Achieving Excellent Interpersonal Communication

Without communication, no organization. An organization’s achievements are directly and indirectly influenced by interpersonal communication. This is true in all three directions: top-down, horizontally, and bottom-up. If you want an excellent organization, you will need excellent communication and, by extension, excellent interpersonal communication. But why? And what do you need to do to implement it?

Intrinsic Motivation

When employees come to work to earn a salary (which is an extrinsic motivation), they will do what is necessary because they have to. When someone comes to work because that work fulfills their needs and gives them pleasure, they do what they have to do – and lots more – because it’s stimulating (an intrinsic motivation). Working from intrinsic motivation energizes the coworker and gets them involved, which is beneficial for the coworker and for the organization.

Intrinsic motivation correlates with the fulfillment of the three basic psychological needs that lead to job satisfaction, as described by Deci and Ryan in their self-determination theory:

  • Autonomy: The need to determine for yourself what you do, how, when, and with whom.
  • Mastery: The need to do meaningful work, do it capably, deal with the challenges it presents, and get better at it.
  • Connection: The need for enjoying positive interactions with others at your work.

How then do you tap into your coworkers’ intrinsic motivation? This is where excellent interpersonal communication steps in: communication based on the (mutual) satisfaction of these three basic psychological needs to the highest degree possible.

Seven Things You Should Do

For excellent interpersonal communication, you need to do the following:

  1. Create safety: Coworkers need to feel appreciated for their competence. They need to feel free to tell the team what they observe, and from their expertise, make critical comments without having their heads chopped off. Safety also lays the basis for positive relations with one another.
  2. Ensure feedback loops are in place: Essential for competency. How else can coworkers know their effort is meaningful, good, or excellent?
  3. Encourage trust in others’ competence: You let people do what they’re good at. This is broader than acknowledging the other’s competence (need for mastery), especially in the need for autonomy.
  4. Implement stepped decision-making: In a nutshell, stepped decision-making means delegating responsibility for a certain task, role, or function to the lowest possible hierarchical level of the organization. Decisions are only escalated to a higher level when they exceed the delegated responsibility or when absolutely necessary. Stepped decision-making supports coworkers’ need for mastery and autonomy, and fits well with the LEAN principle (the work floor detects challenges and opportunities, discusses and implements change programs).
  5. Involve bottom-up: Traditionally, organizations follow a top-down design, resulting in one-way communication. Coworkers are told what, how, with whom, and when they should fulfill their tasks, infringing all three basic psychological needs, especially that for autonomy. Only when coworkers are allowed to collaborate, and their input is appreciated and taken seriously, do you communicate your trust in their competence and autonomy.
  6. Use transformational leadership: Coworkers not only need to adapt to an ever-changing world, but also want to grow and develop themselves further (mastery). Transformational leadership supports social responsibility as regards sustainable personnel practices: coworkers grow in sync with the organization and their career path, and experience challenges in a positive way.
  7. Match stated and actual organizational culture: Or simply put, practice what you preach. What is written is usually the ideal; what happens on a day-to-day basis is the organizational culture. The higher in the organizational structure you are, the more aware you should be of your responsibility to behave as a role model. Or else neither you nor your organization are taken seriously.

An excellent organization is efficient, effective, and especially interesting and challenging to work for. It attracts excellent coworkers, helps them climb the organizational ladder, and especially helps retain them. You as leader play a pivotal role by ensuring excellent interpersonal communication is the basis from which your team operates. It’s good for your coworkers, it’s good for you (fulfills your need for connection and mastery), and it’s good for your organization.

Note: This post originally ran on the Lead Change Group site on May 28, 2018.

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