Interpersonal communication occurs at two levels: content and process. Content refers to the actual words a message contains. It is the message you can hear or see.
On the other hand, process refers to the meaning behind the words. The relationship between the people communicating defines the meaning of the words.
Interpersonal communication involves ideas, meaning, and feeling through verbal and non-verbal messages. While it is traditionally a face-to-face exchange, it can also happen over the telephone or on-line.
Interpersonal communication takes place between people who are linked in one way or another. It is typically dyadic, which means it involves two parties. However, it can also involve a family unit or other intimate groups.
Apart from being linked, people who take part in interpersonal communication are also dependent on each other. This means the action of one person affects the other person or the group.
As a result, interpersonal communication is a relational form of communication. In other words, the way one person communicates with another is based on their relationship. This is why the way you talk to your boss is different from how you talk to your mother or your best friend.
While relationship affects the way people exchange information, the reverse is also true. The way one person communicates with another affects the relationship.
If the actions between the two parties are positive, a friendship is likely to happen. However, regular exchanges that are mean and malicious are likely to result in hostility.
Content and Relationship Messages
Messages contain actual words. These are the content aspect of the message.
Here are some examples:
- We need to talk.
- You spend too much time using your smartphone.
- See me after work.
- You’re wearing that to the party?
- You spent $500 on the gift?
Depending on the parties involved, content words can have different implications. This is where the relation aspect comes in.
Take sentence 1, for instance. It may have no significant meaning when exchanged between two colleagues. However, when someone says this to the person he or she is dating, the meaning changes to a greater extent.
Consider sentence 3 this time. If your boss says, “We need to talk,” no one is likely to make a fuss. On the other hand, saying the same to your boss could make things awkward.
Questions, in particular, can cause conflicts. For one person, a question may seem innocent and centered on the content. For the other person, however, it could be taken as an insult or even an attack.
Look at sentence 4. The question seems objective enough, but if a husband asks this to his wife, you can imagine that an argument is likely to follow.
To get a handle on interpersonal communication better, it is important to know its elements.
- Communicators – These are the parties involved in the exchange. For communication to happen there should at least be two people participating. Both parties act as the sender and receiver of the message/s.
- Message – Message refers to both verbal and nonverbal information. Verbal messages are the words while nonverbal messages include facial expressions, voice tone, posture, hand gestures, and even silence.
- Context – Context relates to both the situational and social aspects. Situational context refers to the place where the interaction happens. It could be in an office, the elevator, or at the park. On the other hand, social context factors in the relative status, responsibilities, and roles of the parties involved. Examples: diner and server, supervisor and trainee, and police officer and ordinary citizen
- Feedback – Feedback contains both verbal and nonverbal messages that the receiver gives. Through feedback, the sender will know whether the receiver accurately received the message or not.
- Noise – In communication, noise refers to anything that distorts the message. There is noise if the intended message is different from the messaged received. It can be actual noise like car horns or other people talking in the background. Noise can also be other factors, such as the use of technical terms, inattention, and cultural differences.
- Channel – Channel has to do with the physical means of how the message is transferred from one person to the other. In face-to-face situations, for instance, speech and vision are the channels. In chat communication, the channels are vision and sound.
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- Author. Foundations of Interpersonal Communication [PDF file]. Retrieved from pearsonhighered.com
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