What Is the Definition of Interpersonal Competence?

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Interpersonal competence is the ability to choose a type of communication that is most effective in a given situation. Such competency empowers individuals to achieve the goals of any communication in a manner that is best suited for all parties involved.

Theorists have broken down interpersonal competence into specific categories as follows: knowledge, skill and motivation. Knowledge points to the ability to know what kinds of actions are best suited to a social situation. Skill, in this sense, signals the ability to best choose and follow through with a behavior according to the situation. Motivation is the drive to communicate in a manner best suited for the context.

These categories not only break down specific aspects of interpersonal competence but also establish a series of prerequisites that need to be met to become a fully competent communicator. That is, such a communicator needs to master all three abilities. For example, if a person has the knowledge of how to act in a situation and the skill to do so but does not have the motivation or desire to make use of these first two abilities, he remains an inefficient communicator.

Further research has focused on how interpersonal competence may be judged differently depending on perspective. What may seem competent to those involved in a situation may seem otherwise to a neutral observer.