May 14, 2009

Interpersonal Communications

I. Interpersonal communication is a unique form of communication.
  1. The most common and pervasive mode of communication, it occurs whenever two people engage in face-to-face interaction.
  2. It has unique characteristics that distinguish it from other kinds of communication.
    1. It is very direct and personal; dyadic communicators can get to know one another intimately.
    2. Because it is immediate, the quality of feedback is high.
    3. It is spontaneous: communicators rarely plan their contributions in advance.
    4. Finally, the roles of speaker and listener are freely exchanged
  3. According to the developmental view, communication becomes interpersonal over time.
    1. As communicators learn more intimate details about one another, begin to predict and anticipate each other's behaviors, and formulate their own rules, dyadic communication becomes interpersonal.
    2. Over time, individuals move from the cultural, through the sociological, to the psychological level, where true interpersonal communication occurs.
  4. We communicate interpersonally for several reasons:
    1. Dyads provide comfort and support.
    2. Interpersonal communication initially forms our self-concepts.
    3. Interpersonal communication allows us to validate, maintain, and even change identities over time
II. Managing dyadic relationships is a matter of balance and negotiation.
  1. Communicators must balance the demands of a relationship with their own personal needs.
    1. They must recognize three major dialectics.
      1. They must resolve expressive and protective dialectics, balancing the need to share personal information with the need to maintain privacy.
      2. They must face the autonomy-togetherness dialectic, deciding how interdependent to be.
      3. Finally, they must come to terms with the novelty-predictability dialectic, repeating familiar patterns, while exploring new patterns.
    2. They must find a way to resolve dialectical tensions.
      1. They can use dialectical emphasis, choosing one extreme.
      2. They can use pseudosynthesis to try to satisfy both extremes at once.
      3. Their best choice is to use reaffirmation to accept the fact that relationships alternate between extremes.
  2. In addition to the three dialectical tensions outlined above, couples use communication to resolve a series of other issues that define the shape their relationships will take.
    1. By working out where they stand on basic issues they create relational profiles.
    2. Partners must continue to confront these issues throughout the life of the relationship.
  3. Couples must avoid dysfunctional communication patterns.
    1. One problem occurs when partners are caught in rigid role relations.
      1. In a complementary relationship, one partner dominates and the other submits
      2. In competitive symmetry, both try to outdo the other.
      3. In submissive symmetry, both try to relinquish control.
    2. Another dysfunctional pattern occurs when partners disconfirm one another, rejecting the other's worth as a human being.
      1. Through impervious responses, we ignore one another, signaling our partner is not worthy of attention.
      2. Through interrupting responses, we indicate that another's comments are unimportant.
      3. Irrelevant responses tell partners they have no right to direct the conversation.
      4. Tangential responses briefly acknowledge but then ignore the other's contribution.
      5. Impersonal responses place barriers between communicators.
      6. Incoherent responses signal tension and discomfort.
      7. Incongruous responses are confusing and contradictory.
    3. Some couples habitually send double messages that are confusing and disorienting.
      1. Contradictory messages, or paradoxes, are destructive forms of communication.
      2. An especially damaging type of message is the double-bind.
    4. Occasionally, behavior by one partner will intensify the behavior of the other, causing the relationship to spiral out of control.
III. Relationships continually change; communicators must adapt their communication accordingly.
  1. Couples experience identifiable stages as they pass through relationships.
    1. Couples pass through five stages on the way to intimacy.
      1. In the initiating stage, they use communication to create favorable impressions and gather information.
      2. During the experimenting stage, couples search for common ground and begin to reveal their personalities.
      3. During the intensifying stage, individuals make initial moves toward greater intimacy, working out unique communication rules.
      4. In the integrating stage, individuals communicate in ways so as to reveal they are a couple and test each other to see how strong the relationship is.
      5. Once all tests are passed, individuals legitimate their relationship through a public ritual called bonding.
    2. Throughout the journey toward intimacy, couples increase the depth and breadth of their communication. If the relationship dissolves, the opposite occurs.
    3. There are also identifiable stages in the dissolution of relationships.
      1. During differentiation, members stress differences rather than similarities.
      2.  In circumscribing, communication topics become constrained.
      3.  Stagnating is characterized by silence and inactivity.
      4.  In the avoiding stage, partners separate physically.
      5.  In the terminating stage, people come to terms with the fact the relationship is over.
    4. During relational dissolution, individuals must resolve the breakup in personal and social ways.
      1. In the intrapsychic stage, the individual works alone to decide what to do about the relationship.
      2. In the dyadic phase, partners confront one another.
      3. In the social phase, outsiders are informed.
      4. In the grave-dressing phase, couples rationalize the breakup.
  2. Of course, we do not find all relational partners equally attractive. Some are eliminated early on and never go through the stages outline above.
    1. One way to think of attraction is as a process of elimination.
    2. We use four sets of cues to filter out unacceptable partners.
      1. The first filter consists of sociological or incidental cues.
      2. The second consists of preinteraction cues like physical beauty and dress.
      3. A third filter occurs after initial contact and consists of interaction cues.
      4. Cognitive cues constitute the last and most important filter.
IV. We can learn to become more effective interpersonal communicators.
  1. By understanding basic interpersonal processes, observing our own and others' behavior closely, and by practicing new skills, we can become better at interpersonal communication.
  2. Learning to self-disclose effectively is an important interpersonal skill.
    1. Self-disclosure occurs when one person voluntarily tells another person things about himself which the other is unlikely to know or discover from other sources.
    2. To disclose effectively, we should understand a few basic principles.
      1. Not all statements about the self are true self-disclosures.
      2. We should not disclose to everyone: self-disclosure is not appropriate in all relationships.
      3. It's important to consider the effect disclosure may have on others.
      4. We should choose the right time and place to disclose.
      5. Disclosure should be related to the "here and now."
      6. Disclosure should be gradual.
      7. Disclosure should be reciprocal.
  3. Knowing how to respond to others' disclosures by listening empathically is also important for good communication.
    1. There are several ways to respond to others, each with advantages and disadvantages.
      1. When we offer a plan of action, we are using an advising and evaluating response.
        1. This response can cut short discussion.
        2. It's best if people work out what to do on their own.
      2. We use analyzing and interpreting responses to uncover meanings and motivations in others' behaviors.
        1. This works only if we know the other very well.
        2. This method may make the other feel defensive.
        3. Using a reassuring and supporting response is an option.
          1. This method can help calm a person.
          2. It may diminish the importance of the problem.
        4. To gather more information, we use questioning and probing responses.
          1. This method can force the other to consider the problem more fully.
          2. It can cause defensiveness.
        5. Finally, we can use a paraphrasing and understanding response by turning the other's comments into a reflective statement.
    2. Paraphrasing is usually considered the best initial alternative.
      1. It allows the sender to check his/her perceptions and signal concern; it allows the other to hear what he or she is saying.
      2. It should not be a word-for-word repetition.
    3. It is important to be able to give clear feedback when we need to confront another.
      1. We should always acknowledge our own messages.
      2. We should not apologize for having feelings.
      3. We should make messages specific and behavioral.
      4. Verbal and nonverbal behaviors should support one another.
      5. We should avoid evaluating and interpreting others.


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