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Interpersonal communication is one of the most important process by which we interact with other human beings, and it can take one of two forms: verbal and nonverbal. Interpersonal communication is a key factor determining the nature of our relationship with others, yet a particular style of interpersonal communication is not necessarily better than another, but it is useful to be able to complement nonverbal communication with the tools of interpersonal communication. It is important to understand how these two types of interpersonal communication processes interact as well as what are their respective effectiveness in various settings.
However, in any communicative environment there will always be unanticipated variables present in any interpersonal communication setting. Interpersonal communication can take as many forms as they are individuals, yet interpersonal communication can often be classified under two types: verbal and non-verbal.
Both these different types of interpersonal communication are effective depending on the exact circumstances under which the communication takes place. It is thus very important to be able to understand how these two communication styles interact and replace one another.
The settings of the communication process, which can be direct or indirect, face-to-face or electronic, have an important influence on which type of interpersonal communication style is the most appropriate. Variables components of the interaction process include conflict resolution and celebration of people’s differences and similarities.
These two types of interpersonal communication processes, verbal and non-verbal, are thus used differently and they have different levels of effectiveness in varied settings. Interpersonal communication is one of the most basic yet important aspects of creating, maintaining and changing the nature of our formal and informal relationships (Ackerson &Viswanath, 2009).
A convenient way to define more accurately what interpersonal implies is to distinguish it from impersonal communication, which is exemplified by your interactions with sales employees or cashiers, for example. From this point of view, we can define different classes of interpersonal communication: those where we interact with people in their social roles and where our conversations are superficial and impersonal, as well as those where we interact with one another as more than objects.
Casual friends, work associates, and interactions with distant family members typically are involved in this class of interactions. Additionally, there exists another higher level of interpersonal communication where we move beyond social roles and into the uniqueness of the individual. In this case, we trust others and are more likely to disclose deep or more private aspects of ourselves. Hence, while we generally experience impersonal communication on a regular basis, such as when we interact with grocery clerks, gas attendants or strangers, true interpersonal communication begins to develop when we includes uniqueness and disclosure, as well as intrinsic rewards in the relationship. Verbal interpersonal, which can take place between small groups, social organizations or between dyads of individuals, is defined as an oral and verbal communication which takes place on a personal, face-to-face level. In this case the use of the term “verbal” refers not only to what is actually spoken, but also to how the message is delivered, and feedback is thus an important aspect of this type of communication (Lolli, 2012, p. 3).
The interpersonal communication process does not operate completely on its own, in a complete vacuum, but instead is an integral part of a complex environmental social, which has to be taken into account especially in the case of the relationship involving both interpersonal communication and health as physicians and patients are engaged in a closely-knit emotional relationship (Ackerson & al., 2009, p. 6-8). Nonverbal interpersonal communication, on the other hand, is usually defined as the process of communication between individuals which relies on exchanging nonverbal cues, mostly visual, between the interested parties.
The information can be conveyed by body language, eye contact, facial expressions or gestures. Nonverbal interpersonal communication can take place in a wide variety of context, including immediate and direct contact with others or by more remote electronic connections which allow people to see each other on videoconference screens or through internet communication over far distances. The process of nonverbal interpersonal communication takes place, at varying levels, on a more or less continuous basis when we are engaged in some sort of communicative process, and so will adapt to a variety of means, settings and circumstances. Another important domain of application for nonverbal behavior is in research about emotions, where researchers for example are examining nonverbal cues from the perspective that they represent external manifestations of people’s internal affective state (Ambady& Hecht, 1999, p. 5-11).
The traditional face-to-face interpersonal communication environment includes settings which involve friends and family, or a coworker. This type of communicative interaction often depends on a fix setting of space and time so that the exchange of information process can unfold and actually take place. This has long been the method of choice that has been adopted through the ages for most human personal exchange of data, as technology, or lack thereof, forbid most any other kinds of communication processes to take place. However, with the increasing advent and dissemination of modern technologies throughout our homes, it is now easier than ever to engage in remote interpersonal communication through the use of the internet, email and other types of modern numerical exchange and transfers of data and information.
These concepts have been adopted not only by individuals, but also by professional groups and companies. Personally, I have experienced this change in our communication standards by participating in virtual conferences with people located all around the world but who were able to share emotions almost as if they were face to face. One of my friends had a relative who had just passed away, and the use of modern technologies, in this case a video camera, a computer and a video screen were able to bring the emotional content of her feelings all the way across the ocean from Germany to Ann Arbor.
I remember thinking how extraordinary the feeling was to compare theactual physical separation to the felt emotional closeness. In the context of the professional environment, companies and firms that rely on the toolset of interpersonal communication in order to foster and adequately manage their workers needs are better at encouraging and lifting the spirit of their employees (Hynes, 2012, p. 2-5, 7-10). From this point of view, some interpersonal communication skills were more important than others towards contributing to employee dedication, commitment and enhancement.
The communicative skills considered of the utmost importance when running an organization was seen to be the skill of having clarity and consistency of messages” (Bambacas, 2008, 52-64). Employing such well-defined methods of communication also was seen as a key factor to enhance the level of trust at play in the organization. With the advent of modern means of instant communication over long physical distances, there has been a shift in the way that people engage in meaningful interactions. Today, modern cell phone and other “smart” device usage has more or less replaced a large chunk of the process by which individuals partake in meaningful discussion, which is now done at distance without direct contact, and often through the use of abbreviated, less clear and truncated words and sentences.
In fact, research has recently shown that “extended use of technologically, related devices can have a negative effect on interpersonal relationships and communication” (Afkhami, 2009). In particular, while at first most technological advances begin to prove beneficial in terms of extending and enriching the reaches of interpersonal communication, the subsequent and inevitable misuse of technology can have serious negative effects on how individuals relate to one another and process data and information. An unfortunate but common component of many interpersonal relationships is arguing, in which verbal disagreements occur more often than nonverbal disagreements for couples who are engaged in intimate relationships.
Thus, efficiently managing the communication process during an argument can have large benefits and can be seen as a form of interpersonal couple therapy. During a confrontational situation or while an argument is taking place, three general types of interpersonal communicative processes are at play by which individuals expand their resources: a distributive one, which imply a competitive exchange of information and often involve hostility and pressure; avoidance acts which minimize the level of disagreement by adopting a passive strategy; and integrative acts, which are disclosure in nature and allow for the expression of problem-solving skills (Miller, Reznik&Roloff, 2010). Interestingly, individuals adopting distributive or avoidance actions were more likely to experience after-the-fact negative thoughts, whereas the integrative approach led unexpectedly to an increased level of subsequent health problems.
The educational process is a learning environment where efficient communication is a key factor of success, especially in the classroom. In this context, the level of communication between, on the one hand, students and teachers, and on the other hand between students themselves, is an important factor for student participation. Not only does class size matter in this regard, but also the relative experience of students who may be discouraged from actively participating as some may not have the necessary knowledge or information to adequately exchange information with others (Alkandri, 2012). Foreign students are especially susceptible to this phenomenon as their language skills may not be equal to native individuals, so that non native students may rely on a different combination of verbal to nonverbal cues and informational treatment of the available data.
One specific style of interpersonal communication is not necessarily better than another, but it is useful to be able to complement nonverbal communication with the full spectrum of interpersonal communication. This is particularly the case for people in leadership position, where it has been shown that “interpersonal communication is a skill that is crucial to successful leaders” (Lolli, 2012, p. 3). Depending on the exact nature of the interpersonal communication process, more information can be exchanged between the parties involved when not only relying on nonverbal cues, but there will always be unanticipated variables present in any interpersonal communication setting.
This decade, there has been a resurgence of interest in interpersonal communication, particularly among those who study emotion, psychology, and person perception. The future of interpersonal communication may lie where it started; asan interdisciplinary endeavor” (Ambady, 1999, p. 1) before underlying that “Psychologists tends to emphasize quantitative studies over qualitative studies but this too may be changing. Researchers in both fields need to recognize their differences and to realize that approaches can be complementary. There is too much work left to do in interpersonal communication for psychologists and communication scholars not to work together jointly” (Ambady, 1999, p.12)
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