What are communication and interpersonal skills?

Selection criteria can be challenging when they mix communication and interpersonal skills. How do these skills differ and what sort of examples are relevant to each?

The two are related and yet refer to different sets of skills.

Communicating skills are the skills needed to use language to interact with others. The primary  skills are reading, writing, listening and speaking. These skills enable people to share information, ideas and feelings and to transfer meaning among themselves.

There are numerous definitions of communication. They range from very narrow definitions which confine communication to the ‘transmission of information’ to broader concepts about the sharing and negotiation of meaning.

Apart from intra-communication (communicating with oneself), communicating takes place in the context of relationships with other people. This is where interpersonal skills enter the picture. My ‘message’ might be clear (to me) but if I don’t take account of who I am speaking to, my relationship with them, the etiquette of the situation, then I could face misunderstandings and tarnished relationships.

Daniel Goleman uses the term ‘social intelligence’ to refer to our ability to ‘act wisely in human relationships.’ (Social Intelligence, 2006). He divides social intelligence into two capabilities:

  • Social awareness – refers to skills in empathy, attuning to a person, understanding another’s thoughts, feelings and intentions, and knowing how the social world works.
  • Social facility – refers to interacting smoothly at the nonverbal level, self-presentation, influence and concern.

Both range from basic, low-level capabilities to more complex skills.

When writing to selection criteria, be clear about what your examples are demonstrating.

Examples of written communication skills include the ability to:

  • write a media release that generates publicity
  • write a report or brief according to the prescribed structure and word length.

Examples of oral communications skills include the ability to:

  • answer public inquiries by telephone
  • run and participate in meetings
  • make a presentation.

Interpersonal skills enter the picture when you consider situations where there are:

  • different priorities and expectations that generate conflict, misunderstandings, disagreements
  • uncooperative behaviours such as withholding information, not meeting commitments, power games
  • diverse people together (different cultures, ages, genders, working styles).

How you speak and write is then affected by these factors. You would modify your speaking and writing to cater for these differences and behaviours in order to maintain a working relationship. Your response would be based on a situation that explains how you modified your communicating to cater for the specific interpersonal issues of the situation.

Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.