The Many Faces of Interpersonal Communication

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By the very definition of our profession in Student Affairs, we spend the vast majority of our time interacting with students, parents, colleagues, employees, alumni and so many other individuals.  We can be the most proficient writers and public speakers, but if we cannot interact in appropriate manners with the dozens of people we cross paths with every day, we will be swimming upstream every step of the way.

As I think about a typical day for me I will often begin with a quick check-in with the staff in my office to get the day rolling.  This is sometimes informal “good mornings” and at other times will be intentional discussions about the day’s activities we will face.  Later in the morning as I make my rounds throughout our student center, I will interact with some students moving in between classes and meetings, a few housekeepers diligently trying to keep up with the foot traffic, a col

league or two in the area for a meeting or a program, and some of our tenants who provide services in the facility.  I’ll spend much of the rest of my time in meetings with a wide variety of colleagues, employees, administrators, and students.  Each of these require a different set of interpersonal skill sets to appreciate their distinct needs at those moments.

The ACUI core competency Communication includes three separate skill sets: Oral Communication, Written Communication, and Interpersonal Communication.  This last one encompasses a knowledge base in “leadership and management theories and practices as they relate directly to communication styles” and “skills a

s they relate to advising a diverse population of individuals and groups.”  Like all skill sets, there is a list of skills that we all should embrace including the ability to:

  • understand the emotions of others displayed through words, tone, and nonverbal feedback;
  • actively listen;
  • demonstrate sensitivity to and an appreciation for how others feel and respond appropriately based on the situation;
  • pro-actively move a group toward consensus, effectively solve problems, and accomplish tasks by evoking active participation;
  • discuss difficult subjects in a constructive manner with individual staff, with a team, as well as across the organization.

One of these that I professionally find the most challenging is to respond appropriately based on how others feel in each unique situation.  It is so important to tailor each response to the individual or group you are engaged with and this takes energy and a concerted effort to analyze each and every time.  However, I know if I am successful, the end result will be bring a high level of satisfaction to that person or group and ultimately will have ripple effects on the subject we are discussing.

On the other hand, moving a group towards active participation is an area that I feel I thrive in.  This skill set is directly linked to my StrengthsQuest top 5 and I take every opportunity I can to engage with my staff, colleagues and students in these action-oriented situations.  I enjoy finding ways to help others to maximize their abilities and to connect with each other.  This is only accomplished by understanding the people I am with, what makes them tick, and what they need to be motivated towards action.

So what Interpersonal Communication skills do you struggle with the most in your daily routines?  What skills do you utilize the most effectively every day and get the most enjoyment from?

Please take the time to join us for a more in-depth examination of this skill set on the next College Unions and Activities Discussion (CUAD) podcast on August 16, at 1pm ( and then further discussions on Twitter by following #ACUICC.

This post was originally seen on the Association of College Unions International’s (ACUI) Blog The Commons as part of a year-long series of educating about the association’s Core Competencies.

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