Currently, I’m part of a programme coaching young career professionals around the world via video conferencing. It’s a fascinating experience working with different nationalities in the world’s toughest environments. Yet, many of the issues they deal with are common and familiar to workplaces everywhere. I am struck by the power, clarity, and simplicity of a client’s aha moment this week.

I realise that it all comes down to communication and perceptions.

So, it doesn’t matter how good you are technically or what your qualifications are. You won’t be the best you can be if your communication is not effective. This post looks at the basics of interpersonal communication. It shows how you can take steps to improve the way you communicate for a positive job or career impact.

Being able to communicate well is a fundamental interpersonal skill. It’s in most job descriptions and job interview questions. Why is it we too often default to set patterns of behaviour? Because we are attention poor, can only absorb so much and like taking shortcuts. We don’t think too often or too closely about how we communicate during our hectic day. But how many issues, problems or challenges do you spend time on due to poor communication and the two-way gap in perceptions?

Understand communication

Communication is an umbrella term for a stack of skills and mindsets at different levels. The big ones are listening and questioning. Easy to understand, but tricky to deploy. For example, when the communication level is too narrow, superficial or inappropriate for the situation. Also, it can be a failure to do more than talking sense. Listening and questioning involve the skills and mindsets of seeing, hearing, speaking, touching, and gut feeling. For example, genuinely putting the position of the other person first is a listening mindset.

3 levels of communication

PerceptionsPeople at work spend a lot of their time on facts. (Re)sharing or presenting or seeking data, information, knowledge. Giving instructions. Checking on progress. Clarifying, summarising (using their words), paraphrasing (your version of their words), building on, critiquing etc. In the era of ‘fake news’, it doesn’t take much for miscommunication, distortions, misunderstandings and judgemental behaviours to occur. The rational and reasoned approach to communication is taking a hit. Recent political upheavals in the UK and US show that facts don’t change minds.

Do you check your assumptions?


If your emotional intelligence kicks in (and let’s be honest, it bypasses many), then you tune into the next level of feelings. Body language, facial gestures like smiling and grimacing, eye contact, the tone of voice. Defensiveness, aggression, passive-aggression, passivity, assertiveness, anger, joy, laughter, cynicism, skepticism, curiosity, silence etc. Check out the wheel of emotions and take your pick. According to some, emotional intelligence is the biggest predictor of career success. Engaging emotions captures attention as every marketer knows.

Do you recognise and understand your emotional responses and those of other people?

perceptionsAt a deeper level, your antennae pick up on the other person’s values. For example, fear of failure and pressure to deliver what a more senior person in the organisation demands. Their underpinning values might be about valuing job security or status or compliance. So, the best way to find out is to probe a little deeper through skillful questioning. Be empathetic and compassionate. Step alongside someone to get a sense of their world or do something to support them.

Do you recognise and understand what is most important to you and other people?

Analyse Perceptions

If you want to change things for the better, be insistent, consistent, and persistent about:

  1. Keeping a journal. Consciously reflect, identify patterns, plan for different ways to communicate, and practice. What do I think, feel, and do before, during and after my communication ‘moments of truth’? What helps me and what gets me into trouble?
  2. Asking for feedback. How do other people experience my communication?
  3. Feedforward to others. What do I notice about how other people communicate? What would I like them to do differently to improve how we communicate?

Develop your communication

Understand the different components of communication and analyse your performance. Then, focus on testing perceptions, making adjustments, and practicing:

  • Managing your emotions (impulse control and being non-judgemental)
  • Being aware of your impact and how you come across
  • Reading other people and adjusting your communication
  • Adopting the relevant mindset for the situation
  • Listening and questioning, and getting the balance right with advocating your view

How intentional are you in how you communicate?