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Interpersonal communication is defined by communication scholars in numerous ways, usually

describing participants who are dependent upon one another and have a shared history. Communication
channels, the conceptualization of mediums that carry messages from sender to receiver, take two
distinct forms: direct and indirect.

Direct channels are obvious and easily recognized by the receiver. Both verbal and non-verbal
information is completely controlled by the sender. Verbal channels rely on words, as in written or spoken
communication. Non-verbal channels encompass facial expressions, controlled body movements (police
present hand gestures to control traffic), color (red signals 'stop', green signals 'go'), and sound (warning
sirens).

Indirect channels are usually recognized subconsciously by the receiver, and are not always under
direct control of the sender. Body language, comprising most of the indirect channel, may inadvertently
reveal one's true emotions, and thereby either unintentionally taint or bolster the believability of any
intended verbal message. Subconscious reception and interpretation of these signals is often described
with arbitrary terms like gut-feeling, hunch, or premonition.

Context refers to the conditions that precede or surround the communication. It consists of present or
past events from which the meaning of the message is derived, though it may also, in the case of written
communications, depend upon the statements preceding and following the quotation in question.
Immediate surroundings may also color the perceived meaning of words; normally safe discourse may
easily become contextually ambiguous or offensive in a restroom or shower hall. These influences do not
constitute the message by themselves, but rather these extraneous nuances subtly change the
message's effective meaning. Ultimately, context includes the entire world, but usually refers to salient
factors such as the following:

Physical milie
Definition of Interpersonal Communication
What do we mean when we talk about interpersonal communication? Read how
researchers define interpersonal communication and then complete the interactive
activity and quiz at the end of this section.
The Contextual View One way of defining interpersonal communication is to compare
it to other forms of communication. In so doing, we would
examine how many people are involved, how physically close
they are to one another, how many sensory channels are used,
and the feedback provided. Interpersonal communication differs
from other forms of communication in that there are few
participants involved, the interactants are in close physical
proximity to each other, there are many sensory channels used,
and feedback is immediate13. An important point to note about
the contextual definition is that it does not take into account the
relationship between the interactants.
The Developmental View We have many different relationships with people. Some
researchers say that our definition of interpersonal
communication must account for these differences. These
researchers say that interacting with a sales clerk in a store is
different than the relationship we have with our friends and
family members. Thus, some researchers have proposed an
alternative way of defining interpersonal communication. This is
called the developmental view. From this view, interpersonal
communication is defined as communication that occurs
between people who have known each other for some time.
Importantly, these people view each other as unique individuals,
not as people who are simply acting out social situations14.

Interactive Activity

Functions of Interpersonal Communication


Interpersonal communication is important because of the functions its achieves.
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 We also engage in interpersonal communication to help us
Understanding 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.
Establishing Identity 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.
Interpersonal Needs 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.
• 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.
• Affection is the need to develop relationships with
people. Groups are an excellent way to make friends and
establish relationships.

Functions of Interpersonal Communication


Interpersonal communication is important because of the functions its achieves.
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 We also engage in interpersonal communication to help us
Understanding 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.
Establishing Identity 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.
Interpersonal Needs 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.
• 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.
• Affection is the need to develop relationships with
people. Groups are an excellent way to make friends and
establish relationships.