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Interpersonal Communication


Assignment 2

1) Interpersonal Communication Report

The objective of this assessment is to identify and analyse key interpersonal skills
and behaviours exhibited in a relevant scene from a television or film production.

The report should clearly draw upon and reflect the theory and practice expressed
through the literature and other resource materials studied in this module.

A. Identify and describe the effective communication skills used in the scene.
B. Identify and describe the barriers affecting the effective application of
communication skills.
C. Describe at least three ways you could create more effective communication in
the scene observed.
D. Include verbatim examples to demonstrate your understanding of the skills and
theory studied in this module.
E. Provide a list of references in your report.

For this interpersonal communication report I chose to analyse a scene from

Linklater’s movie Before Sunset (2004). The entire movie is based on
interpersonal communication, being an 80 minutes dialog between the two
characters of the movie.

The plot: Celine (Julie Delpy), French, and Jesse (Ethan Hawke), American, both
in their early thirties, meet for the first time after their one-night romance in
Vienna 9 years ago. After their first encounter they decide to meet in the same
place (Vienna) after exactly 6 months; however they did not. Jesse is now in Paris,
completing a publicity tour to promote the book he wrote based on their meeting
in Vienna. Celine, who lives in Paris, shows up at the publishing house. Jesse
needs to catch a plane in a couple of hours. Jesse and Celine decide to spend
together the time left until Jesse needs to go to the airport. From the point of their
meeting to the end of the movie the conversation between Celine and Jesse flows
almost uninterrupted.

General comment: As the time goes by, the physical context changes: they walk
to a café, sit at a table, leave the café and wander on the streets of Paris, take a
boat, a car, Jesse walks Celine home, he invites himself in. However, nothing
from the physical context seems to interfere at all with their conversation. They go
from small talk, travel plans, carrier issues, to more personal topics and ideas, to
gradual self disclosure and expressing their real feelings. The body language
plays a huge role in the communication process. At the beginning we can see
awkwardness in their gestures, they look at each other, look down, Jesse attempts
to touch Celine’s shoulder but he doesn’t, they keep a personal distance when they
walk. With time, they become more comfortable with each other, they make eye
contact while talking; they use hands gestures, smile, nod their head while
listening as to encourage the speaker. Paralanguage is important too, at the
beginning they speak at a lower rate and volume, with a medium pitch, and with
small pauses. As the time runs out they speak faster, with a higher pitch
(especially Celine), as their frustration and anxiety grows when they begin to
cautiously open up and disclose their real feelings. After the reciprocal disclosure
the characters become more relaxed, the rate and volume of speech slow down,
the pitch of the voice varies.

Scene analysed: Celine and Jesse walk from the publishing house to a café and
begin their conversation. They talk about the circumstances that brought them
together again and the reason for they didn’t keep their commitment to meet again
in Vienna.

Effective communication skills:


Body language

 Facial expression: Jesse meets Celine with an honest, open smile (smiling
with his eyes), like he is really happy to see her (affect display, DeVito,
2006, p 165) and really interested in what she has to communicate. Jesse’s
facial expression inspires dynamism and credibility and these two
elements are very important in effective communication (Fatt, 1999).
Celine responds by smiling back – means the communication channels are
open both ways.

 Formal kiss: Celine and Jesse kiss the French way- cheeks touching and
kissing the air, once each side. This expresses immediacy with cultural
sensitivity; by doing so Jesse takes into consideration the local customs.
(Devito, 2006, p 170)

 Eye communication: the characters make eye contact periodically while

conversing (communicates interest and trustworthiness – Fatt,1999;
DeVito, 2006, p 169)

 Body Gestures (kinesics): The characters associate their verbal

communication with relevant gestures: show interest and willingness to
communicate. They use illustrators (gestures accompanying and
illustrating the verbal message, DeVito, 2006, p165). An example of
illustrator is when Jesse meets Celine outside and opens the conversation
an enthusiastic “How are you?” associated with both arms slightly
elevated in front of him and hands open towards Celine as she is the object
of his interest, maybe a desire to hug her but he respects her personal
space. Other examples: Jesse is pointing at his head when he states “I
think a cat slept on my head!”, or Celine says “Let’s go this way” and she
uses a hand gesture to show the way.

 Mirroring each other’s gestures. When talking about his book, Jesse starts
to look at his hands while picking and gripping his fingers, gesture that can
be perceived as anxiety; seconds later Celine was doing the same thing,
probably not even conscious. Many authors argue that when people are in
rapport they tend to mirror body language (Wilson, 2007). By mirroring
the other person’s body language can make the person feel comfortable
with you (Mercer, 1994, p24), and closer to you (Hartley & Karinch,

 Touch communication (haptics). At the beginning of the conversation

Jesse’s gestures suggest touching Celine’s shoulder but he doesn’t really
reach her (he is probably uncertain of how Celine would react to his touch
and he wants to respect her personal space). When their conversation
advances and between Celine and Jesse credibility and trust increases, they
use touch to show positive emotions (DeVito, 2006) and to increase impact
of the verbal messages:

- e.g. talking about the book, Jesse smiles sceptical when

Celine says ”No, I liked it! It’s very romantic. I usually don’t
like that, but it’s really well written! It’s well written.
Congratulations.” Celine touches Jesse’s arm to reassure him
that she really means it. Jesse responds “Alright. Thank you.”
and touches Celine’s elbow to suggest “I believe you.”

 expressing immediacy. Jesse and Celine express immediacy by smiling

and showing interest for each other. While walking to the café they stop
several times and make eye contact. After few steps the space between
them becomes smaller creating physical closeness.


 The rate, volume and pitch of the verbal communication are varied, and
with upward inflection. This communicates expressiveness (De Vito,
2006, p 201) making the conversation dynamic and effective (Fatt, 1999).

 When outside, Jesse opens the conversation with a tone of positive

surprise, with higher pitch at the end of the phrase: I can’t believe you are
here! This shows Celine that he is really pleased to see her and opens
communication channels.

 When Celine questions Jesse about the reason for his absence at their
meeting in Vienna, he answers with a suggestive silence. Celine
understands that he actually went to Vienna for their meeting. As many
authors agree, silence communicates as powerful as the words. (DeVito,
2006, p 177). Jesse chooses not to answer because that would have meant
to tell the truth, and disconfirm what he said before, or continue the lie and
make up a reason. Any of these options would have not stimulated their

Verbal communication:

Opening the conversation

 The conversation is opened by messages of phatic communion:

Jesse: “Hi!”
Celine: “Hello!”
Jesse: “How are you?”
Celine: “Good, and you?”
Jesse: “Hm, good yeah, I’m great!...
Phatic communion establishes the connection between Jesse and Celine
(the communicators) and opens up channels for more meaningful
interactions (DeVito, 2006, p. 195).

 They choose a more favourable physical context before the actual

conversation starts: Jesse invites Celine to go and have a coffee together.
By doing this he suggests moving away from the publishing house
building which was very busy, making impossible for a private
conversation. This invitation acts as a confirmation message: Jesse wants
to offer Celine exclusivity, that means he acknowledges her presence and
her importance.

 Checking if the temporal context is appropriate:

Celine: “Didn’t he just say you have a plane to catch?”

Jesse: “Yeah, but…I mean, I have a little time!”

Celine: “Are you sure you don’t have to stay? You’re not supposed to talk

Celine wants to make sure the time was right for their conversation as
though she didn’t want to interfere with his schedule. If he would be with
her but thinking that he was supposed to do something else then the
communication wouldn’t be effective.

Maintaining the conversation:

 uncertainty reduction. DeVito states that reducing uncertainty leads to

greater accuracy in perception (DeVito, 2006, p 97). An effective
communication depends on accuracy the messages are perceived. Celine
and Jesse haven’t been in touch in a very long period of time, thus there is
an important degree of uncertainty between them. They ask relevant
questions to reduce uncertainty.
Jesse: “How did you even know I was gonna be here?”
Jesse: “Did you have a chance to read it (Jesse’s book)?”
Celine: “Wait!”… “Before we go anywhere I need to ask you a...”
Jesse: “Sure. What?”
Celine: Did you show up in Vienna that December?”
Jesse: “I want to know about you, you know! Tell me what are you
doing… what are you up to?”

 lying to protect against loss of face, or to hide emotions (DeVito, 2006, p

126). Jesse knew that he showed up in Vienna in December and that
Celine didn’t. However he didn’t know the reason that prevented Celine
from coming. Thus, when Celine asks if he showed up in December Jesse
preferred to lie, to prevent Celine from feeling bad or to protect himself
from posing as victim.

 admitting the lie to save face. Jesse doesn’t answer when Celine questions
the reason of his absence. From Jesse’s silence Celine understands the
truth and asks “No, you were there, weren’t you?” Only then, Jesse admits
that he did show up in Vienna and he felt very disappointed not to meet
her there.

 disclosing cautiously and backing up when the impact on the other person
is too strong (adjust the message based on the feedback received – DeVito,
2006, p 13)

Jesse: “My life’s been a big nosedive since but it’s not a problem.”
After he sees Celine’s facial expression of guilt, Jesse says: “No, I’m

 making jokes to lessen the tension. Celine gets too passionate debating that
“the world is a mess” while Jesse thinks that “things are getting better”.
To prevent a conflict Jesse makes a joke:

Jesse: “I realise there are a lot of serious problems in the world…”

Celine: “Ok. Thank you.” (Celine thinks Jesse finally agrees with her)
Jesse: “I mean… I don’t even have one publisher on the Asian market!”
(Celine laughs)
Once Celine is relaxed, they resume the serious discussion about the world

 deliberately violating the conversational maxims (DeVito, 2006, p 202)

without creating misunderstandings.

-violating the maxim of relation:

Jesse: “Do you wanna maybe get a cup of coffee?”
Celine: “Didn’t he just say you have a plane to catch?
In the example above Celine’s answer violates the maxim of relation,
being apparently unrelated to the question. However the answer has an
implied meaning: Celine is actually asking Jesse if he is sure has enough
time for a coffee before he leaves.

-violating the maxim of quantity:

Jesse: “Did you have the chance to read it?”
Celine: “Yes…I was really surprised as you can imagine. I mean, I had to
read it twice actually.”

Here Celine gives more information than Jesse asks for, hence, violating
the maxim of quantity.

Violating the conversational maxims are in this case effective

communication skills because they don’t create misunderstandings and
they make the conversation more interesting and keeps it going.

 making excuses (repairing conversational problems): Celine feels guilty

for not meeting Jesse in December, nine years ago and to eliminate any
hard feelings she explains why she didn’t show up in Vienna.

Celine: “I felt horrible about not being there but I couldn’t! My grandma
died a few days before and she was buried that day, December 16!”

Active listening

Jesse and Celine don’t interrupt each other when talking, they discern well the
cues of turn taking like pauses, eye contact, and they encourage each other to
continue the conversation by asking relevant question:

Celine: “I work for Green Cross, it’s an environmental organisation.”

Jesse: “What are they all about?” …and … “What do you do for them?”

As a part of active listening, the characters in Before Sunset also use back-
channelling cues (communicate information back to the speaker without assuming
the role of speaker – DeVito, 2006, p 206) to acknowledge the speaker’s message
and encourage the speaker to continue: e.g. while Celine is talking passionately
about her work, Jesse intervenes with “Wow!” or when Celine says:
“…I was hoping to work for the government and I did for a while. Terrible!”
Jesse reflects back “Not good!”

Barriers in applying the effective communication skills

The communication process between Jesse and Celine can be described as:

1. - intercultural communication, however they both belong to Western cultures

with a high degree of similarity. They are both highly educated, belong to a
similar socio-economic level and the characters’ communication competency is
similarly high.
2.- communication between different sexes;
3.- communication between two person who shared intimacy for a short period
and then, they stopped any communication for a long period of time. The time that
passed made them uncertain about each other’s feelings, attitudes and thinking.

In consequence the potential barriers in applying effective communication skills

are the cultural differences, the gender differences and the uncertainty created by
the long period of time they haven’t been in touch.

Barriers related to uncertainty


-body language

Uncertainty leads to anxiety which is showed through the body language. Even if
the characters of the movie don’t tell each other that they feel nervous they
communicate this through body movements:

-while questioning Celine about how she found out of his presence there, in Paris,
Jesse starts pressing his palms together, interlocking his fingers, gripping his
hands and fingers;

-Jesse and Celine make use of exaggerate gestures to illustrate their verbal
messages which denotes anxiety.

-facial expression

When Jesse lies about not showing up in Vienna in December, he averts his gaze
and displays a subtle smile – sign of not being honest. The non- verbal message
was not congruent or in accord with the verbal message.


Celine becomes frustrated when Jesse says thinking Jesse didn’t go to Vienna,
frustration displayed by an increase of the volume and rate of speech, and an
irregular, up and down inflection.

Verbal communication

 Conform to the attribution theory (DeVito, 2006, p 90) it is more likely to

accept and be sympathetic with a negative behaviour if it was caused by
external causes and the person displaying it was not in control. Celine
couldn’t go to Vienna in December because her grandma died and was
buried the day Celine and Jesse were supposed to meet. Her behaviour was
acceptable because she couldn’t control it. However Celine finds difficult
to accept the fact that Jesse wasn’t there. She becomes angry when she
asks Jesse for explanations:

Celline: “But you weren’t there anyway! Wait… Why weren’t you there? I
would have been there if I could have. I made plans… You better have a
good reason…”

 When Celine asks Jesse if he showed up in Vienna in December, he replies

with another question. This is a violation of all the conversational maxims;
however he knew that Celine didn’t come to their meeting and he was
trying to prevent an unpleasant situation.

Celine: “Did you show up in Vienna in December?”

Jesse: “Why? Did you?”
Celine: “No, I couldn’t! But, did you?”
Jesse: “Why, if you didn’t? What does it matter?
Celine: I need to know, it is important to me!”

Jesse doesn’t give a straight answer; he needs time to think what to say
and he replies to a question with another question. This can be perceived
as dishonesty and represent a barrier to effective communication.

Barriers related to culture differences

Verbal communication

The two characters in Before Sunset movie make sometimes jokes with negative
cultural connotations. For example Celine, referring at herself, uses the
association of her nationality (French) with unflattering appellatives as these
would be common stereotypes:

Celine: “Why didn’t you put six months later the French bitch didn’t show up?”…
and … “Interesting, so, the French slut!”

Another example is when Jesse states that his dad warned him “about French

These jokes can induce bad feelings and hinder effective communication.

Barriers related to gender differences

In the communication process Celine, seems to show her emotions more easily,
sometimes to the point of being close to conflict.

Celine: “How is the world getting better? I’m not getting angry, I’m not getting
angry, but…come on…I want to know!” (Her body language and paralanguage
shows anger- ample body movements, fast rate of speech, high pitch.)
During the conversation Jesse displays an apparent calm behaviour (except for the
nervous hand gestures). For most of the time Jesse wears a slight smile which can
be involuntary and may try to hide his emotions. The incongruence between
Jesse’s words and calm speech and the messages he sends by body language can
affect negatively his trustworthiness.

This difference in showing emotions might be attributed to the gender difference,

as some authors suggests. Gray, 1992, discusses that when women are stressed
they instinctively feel the need to talk, opposite to men who want to retreat in
“their cave” to work things out. However, the latest research, made with scientific
approach, show that there are no significant differences in how man and women
communicate their emotions. The differences between how man and women
communicate are more the result of culture and in an equalitarian society, these
differences are not significative and they are but popular stereotypes (Sprecher, S
& Toro-Morn, M, 2002; Dindia, K. & Canary, D.J., 2006). As Jesse and Celine
are fictional characters, it is possible that they have been constructed conform
these popular stereotypes.

Ways to create a more effective communication

In this scene communication can be more effective if:

 the characters used their names in conversation. For the whole scene the
characters don’t use their names, fact that creates a virtual distance
between them. As DeVito states, using the other person’s name creates
immediacy (DeVito, 2006, p170), conveys interest for the other person.
Creating immediacy has been demonstrated to be effective in many
different communication situations (Moore, Masterson, Christophel, &
Shea, 1996; Witt & Wheeless, 2001; Wilson & Taylor, 2001; Baringer &
McCroskey, 2000; in DeVito, 2006).

 Jesse wouldn’t have lied about showing up in Vienna. The reason for Jesse
lied to Celine is probably to save her face, to prevent her feeling guilty
about not showing up, but at the same time Celine’s feelings are hurt. Her
trust in Jesse is threatened for him not keeping his commitment.

 Celine didn’t get angry and assumed that Jesse didn’t have a good reason
not to show up. Communication can be improved if Celine gave Jesse
some credit and wait to hear his reasons before getting angry. Instead of:
“But you weren’t there anyway! Wait… Why weren’t you there? I would
have been there if I could have. I made plans… You better have a good
reason…” Celine could have said: ”I’m so sorry for not going back to
Vienna to meet you, I would have been there if I could…I made plans… I
can’t deny that I feel a bit disappointed for you not being there. However,
I believe you too had a serious reason. Would you care to share it?”

Using “I” statements, Celine would take responsibility for her feelings
improving the communication effectiveness.
Reference List

1. DeVito, J.A. (2006). The interpersonal Communication Book, International

Edition (11th edn), Boston, MA: Pearson, Allyn and Bacon.
2. Dindia, Kathryn & Canary, D. J. (2006). Sex differences and similarities in
communication, LEA’s Communication Series, 2nd edition, Rutledge
3. Fatt, P.T. J. (1999). It’s not what you say it’s how you say it, Communication
World: Jun/Jul 1999; 16,6; ABI/INFORM Global, pg. 37, in Interpersonal
Skills, Readings, 20193R, Cengage Education
4. Gray, J. (1992). Men are from Mars and women are from Venus: A practical
guide for improving communication and getting what you want in your
relationship. New York: Harper Collins
5. Hartley, G and Karinch, M. (2007). I can read you like a book: how to spot
the messages and emotions people are really sending with their body
language, Career Press
6. Mercer, M.W. (1994). How winners do it: high impact skills for your career
success, Prentice Hall
7. Sprecher, S & Toro-Morn, M (2002) A study of men and women from different
side of Earth to determine if men are from Mars and women are from Venus
in their beliefs about love and romantic relationships, Sex Roles, Vol 46, Nos
5/6, March 2002, in Interpersonal skills, Readings, 20193, Cengage
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(listed in Gale virtual reference library), Kogan Page Publishers