Interpersonal communication is the process by which people exchange information and feelings both verbally and non-verbally. Concepts and theories investigate and attempt to explain the subtle complexity of interpersonal communication. Self-disclosure, the strategies people use to approach one anoother, and the various stages relationships go through when they are beginning and ending are key concepts in interpersonal communication theory. They help to explain why people behave the way they do and why relationships succeed or fail.
Interpersonal communication theory identifies various passive, active and interactive strategies that people use to learn about and approach others. A passive strategy is to observe someone from a distance before deciding whether to approach him, whereas asking other people for information about someone is an active strategy. Approaching someone directly and initiating a conversation is an interactive strategy.
Self-disclosure is a key concept of interpersonal communication because, if reciprocated, it fosters trust and brings people closer together. Disclosing information about yourself to another person helps her to understand you, as it means revealing private, sensitive or confidential information. According to Oregon State University, disclosure tends to be reciprocal; with increased intimacy, people feel more comfortable disclosing information that others might perceive as negative.
Psychologists use the concept of stages to explain how relationships evolve. Beginning with an initial encounter, a relationship progresses to the experimental stage when people exchange information on a variety of topics to determine whether there is enough common ground to pursue a relationship. If this stage is successfully negotiated, the relationship intensifies and the two people, regardless of whether they are friends, lovers or business associates, form a lasting bond.
Relational Dialectics Theory
Tensions between connection and separateness in interpersonal relationships are explored through the relational dialectics theory. Theorists believe that self-disclosure can vie with the need for privacy and that the urge to tell all conflicts with a desire for secrecy in a continuously changing cycle, according to Oregon State University.
Relationships that break down are believed to follow a reverse pattern that negatively mirrors the way relationships are initiated. People focus on differences rather than similarities and begin to restrict their communications to impersonal topics. The relationship becomes stagnant and unfulfilling, and the members of the relationship begin to avoid each other, sometimes expressing mutual annoyance when they do meet, according to Buffalo State University.
- Oregon State University: Interpersonal Communication Theories and Concepts: Social Penetration Theory, Self-Disclosure, Uncertainty Reduction Theory and Relational Dialectics Theory
- Buffalo State University: Intrapersonal and Interpersonal Communication
- University of Wales Department of Voluntary Sector Studies: Uses of Interpersonal Communication
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