Communication Skills vs. Interpersonal Skills

group of people negotiate at the desk

Today we’re going to take a look at the differences between communication and interpersonal skills and how to improve each one.

Now you might be thinking that they are one and the same thing but hear me out here and I’ll explain why they are completely different.

You’ll also discover why one person can have great interpersonal skills but be a poor communicator.

There, that’s really messed with your mind!

Communication and interpersonal skills

At first glance, you might think these two skills mean the same thing, but in reality there are important differences.

I do not, however, believe that an individual can use one correctly without having developed the other. The differences between communication and interpersonal skills can be summed up as follows.

Interpersonal skills refer to your ability to communicate with and interact with other people.

Included with this are the abilities to get along with others on a personal level, to maintain a professional level of empathy towards the situations that others may be experiencing, and to simply get along with people on a personal level.

Everyone you work with is a person with individual feelings and needs. That’s the interpersonal skills, so let’s see the difference between interpersonal and communication skills.

Communication skills involve your ability to take an idea or set of instructions and be able to convey them to others in a manner that is comprehensible.

These skills will enable you to give clear instructions, communicate ideas to your team or a group, and keep management informed of the status of your current projects.

Both communication and interpersonal skills are important, but each is more effective with the other than alone.

It doesn’t matter how nice or charming you are (interpersonal) if the instructions you give (communication) cause confusion.

On the other hand, it doesn’t matter how clear your instructions are (communication) if your team members think you are rude, cold, and cruel (interpersonal.)

Take a look at your own preferences and style in an effort to determine whether or not you need to strengthen either of these areas.

How to have excellent communication and interpersonal skills

So we’ve covered that they are. How can you improve each of the two areas?

Let’s take a closer look.

Interpersonal skills

Something we don’t necessarily talk about enough is your level of interpersonal management skills. Your interpersonal skills dictate your ability to communicate and deal with other individuals on a regular basis.

If you lack interpersonal skills you may find yourself labelled as difficult to communicate with, stubborn, aloof, or any of a number of negative descriptions.

In order to develop great interpersonal skills you need to focus on four main qualities.

These can be summarised easily by remembering the STAR acronym.

S = Sensitivity. You need to be aware of the different needs of each of the people on your team and around you. No two people are alike, and each will need to be treated differently.

T = Tolerance. Not everyone you work with will have the same beliefs. You need to be able to set aside your own personal beliefs so that you can objectively work with and understand the beliefs of other people. Tolerance applies not only to cultural and religious beliefs but to individual work ethic as well (within reason, of course).

A = Assertion. Be assertive but you don’t have to be arrogant or rude to get your point across but if you see something about to go wrong you do need to have the guts to stand up for yourself and your ideas.

R = Restraint. We all have times where we want to say or do something inappropriate. You need to have the presence of mind to stop and think before speaking or taking action. If you need help, go back and brush up on some of your anger management tactics.

Get all four of these factors under control and you’re bound to build beautiful relationships. Let one slip and you may just find you aren’t necessarily a favourite within your office. Check out the interpersonal roles of a manager for more.

Communication skills

Here are some ways to improve your communication skills.

Less is more

Keep it simple and don’t be too clever when it comes to getting your point across. Be focused and stay on point without going off on a tangent.

It’s not a monologue

Communication is a two way process. So ask questions and ask for opinions. It’s not just you doing the talking. Ask for the feedback throughout the process.

Two ears, one mouth

Yes, in communication your listening skills are just as important as what you say. Listen to what is being said and what is not being said through body language and tonality.

Don’t assume that you’re being understood

It’s your responsibility to ensure that what you are saying is sinking in. Ask the other person if they “get it.” Ask clarification questions. Draw diagrams and use stories to get your point across. Of course, there are always those employees who don’t listen but overall, ensure that what you are saying is being understood.

Your body language is important

If you say one thing but your body language and tonality says something else then they will believe your body language. Maintain eye contact and manage your body language.

Plan out your communication

If you’ve got something important to say then plan it out. Think about the audience and how they will receive and accept the information and then tailor your communication accordingly. Integrating transition words into any form of communication practices can significantly enhance clarity and coherence, bridging ideas and ensuring smoother transitions between points – making sure the audience always stays with you!

The start and endings are important

People will mostly remember what you say at the start and at the end of what you say. So think through this carefully.

Respond, don’t react

When someone says something back, think and then respond. Don’t react. That’s a knee jerk. Pause, pause, pause and then respond. This is a golden tip I can assure you!

The need for communication and interpersonal skills

As you can probably see, they both go hand in hand yet are different at the same time.

You can “dish” orders out all day long and get your point across but are you bringing others with you? Communicate in the wrong way and you can alienate a lot of people and I’m sure we can all point a finger at people in our offices right now who this applies to.

If you can get along with people and get your point across then this is very powerful. This is communication and interpersonal skills working in tandem and is something that we place a lot of time and importance on in any Management Development Programme that we run.

Additional resources

Here are 2 additional resources that will help you with communication and interpersonal skills.

Please click below.

interpersonal roles
barriers to communication


You might find that you, or other members of your team, may benefit from incorporating some communication exercises into your next Management Training session.

If you’re a manager, one thing you may consider is coaching your team to become more adept at interpersonal skills. They may be a nice person, but the real test is when they face a situation where these skills are needed during complaint-handling or conflict management.

So, the main difference between interpersonal skills and communication skills is the way they are perceived by the receiver.

Our Communication Skills Training courses cover both areas to ensure that you’ve got all bases covered and if you’re a manager looking to improve your skills further then our FREE Online Management Training Course will help you. It consists of 5 online modules covering feedback, coaching, managing teams, delegation and management styles.

Thanks again,




Sean McPheat

Managing Director

MTD Training   

Personal Development Hub

Please click below for other relevant personal development tips and advice.
Our personal development hub contains useful techniques and
strategies to improve your skills as a manager.

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Updated on: 17 April, 2019

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