Interpersonal Communication - An Elixir of Life


S. Ramaraju
M.A., M.Phil., (Ph.D.)
Research Scholar
Anna University Chennai
Lecturer in English
Prathyusha Institute of Technology and Management
Aranvoyalkuppam, Poonamallee-Thiruvallore Highway, Thiruvallore Dist. 602025

"Seek first to understand, then to be understood"
                                                                    - Stephen Covey

To be is to be in Relationship with Others

We cannot be human alone. We live in a world filled with other people. We live together, work together and play together. We need each other for security, comfort, friendship and love. We need each other to mature through dialogue. We need each other to achieve our goals and objectives. None of these needs could be addressed without interpersonal communication. We communicate in order to: get acquainted, express emotions to others, share information, and persuade others to understand our personal views and to build relationships. Using language as a vehicle to communicate effectively with others has been the topic of discussion. But language is one of the factors help in the communication process. Language alone cannot enable an individual to communicate feelings, ideas, concepts, emotions etc. Because, Interpersonal communication is humanity's most important characteristic and its greatest accomplishment. It is human being's ability to turn meaningless grunts into spoken and written words, through which they are able to make known their needs, wants, ideas and feelings.

Why do we need Interpersonal Communication?

Interpersonal Communication is the lifeblood of every relationship. Good relations are nurtured by open, clear and sensitive communication. We are able to send messages from the moon, but we find it difficult to relate to those we love. Ineffective communication causes loneliness, conflicts, family problems, professional dissatisfactions, psychological stress, physical illness and even death, when communication breaks down. 

An understanding of interpersonal communication is an essential ingredient in cooking up good relationships. Language is perhaps the most pertinent tool in communications, we may infer to the semantics of each lexicon in the language to understand Language as a component on its own. But this is neither the only nor the foremost element of importance in communication due to the complex process by which culture and communication influence each other.

Defining Interpersonal Communication Different Perspectives:

Interpersonal communication is defined by Michael Cody as: the exchange of symbols used to achieve interpersonal goals (p.28).

Roloff, M. E. in his book "Interpersonal Communication: The Social Exchange Approach", Beverly Hills, CA, Sage, (1981), defines interpersonal communication as "a symbolic interaction between people rather then between a person and an inanimate object".

Mark L. Knapp and John Augustine Daly in their "Handbook of Interpersonal Communication - (P.3) state:

    Interpersonal communication can mean the ability to relate to people in written as well as verbal communication.  This type of communication can occur in both a one-on-one and a group setting.  This also means being able to handle different people in different situations, and making people feel at ease.  Gestures such as eye contact, body movement, and hand gestures are also part of interpersonal communication.  The most common functions of interpersonal communication are listening, talking and conflict resolution.  Types of interpersonal communication vary from verbal to non-verbal and from situation to situation.  Interpersonal communication involves face-to-face communication in a way that accomplishes the purpose and is appropriate.

Bernstein views that

    Interpersonal communication is a symbolic process by which two people bound together in a relationship, provide each other with resources or negotiate the exchange of resources. (p. 30)

Interpersonal Communication is ever-changing:

Everyone can learn to communicate more effectively. Everyone can change. Actually change is inevitable, so everyone will change . People change continuously from infancy to old age. And the law of change says: "Things do not stay the same. If they don't get better, they get worse".

It is important to have the communication skills to manage changes than to let them happen to you. People who understand the communication process have more control over it and fewer breakdowns.

Four Principles of Interpersonal Communication

These principles underlie the workings in real life of interpersonal communication. They are basic to communication. We can't ignore them.

Interpersonal communication is inescapable

We can't not communicate. The very attempt not to communicate communicates something. Through not only words, but through tone of voice and through gesture, posture, facial expression, etc., we constantly communicate to those around us. Through these channels, we constantly receive communication from others. Even when you sleep, you communicate. Remember a basic principle of communication in general: people are not mind readers. Another way to put this is: people judge you by your behavior, not your intent.

Interpersonal communication is irreversible

You can't really take back something once it has been said. The effect must inevitably remain. Despite the instructions from a judge to a jury to "disregard that last statement the witness made," the lawyer knows that it can't help but make an impression on the jury. A Russian proverb says, "Once a word goes out of your mouth, you can never swallow it again."

Interpersonal communication is complicated

No form of communication is simple. Because of the number of variables involved, even simple requests are extremely complex. Theorists note that whenever we communicate there are really at least six "people" involved: 1) who you think you are; 2) who you think the other person is; 30 who you think the other person thinks you are; 4) who the other person thinks /she is; 5) who the other person thinks you are; and 6) who the other person thinks you think s/he is.

Interpersonal communication is contextual

In other words, communication does not happen in isolation. There is:

    * Psychological context, which is who you are and what you bring to the interaction. Your needs, desires, values, personality, etc., all form the psychological context. ("You" here refers to both participants in the interaction.)

    * Relational context, which concerns your reactions to the other person--the "mix."

    * Situational context deals with the psycho-social "where" you are communicating. An interaction that takes place in a classroom will be very different from one that takes place in a bar.

    * Environmental context deals with the physical "where" you are communicating. Furniture, location, noise level, temperature, season, time of day, all are examples of factors in the environmental context.

    * Cultural context includes all the learned behaviors and rules that affect the interaction. If you come from a culture (foreign or within your own country) where it is considered rude to make long, direct eye contact, you will out of politeness avoid eye contact. If the other person comes from a culture where long, direct eye contact signals trustworthiness, then we have in the cultural context a basis for misunderstanding.

The key to improving interpersonal relationships is simple once you understand the principles, components and aspects of interpersonal communication and the roles need play.

"To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others."
                                                                                                                     - Anthony Robbins

S. Ramaraju
M.A., M.Phil., (Ph.D.)
Research Scholar
Anna University Chennai
Lecturer in English
Prathyusha Institute of Technology and Management
Aranvoyalkuppam, Poonamallee-Thiruvallore Highway, Thiruvallore Dist. 602025

Source: E-mail November 6, 2008


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