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1.6: Tools of Interpersonal Communication

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    Complexities of Communication

    While communication studies discipline experts will highlight throughout this text the many ways communication can benefit relational satisfaction, self awareness, and personal and professional growth, there are also dark sides to communication as well as misconceptions that can thwart our communication goals. Although the dark side of communication and communication misconceptions may sound negative, when we understand the related reasons why they occur and our role in those reasons, we are better able to adapt our skills and respond in a way that is communication competent. Throughout our course of study, we will explore facets of interpersonal communication, in order to set our goals of communicating effectively and appropriately throughout our learning journey.

    Common Questions in Interpersonal Communication

    Any time we begin learning something new, we may find ourselves curious about the subject and want to explore those curiosities in more depth. While the following listed questions and responses are some of the common questions we typically receive when introducing interpersonal communication, there may be more questions you discover as we continue our learning process. Throughout this text we will be working to answer some of these questions, but there are also some quick responses given in the following table to help frame our learning as we continue on.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Will communication solve all problems?

    Not always. Some problems are bigger than simply “talking it out” and more communication is not always better.

    Is being a competent communicator a “natural” talent?

    Skill, dedication, and hard work towards creating positive habits is how someone strives towards communication competence.

    Does “communication” just mean talking?

    Communication involves the intentional and unintentional, conscious and unconscious sending, receiving, and responding of verbal and nonverbal messages.

    Should people adapt to my way of communicating to understand me?

    In order to prevent miscommunication, we must work at presenting our message in a way that best fits the needs of the listener.

    Is interpersonal communication simple?

    Interpersonal communication is complex! There is a large matrix of aspects that we explore through interpersonal communication research and theories that help explain why and how we function within societies through a communicative lens.

    It is important to remember that communication is not “one size fits all.” As we discuss throughout this chapter, there are a wide variety of ways in which the complexities of communication can appear. By understanding these complexities in more depth, we are better able to overcome these misconceptions of communication and help prevent miscommunication from occurring in our relationships. Creating a deeper understanding of the various ways our relational satisfaction is impacted by our communication allows us to adjust and adapt the context, message, and perceptions surrounding our communication interaction. In understanding the interpersonal skills this text will help us learn, and maintaining our ethical standards at the forefront of our relationships, we are learning the tools within interpersonal communication to set us up for success in becoming the competent communicators we strive to be.

    Interpersonal Skills

    As we stated at the beginning of this chapter, communication seems easy because we are constantly doing it. Understanding the complexities that make up the act of communication helps us realize the conscious and unconscious effort that it takes. In addition, communicating effectively and appropriately—being a competent communicator—takes dedication, mindfulness, and action. Being a competent communicator is not a natural state of being for most people (even Communication Studies scholars are not perfect!) and in order to develop these skills we must first understand each unique part of communication.

    Throughout our study of interpersonal communication we will be exploring specific elements that make up competent communication, including understanding self concept, our ability to be an active listener, monitoring our verbal and nonverbal communication, fostering emotional intelligence, building and maintaining relationships, managing conflict, and perhaps most importantly, understanding how culture impacts every interaction we have.

    Understanding the Self Concept

    In order to actively engage in interpersonal communication, we must start at the base of understanding ourselves as communicators. The self concept is a foundation within communication, because at every interaction we are presented with, we are communicating from our worldview, our perspective, and from our unique lens of reality. The self concept is a stable sense of who we are in this world. It forms from a young age, developing to answers to the question “Who am I?” By answering these foundational questions, we begin to understand how our experiences and perceptions impact our behaviors and interactions with others around us in complex ways.

    Using Active Listening

    One of the hardest aspects of becoming a competent communicator is using intentionality within our communicative behaviors. Active listening requires that we are cognitively focused on what messages are sent so that value in the relationships is present. Listening helps us fulfill relational needs, such as being emotionally present for a friend who’s had a rough day, informational needs such as attending lectures and gaining knowledge through education, and critical needs to form opinions and generate ideas. While active listening may be one of the hardest goals to accomplish, it can also be one of the most rewarding.

    Monitoring Verbal and Nonverbal Communication

    Verbal and nonverbal communication is how we send our messages through our words, voice, body language, gestures, appearance, and beyond. There is usually much more meaning created in how we say something than by just what is said, and how we interpret these messages helps us to create and respond to complex messages. Think of the different ways one can interpret a text message such as, “OK”, where there is so much meaning left out. With the addition of punctuation or emojis, the meaning changes completely. If the message contained the emoji with a winking face, that would be interpreted differently than a red angry emoji. Understanding these complexities helps us in the exploration of how we create unique understanding through the verbal and nonverbal elements and how this impacts all forms of our communication.

    Fostering Emotional Intelligence

    Being able to see another person’s perspective, understanding how they may see a particular situation or scenario, is a foundational aspect of building communication competence. In order to know what will be an effective and appropriate method for them to receive information requires us to be emotionally aware and empathetic. Emotional intelligence relates to our ability to interpret and understand our emotions and our communication partners’ emotions in a way that helps us to be successful in communicating our own needs while also working to meet the needs of our relational partners. Understanding how we build middle ground between our own emotional needs while also being present for the needs of others requires us to be self aware and able to communicate through them.

    Building and Maintaining Relationships

    Building relationships is a core part of interpersonal communication. Interpersonal communication helps us to build and maintain relationships. In the absence of communication, a relationship does not receive the maintenance it requires to proliferate. From the initiation of relationships, the good times and the bad, all relationships have ebbs and flows in communication. Building our understanding around why we form relationships, why relationships end, and how to create satisfaction and growth within our relationships allows us to see we are not alone in our experiences.

    Managing Conflict

    Managing conflict is not easy but necessary. Conflict is inevitable and understanding conflict can help us avoid unnecessary conflict, learn conflict management strategies, and what we can do to be effective and appropriate in a conflict. Learning how to assess ourselves and how to use interpersonal communication strategies can help us achieve our relational and individual goals by allowing us to see that while conflict may always exist in our lives, conflict can have positive and successful outcomes through behavioral flexibility.

    Intercultural Communication Competence

    Culture influences all aspects of communication. We cannot communicate outside of our cultural context (Culture and Communication, 2012). Because of this innate and intertwined aspect of culture and communication, our study of interpersonal communication approaches discussions around culture the same way—consistently and throughout the learning process. Intercultural communication competence is the process of gaining knowledge and awareness of other cultures while we practice our communication competence skills alongside people from other cultural groups. Intercultural communication competence includes the aspects of being open-minded as well in knowing that we might not always “get it right” when communicating across cultural identities, but that we are willing to learn from our mistakes and try again.

    Our interpersonal communication leans on our understanding of how the cultural context impacts and is impacted by the cultural lens of the individuals we are building relationships with. There are times when these aspects of culture are obvious, such as when we may be traveling abroad to a new country and experiencing a different culture for the first time, or when we interact with someone who speaks a different language than us and we are working towards building mutual understanding. There are other times when the aspects of culture are not so obvious. As competent communicators, we must remain culturally aware and responsive towards how culture is impacting our communication.

    A group of women sit in a circle discussing computer hardware equipment. A few wear traditional Indian clothing.
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Young Women Leadership Program by Paula Bronstein on Images of Empowerment is licensed under CC BY NC 4.0.

    For example, consider a disagreement between two friends: It may be difficult for Morgan to understand why Carlo cannot hang out all the time, and why Carlo needs to bring his younger sibling with them when they do. It might frustrate Carlo that Morgan does not try to plan hangouts ahead of time so that Carlo can better accommodate his family’s needs and priorities in order to make time for his friends.

    This scenario highlights specific relational elements that these friends need to work on understanding, it also highlights the cultural elements as well. Both of them are communicating from very different cultural contexts and perspectives, impacting their interpersonal relationship. Morgan may have grown up in a more individualistic culture, one where individual needs are put above group or family needs, and does not see the big deal in leaving the house on a moment's notice to go meet up with friends. Carlo may have grown up in a collectivistic culture, one where the group and family needs and goals are valued over the individuals, and a “we” mentality is established. The collectivistic culture that Carlo grew up in may make him feel uncomfortable not asking permission to leave the house, making sure the family chores are done and his siblings are taken care of before he does.

    While this scenario describes the interpersonal communication conflict these friends are experiencing, it also highlights some of the intercultural communication occurring between these two cultures as well. In gaining awareness of each other’s culture through communicating openly within the relationship, the friends will be better able to manage their relationship and increase their relational satisfaction.

    1.6: Tools of Interpersonal Communication is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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