English Communication Confidence Blog

Communication: An Interpersonal Fluency Skill, Not Just A Soft One

May 29, 2024

There are many terms you can use to refer to the umbrella under which communication skills sit, but "soft"? The word soft doesn't speak to the challenges associated with learning and upskilling the nuances and specific elements of effective communication. In this blog post, we dive into the meaning of soft skills and propose 10 options for swapping out the term. Come check it out. 


Communication: An Interpersonal Fluency Skill, Not Just A Soft One


OK, sure, soft skills are character traits and interpersonal abilities that enable effective interaction with others.

They complement hard skills, which refer to specific knowledge and occupational abilities.

In the workplace, we can think of soft skills as the glue that holds teams together...(kind of like structure words are the grammatical glue in The Diamond Method™️ that holds English together.)

Soft skills enhance productivity, foster positive relationships, and resolve conflicts.

Here are some examples of soft skills:

➔ Empathy: Understanding and considering others’ feelings and perspectives.

➔ Leadership: Guiding and motivating a team toward common goals.

➔ Collaboration: Working harmoniously with colleagues to achieve shared objectives.

➔ Adaptability: Being flexible and open to change.

➔ Problem-solving: Analyzing situations and finding creative solutions.

➔ And, the topic of today's blog...Communication: The ability to express ideas clearly, listen actively, and convey information effectively.

But, there's just one small problem...the word "soft!"


As I wrote in this recent LinkedIn post, imagine if you were setting out to learn karate and were striving for a "soft" belt instead of a black belt.

Or, as you're getting better at skiing, you find out that the hard slope you're about to go down is called a "soft" slope instead of a black diamond slope.

You could say that it's just semantics, but I disagree.

From my experience, there's more of a stigma associated with training a soft skill like communication than there is with upskilling, let's say, your project management abilities.

And the thing that gets me most animated is that communication is at the heart of any, and every, skill we have.

Let's delve into the word "soft" for a bit and then I'd like to serve up some options for swapping out the term.


Why Communication Is More Than Soft


1. Communication is a Core Skill

I always say that we are communicating from the second we get out of bed provided that we interact with family members, neighbors, friends, and most certainly our teammates at work.

Effective communication is at the center of our interactions. 

If you give your direct reports the option to take technical training (hard skills) or communication skills training, I guess that they'd most likely go for the technical training.

Here's why. Hard skills :

✔️ generate more tangible outcomes;

✔️ can be quickly applied;

✔️ and employers demand technical proficiency as part of the placement process.


2. Communication Is At The Heart Of Effective Collaboration

Communication is essential for successful collaboration within teams and across departments.

When team members can express their ideas

✔️ clearly,

✔️ actively listen to others,

✔️ and provide constructive feedback,

projects run more smoothly.

Whether you’re working on a group project, managing a team, or collaborating with clients, strong communication skills are not just vital, but at the heart of success.


3. Communication Resolves (Or Doesn't) Conflicts

Conflict is inevitable in any setting, whether at work, in relationships, or within organizations.

Yet, the right communication skills can help resolve conflicts by allowing individuals to express their concerns, understand different perspectives, and find common ground.

When people communicate openly and respectfully, they can address issues, negotiate solutions, and maintain positive relationships (but one needs to know how to frame their thoughts to focus on the win-win.)

Without meaningful (and skillful) communication conflicts can escalate, leading to negative outcomes.


4. Communication Influences and Persuades

Communication is a powerful tool for influencing others and persuading them to take specific actions.

Whether you’re presenting a proposal, selling a product, or advocating for a particular idea, your ability to communicate persuasively matters.

Here are 6 Cs of communication to consider when speaking to sway opinions, motivate people, and drive change:

✔️ Clear: Messages should be straightforward to comprehend.

✔️ Correct: Accuracy matters; avoid misinformation.

✔️ Complete: Provide all necessary information.

✔️ Concise: Be succinct without sacrificing clarity.

✔️ Compassionate: Show empathy and considerate communication.

✔️ Compelling: You may have all the first five Cs in place, but without the know-how of delivery, you're message could fall short. Being compelling includes vocal dynamics and non-verbal communication cohesion alongside the structure of the information you're transferring.

It doesn't matter if you are running a marketing campaign or a sales negotiation, star communicators achieve their goals by conveying their message convincingly and that's much more than "soft".


Communication Needs To Sound Hard

I was thinking: What if we could replace the term "soft" with something that more accurately reflects its level of difficulty?

Here are some substitute terms, both comments from my LinkedIn post (mentioned above) and from my own reflections:


1. Mastery Skill

  • Definition: Mastery skill implies reaching a high level of proficiency. It suggests not just competence but true expertise.
  • Why It Reflects Difficulty: Achieving mastery in communication involves more than basic competence. It requires continuous learning, adaptability, and finesse in various contexts.


2. Cogency Skills (thanks to Steve Buckhout

  • Definition: Cogency refers to the quality of being convincing or persuasive. Cogency skills involve presenting arguments logically and compellingly.
  • Why It Reflects Difficulty: Effective communication demands not only clarity but also the ability to persuade and influence others through valid reasoning.


3. Intangible Skills (thanks to Joshua Ramey-Renk)

  • Definition: Intangible skills are those that can’t be easily measured or quantified. They include emotional intelligence, empathy, and active listening.
  • Why It Reflects Difficulty: Intangible skills are subtle and nuanced. Mastering them—such as reading emotions or understanding unspoken cues—requires practice and sensitivity.


4Proficiency Skills

  • Definition: Proficiency skills denote a high level of competence. They encompass both technical and interpersonal abilities.
  • Why It Reflects Difficulty: Proficiency in communication involves not just vocabulary and grammar, but also context, tone, and cultural awareness.


5. Emotional Regulation Skills (thanks to Dominique Godefroy)

  • Definition: Emotional regulation skills involve managing one’s own emotions during interactions. It includes staying calm, empathizing, and avoiding conflict.
  • Why It Reflects Difficulty: Controlling emotions while communicating—especially during disagreements or high-pressure situations—is challenging.


6. Power Skills (thanks to Josiah Pledl)

  • Definition: Power skills emphasize influence, leadership, and impact. They include negotiation, conflict resolution, and assertiveness.
  • Why It Reflects Difficulty: Navigating power dynamics and using these skills effectively require finesse and self-awareness.


7. Excellence Skills 

  • Definition: Excellence skills implies surpassing expectations. It involves consistently delivering outstanding results.
  • Why It Reflects Difficulty: Striving for excellence in communication means going beyond mediocrity. It demands continuous improvement and adaptability.


8. Presence Skills (thanks to Laurie Schloff)

  • Definition: Presence skills relate to how one shows up in interactions. They involve confidence, active engagement, and charisma.
  • Why It Reflects Difficulty: Being fully present, maintaining eye contact, and projecting confidence are essential for impactful communication.


9. Interpersonal Dynamic Skills (thanks to Jerry Salsburg)

  • Definition: Interpersonal dynamic skills focus on navigating relationships. They include empathy, conflict resolution, and building rapport.
  • Why It Reflects Difficulty: Understanding social cues, adapting to different personalities, and fostering positive connections require skillful communication.


10. Interpersonal Fluency Skills

  • Definition: Interpersonal fluency is the ability to navigate complex social interactions effectively.
  • Why It Reflects Difficulty: It involves adapting to various personalities, understanding emotions, and resolving conflicts—challenges that demand skillful communication.


Interpersonal Fluency Skills 

There's a lot to sift through in today's post, and I'm going to highlight Interpersonal Fluency Skills as my term of choice for the moment.

"Interpersonal skills are nuanced, subtle, and something that requires insight," Jerry Salsburg pointed out in my LinkedIn post.

Interpersonal skills go beyond words and into:

✔️ Body Language: Non-verbal cues significantly impact how messages are received. Voice tone, facial expressions, and gestures convey meaning.

✔️ Listening Skills: Active listening is crucial. Leaders who truly listen build trust and understanding.

✔️ Emotional Intelligence: Emotional intelligence involves understanding and managing emotions—both our own and others’. It enables us to interpret those non-verbal cues, empathize, and adapt our responses based on emotional context.

Another reason I love the term interpersonal fluency skills is because of the word fluent.

It speaks directly to what I've done for so many years: work with fluent non-native English speakers looking for another level of communication proficiency. 

What if I told you that being fluent in interpersonal communication skills means having the ability to navigate complex social interactions effectively?

What if it meant going beyond mere words and language to encompass understanding how to:

✔️ adapt to various personalities,

✔️ maintain positive relationships,

✔️ call upon our education and experiences in the world?

Wouldn't you want interpersonal fluency skills?



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