Three Goals for Better Interpersonal Communication

CommunicationIt is almost the end of February, pretty late into the year to be setting New Year’s resolutions. Goals, however, can be set at any time, and I have set 3 goals to improve my communication efforts in 2014.

Don’t take word choice for granted. Keep it simple is my motto! The best word to articulate a situation, emotion or to make a point is often a simple word. SAT-style words, industry jargon and business buzzwords can distract people from understanding what you are trying to say, and if your audience doesn’t understand you, you miss out on an opportunity to connect with them.

Hone your delivery. A former manager once gave me helpful feedback by pointing out a distracting habit I had of ending statements with an upward inflection in my voice (a souvenir from a year of studying in England). The inflection made it sound like I was asking a question, when often I was making a statement of fact or recommendation. By sounding like I was always asking a question, I came across as unsure of myself, which undermined my credibility and confused the people with whom I was speaking. I have always appreciated that my former manager was willing to share such direct feedback with me, and I try to do the same for others. Some examples of feedback I may pass along include:

  • Keep your hands away from your mouth when you are speaking. Don’t block your words before they are even out of your mouth!
  • Direct your face toward your listener to better project your voice in the right direction. When you are on the phone, look at the speakerphone or webcam mic. Trust me, people can tell if you are looking away even if they can’t see you.
  • When a situation requires you to come across a particular way, such as positive, upbeat or calm, relax your facial muscles when you speak. This is especially hard to do on the telephone when there is no one with whom to make eye contact. Try placing a mirror on your desk to observe your face during the call. Are you smiling? Is your face relaxed? Or are you frowning? The mirror provides instant feedback to help you correct your delivery.

Be attentive. We all know that emotional intelligence is an important component of good interpersonal communication. In the two-way street of communication, listening is just as important as speaking. This is an area I know I need to work on, because I have a tendency to start thinking about my reply while the other person is talking, or I get antsy and distracted thinking about all the things on my to do list. I am working to stay more attentive by doing the following:

  • Reminding myself that relationships with colleagues are just as important to ‘getting the job done’ as the work. Listening to the other person is part of the job, and frankly the relationship is what makes work more fun!
  • Putting away my hardware. On calls, I close my laptop. In person, I mute my phone or keep it in my purse.

I am looking forward to breaking a few communication bad habits this year and continuing to work on improving how I communicate with others. Wish me luck, as I do the same to you.

Heather Nelson is a partner with PeopleResults, a consultancy that guides organizations and individuals to “start the wave” of change. Heather and the team have advised major clients including PepsiCo, McKesson, Microsoft, Frito-Lay, Hitachi Consulting and many others on how to realize results through people. Contact her at and follow her on Twitter @HeatherGNelson1