Strong interpersonal communication skills provide a foundation for effective business communication. However, the two types of communication differ in everything from audience to challenges. To master business communication, you need to refine the communication skills you use every day so that it's relevant for a professional and often diverse audience.
Interpersonal communication is usually one-on-one -- a conversation with a friend or family member, or a neighbor or coworker, for example. With business communication, your audience is usually much larger, and could include a few coworkers, all of your company's shareholders or even thousands of prospective customers. And it often includes people you've never met, and might never meet, such as employees at a different office or department.
Business communication is more formal and structured than interpersonal communication, and also more diverse, encompassing letters, brochures, press releases, company websites, social networking sites and podcasts. The style used for each varies greatly, so effective business communication requires understanding the sometimes subtle differences between the many types. Interpersonal communication can include letters or e-mails, but usually refers to phone calls or face-to-face conversations.
Interpersonal communication is usually more casual than business communication. While interpersonal communication is sometimes used to persuade, such as asking your boss for a raise, in general the goal is to share information. Business communication, however, has a more clearly defined goal. With a brochure, for example, you might try to persuade prospective clients to hire you. An interoffice memo can attempt to persuade employees to attend a training session or volunteer for a fundraiser. Press releases can aim to improve a company's image or create awareness for its products, services or community involvement. A training manual or employee handbook prepares new employees for the job, helps current employees learn new skills and ensures that everyone complies with company policies.
Business communication is more prone to cultural misunderstandings, because you have less insight into who you are communicating with. You might need to communicate with employees or consumers from disparate cultures, and understanding these differences is crucial to communicating with them. In his article "3 Simple Steps for Effective Global Communication," business and communications consultant Gary Muddyman advises consulting local communicators in each country to help you understand the cultural communication differences.
With interpersonal communication, you can't edit and revise your words. Business communication is often written, allowing time to find the most concise words and phrasing. However, with business communication, you face a challenge just getting and keeping the audience's attention. Your memo might compete with other business letters, websites, even magazines, and you can't always know what kind of response it received. With interpersonal communication, the person is often right there in front of you, so you have the benefit of body language, facial expression and tone of voice.