume or know, the examples we can share, and the metaphors that will make sense to both or all parties.

When everyone you communicated with watched the same TV show, context and commonality was created.  When there are thousands of channels and most of them available 24-7, nothing can be assumed. Communication is easier when we have common experiences, references, and connection. In a world more diverse than ever, interpersonal communication gets harder.

We Handle Differing Opinions Differently

With this diversity comes broader and different opinions.  For reasons that go beyond the scope or goal of this article, as a society (though that doesn’t have to be true for any of us individually), we handle differing opinions differently than we used to.  We are quicker to judge, tend to explore a differing opinion less, and are more likely to separate our social interaction into groups we agree with.

None of those tendencies help us communicate better or provide positive examples of effective communication. Understanding and effective communication aren’t promoted (or modelled) when TV interviews become hostile, leaders accuse more and listen less, and people rant in the echo chamber of social media.  Unfortunately, as those become our consistent examples, all interpersonal communication becomes more challenging.

What’s the Solution?

My goal wasn’t to make things seem helpless or to ruin your mood. These factors all do make interpersonal communication more challenging.

Challenging, but not impossible.

There is more we could say about these complicating factors, and the solutions, but here are three ways to overcome the complexities of interpersonal communication.

  • Focus less on yourself. Since communication is not just sending messages, but having them effectively received, focus more on your audience than yourself and you will become a more effective communicator.
  • Talk less and listen more. When you do you will get better at receiving the messages of others and in prioritizing when you want to share. After all, it is easier for people to receive three messages from you than thirteen.
  • Make it your communication effectiveness your goal. Consciously recognize the need to be a better communicator, whether in writing, speaking or specific situations. You will improve when you focus on being a better communicator.


Virtual LeaderCon, September 12-15, is a fully virtual, highly interactive chance to learn how to be a better leader and team member. And one full day (Tuesday September 13) is fully focused on interpersonal and leadership communication! You can learn from 30 leadership experts to grow as a leader, teammate, and human being. Whether you attend one selected session or the entire event, it is all free to participate in and learn from these experts. You can also gain lifetime access to the recordings of anything you miss at an incredibly small investment – for the full event or just the Communication Day. This may be the best thing you can do to improve your interpersonal communication this year. Details and all registration options (including FREE) are here.

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