First off, what in the world is interpersonal effectiveness? To keep it basic, interpersonal effectiveness skills are all about how we attend and maintain the relationships in our lives. There are many parts to keeping our relationships (including work, family, friend, and romantic relationships) working like a well-oiled machine and benefitting us. Some of these parts include:

  • How we cope and balance demands and priorities
  • understanding the difference between what we want to do versus what we should be doing
  • keeping respect for ourselves and others
elderly happy women browsing internet while searching for information
Photo by Anna Shvets on

Sounds difficult, huh? If we break it down into a simpler form, interpersonal effectiveness is all about how we communicate with the world and with ourselves in order to maintain healthy and helpful relationships. Why is this so important? In my posts, The “Feel Good” Neurotransmitters and How to Release Them, and Neurotransmitters: The Language of the Brain, we discussed the importance of oxytocin for mental health. By using clear communication skills, we are able to create a bond of respect and trust with other people in our life, naturally boosting that release of oxytocin. This not only helps us feel connected to other people (and not so alone), it also helps our brain say “see, this is a good feeling.” As that is going on BAM! Other feel good chemicals in our brain (like dopamine and serotonin) start to flood in the brain, allowing us to relax and enjoy being around people. This also helps us feel comfortable with learning what our own boundaries need to be, asking for help, and learning to say “no” (say what?!).

Why do so many of us struggle with interpersonal effectiveness skills when our mental health is, well, less than optimal? Think about it. When we are in a heightened state of stress, what is going on in your brain? You guessed it! Our brain is trying to keep us safe, so it is doing a bunch of things:

  • throwing filters at us that keep us feeling stressed
  • Preparing us for an acute stress response response
  • heightening our physical senses
  • going on the defense as a way to protect us from getting hurt

Oure brain is getting all geared up because of the stress we are already under, communication with the people around us become, well, sensitive. The parts of our brain responsible for putting memories with emotions, hippocampus and hypothalamus, are using filters to push out any positive information or facts that our brain is (trying) shove at it. This floods our brains with the stress chemicals, adrenaline and norepinephrine. All of this hog ties our poor brain, allowing the stress response to dictate how we react to people. Sometimes, we don’t react the nicest when our brain tells us we are in danger.

“When your values are clear to you, making decisions become easier.”

– Roy E. Disney

One of the most important things to know about interpersonal effectiveness is knowing the purpose of your communication. How many times have you said something and later realize “oops! I shouldn’t have said that! It didn’t even relate to the conversation!”? Before we allow whatever our darn amygdala wants us to say, we have to check with ourselves FIRST:

  • What is the priority of the message I’m saying?
  • Is the person I’m talking to capable of meeting me in this conversation?
  • How will this meet my own needs?
  • Do I have enough information about what I’m trying to communicate about?
  • Will what I want to say change how I respect myself or who I am talking to?

These broad questions are all part of making sure we are communicating effectively, respectfully, and clearly, plus, it demonstrates effective interpersonal communication. In order to use these questions effectively, we have to slow down and STOPP (Don’t know what STOPP is? Check out my post STOPP and Take Time for Emotional Regulation). These 5 basic questions can be broken down even further to ensure your prefrontal cortex has all the information it needs to make decision about what to say.

Thank you for stopping in today to read about the importance of interpersonal effectiveness skills. By reading this, you are gaining the knowledge on why communication seems to go by the wayside when our brains are stressed. If you would like to learn more about how the science behind mental health, please check out my blog, That Darn Amygdala.