Communication. Something we all do in a hundred different ways every day. Chances are you don’t even think about it. And that may a problem.


When surveyed, business owners and managers said one of the skills employees lacked was basic interpersonal communication skills. But what does that really mean?



First of all, what is interpersonal communication? If you think it’s just the ability to talk to another human being, think again. If you think that it’s 50% speaking and 50% listening, you’re getting closer. But would you believe that over 90% of human communication is nonverbal? That’s not just the things we don’t say and the work we do trying to “read between the lines” when other people are speaking. It’s also our body language and our reception and understanding of the body language of other people.


We just talked about personal presentation last week, and you should consider revisiting that post because we’re going to go over some of the same ideas again here. Those skills you practice for your interview, ideally, should develop into habits you use all the time. Try to imagine that you’re always interviewing. You’re always trying to impress your boss, your clients, colleagues from competitors, you girlfriend’s parents, and your own grandmother.


So, first things first:


Posture & Posing.

Let’s start with the big picture and work our way down to the details.


Sit or stand up straight. Not so straight that it looks as though you have a board super glued to your back, but certainly not slouchy. Keep your head up and your shoulders back. Bonus: You’ll appear taller. If you’re into that kind of thing.


Face the person you’re speaking with, and make eye contact frequently.


Do not cross your arms, and don’t hold your hands behind your back either. Keep them in front of you, visible, and relatively still—don’t fidget.


Active & Affirmative Listening.

When listening to another person, you want to practice both active and affirmative listening.


Active listening means giving nonverbal cues such as making eye contact, leaning in toward the speaker, nodding your approval or understanding. It also means asking follow-up questions, requesting clarification and agreeing where appropriate.


Affirmative listening means going one step further in your understanding and listening not just for the content of the speaker’s message, but also for the connotation—the other meanings that are implied. You’re listening for feelings, and confirming that you understand what is being said.


For an example of both active and affirmative listening, if your boss is talking about a project that went badly which you were not a part of, you might respond “That must have been frustrating in front of the client. I remember when I had a project that wasn’t well received with a different client. It sounds like you would have liked the team to take the project in a different direction. Is there anything I can do to help you create an alternative to the presentation?”


Streamlined Speaking

1. Be Kind.

The smallest portion of your communication is going to be your actual speech. It should go without saying, but just to be clear, first of all, you don’t want to be offensive. Don’t use inappropriate language, don’t speak badly of others and don’t complain. Pretend everyone you speak to is your grandmother. Be kind, be polite. Follow her rules: if you don’t have something nice to say… Even when you have to address a negative issue, always find a way to put a positive spin on it. Everything is an opportunity, you just have to see how it can be.


2. Be Clear.

In your verbal and written communication, be as clear as possible. Don’t assume your listeners know as much about the topic as you do. Especially avoid using a lot of acronyms and industry-specific terms or jargon unless you’re dealing with people you work with often and know they will understand what you’re saying. Watch for the nonverbal cues of others and clarify when they appear confused. Always end your conversations with clear next steps for everyone involved.


3. Be Candid.

That’s just another way of saying “be honest.” Your colleagues and customers will appreciate this. If you don’t know the answer to something, say so, and say also that you will find the answer and get back to them as soon as possible. Give your honest opinion of something (with a positive spin, as kindly as possible) when asked.


4. Be Quick.

Don’t spend a lot of time making small talk or giving backstory that isn’t relevant. Try to get to the point as quickly as possible and only give the most important pieces of information—the highlight reel, so to speak. Your boss doesn’t need to hear the details of the last 14 times the printer malfunctioned and every reason you have for requesting a new one. They say time is money, and taking care of business as quickly as possible is a great way to show people that you respect them and value their time. (Of course, this rule does not apply outside of business relationships—feel free to ramble as much as you want with your husband, mother, and best friend.)

Read more: The Real Reason New College Grads Can’t Get Hired |