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Your ability to communicate effectively is your interpersonal competence. For example, your competence includes the knowledge that in certain contexts and with certain listeners one topic is appropriate and another is not. Knowledge about the rules of nonverbal behavior 0 for example, the appropriateness of touching, vocal volume, and physical closeness – is also part of your competence. In short, interpersonal competence includes knowing how to adjust your communication according to the context of the interaction, the person with whom you are interacting, and a host of other factors.

You learn communication competence much as you learn to eat with a knife and fork – by observing others, by explicit instruction, by trial and error, and so on. Some have learnt better than others, though, and these people are generally the ones with whom you find it interesting and comfortable to talk. They seem to know what to say and how to say it.

Not surprisingly there is a positive relationship between interpersonal competence on the one hand and success in college and job satisfaction on the other. So mu7ch of college and professional life depends on interpersonal competence – from meeting and interacting with other students, teachers, or colleagues; to asking and answering questions; to presenting information or argument – that you should not find this connection surprising. Interpersonally competent [people also suffer less from anxiety, depression, and loneliness. Interpersonal competence enables you to develop and maintain meaningful relationships, which help reduce anxiety and depression that may come from fear of not having friendships and love relationships.

By improving your competence, you will have a greater number of options available to you. It is much like learning vocabulary: the more words you know, the more ways you have for expressing yourself. This interdependence of theory and skills goes like this:

Knowledge of interpersonal communication

leads to

greater interpersonal competence

leads to greater number of available choices or options for interacting

leads to greater likelihood of interpersonal effectiveness.

Joseph A. DeVito

Characteristics of competent communicators.

Despite the fact that competent communication varies from one situation to another, scholars have defined several common denominators that characterize effective communication in most contexts.

A wide range of behaviors. Effective communicators are able to choose their actions from a wide range of behaviors. To understand the importance of having a large communication repertoire, imagine that someone you know repeatedly tells jokes – perhaps racist or sexist ones – that you find offensive. You could respond to these jokes in a number of ways:

You could decide to say nothing, figuring that the risks of bringing the subject up would be greater than the benefits.

You could ask a third party to say something to the joke teller about the offensiveness of the stories.

You could hint at your discomfort, hoping that your friend would get the point.

You could express your discomfort in a straightforward way, asking your companion to stop telling the offensive stories, at least around you.

With this choice of responses at your disposal, you could pick the one that had the best chance of success.

Ability to choose the most appropriate behavior. Simply possessing a large array of communication skills isn’t a guarantee of effectiveness. it’s also necessary to know which of these behaviors will work best in a particular situation.

Although it’s impossible to say precisely how to act in every situation, there are at least three factors to consider when you are deciding which response to choose: context, your goal, and the other person.

Context. The time and place will almost always influence how you act. The joke that would be ideal at a bachelor party would probably flop at a funeral.

Your goal. The way you should communicate depends on the results you are seeking. Inviting a new neighbor over for a cup of coffee could be just right approach if you want to encourage a friendship; but if you want to maintain your privacy it might be wiser to be polite but cool.

The other person. If you are dealing with someone who is very sensitive or insecure, your response might be supportive and cautious. There are times when it’s appropriate to treat a man differently than a woman, even in this age of gender equality.

Skill at performing behaviors. There is a big difference between knowing about a skill and being able to put it into practice.

Empathy. people have the best chance of developing an effective message when they understand the other person’s points of view. The ability to imagine how an issue might look from the other’s point of view is an important skill.

Self-monitoring. It is the process of paying close attention to one’s behavior and using these observations to shape the way one behaves. Self-monitors are able to separate a aprt of their consciousness and observe their behavior from a detached viewpoint, amking observations like “This approach is working well. I’ll keep it up.”

Commitment to the relationship. People who seem to care about the relationship communicate better than those who don’t.