Boost Your Interpersonal Communication in Time for the Holidays

Are you ready? I’ve already had my first pumpkin drink (cold brew, because it’s still in the 90s here in North Carolina) and my first roasted squash. Two indicators that lead to fall, leaves, adventures – and holiday parties, dinners and family time.

Did I panic you yet?

Before you start chugging pumpkin spice lattes in prep of conversations with your Uncle Brad about politics, take a deep breath and keep reading. We’re digging into interpersonal communication skills just in time for the holidays so YOU have plenty of time to prep and practice.

What Is Interpersonal Communication?

If you’ve read my writing before, you’ll know that I’m quick to mention that improv is quite simply listening and responding to the world around you. Interpersonal communication is similar and requires listening and responding skills, which is why improv is a great lens to peer through when leveling up your capabilities. Simply put: interpersonal communication skills are skills needed to communicate verbally and nonverbally. Interpersonal communication is the exchange of information between two or more people.

It’s the interaction between people. You might be thinking, that…that’s all it is? Yup! So at this point today, you’ve probably interacted with a few people (or a lot, depending on your job and the day of the week!) These interactions probably went from fine and unmemorable to great to terrible – and everything in between.

Practice in improv is practice in interpersonal skills because you are exchanging information, sometimes off the wall information, with another person/other people.

So…just talking, yeah?
Sometimes I wish that interpersonal communication was just what we say and not how we said it.

Interpersonal communication encompasses verbal, non-verbal and written communication. It’s not just what you’re saying, it’s also how you say it – tone, cadence, emotional emphasis and how you are standing, making eye contact even your gestures all tell a story and contribute to what you’re saying.

Written communication falls under interpersonal communication: it’s a bit harder to check in with your tone on an email, yet we know the underlying snark in “per my last email” and can practically feel the enthusiasm in exclamation point land.

Think about the last conversation you had when the speaker was nervous or excited – how did you feel? Nervous or excited? We get the energy we put out. If you’re feeling apprehensive chatting with someone, chances are they also feel apprehensive around you!

We’re going to get into the ideas around reflection and checking in – take a moment now to think about how you stood when you had your last conversation. How about the tone of your voice, your cadence, if you were speaking in an assertive or a passive style? Where were your arms, did you make eye contact, how close (or far) were you to the person you were talking to? All of this matters!

Who cares?
We spend SO much time communicating. Between work, our home lives, social situations – chances are you communicate a lot. Misunderstanding often leads to conflict which leads to not-great-feels about how we communicate. This is what we hear A LOT of in our classes: everything from “I just don’t communicate well” to “I struggle with being myself” to “no one gets me” to “I’m being held back by my communication style.” And it’s true – especially the last one – if you don’t know how to communicate authentically as yourself, and well, you’re going to be held back. That’s not to say everyone is going to like you, or that you’ll be voted “Best Communicator Of The Year” in your office. You will find if you communicate in a clear and concise manner, you’ll have far more time (because you’re not dealing with misunderstandings) and you’ll have far fewer misunderstandings (and save that sweet, sweet time.)

How can I be more effective?
We are such big fans of going back to the basics when we’re building interpersonal skills, and it all revolves around one big idea: be present.

You cannot, I repeat, you cannot be an effective communicator when you’re thinking about three things from yesterday and four more for tomorrow. Ever see a terrible comedy show, or watch people not listen or pay attention to one another because they are so deadset on their agenda? Not effective communication.

Improv is so helpful in these situations because in real life you can spend a lot of time coasting along. We’ve all been in conversations where we know the other person is completely checked out. What did you do? Call them out, or just keep talking?

Generally, we just keep talking! I can’t tell you how many dinners and parties I’ve been to where I can tell the person I’m talking to isn’t paying a lick of attention to me, and I just keep talking.

In improv, you call them out.

Not in the moment! You can see it because it’s an exhibitionist activity. Generally, you have a group of people that are watching you communicate, and good classes should have reflection built-in: how did it go, what worked, what didn’t, what can we do better next time.

Being present is EXHAUSTING, so no worries if you feel tired just reading this. Here are a few situations you can work on your presence and attention – and keep in mind, you can’t control how someone else communicates, just how you respond to it!

Situation: Work function

We’ve all been there: work dinner or party, networking event or even a meeting. And you start thinking about everything else, except for the person in front of you talking…and you realize they are starting to notice and oh god, they are staring.

What do you do?

Well, first: try to pay attention when someone is talking to you. Work those active listening skills and skip the smile and nod that we default to. Take a moment to think of a question you can ask the speaker – maybe something that gets them to dig into what they are talking about a bit more or something you’re curious about. Try to make it an open-ended question: one that seeks for more information, versus a closed-ended question: one that can be answered with a yes or no.

Situation: Family dinner

You know the Biden-Bernie-Impeachment-Ukraine-Cougar-Harris conversation will happen. You know it. So what do you do when you’re having an argument that makes you want to cringe or leave or head right to your childhood room and hide?

Try to Yes, And a different opinion. Take a moment, and confirm what they said, affirm it, and add your opinion. For example:

Uncle Brad: This is all fake news!
You: Yes, Uncle Brad, you think this is all fake news, and I think asking another country to investigate an opponent is wrong. Let’s have more pie!

By affirming what the other person is saying and ADDING your opinion with an AND versus a BUT, you’re not only showing them that yes, you are listening, you’re also not interested in a fight. AND is the great equalizer: why not show that your opinions are equal? All the word BUT does is pit two opinions against one another and call in conflict. Remember: disagreements will happen, disrespect is optional.

Situation: First Date

Don’t go on first dates in the holiday season.

Kidding but not kidding! Everyone is a little stressed during this time of year, and hopefully, you’re not looking for a date for your work slash family party. If you ARE dating during this jolly time of year, use one of our favorites to warm up so you’re not tripping over your words: tongue twisters! Try saying these slow and be sure to over enunciate to warm up your mouth!

Red leather, yellow leather
Irish Wrist Watch
The lips, the teeth, the tip of the tongue, the tip of the tongue, the teeth, the lips.

Say these slowly and deliberately!

Start slow when you’re building interpersonal skills, and keep your eyes out here for more tips and tricks to get you to your potential!