Communication and Interpersonal Relations

Communication is a central human activity and the basis of interpersonal relationships. People use different kinds of communication processes to understand each other. Mutual influences become unavoidable in this exchange process. People learn how other people see them and get a fairer personal assessment. Many individual needs become apparent when relating to others.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that communications occur even if people have no intentions to communicate. In fact, living implies communicating because people are always communicating with other people. Human communication ranges from primitive, like movements and sounds, to most elaborate, based on words and symbols representing objects or ideas.

People’s social nature makes them interdependent, always seeking communications with others, and exchanging messages to understand perceptions, ideas and experiences. Communication is one of the central skills in the development of Emotional Intelligence and, consequently, it is a crucial ability for leaders to relate to and influence followers.

Most employees indicate that one of the main problems they face in organizations is communication, despite evidence that leaders devote over 80 percent of their time to improve communications. Moreover, organizations allocate a substantial amount of resources to this effort. Communication is essential to expedite organizational life. The ability to communicate face-to-face has a high impact on promotions and future success. A sample of employees from 88 organizations showed that interpersonal communication skills were rated the most important out of 31 skills in the survey (Abarca, 2010).

Communication is not a simple matter, and in fact, many barriers obstruct effective communications. Communication problems may arise when writing, sending or receiving messages, demanding persistent efforts to ensure effective communication, and avoiding obstacles that impair clarity and easy understanding. Typical misinterpretations occur when messages are incomplete, unclear or inappropriate to the situation. Also, messages can be ignored or distorted by biased interpretations and mental frameworks. In a survey of 13,000 people in universities, military units, government agencies and hospitals, almost all respondents thought they were better at communicating than other individuals (Abarca, 2010).

Furthermore, communication is not an isolated event but commonly involves continuous interactions that change how people feel or think according to the feedback received. Breakdowns typically occur in complex and sustained processes ending in misunderstandings or conflict between parties because most people believe that communication problems are due to the other part’s failures.

Finally, leadership calls for the most careful and effective forms of communication because leaders’ behavior and decisions are spelled out in messages that people have to understand and decipher. A sensible leader leads by example, and the first component of good communication is credibility and trust. Leaders must pay special attention to critical decisions’ communicational content, such as organizational structure changes, pressure for deadlines and consistency between their actions and the corporate values and mission (Ham, 2006).

The following are relevant attributes of effective communications that leaders must consider in dealing with followers:

  • Be clear; avoid generalities. Avoid using general terms such as “most people” or “some of our friends”, since unspecific terms are difficult to understand and conceal messages.
  • Be precise. Include only necessary information in messages, use framework references and spell out basic assumptions to facilitate correct understanding. For example, give clear work instructions and a realistic description of what collaborators must do. New employees especially appreciate accurate information.
  • Define communication objectives explicitly. The goal of communication is to influence, inform and express emotions. If the specific aim is to influence, state this before providing details.
  • Secure consistency between verbal and nonverbal messages. Face-to-face communications involve verbal and nonverbal messages, for instance, when people say they are happy and are simultaneously smiling and expressing their wellbeing in other nonverbal ways. Contradictory verbal and nonverbal messages are confusing.
  • Be redundant in communication. Communicate not once, but many times. Repeat messages using different approaches to secure understanding (drawings, nonverbal expressions, written statements).
  • Give and ask for feedback. Give people specific and descriptive feedback on positive evaluations, identify areas of improvement, focus on actions and avoid making people feel guilty or ashamed. Recognize merit when necessary.
  • Ask for feedback on how people receive the message and verify that everybody understands, especially when expressing emotions. Communication problems arise from different interpretations people give to the same message. Hence it is important to ask direct questions to ensure communications came across as intended. Do not just ask,

“do you have any doubts?” It is essential to use feedback to learn if messages are understood correctly.

  • Adapt the message to the audience. Explaining a topic to an expert or a novice, a child or an adult requires different approaches.
  • Use diverse ways to communicate feelings. Use examples, metaphors or representative actions to express feelings and emotions.
  • Build empathy. Make people feel comfortable. Start the communication with a brief talk related to the message to prepare the person to receive it. And when referring to the behavior of other people, be cautious to avoid hurting sensibilities. Use descriptions over evaluations.
  • Take care of relationships. Show openness and warmth in communications to express care and concern for collaborators’ wellbeing, pointing out they are valued and esteemed.
  • Achieve commitment and make sure to follow up. When the communication objective is to inform or express emotions, there is no need to define commitments. However, when the goal is to influence other people, it is necessary to formalize agreements with clear responsibilities, defining actions and milestones for effective follow-up.
  • Spread organization news in a timely way using technology, social media, emails, websites, CCTV (closed-circuit television) among others.

Virtual Communication and the Loss of the Human Moment

The human moment is a psychological encounter that happens when two people share the same physical space (Hallowell, 1999). The influence of technology and the internet impairs the human moment, which is increasingly rare today and disappearing in modern life. Hallowell noted two decades ago, the destructive dimension of the absence of the human moment. Evidence of this is increasingly apparent as people worldwide are being subject to prolonged lockdowns, social distancing and teleworking imposed by the 2020 coronavirus global pandemic. Communication in organizations is increasingly taking place through voice mail, email and other virtual messaging systems displacing personal contact and altering the human moment. The progressive disappearance of human moments reveals detrimental consequences that include increased sensitivity, sense of isolation and feelings of ailing, resulting in lower work engagement levels, job satisfaction, performance and productivity that hinder longterm organizational sustainability.

Hallowell stated that the human moment when communicating has two prerequisites: physical presence and emotional and intellectual attention. Sometimes a five-minute engaged conversation can have a significant meaning for people.

Face-to-face interactions are essential to stimulate emotional wellbeing and intellectual activity and acuteness. Communicating through email misses important nonverbal components that infuse meaning to a message, mainly body language, voice tones and facial expressions that capture unique subtleties like wit, humor and other signs of care and warmth. This assertion does not intend to diminish the value of virtual communications but emphasizes that they are not perfect substitutes for human contact. Face-to-face interactions remain vital in organizations, especially in tech organizations, prone to rely only on remote work.

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