Interpersonal Communication

Attempts at defining interpersonal communication date back to the Golden Age of Greece. Plato and Aristotle discussed communication in terms of rhetoric. However, several millennia later there is still no generally agreed upon scientific definition of communication. According to Webster's New World Dictionary (1966), "to communicate" is defined as "to impart, pass along, transmit," and "communication" is defined as "giving and receiving of information, signals or messages by talk, gestures, writing, etc." These definitions are helpful as orientations to this area of study, but lack sufficient detail or specificity for scientific purposes.

The notion of transmission of information has been applied to genetic materials as well as nonorganismic events. An individual might transfer information from one cognitive context to another in a form of intraindividual communication. Furthermore, categories representing inter-

group, interorganizational, international, and (in science fiction) intergalactic communication could be developed. Interpersonal communication refers to the transfer of information by a source to a specific target. These communications typically occur in face-to-face interactions, although they may also occur by mail, telephone, television, the Internet, or other electronic means. Lasswell (1948) captured in one sentence much of the subject matter of human communication: "Who says what in what channel to whom with what effect?"

Electrical engineering principles were applied by Shannon and Weaver in 1949 to human communication. Figure 1 shows their model of the communication process. The mind of the communicator may be considered the source of the communication. Presumably, messages originate in the brain and are encoded for transmission to other people. The source must have a means of transmitting information, such as speech, gestures, or writing. The message is encoded and sent as a signal to a receiver, who must decode the message. Thus, the destination of a message is the mind of a target or receiver person.

This information model is helpful in examining some of the more important questions regarding interpersonal communication. It should be noted that the source may unintentionally communicate to others, as when nonverbal cues betray a liar. Of course, the source may not even be aware of a communication. For example, a person may communicate liking for another by maintaining a rather close physical proximity, but may be unaware of doing so.

Intentional communication may be examined in terms of the degree to which the interpretations of the source are accurately received by the target. For some communication theorists it is the sharing of interpretations and not just the exchange of information that lies at the heart of the communication process. Any interference with accurate transfer of information is referred to as noise in the system. Noise may be due to ambiguous encoding, problems with channels through which signals are transmitted, or faulty decoding by the target. If, for example, the source transmitted a message in German and the target understood only English, noise would be attributable to the target's inability to decode the communication. If two persons were talking over the telephone but could not hear each other because of static over the lines, noise would be located in the channels being used. One should not construe disagreement between two persons as necessarily caused by noise. Atarget may be able to take the viewpoint of the source and fully understand the interpretation communicated, but nevertheless disagree with it. Often persons believe they have not been understood, when in reality the target persons disagree with them.

There has often been confusion even among scientists in distinguishing between language and communication. To make the distinction, one must understand the differences between signs, signals, and symbols. Signs are environmental stimuli which the organism has associated with

Figure 1. A schematic of a communications system (after Shannon & Weaver, 1949).

other events. For example, a hunter may associate certain prints in the dirt as a sign that a deer has recently passed nearby. Signs are inflexibly and directly related to their associated events.

Signals are signs produced by living organisms. Most animals can use signals in their interaction with other animals. Thus, birds may emit love calls, insects may transmit odors, and monkeys may manifest threat gestures. Research by Gardner and Gardner (1969) has shown that chimpanzees can be taught to use complex signals often taught to deaf and/or mute humans. However, even the most intense training results in fewer than 400 signals learned by these higher primates. Nevertheless, the ability of these animals to communicate is clearly greater than previously thought possible.

A symbol, like a signal, has a referent. However, symbols do not necessarily refer to physical reality and may not have space-time relationships as their referents. Symbols derive their meaning from a community of users and not from a connection with a referent. The use of symbols allows the development of various abstract areas of knowledge such as history, literature, religion, art, and science. Furthermore, it provides the basis for the individual's construction of social reality, including a self. The available evidence (Gardner & Gardner, 1969) indicates that only humans use symbols. Chimpanzees appear to be confined to the existential moment and cannot escape their time-space coordinates. Although they can remember and signal what they did an hour ago, they cannot report what they did yesterday or reveal plans about the future. Thus, it appears that the symbol represents an important discontinuity in phylogenetic development between humans and all other forms of life.

Language is a means of information processing and is used to store, manipulate, create, and transmit information. No analysis of interpersonal communication among humans would be complete without a consideration of the symbolic aspects of language. Two important properties of symbols are that they may refer to classes of things, and they may have multiple meanings. Thus, errors in communication are both frequent and inevitable; that is, noise tends to be an inevitable feature of interpersonal communication.

Situations and relationships with others provide contexts within which persons can share interpretations of communication and hence reduce noise. The individual's definition of the social situation typically involves certain expectations about the behavior of others, the rules that define and regulate interactions, and guides to conduct. These expectations provide a frame of reference within which the person encodes and decodes information. For example, "Did you buy the pot?" means something different when communicated on a street corner between teenagers than when transmitted from a mother to a daughter.

Communication has a number of functions. It allows the coordination of behaviors of individuals in a group. Large corporations and government bureaucracies require a great deal of communication among employees at all levels in order to function at all. Interpersonal communication also allows for instruction, in which one individual helps another to learn skills or develop new frames of reference. Perhaps most important of all, communication functions as a means to influence others. Messages used for purposes of power and influence may be considered actions with as much impact as skeletal behaviors. Thus, communicative actions are sometimes referred to as speech acts.

Speech acts that refer to rewards and punishments take the form of threats or promises which may be contingent or noncontingent in form. A contingent threat specifies that a target must comply with some demand of the source or else suffer some cost to be inflicted by the threatener. Anoncon-tingent threat announces the source's intention to impose some cost on the target without any demand for compliance being made. A contingent promise offers a reward, if the target complies with a request by the source. A noncontin-gent promise simply announces the source's intention to reward the target. Promises, unlike threats, carry a moral obligation of fulfillment by the source.

There are several speech acts that may be classified as means of information control. Persuasion represents a source's attempt to influence a target's decisions. Among the types of persuasive communication are warnings, men-dations, and activation of commitments. Warnings convey expectations of future negative events not controlled by the source, while mendations are predictions of positive events not controlled by the source. Activation of commitments consists of exhortations appealing to the normative values of the target in order to induce some related behavior by the target.

Another classification of speech acts refers to their function as self-presentational. Actors project certain identities to others and engage in various tactics to foster desired identities in the eyes of others. Among the more prominent speech acts devoted to impression management are accounts, entitlements, and enhancements. When a person does something that seems strange, untoward, or abnormal to others, an explanation is usually offered or demanded. The lack of an explanation leaves an unfavorable impression and may lead observers to blame and perhaps punish the actor. Accounts are explanations for untoward behavior and consist of excuses and justifications. Excuses are explanations that deny responsibility for negative effects of behavior. Excuses may deny intention to produce the effects, or may deny that the source had volitional control over the actions in question. Denials of intention refer to lack of foreknowledge, mistake, inadvertence, and accident. Denials of volition may refer to drugs, alcohol, physical disability, or mental illness (insanity). Justifications are explanations of actions that admit responsibility but offer legitimate reasons for them. For example, a person may justify spanking children as a way to teach them not to run out into the street. Justifications may appeal to authority, ideology, norms of justice, self-defense, or self-actualization.

Entitlements are speech acts in which the source attempts to take responsibility for positive events. Enhancements are attempts to embellish the value of the positive consequences. People want credit for positive consequences because they gain approbation and rewards for such actions. The more positive the consequences, the greater the credit; hence, actors are motivated to use enhancement tactics.

Gestures, visual contact, body orientation, and the use of interpersonal space may substitute for verbal communication or may serve as a context within which to interpret verbal communication. In many instances, nonverbal responses act as signals and do not convey symbolic forms of information. For example, eye contact may communicate hostility or love, or indicate that the source is acting deceitfully.

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