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Be a Better Communicator
by Dave Neal

Even if you are smart and interesting and a snappy dresser, you may not be communicating effectively at work. Your business culture, priorities, processes, and physical environment, all play a part in how well information is sent and received. A large part of improving your communication environment is improving your own ability to communicate on an interpersonal level.

One of the paradoxes of the 21st Century is that we are able to communicate like never before — we have 24-hour news, e-mail, Internet chat, and cell phones everywhere. Still, the quality of our communication seems to be diminishing — we write fewer long letters, we rarely sit down to dinner with the family, we have fewer face-to-face encounters, and we take less time to hold meaningful conversations. As the efficiency of our communication increases, it becomes less interpersonal.

It’s interesting that in 1990, only about half a million individuals in the US had a cell phone (that is less than one-quarter of one percent of the 1990 population). In 2000, 10 years later, there were about 100 million cell phone subscribers (about 35% of the population) and new subscribers are added at the rate of 50,000 per day.

Still, in a world of perpetual sending and receiving of information, our contact with other people has become routine and efficient like the drive-thru window at Burger King. We pass some impersonal words, get our value meal, and drive off. The process occurs with hardly a thought. We’re on autopilot.

Actually, there is nothing wrong with this type of impersonal communication — which we seem to be doing more of — as long as we do not neglect the more meaningful interpersonal communication that makes a real difference in our work and personal lives — which we seem to be doing less of.

Your communication exists on a continuum between impersonal and interpersonal. You should move from one to the other based on your goal; is it more important for you to get the task done or strengthen the relationship with the person or people you are communicating with?

For example, when you are driving through Burger King, your goal is to get your food and drive away. You don’t really care who is behind the window, and he or she doesn’t really care who you are. Your focus is on the task, which is to send your request as clearly as you can so you get what you want.

What if you go to the same restaurant for lunch every day and have the same waiter? Might you be more interested in building a relationship with the waiter? Sure. A stronger relationship might get you a better table at the restaurant, faster service, better food, or just interesting conversation. The waiter might get a better tip, a good recommendation from you to other people, and more business.

Based on your goals at work, are your communications with employees more impersonal or interpersonal? For the most part, managers and leaders need to find a balance between impersonal and interpersonal communication. Too impersonal and relationships suffer; too interpersonal and tasks suffer.

Despite our best intentions and skill at relating to others, interpersonal communication is a complex process. Rarely are any of us completely at ease or satisfied with our encounters. We often feel misunderstood and frustrated by our inability to convey our messages clearly.

The best way to improve as a communicator is to get out from behind the computer and the desk. Engage with people face-to-face, put yourself in varying social situations with diverse people, deal with differing opinions and ideas with respectful debate, and so on.

Don’t treat life like a drive-thru window. Sit down and chew the fat with people once in awhile.

Dave Neal may be contacted at

Dave Neal has helped develop thousands of employees and managers in organizations around the world for over 15 years. He is a senior partner at 4th Street Training. Web: Email:



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