Communication is crucial.
We all have some habits and weaknesses in communication.
But the good news is that it can be measurably and significantly improved, leading to better relationships, work opportunities and personal satisfaction.
1) Listen more
The first step for how to improve your interpersonal skills is to listen more.
It may sound paradoxical, but in order to say what you really mean and be heard, you need to listen.
Our digital age is all about instant gratification and speed.
But true communication and connection can take a bit of patience and receptivity.
If you don’t really understand and hear what somebody is saying, you’re not going to offer any response that’s valuable or interesting.
Building a connection and offering worthy conversational input requires you to make listening your default mode.
It isn’t just passively absorbing what’s being said either, it’s active listening…
2) Listen actively
Active listening means hearing what somebody is saying and actually putting in the work to process and understand it.
You don’t just hear the words and put a checkmark next to them.
You hear the words and the intention and purpose behind them.
If your friend tells you he is tired, you hear what he’s saying and also go the extra step of understanding that he wants to take a break from the hike you are on soon.
Active listening is about caring why somebody is saying something rather than just what they are literally saying.
Even if you don’t agree, you hear what they are saying and the reason or meaning behind what they are saying.
Active listening makes a big difference in improving your interpersonal skills.
3) Hone in on purpose
As I emphasized in the last point, the why of what’s being said is often more important than just what is being said.
When you are listening to somebody or when you are talking, focus on purpose.
You may just be joking around because you want to, or have a lot on your mind and be talking it through with someone.
There does have to be room for spontaneity and just talking about…whatever!
But there should also be some consciousness on your part about why you are speaking with someone, if there is a reason.
But say, for example, that you are romantically interested in someone and flirting with them:
In this case, try to talk about subjects that are potentially flirtatious and not overly heavy.
Don’t discuss the Rwandan genocide or get embroiled in a debate about gun control right off the bat.
I’m not saying you can’t discuss important or deep topics, but try to keep your purpose in mind and remain a little bit focused on why you’re talking to someone.
I call this being conversation-conscious.
4) See what you can learn
One of the best things about talking to people and building connections is that you can learn a huge amount.
I have most certainly learned more from talking to different people in many places than I have ever learned in a book or documentary.
The fact of the matter is that if you become an active listener and are willing to talk to more people, you find out things you never imagined.
I don’t just mean facts and figures, I mean fascinating, tragic, hilarious and bizarre experiences, details from people’s life, views on love and romance, business advice…
You find out so much about the worldviews of those around you and the wide diversity of people in this universe.
It’s really worth your time.
5) Focus on offering value
When you do speak, it’s often worth focusing on offering value.
I don’t mean that you need to be giving someone a job or something tangible.
But if your friend mentioned she loves adventure sports and is traveling to Costa Rica, you might mention an amazing zipline park you went to that she would love.
This is offering value in the sense of providing some kind of input that actually makes a difference and contributes.
Sometimes offering value isn’t so literal and can be more about being a sympathetic ear for someone in distress, or offering a place to stay to a friend who’s going through a hard time.
6) Speak respectfully
Another of the crucial things about the art of communication and how to improve your interpersonal skills is to speak respectfully.
Many times we fall into patterns with people we know well or work with of talking a little bit disrespectfully.
It’s often less about the words we say and more about the tone we say them in.
“Can you bring me that file?” becomes “hey, bring that file, will you?” delivered in a commanding but disrespectful tone.
“No, I don’t remember what restaurant you mean,” becomes “what restaurant? I’m not focused on food right now.”
And so on…
Avoid this! Remain conversation-conscious!
7) Keep vocab modest
No matter what level of education you have, or those you are talking to, try to keep your vocabulary modest.
Using flowery and sophisticated words can be a lot of fun, but I suggest only doing so if you’re with people who appreciate it.
Being intentionally obscure with references, words or connotations can be confusing and annoying to some people, especially strangers.
Don’t try to make an extended play on words relating to hot dogs while you’re on the street at a hot dog stand.
Even if the guy serving you is actually an English Ph. D. from Yale, he’s most likely not going to have time or energy to focus on wordplay while he’s busy trying to turn a profit from selling wieners.
Keep your vocabulary simple, when possible.
Say what you mean and don’t be afraid to use descriptive words, but don’t over-speak and pepper your sentences with excessive and unnecessary vocabulary, wordplay, references and connotations.
Just say what you mean.
8) Avoid too many fillers
Another key tip for communicating well is to avoid too many fillers.
Common examples include “like,” “uh,” “huh,” “ugh,” “well…” and “humm…”
You’re inevitably going to say things like this now and then.
But keep usage fairly minimal.
Using too many filler words makes most people lose patience with you and can start to fray connections you are making in conversations.
If you find yourself unsure about how to reduce usage, try keeping track of how often you use fillers.
Then you will start to catch yourself before you use them more and more.
9) Focus on shared goals and values
Whenever possible, focus on shared goals and values.
You may be on different pages than some people and you may even find some people boring.
But try to think about how much more you have in common than you have apart.
If I love rural life and you love city life, we may have opposite visions of where we want to live and the environment we enjoy…
But I’m guessing we both enjoy laughter, friendship, community and a healthy lifestyle.
There are so many shared values even in often clashing viewpoints.
Start by assuming these shared values are there and then exploring them if they are.
When that doesn’t work, you sometimes do end up in heated arguments.
Which brings me to my last point about building strong connections and being a powerful communicator:
10) Accept conflict if it arises
Another key tip for how to improve your interpersonal skills in terms of communication, is to accept conflict if it arises.
When you genuinely disagree or find yourself clashing, sometimes it’s just the way it is.
You don’t try to get into overly heavy debates right away, but at the same time, if you’re clashing with someone, you don’t run and hide or pretend you like them.
People appreciate honesty, especially very self-actualized people who are authentic and confident.
If you hate their belief or strongly disagree, sometimes you just need to say it.
Being well liked by everyone shouldn’t be our primary goal.
Being authentic and pursuing our purpose with true energy is much more important than popularity.
Mastering the art of communication
Communication is a lot like a dance.
It’s all about give and take and listening to the music.
It’s also about paying attention to your own desire to talk and that of the other person or people in the conversation.
Do you want to talk?
If so, what is the general point of the conversation?
Just saying hello or sharing some good cheer is a perfectly good reason to chat, but it may be that your conversation partner wants to close a business deal and you’re interested in her romantically.
Try to be clear on what some different intentions might be in an interpersonal interaction.
Don’t overanalyze, but make sure you stay clear-headed and hear what the other person is actually saying, while making sure that you also say what you mean!