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Whenever we engage in communication with another person, we seek to gain information about them. We also give off information through a wide variety of verbal and nonverbal cues. Read more about the various functions of interpersonal communication and then complete the interactive activity and the quiz at the end of this unit. Gaining Information
One reason we engage in interpersonal communication is so that we can gain knowledge about another individual. Social Penetration Theory says that we attempt to gain information about others so that we can interact with them more effectively. We can better predict how they will think, feel, and act if we know who they are. We gain this information passively, by observing them; actively, by having others engage them; or interactively, by engaging them ourselves. Self-disclosure is often used to get information from another person.
Building a Context of Understanding
We also engage in interpersonal communication to help us better understand what someone says in a given context. The words we say can mean very different things depending on how they are said or in what context. Content Messages refer to the surface level meaning of a message. Relationship Messages refer to how a message is said. The two
are sent simultaneously, but each affects the meaning assigned to the communication. Interpersonal communication helps us understand each other better.
Another reason we engage in interpersonal communication is to establish an identity. The roles we play in our relationships help us establish identity. So too does the face, the public self-image we present to others. Both roles and face are constructed based on how we interact with others.
Finally, we engage in interpersonal communication because we need to express and receive interpersonal needs. William Schutz2 has identified three such needs: inclusion, control, and affection.
1. Inclusion is the need to establish identity with others.
Control is the need to exercise leadership and prove one's abilities. Groups provide outlets for this need. Some individuals do not want to be a leader. For them, groups provide the necessary control over aspects of their lives.
3. Affection is the need to develop relationships with people. Groups are an excellent way to make friends and establish relationships.