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6.1: Introduction to Interpersonal Communication

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    Learning Objectives

    1. Define and give examples of interpersonal communication.
    2. Define self-disclosure.
    3. Identify the four areas of the Johari window.
    4. Explain how the Johari window can be used to improve self-awareness and interpersonal communication.

    Think about your relationships in the last few years. You may have just transitioned from high school to a community college or university. Perhaps you and your friends from high school went to different colleges and are now living far apart from each other. If you have recently been separated by distance from friends or family, you have noticed that it is more difficult to stay connected and share all of the little things that go on in your day. As you continue to grow and change in college, it is likely that you will create relationships along the way. Being away from your family, you will probably notice changes to your relationships with them. All of these dynamics, and many more, fall under the scope of interpersonal communication.

    Homecoming and Reunions 2017
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): "Homecoming and Reunions 2017" by The University of the South is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

    What is Interpersonal Communication?

    Interpersonal communication is an exchange between two or more individuals who are part of a close relationship in which they get to know one another as individuals. We usually think of interpersonal communication as occurring between two people.  However, interpersonal communication also takes place in small groups such as a family unit.  By virtue of this definition, chatting with a classmate you just met, nodding to a coworker in the hallway, or participating in a committee or group project would not be considered interpersonal communication.  On the other hand, having lunch and talking with a close friend or sharing the day’s events at the family dinner table would meet the definition of interpersonal communication.  We will use this definition of interpersonal communication to explore the three primary types of relationships in our lives—friendships, romantic, and family. Because conflict is a natural part of interpersonal communication, we will also discuss multiple ways of understanding and managing conflict. But before we go into detail about specific interpersonal relationships, let’s examine two important aspects of interpersonal communication: self-disclosure and climate.


    Because interpersonal communication is the primary means by which we get to know others as unique individuals, it is important to understand the role of self-disclosure. Self-disclosure is the process of revealing information about yourself to others that is not readily known by them. In face-to-face interactions, telling someone “I have brown hair” would not be self-disclosure because that person can perceive that about you without being told. However, revealing, “I am an avid runner” or “I like to make TikTok videos” would be examples of self-disclosure because these are pieces of personal information others do not know unless you tell them.  To establish strong friendships or lasting romantic relationships, it is necessary to self-disclose.  Even in an academic or career setting, appropriate self-disclosure can help establish an open work environment and build trust and a sense of collaboration. The key here is self-disclose appropriately. 

    There are degrees of self-disclosure, ranging from relatively safe (revealing your hobbies or musical preferences), to more personal topics (fears, dreams for the future, or fantasies). Typically, as relationships deepen and trust is established, self-disclosure increases in both breadth and depth. We tend to disclose facts about ourselves first (I am a Biology major), then move towards opinions (I feel the war is wrong), and finally disclose feelings (I’m sad that you said that). Even in an academic or career setting, self-disclosure is a good way to establish an open communication environment, although self-disclosure in that setting would not be as intimate as it would be in a personal relationship. At work, be cautious about revealing things that might be damaging to your credibility or career.

    An important aspect of self-disclosure is the rule of reciprocity. This rule states that self-disclosure between two people works best in a back and forth fashion. When you tell someone something personal, you probably expect them to do the same. When one person reveals more than another, there can be an imbalance in the relationship because the one who self discloses more may feel vulnerable as a result of sharing more personal information.  This may a clue to you to back off on self-disclosing until the other person reciprocates.

    Johari Window

    The Johari Window is a communication model designed to help improve interpersonal communication skills. The name Johari Window comes from combining the first names of the window’s creators, Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham.  It is used in communication classes as well as some businesses to help people think about differences in how they see themselves and how others see them.   The window is divided into four quadrants or "panes": the open area or pane, the blind spot, the hidden area or facade, and the unknown.  The size of each of the four areas or window panes varies depending on whom you are communicating with and the context of the communication. 

    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Johari Window. Source: Luft, Joseph. (Of Human Interaction, 1969).

    The open area of the Johari Window contains information that is known to us and to others. This area is sometimes called the "I know and you know" pane.  When we first meet another person, the open area is small, consisting only of those things others see, such as our hair color, or things we freely share, such as our occupation. Early on, we share only "safe" topics, but as we become more comfortable with another person, we increase our self-disclosure, adding more information; thus the open area expands.

    The blind area or blind spot includes those things that are apparent to others, yet we are unaware of in ourselves. This is the "I don't know but you know" area. The habit of playing with your hair when nervous may be a habit that others have observed but you are unaware of, or perhaps the habit of growing rude and testy when you are under stress is something that others have come to expect yet you are oblivious to. Think about your own blind area.  Do you wonder what characteristics or behaviors loved ones or colleagues might see in you that you don't?  If you do, the best way to find out is to ask for feedback from a trusted friend or colleague. If you can remain open-minded and not become defensive, this type of feedback can be very helpful in increasing your self-awareness and interpersonal skills.  Once you become aware of information previously in your blind spot, it moves from the blind area to the open area.

    The third area, the hidden area, contains information that you know but you keep hidden from others.  This is the "I know, but you don't know" area.  Something you may have done in the past but are ashamed of, previous mistakes or failures, embarrassing moments, or private family history are topics we typically hold close and reveal only in the context of safe, long-term relationships. Sometimes we may choose to keep some things hidden in an attempt to protect the other person.  If and when we do reveal this previously hidden information, it moves into the open area.  Thus, the hidden area grows smaller and the open area expands.

    Finally, the unknown area contains information that neither you nor others know about you. This is the "I don't know and you don't know" area. We cannot know how we will react when a parent dies or just what we will do after graduation until the experience occurs. Or perhaps we have an unknown talent or interest that we are as yet unaware of.  Taking on challenges and trying new things can help us discover traits or gifts that we didn't know we have. 

    Knowing how much to share with someone you are close to can be difficult at times.  Certainly, you don’t want to reveal too much too soon.  On the other hand, if the open area remains small, it is difficult for the relationship and trust to grow. Knowing about ourselves, especially our blind and unknown areas enables us to have a healthy, well-rounded self-concept. 

    Creating Your Own Johari Window

    The Johari Window can help you identify your strengths as well as your weaknesses and blind spots. If you would like to create your own Johari Window, you can do so using instructions from The World of Work Project, a company based in Edinburgh, Scotland, dedicated to creating training that will "increate team cohesion and help individuals have more fulfilling and engaging careers." (WOW 2019) To create your own Johari Window, you will need to:

    1. Choose your friend or collaborator: Identify a person or people whom you trust and whom you think know you.
    2. Select your words: Review the list of 56 words given below and circle 5-10 words that you think best describe you.
    3. Get your feedback from your collaborator: Ask your chosen collaborators to complete the same exercise, choosing the 5-10 words they think best describe you.
    4. Place your words in the appropriate pane of the Johari Window: Place words both you and others selected in “Open” pane. Place words that only you selected in the “Hidden” pane.
    5. Plot your feedback: Place words your friend or collaborator selected but that you didn’t in the “Blind” pane. Place the remaining words in the “unknown” pane.
    6. Review your Window: Review the words in the four pains of the window. How aligned is your view of who you are with how others see you? How open are you as a person?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Words to Choose From
    able accepting adaptable bold brave
    calm caring cheerful clever complex
    confident dependable dignified energetic extroverted
    friendly giving happy helpful idealistic
    independent ingenious intelligent introverted kind
    knowledgeable logical loving mature modest
    nervous observant organized patient powerful
    proud quiet reflective relaxed religious
    responsive searching self-assertive self-conscious sensible
    sentimental shy silly spontaneous sympathetic
    tense trustworthy warm wise witty

    One of the most important parts of creating your own Johari Window is considering the results.  How can you use what you learned to improve your interpersonal relationships?  Could you share more about yourself to create more trusting relationships?  Are there "blind spots" you discovered about yourself that you and address?


    Self-Disclosure and Social Media

    The willingness of many users to self-disclose personal information ranging from moods to religious affiliation, relationship status, and personal contact information have led to an increase in privacy concerns. Facebook and Twitter offer convenient opportunities to stay in touch with friends, family, and coworkers, but are people using them responsibly? Some argue that there are fundamental differences between today’s digital natives, whose private and public selves are intertwined through these technologies, and older generations (Kornblum, 2007). Even though some colleges are offering seminars on managing privacy online, we still hear stories of self-disclosure such as the football player from the University of Texas who has kicked off the team for posting racist comments about the president of the student who was kicked out of his private, Christian college after a picture of him dressed in drag surfaced on Facebook. (Nealy, 2009). The issue of privacy management on Facebook is affecting parent-child relationships, too, and as the website “Oh Crap. My Parents Joined Facebook.” shows, the results can sometimes be embarrassing for the college student and the parent as they balance the dialectic between openness and closedness once the child has moved away. 

    1. How do you manage your privacy and self-disclosures online?
    2. Do you think it’s ethical for school officials or potential employers to make admission or hiring decisions based on what they can learn about you online? Why or why not?
    3. Are you or would you be friends with a parent on social media? Why or why not? If you already are friends with a parent, did you change your posting habits or privacy settings once they joined? Why or why not?


    Key Takeaways

    • Self-disclosure is the process of revealing information about yourself to others that are not readily known by them—you have to disclose it. Self-disclosure is important to interpersonal relationships.
    • An excellent way of understanding self-disclosure is by looking at the open, hidden, blind, and unknown areas of the Johari Window.

    Learning Activities

    1. Have you ever said too much on a first date? At a job interview? To a professor? Have you ever posted something on Facebook only to return later to remove it? If you answered yes to any of the questions, what have you learned in this chapter that may have led you to do something differently?
    2. Have you experienced negative results due to self-disclosure (as sender or receiver)? If so, what could have been altered in the decisions of what, where, when, or how to disclose that may have improved the situation?
    3. Under what circumstances is it OK to share information that someone has disclosed to you? Under what circumstances is to not OK to share the information?



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    6.1: Introduction to Interpersonal Communication is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Lisa Coleman, Thomas King, & William Turner.