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Interpersonal Communication: Definition, Characteristics & Types

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  • 00:00 Interpersonal Communication
  • 00:40 Characteristics
  • 2:30 Types of Interpersonal…
  • 4:43 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

We communicate. A lot. So, it's important to understand some of the characteristics and types of our styles of communication. Explore interpersonal communication and test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Interpersonal Communication

Hey. Let's communicate! Interpersonally! Okay, I probably could have just left that at 'Let's communicate.' Interpersonal communication just means the exchange of information between two or more people. As long as you are communicating with another person, you're involved in interpersonal communication.

Great. So that's it, right? Well, not quite. How we communicate is one of the most fundamental aspects of our lives. So interpersonal communication is a pretty major area of study. Come on, we'll talk about it.

Characteristics

We communicate a lot of things throughout our lives, but researchers who study communication have identified a few common characteristics. For one, interpersonal communication involves independent individuals. This may seem obvious, but really what this means is that each person has their own motivations, expectations, and interpretations of communication.

The other fundamental characteristic of interpersonal communication is that it is inherently rational. In short, it's meant to be understood. Whatever we communicate, however we communicate it, we do so because we are intelligent beings capable of expressing and communicating our thoughts and feelings. And when we communicate, we do so because we expect something to be communicated.

See how interpersonal communication can quickly become an interesting field of study? Beyond the fact that humans communicate rationally, researchers also characterize communication as being inescapable. What this means is that you are always communicating, always presenting information about yourself and interpreting information from other people. By saying something, you are communicating. But by refusing to say something, you also communicate something.

Communication is constant. But it also involves personal choice. That's the fourth main characteristic of interpersonal communication. You can choose how you communicate information because you are a rational individual. See that? The characteristics are all connected.

Types of Interpersonal Communication

What and how you communicate, being the rational individual you are, requires choice. We've covered that. So, what are your options? One of the most basic divisions between types of interpersonal communication is verbal versus nonverbal.

Verbal communication is that which is spoken. When you communicate, what do you say? Not only that, but how do you say it? Do you use slang? What words or ideas do you emphasize? What language do you speak? All of this is part of verbal communication.

Nonverbal communication is the information communicated without being spoken. Are you standing straight or leaning? Do you look at the other person's eyes? Where do you put your hands? What's your body language telling the other person? Researchers agree that at least half of what we communicate is nonverbal, so this is pretty important.

The other major distinction in types of communication is the idea of impersonal communication. When this happens, you are interacting with another person, but that communication is not governed by thinking of the other person as a rational individual. Instead, impersonal communication involves thinking of another person as an object.

One of the classic examples is the interaction between a sales clerk and a potential customer. The clerk may not see the customer as a person but as a potential sale, and this objectification will dictate their communication. It is mechanical, superficial, and can be an almost-scripted exchange, based on social expectations about each role.

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