Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Interpersonal Communication Competence Rocks!

Social Intelligence, Interpersonal skills, Relational Competence… A beloved child has many names. Whatever name you prefer these so called “soft skills” are ruling the work place. As work is becoming more and more knowledge based (knowledge jobs have grown even during recession), these skills are more crucial than ever before.

There seems to be a paradigm shift around the concept of work and organisation. The responsibility of creating and sharing knowledge has been distributed to everyone, it’s no longer only management’s job to take care of. More self-leadership is expected and everyone is seen as an active organisational agent. This setting is complex, and the ones with the best interpersonal skill-set are likely to succeed.

In a blog of Harvard Business Review, Daniel Goleman wrote about the must-have leadership skill. In his post there was a story of hiring a top-quality economist with an excellent resume but who soon was facing a brick wall because he lacked the interpersonal skills. According to Goleman,“lacking social intelligence, no other combination of competences is likely to get much traction”.

Interpersonal Communication Competence, as I like to name it, is one of the core competences today. Frankly, the knowledge of a professional depends very much on how well it comes across. Harshly put: if you cannot communicate your knowledge and expertise, does it actually have value?

What is Interpersonal Communication Competence? Many trainings focus mainly on the apparent dimension of the competence, the skills. But Interpersonal Communication Competence includes much more than that. It includes cognitive, affective and behavioural dimensions:

1)    Cognitive dimension. Interpersonal Communication Competence requires knowledge and understanding about what is appropriate and effective communication behaviour in a certain situation.
2)    Affective dimension. To be perceived competent you have to be motivated to participate in the social interaction. If you couldn’t care less and show lack of interest in the situation, most likely your behaviour is not perceived as competent.
3)    Behavioural dimension. Interpersonal Communication Competence includes a skill to behave in a way that the other communicators in the situation perceive appropriate and effective.

Besides the above-mentioned areas, Interpersonal Communication Competence also includes metacognitive skills - an ability to plan, moderate and evaluate one’s own communication behaviour. In addition, an ethical dimension highlights that communication behaviour is competent only when communication doesn’t decrease trust and willingness to collaborate, and when the communicators are not at the risk to loose their face.

When evaluating and consulting Interpersonal Communication Competence, the important notion is to understand it as socially co-constructed. What is defined as competent communication behaviour is dependant on the situational interpretations and evaluations of the communicators. Interpersonal Communication Competence is relational and contextual, not a static individual feature that can be brought into different situations. 

Further reading:

Greene, J. O. & Burleson, B. R. 2003. Handbook of Communication and Social Interaction Skills. Mahwah: L. Erlbaum Associates.  
Hargie, O. 2006. Handbook of Communication Skills. 3rd ed. London: Routledge.

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