Mastering interpersonal communication: types, elements and strategies

Interpersonal communication is a fundamental part of daily life, whether you interact with family at home, colleagues at work or strangers you encounter throughout the day.

Developing effective communication skills and recognizing the significance of these interactions can greatly influence the value you get from them. In this sense, communication affects your results in various aspects of your personal and professional lives.

What is interpersonal communication?

Interpersonal communication is a vital aspect of human interaction that plays a significant role in your daily life.

You can think of any exchange of information, feelings and meanings between you and someone else (or multiple people) as interpersonal communication. This exchange can happen through both verbal and nonverbal means.

Communication, as they say, is a two-way street. It’s not just the transmission of words but rather the dynamic process that plays out when two or more people engage with one another.

Developing strong interpersonal communication skills can help you build and maintain strong relationships, so it’s a critical skill for you to thrive in life.

Types of interpersonal communication

Let’s look deeper at the different types of interpersonal communication: verbal, nonverbal and written. Each plays a unique role in how you convey and interpret messages between yourself and other people.

Verbal communication

Verbal communication is the most direct method of communication. In simple terms, it involves saying words to exchange information.

The advantage of verbal communication is that it allows for immediate feedback and clarification. It can occur in person, over the phone or through digital platforms such as video calls or voice chats.

Seek clarification when things are unclear, and think through your own thoughts before verbalizing them. Be careful of how you convey tone and emotion, as this can alter how your audience receives your message.

Active listening is a key part of effective verbal communication. It involves paying attention to what the person is saying and making an honest attempt to understand their point of view. If there’s confusion, ask clarifying questions or paraphrase their thoughts to ensure you’ve understood correctly.

Nonverbal communication

Nonverbal communication encompasses all the ways you convey information without words.

Facial expressions, body language, gestures, eye contact and even the amount of space you put between yourself and your conversation partner all play a role in how they interpret what you’re saying.

Effective nonverbal communication will complement spoken words, but the wrong body language or tone can contradict what you say.

Written communication

The written word has always been important for recording information and communicating with others over long distances. Although technology now facilitates the use of verbal communication at a distance, written communication remains a convenient and popular communication method.

This type of communication can include letters, memos, emails, text messages, text chats and social media interactions.

Just as with verbal communication, written communication requires careful thought to express your intentions clearly. This is especially important in written communication. Immediate feedback isn’t possible, so miscommunications are more likely.

6 elements of interpersonal communication

Several key elements form the foundation of effective exchanges between individuals. These elements – the communicators, message, noise, filters, feedback, context  and channel – work together in a dynamic process to shape how people interact and understand one another.

Communicators

Communication can’t happen without at least two parties: the sender and the receiver.

In real-time communication, the roles of sender and receiver are interchangeable, as communication is dynamic. Each communicator brings their own perceptions, emotions and backgrounds to the conversation. These influence how people convey and interpret messages.

Message (encode/decode)

The message is the heart of communication. It represents the information, ideas or emotions the sender is trying to convey to the recipient.

The sender encodes the message by translating their thoughts into a form they can transmit. Meanwhile, the recipient decodes the message by interpreting the transmitted information.

The clarity of the message and the accuracy of the encoding and decoding processes are the biggest contributors to its effectiveness.

Noise

In the context of communication, “noise” refers to any external factors that can disrupt or distort the message’s intended meaning. These factors can include background sounds, competing conversations, technical issues or physical distractions.

While noise primarily refers to external influences, it can also encompass internal factors that may hinder effective communication. Examples include language barriers and cultural differences.

To minimize the impact of noise on interpersonal communication, you’ll need to be aware of these potential obstacles and actively work to overcome them. Practices like seeking clarification and maintaining focus on the conversation at hand are helpful.

Filters

Filters in communication refer to the personal lenses through which individuals perceive, interpret and understand messages. Your experiences, beliefs, values and cultural background shape these filters, and they can influence how you encode your message. The recipient’s filters affect how they decode the message.

Filters can contribute to psychological noise in communication. However, they are a distinct concept that addresses the internal factors affecting message interpretation.

Feedback

Feedback is the response the receiver gives back to the sender. It confirms whether they have understood the message as intended.

Like all forms of communication, feedback can be verbal, nonverbal or written. It helps ensure that the recipient has understood the message correctly and allows for any necessary clarifications or adjustments.

Context

Everyone knows how it feels to have their words taken out of context.

The context of communication refers to the environment and specific situations in which the interaction occurred. This helps you understand how the sender’s specific words fit in with their message’s overall meaning.

Contexts can be cultural, social, emotional or physical.

Channel

The channel is the medium through which you transmit your message.  Face-to-face, email, letter, text message or social media are all examples. You can transmit a message through any medium that allows people to communicate with one another.

Your choice of channel can influence the efficiency and clarity of the messages you send and receive.

Purposes of interpersonal communication

Understanding the elements of interpersonal communication enables you to recognize its significance in your daily life. Effective interpersonal communication serves several crucial purposes that contribute to your personal growth, social functioning and overall well-being.

Below are three primary purposes of interpersonal communication.

Meeting personal needs

Communication fulfills basic human emotional needs, such as inclusion, control and affection. By expressing yourself and receiving feedback from others, you validate your own thoughts and feelings. This contributes to your sense of inclusion and self-worth.

In your interactions with others, you assert your presence, influence your environment and seek comfort and support, which enhances your mental well-being.

Learning about yourself and others

Both self-awareness and understanding other people are important areas of personal growth and social integration. Interpersonal communication is the vehicle through which this happens.

By engaging in open and honest dialogue, you gain valuable feedback that helps you identify your strengths and weaknesses. This leads to personal growth and improved social interactions.

When others share their thoughts, feelings and experiences, you are better able to understand their perspectives and develop empathy.

Building and maintaining relationships

Crucially, interpersonal communication facilitates trust, respect and understanding between you and others. You can only reach the true potential of your relationships when there is mutual understanding.

Active listening, empathy and conflict resolution are key steps to building and maintaining healthy relationships. When you take the time to understand diverse perspectives, you develop deeper emotional bonds.

Interpersonal communication examples

Understanding the elements and purposes of interpersonal communication can help you appreciate how it occurs in real-world scenarios.

Let’s look at a few specific examples of how interpersonal communication works.

Face-to-face and video conferencing

Face-to-face communication – in-person or via video conferencing – is often the most effective form of interaction.

Video conferencing platforms have made face-to-face communication possible even when participants are not in the same location, making it particularly useful for remote teams.

Face-to-face communication and video conferencing enable you to display verbal and nonverbal cues. These can enhance clarity, build trust and allow for immediate feedback and adjustments.

Email or messaging tools

Digital written communication tools like email and Slack make up a huge chunk of professional communications. They offer several advantages.

  • They provide a record of communications.
  • They allow for clear and concise communication between people across different locations and time zones.
  • They enable you to send and receive detailed responses or thorough documentation.

Despite these advantages, nonverbal cues don’t always provide sufficient context, making it easy for misunderstandings to occur.

Phone calls

The invention of the telephone revolutionized interpersonal communication. It allowed the immediacy of verbal interaction to merge with the convenience of remote communication.

You might use phone calls whenever face-to-face meetings are impossible. They enable you to have urgent discussions and add a personal touch. As a form of verbal communication, phone calls have an advantage over written communication because they allow for tone and pace variation. This means you can provide additional context and reduce miscommunications.

The drawback is that phone calls lack the visual cues that are present in face-to-face communication, which can sometimes lead to misinterpretations or a reduced sense of personal connection.

Additionally, phone calls may not always be suitable for complex discussions. Situations that require a more formal or documented approach may also benefit from a different form of communication.

Potential barriers to interpersonal communication

Effective interpersonal communication is a skill you can develop and refine. In the following sections, we’ll explore common barriers that can hinder successful communication. We’ll also provide strategies to overcome these obstacles.

Physical barriers

Geographical distance, poor technology and unsuitable environments can create physical separation between communicators. This can hinder effective communication.

Closed doors or cubicle walls can also restrict open communication in office settings.

Psychological barriers

Personal biases, preconceived notions and emotional disturbances can lead to misunderstandings and conflict. Communicating while under heavy stress or other emotional distress can impact your message’s clarity and reception.

Cultural barriers

Cultural differences in communication styles and norms can lead to misinterpretations and, in the worst case, unintended offense.

Some cultures prefer direct communication, while others value indirect approaches. Recognizing and respecting cultural differences is crucial for effective communication.

Linguistic barriers

Language barriers extend beyond differences in native languages. Jargon, complex terminology and regional dialects can cause confusion, even among speakers of the same language.

Clear and simple language is essential for effective communication.

Technological barriers

Digital communication tools are great because they can facilitate conversations across distances. However, they don’t allow you to use verbal cues, which may lead to misinterpretations.

Technological limitations such as poor internet connectivity or outdated software can also hinder effective communication.

How to build interpersonal communication skills

Aside from being aware of potential barriers to communication and taking steps to mitigate them, you can use several strategies to develop strong interpersonal communication skills.

  • Active listening: when others are speaking or when you’re reading what they have written, pay close attention to the content and the communicator’s tone and body language. If you are confused or upset about the meaning of something, ask for clarification to ensure you understand it correctly.
  • Clarity and conciseness: keep messages clear and concise to reduce the likelihood of misunderstandings. Avoid unnecessary jargon and complex language unless you are certain the audience will understand you.
  • Emotional intelligence: developing the ability to understand and manage your own emotions and recognize the emotions of others will help you express yourself more effectively and better understand other people.
  • Feedback: seek feedback about your communication skills from trusted sources. Be open-minded when receiving feedback and willing to make changes to improve.
  • Tools: use available resources, such as books, courses and tools like Pip Decks. Pip Decks are business recipe cards that provide step-by-step actions for practicing and improving your communication-related skills.

Interpersonal communication tips for remote workers

The lack of nonverbal cues poses unique challenges for communication in remote work. If you’re a remote worker or manage a team of remote workers, use these tips to help you improve these specific interpersonal communication skills:

  • Frequent check-ins: schedule regular daily or weekly check-ins via video calls, phone calls or other channels to keep everyone on the team aligned and informed.
  • Use video when possible: video provides the best opportunity to restore some nonverbal cues to communication. Use it whenever feasible to enhance understanding and connection.
  • Clear and detailed written communication: ensure that written messages are clear, detailed and easy to understand. Remote work often relies heavily on written communication.
  • Establish communication norms: set clear expectations about communication practices, including expected response times, preferred tools and channels and meeting etiquette. These will help you minimize confusion and improve efficiency.
  • Encourage informal interactions: provide remote workers with opportunities to bond in informal settings, similar to the proverbial water cooler in in-person work. Some companies, for example, set up a water cooler channel on digital communication platforms like Slack.
  • Be culturally sensitive: recognize and respect the cultural differences among team members from diverse backgrounds. Adapt communication styles accordingly to ensure effective collaboration.

Final thoughts

Effective interpersonal communication is a critical skill. You can develop and refine it through practice and self-awareness.

Understanding the various elements of interpersonal communication, its purposes and the barriers and challenges involved enable you to employ strategies for communicating successfully. Improving your skills will make you a more confident and effective communicator in both personal and professional settings.

Remember, the key to effective interpersonal communication is to be clear, concise, empathetic and adaptable.


Level up your career with Pip Club

Join 100,000+ leaders who get unique tips every week on storytelling, leadership and productivity - plus exclusive how-to guides, first-dibs on upcoming Pip Decks and our very best discounts.

No spam, no email sharing - ever. Privacy Policy

One of the few newsletters I look forward to.
— Dave Cunningham, Head of DesignOps @ NHS

Communicating with employees
Discover effective strategies for meaningful communication with your employees, fostering engagement and productivity.
Read More
Pitch perfect: strategies for audience engagement
Engage your audience with expert strategies for delivering a pitch that captivates.
Read More
Crafting clear communication: strategies for business success
Discover strategies for clear communication that drive business success and enhance team collaboration.
Read More