Interpersonal communication is communication that aims to connect with others.
Interpersonal Communication Examples
Interpersonal communication encompasses a huge range of behaviors that people do multiple times a day everyday:
- The most obvious example of interpersonal communication is a conversation where both parties are actively participating and trying to understand each other.
- An interview for a job is an example of interpersonal communication since interview questions are not merely transactional; oftentimes interviewers aim to build a relationship with the interviewee because strong relationships are essential for a productive workplace.
- An argument is a great example of interpersonal communication because it balances relationship maintenance with negotiation of contrasting goals.
- Online chats are an example of interpersonal communication even though they are not in-person.
- Similarly a virtual meeting over Zoom or Skype is an example of interpersonal communication among a group of people.
Why Is Interpersonal Communication Important?
Interpersonal communication is crucial for all aspects of life, but it is especially important in the workplace. In fact, for decades employers from all different fields have reported that interpersonal communication is crucial to finding a job and advancing in a career. Why is this the case?
- Accomplishing Goals: Work is ultimately about "doing" stuff, whether that is building a house or fixing a clunky interface for a website. Common workplace tasks all involve trying to motivate and coordinate individuals to accomplish collective goals.
- Relationships: Strong relationships are the engines of productive workplaces. Relationships are built and sustained only through interpersonal communication.
- Leadership: Effective leadership involves the ability to motivate team members to work towards a common goal. To do so, leaders must possess the interpersonal communication skills needed to motivate their teams.
- Listening: Interpersonal communication is not just about talking. It also involves listening, which is a key ingredient of problem solving and decision making.
- Conflict Resolution: Working with other people usually involves negotiating some form of conflict. In order to resolve conflicts, workers need to first have the ability to voice their concerns and advocate for themselves, while sustaining strong relationships.
Jobs that Require Interpersonal Skills
Most work involves communicating in small groups for the majority of the day. The following fields require interpersonal skills:
- Customer Service: Any career that involves interacting with customers—from hospitality and food service, to sales, to general contracting— requires the ability to not just sell to customers but to understand and develop relationships with customers so that they keep coming back.
- Health Care: One might think that all nurses, doctors, and health sciences technicians need to know is how to diagnose and treat illness. However, in order to get patients to comply with treatment plans, they have to communicate interpersonally with patients.
- Education: Researchers have repeatedly shown that students are more motivated to learn when they form a relationship with the educator. This means that education cannot just be about communicating information to an anonymous classroom; it must involve highly personal communication that recognizes students as individuals.
- Engineering: Similar to health care, engineering might seem to include all technical skills. However, engineers spend a lot of time presenting ideas to colleagues and negotiating how to accomplish tasks effectively.
Interpersonal communication is a crucial skill in health care.
Interpersonal Communication Characteristics
As mentioned above, interpersonal communication does not encompass all kinds of human interaction. Researchers distinguish interpersonal communication by outlining five of its key characteristics:
- It involves independent individuals. In other words, interpersonal communication is all about the interactivity of individuals who each have their own motivations, expectations, and interpretations of communication.
- It involves self-disclosure, or revealing personal thoughts, feelings, and reflections.
- It is rational. Importantly, "rational" does not mean correct, truthful, or even logical. Interpersonal communication is rational because it is meant to be understood by others.
- It involves personal choice. Ultimately, people choose what they say and how they say it, which makes interpersonal communication a learnable skill and not an innate process.
- It is constant and inescapable. Because humans need relationships with other humans to survive, interpersonal communication is an ongoing and inevitable fact of life.
Interpersonal Communication and Its Types
Interpersonal communication is not just about what people explicitly say out loud. There are four different types of interpersonal communication:
- Verbal Communication: Information communicated through speaking.
- Nonverbal Communication: Information communicated without being spoken. Some examples include body language like gestures and vocal intonation.
- Written Communication: Information communicated through a written medium. This is distinct from verbal communication because, even when interpersonal or interactive, it does not have the same richness. This means that understanding written communication is often more difficult because one cannot rely on nonverbal and context cues.
- Listening: Interpersonal communication is nothing without listening. As opposed to merely hearing what is said, interpersonal listening is the active attempt to understand and engage with another person.
Not all verbal, nonverbal, and written communication is interpersonal. Impersonal communication, or communication where at least one person views the other as an object or merely a goal, can take all of the above forms. For example, saying "thank you" to a cashier, directing traffic with hand signals, and sending out spam emails are all forms of impersonal communication that do not involve interdependence and relationship-building.
Interpersonal Skills Definition and Examples
Though one might think that interpersonal communication is an innate skill that all humans have, interpersonal communication skills are learned. Because skillful communication depends on the context, communication researchers call learning skills communication competence. Interpersonal communication competence is the ability to communicate both effectively and appropriately. Effectivity refers to being understood and getting desired results, while appropriateness refers to doing so in a way that builds and maintains relationships. For example, it might be effective to intimidate a next-door neighbor into cutting their bushes, but it would not be appropriate.
Communication researchers have identified three main skills for interpersonal communication competence.
- Cognitive Complexity: This is the ability to understand and reflect on situations from multiple points of view. For example, a nurse tells a patient to take three pills a day and the patient comes back and reports that she did not take the medication. A nurse would use cognitive complexity to understand the problem from a variety of views. Instead of assuming that the patient was willfully noncompliant, she might ask, were the instructions unclear or ambiguous?
- Empathy: Once one can see that there are multiple ways to understand any communication problem, it is important to empathize with the other person. Empathy involves taking on the perspective of another person. For example, the nurse might try to imagine life from the perspective of the patient. What kinds of life situations would make the medication difficult for the patient?
- Adaptability: After being able to reflect on a situation and empathize, skillful communicators must be able to adapt so that they use the most appropriate communication for the context. For example, if the nurse notices that the patient is generally distrustful of medical advice, she might build trust by asking the patient about their own beliefs about medicine or talking about successful outcomes.
Cognitive complexity, or the ability to reflect on situations from multiple viewpoints, is a crucial skill for interpersonal communication competence.
Interpersonal communication is the exchange of information between two or more people. Interpersonal communication is especially important in the workplace because it is the key ingredient for building relationships that motivate people to work together and accomplish goals. Interpersonal communication differs from other forms of communication, like mass communication, in that it is:
- Interactive: it involves timely reciprocal engagement between parties
- Relational: it is geared towards building and maintaining relationships.
Interpersonal communication has five key characteristics:
- It involves independent individuals who each have their own goals, thoughts, and feelings.
- It involves self-disclosure, or the revelation of personal information.
- It is rational, meaning that it is meant to be understood.
- It involves personal choice
- It is constant and inescapable.
Interpersonal communication can be verbal as well as nonverbal and written. Listening is also a form of interpersonal communication. However, not all verbal, nonverbal, and written communication is interpersonal. Impersonal communication, or communication where at least one person views the other as just an object or a goal, can take all of the above forms.
Interpersonal communication competence is the ability to communicate effectively and appropriately. Communication researchers have identified three main skills for interpersonal communication competence:
- Cognitive Complexity