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Communicating in Interpersonal Relationships

Chapter Summary

This summary is organized around the questions found at the beginning of the chapter. See if you can answer them before reading the summary paragraphs.

1. What is interpersonal communication?

Interpersonal communication is interaction among a small number of people and is characterized by more personal and individualized communication than that which takes place in larger groups. Interpersonal communication occurs when people speak and relate to each other as unique individuals. Interpersonal communication is shaped by the nature of the relationship between the communicators and, in turn, the nature of the communication shapes the relationship. We communicate differently in different relationships. The nature of relationship is often communicated in the "relationship" component of a message.

Interpersonal communication is also influenced by culture and gender. Different cultures have different expectations about relationships and how people should interact within those relationships. Some men and women also have differing expectations about interpersonal communication. Women are expected to show interest in others, self-disclose in relationships, and be cooperative, whereas men are expected to use talk to achieve goals. Women are more likely to talk about private feelings and thoughts, especially to their female friends, and men are more likely to talk about external topics such as work and politics.

2. How is intimacy communicated in interpersonal relationships?

High levels of trust, warmth, and affection characterize an intimate relationship. Relationships vary by breadth and depth. Breadth is the variety of contexts and types of topics discussed in a relationship. A narrow relationship is one in which you talk about the same thing in the same context. A broader relationship is one in which you encounter the same person in different contexts and talk about a wide range of topics. Depth refers to the amount of interaction you have with another person. Often depth is a factor of time-the more you interact with a person, the more intimate and personal the communication. Our most intimate relationships have both great breadth and depth.

3. What role does attraction play in relationship formation?

Interpersonal similarity, proximity, and physical attributes all affect the degree to which we are attracted to someone. We are often attracted to people with similar attitudes, interests, values, habits, and communication styles. We are attracted to people who live near us, belong to the same groups or organizations, or attend the same school. We are also attracted to those we find physically appealing, but our idea of "good looking" is very personal and varies greatly. Our physical attraction often increases as the relationship develops.

4. What role does communication play in the development of a relationship?

Communication is the substance of relationships. Through communication we establish, maintain, and end relationships. Although relationships are as unique as the individuals in them, there are general stages of development that many relationships experience as they mature. These stages are often characterized by particular communication patterns. Two general patterns of relationship development are relationship formation and relationship breakup.

Relationship formation is characterized by increasing intimacy and commitment. In the initiating stage of a relationship, we open lines of communication. We gain more information about the other person in the experimenting stage. In the intensifying stage, we increase both the depth and breadth of the relationship. We assimilate activities, schedules, and interests in the integrating stage. The bonding stage establishes mutual obligations and responsibilities and creates a foundation for long-term relationships.

Relationships that disintegrate usually start to do so in the differentiation stage, when we become dissatisfied with the relationship and focus on individual needs and preferences. We may significantly reduce the breadth and depth of the relationship in the circumscribing stage, actively avoid either a return to intimacy or further deterioration in the stagnating stage, and close channels of communication in the avoiding stage. Finally, in the terminating stage we end the relationship and try to make sense of the experience. Each relationship develops in its own way. Some may abbreviate or skip particular stages while others may move back and forth between just one or two phases.

5. How can appropriate self-disclosure help maintain intimacy in an interpersonal relationship?

Effective communication is essential to manage ongoing intimacy in a long-term relationship. Self-disclosure can build trust and commitment in a relationship and is necessary, in some degree, to maintain ongoing intimacy. Self-disclosure should be suitable to the context, gradual, reciprocal, and have an appropriate purpose.

Dobkin, Comm ChangingWorld2006Online Learning Center with Powerweb

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