Perception Influences Everything Right Down to How We Interact
Communication is meant to be a manner of expression for humans, allowing people to convey, relay, and give feedback on their thoughts, feelings, and desires. In the business setting, communication is one of the most critical aspects of a successful business or enterprise. In the digital age, communication can mean many things, from the transmission of key data via electronic/digital media, an oral report or presentation on strategic statistics, to a face-to-face interview.
Managers communicate with their employees in order to plan, strategize, direct, and organize, while personnel must communicate with clients, each other, and executives. The ultimate goal of communication, in any form, is to act as an impetus or catalyst for an action, or a change in thought patterns amongst the receivers of the information. In order for this goal to be accomplished via communication, everyone has to be on the same page.
Business communication is more complex, as non-spoken words can imply different meanings to the same sentence, including body language, tone, facial expression, intonation, and use of inflections. One’s perception (including preconceived notions/biases and previous understanding) greatly affects how they think, act, speak, and interact with others, which, in turn, affects every part of their life. It is critical for managers and personnel to understand that it is how something is said that can change the context, and the perception, of a statement’s meaning, and not just what is said.
What Is Interpersonal Communication?
Interpersonal communication includes the exchange of concepts, ideas, feelings, data, and/or information between two or more people via verbal (e.g. spoken) or non-verbal (e.g. written) methods.
The key details of interpersonal communication are what help to differentiate its importance from everyday communication in the business setting. That is, since interpersonal communication in the business setting often includes face-to-face exchanges of information, messages and data, non-spoken aspects of the conversation can change the direction of an entire business conversation, which can create issues if words, meanings, gestures, or tone of voice are misunderstood.
There are several examples of common business interpersonal communication occurrences (including both face-to-face conversations, and digital/online exchanges):
Water cooler/Coffee break talks
Each of these examples can result in divergent pathways of actions if something is not understood within the context of the exchange, such that entire strategic directions can be altered if communication is misconstrued or misunderstood.
Elements That Influences Interpersonal Communication
Factors that can affect how interpersonal communication takes place in a business setting include non-spoken factors and basic elements of conversations. Each element influences interpersonal communication in a business setting, and must be understood, so that key communication principles can be leveraged in order to communicate effectively within the enterprise environment.
Interpersonal communication, always involves two people; the sender of the message and the receiver. Interpersonal communication, can include more than two people, but two people are the minimum, with regard to information being transmitted.
Communication - that is, language - is a code of the mind that allows the transmission of information from one mind to another. In order for this to be true, the message must have a topic or core subject matter. At the same time, non-verbal messages, such as gestures or body language, can convey an ancillary message that is interconnected with the core message.
“Noise,” in the context of interpersonal communication, is an important factor that can greatly change how a message is perceived by the recipient. Noise refers to any type of interference or anything that distorts the message. This often includes body language, tone, or the use of non-familiar words. Mitigating noise in an interpersonal business conversation is key to ensuring that everyone is on the same page. The critical way to mitigate noise is to attempt to understand any given topic from the perspective of the listener, which indicates understanding their perceptions on the topic.
While interpersonal communication must include two or more people, the roles often switch, such that the listener gives feedback to the initial communicator, and thus becomes the communicator. Feedback refers to any reaction by the receiver when he/she receives a message. He/she may or may not understand the message, so feedback could be in the form of a confirmatory nod, subtle facial expressions, body language that implies that he/she is not comfortable, or simply responding with “I’m sorry, could you please say that again?”. Feedback is one of the most important aspects of interpersonal communication since it conveys the reaction of the initial message by the listener, and can help to elucidate more on the subject (if a question is asked by the listener due to not understanding), or can confirm that the initial speaker’s words were understood, and will result in the desired action. From a managerial perspective, this is key since managers rely on feedback to ensure that their directives are understood. From a strategic perspective, feedback ensures that the blueprint - that is, the enterprise’s projects and roadmap - are going in the direction that is necessary for the fulfillment of the overarching goals.
The context of a conversation entails the circumstances associated with a statement or string of statements (within an interpersonal exchange) that set the stage for the statement to be understood. This is key, as two of the same statements, when spoken with a different context, can mean two completely different things. Within the scope of a business, this is extremely critical as the context of a business discussion/conversation - whether it be in an interview, board meeting, client meetings or face-to-face review, must be understood in order to align everyone’s perception with the correct receipt of the message that should result in the desired actions. If the context is not understood completely, an entire business strategy can result in personnel taking a different direction, and projects succeeding or failing. Interpersonal Business Communication literally defines how a business carries out its projects and transmits data/information, and thus, whether a business will succeed or fail.
The channel of interpersonal communication refers to the medium or platform by which the message is being transmitted from the sender to the receiver (and back to the sender with feedback). The channel is a key factor within the scope of business interpersonal communication as well, as some perceptions may differ (on the recipients end) based on what channel is used. While electronic mail and business messaging apps do not allow for the reading of facial expressions or gestures, some people rely on those things to understand the context of the message, and thus this must be taken into account via sufficient compensation in the written message. Consequently, the context of a message may be lost over certain channels of communication, resulting in the message being “lost in translation.”
Types of Interpersonal Communication
While all forms of interpersonal communication entails conveying a message from a sender to a receiver, there are two specific types of such communication instances that differ in how the message is relayed, which can result in different issues associated with different perceptions potentially skewing the meaning of the information based on biases or misunderstandings of context. Due to this, personnel should be trained to have “soft skills” in both types of communication types. The two types of interpersonal communication are verbal communication, and non-verbal communication.
Interpersonal Communication skills are categorized into two types
Verbal communication includes any type of oral communication where a message, idea, or thought is conveyed via speech. Examples of this type of communication in the workplace include meetings, face-to-face interviews, client/board reviews, or even coffee break discussions. Verbal communication can also be conducted over electronic/digital media, such as live conferences or Skype video calls.
Non-verbal communication includes any type of communication that is not spoken and can include a more direct method, such as writing (e.g. paper letters, email, business messages), and indirect methods, such as body language, facial expressions or tone of voice.
Our Perception of Each of These Elements Affects How We Communicate
Both verbal and non-verbal communication methods can affect a listener's perception of what is said (i.e. the meaning) in different ways, including:
Verbal: Verbal, face-to-face or long distance communication typically provides more means for the context to be established and for perceptions of what is being conveyed to be aligned so that everyone is on the same page.
Non-verbal: Email or messaging apps, do not include the ability to read someone - and the meaning behind their message - via their tone, gestures, or facial expressions. However, emoticons can be used to convey more of what someone is inferring, and can thus provide context.
Business relationships with vendors, clients, stakeholders, managers, and personnel are all based on interpersonal communication, making it important for effective communication to be utilized so that everyone is on the same page and there are no misunderstandings.
It is important to note that it is not just the perception of the listener that is important, but also the speaker. The conveyor of the information must take into account his/her own perceptions in order to understand how to best convey information to those who are listening or receiving the information. For instance, some personnel may require more information to know how to begin a project, while others may need a more literal guide, such that the perception of the speaker (e.g. a manager) must not get in the way of conveying the information to both personnel in a way that is most effective for both of them.
Perception is Extremely Subjective
Words are abstract products of the mind, and though many often like to think of words as concrete ideas that are completely objective, this is not the case. People identify with different ideas based on their personal experience and knowledge, thus, their perception of common ideas/words may differ radically based on experience, culture, mother language, and even previous jobs.
People Often Mistake Just How ‘Unanimous’ Their View Is
While it is usual for personnel and managers to assume that others think the same way as them, it is important to note that differing personalities and proclivities in the workplace may lend to different perceptions of common messages, and even words. It is always best for managers and personnel to utilize a broad view when conveying messages or giving feedback, so that everyone leaves the table with the same message, and no confusion on what is being conveyed.
When Perceptions Differ Then Communication Fails Completely
Effective interpersonal communication must be utilized in the workplace in order for projects to move forward and discussions, strategies, workflows or processes to be completed effectively. When perceptions differ on a message, there will be a breakdown in communication, which can result in disagreements, confrontations, confusion, misunderstanding, and a general lack of productivity and/or efficiency, all of which affects the bottom line.
For example, during a stakeholder or Board meeting, if one person perceives the word ‘abundant’ to mean ‘enough,’ whilst another person perceives it to mean ‘more than enough’ immediately any discussion of the term ‘abundance’ has an extremely different meaning to those who are listening. The use of a common term, with unknown subjective core differences, means that any communications using this term are immediately misaligned. This isn’t a small or minor issue that has no bearing on the direction of a business. If stakeholders, for instance, do not understand whether ‘abundant’ is meant to equal ‘enough’ or ‘more than enough’ with regard to key business data or profit margins (for example), it can result in major misunderstandings on the strategic direction of the business and/or issues with future managerial decisions. Thus, everyone’s perceptions must be aligned so that interpersonal business communications are always concise, and so that everyone is always on the same page. Only then can a business succeed and fulfill its goals.
Interpersonal Communication Requires Us to Understand Each Other’s Perceptions
In a business, social intelligence and emotional intelligence are critical to working well with others and fulfilling one’s duties. Interpersonal skills are a must in order for teams to interact well together in order for projects to be completed timely and efficiently. In order for business interactions to be carried out effectively, such that strategic decisions are understood and followed, managers need to be able to direct and plan, and personnel are able to give feedback and relay critical data to colleagues. All parties in a business must utilize soft skills to understand each other’s perceptions in order to communicate in the language that others can completely understand. This includes one-on-one sessions and group sessions, where the speaker has the ability to effectively communicate his/her ideas to others in a way where everyone’s perception aligns such that what is said - including the tone, context or body language - are fully understood. Only when an enterprise’s personnel are able to effectively exchange ideas and information (that is, effective interpersonal communication principles) can a business succeed. Thus, it is critical that all personnel in a business understands that the way words are perceived by different people affects how they understand what is said. Effective communication must be practiced when engaging with others on an interpersonal level so that confusion and misunderstandings are mitigated, and efficiency/productivity is maximized.