Interpersonal Communication: Social Etiquette & Norms

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
This lesson is going to define interpersonal communication and social etiquette. You'll go over the importance of social etiquette as well as the factors that may modify it.

Interpersonal Communication

Interpersonal communication, communication between people, depends on a lot of things. It depends on having a shared language, perhaps technology such as a phone and internet, and subtler things, like social etiquette, norms, and conventions.

In this lesson, we are going to go over why the latter three are important and how they may be influenced by things like power, intimacy, and culture.

Social Etiquette, Norms, & Conventions

What is etiquette? Etiquette is a term that refers to the conventions and norms of social behavior. They are accepted codes of conduct with respect to interpersonal communication. Some example forms of etiquette with respect to communicating with others might include:

  • Looking into someone's eyes as you talk with them
  • Not interrupting someone as they speak
  • Avoiding negative expressions and feelings, such as swearing or an angry tone
  • Not picking your nose as someone talks to you
  • Showing up on time to a meeting or a date
  • Being polite. For example, saying please and thank you as necessary
  • Shaking one's hand when meeting them or saying goodbye

There are plenty of other examples. But the importance of such interpersonal social norms cannot be overstated. That's because social conventions such as these help us show that we care for the person we are communicating with as well as their thoughts, feelings, and words.

If it's hard to understand why this is important, then think of the opposite scenario, where no manners and codes of conduct such as these are apparent. What would we do then? Insult people left and right? Burp and fart around the dinner table without a care in the world? That wouldn't make for a very pleasant experience for anyone.

So, etiquette exists to, in many ways, maintain proper social order and respect when there is no reason to do otherwise.

Power, Intimacy, & Culture

There are a few important nuances to the last section. Etiquette and social norms and conventions, in general, can be governed by things like culture, power, and intimacy. This is why the last section gave possible examples that demonstrate proper etiquette. These social conventions may not apply to all interpersonal relationships within a culture or, even more so, across the globe.

For example, while in Western societies it is considered proper and necessary to look (but not stare forever) into someone's eyes while speaking to them, this isn't the case in all cultures. In some Eastern cultures, like in Japan, this isn't a requirement. Japanese people are more likely to look at you very quickly and then just as quickly look away than to maintain eye contact for a relatively prolonged time as would be expected, if not necessary, for polite conversation in the Western world.

Beyond culture, other things may influence what is appropriate (or not) with respect to interpersonal communication. One of these things is the power dynamic between one individual and another. For example, you would be expected to bite your tongue far more often around an elder, like a parent, than you would around a friend. Similarly, you probably would be best advised to avoid interrupting a boss while they're speaking far more so than, say, a sibling.

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