Interpersonal Communication: Examples, Definition, and Characteristics

Maggie Franz, Christopher Muscato
  • Author
    Maggie Franz

    Maggie has taught communication and rhetoric at the university level for 8 years. She has a PhD in communication from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she specialized in legal rhetoric and critical race theory.

  • Instructor
    Christopher Muscato

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

What is interpersonal communication? This lesson explores characteristics and types of interpersonal communication and interpersonal communication examples. Updated: 07/19/2021

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What Is Interpersonal Communication?

Interpersonal communication is the exchange of information between two or more people. The key difference between interpersonal communication and other forms of communication like mass communication is interactivity, or timely and reciprocal interaction between parties. In other words, while mass communication involves one-way communication between a source—like a television station—and a receiving audience, interpersonal communication involves a two-way exchange of information.

Interpersonal communication is also relational, meaning that it is aimed towards building and sustaining relationships among people. In contrast, impersonal communication is merely transactional and people are viewed as objects.

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Interpersonal communication is communication that aims to connect with others.

Image of two people holding puzzle pieces that go together

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.

Image of nurse in a hospital helping a patient with a cane

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:

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is interpersonal communication and its example?

Interpersonal communication is the exchange of information between two or more people. In contrast to other forms of communication, it is interactive and relational. A common example of interpersonal communication is a conversation where two people are exchanging ideas.

What are the 5 elements of interpersonal communication?

The five elements of interpersonal communication are that (1) it involves independent individuals who each have their own motivations, expectations, and interpretations of communication; (2) it involves self disclosure, or revealing personal thoughts, feelings, and reflections; (3) it is rational in that it is meant to be understood by others; (4) it involves personal choice; (5) and it is constant and inescapable.

What are the 4 types of interpersonal communication?

There are four different types of interpersonal communication. Verbal communication uses spoken words. Nonverbal communication uses body language, vocal intonation, and other non-verbal modes of communication. Written communication includes words that have been fixed in a medium like email, text message, and paper. Last, listening is a type of interpersonal communication that involves actively trying to understand what the other person is communicating.

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