Interpersonal and Intercultural Communication

Interpersonal and Intercultural Communication

 

When you have read and thought about this chapter, you will be able to 1. Define interpersonal communication. 2. Define interpersonal relationships. 3. Explain the importance of interpersonal relationships. 4. Describe how self-disclosure affects relationships. 5. Describe friendships and how they have changed. 6. Explain the importance of cross-cultural relationships. 7. Name and explain the three stages in interpersonal relationships. 8. Explain a motive for initiating, maintaining, and terminating relationships. 9. Name three essential interpersonal communication behaviors. 10.Describe how bargaining and behavioral flexibility can be used to improve interpersonal communication skills. Interpersonal relationships can be immensely rewarding and they take effort to build and maintain. This chapter highlights some of the basic elements of interpersonal relationships and interpersonal communication. You will learn why people start, maintain, and end relationships. You will also study essential skills such as self-disclosing, using affectionate and supportive communication, influencing others, and developing a unique relationship. Both students and professors believe that improving interpersonal communication skills is a top priority for college students. Sometimes the problems that students experience are not expected. Ashley, for example, is a welladjusted first-year college student. However, she wrote, © LittleBee80/iStock/Getty Images One problem I faced coming to college was not so much making my own adjustment, but helping a friend adjust. I came to school with a few people from my high school, and although I didn’t room with any of them, my friend Kate lives right down the hall from me. She and her boyfriend broke up right before she came to college and her two best friends went to other Minnesota schools. She misses the way high school was structured; she misses her house and our home town and just being somewhere that she feels comfortable and connected. As a result, she hasn’t really put a lot of effort into making new friends here. This has made it hard for me because, while she’s my friend and I enjoy hanging out with her, I feel like she is always around me. Instead of making her own friends she’s just tagged along with mine, so she isn’t particularly close to any of them. I want to be there for her when she’s upset, but she’s upset a lot and that burden falls on me. Coming to college has brought along with it a lot of responsibilities I hadn’t expected. Major changes in interpersonal relationships and new challenges in interpersonal communication are things many college students face. What would you suggest for Ashley and Kate? What can Ashley do to improve her situation? What about Kate? At the end of the chapter, we’ll come back to Ashley and consider what steps she might take to address her communication challenge with Kate. How do you rate your own skills at interpersonal relationships and communication? Do you disclose information about yourself to others? How do you handle conflict? In this chapter, you’ll learn more about improving your communication in interpersonal relationships. What is a friend? With whom do you share a sexual relationship? These questions were not so difficult to answer in the past, but today they have become complicated with social networking sites, such as Facebook, and online dating apps like Tinder and OkCupid. In the past, a friend was a person with whom we had face-to-face conversations and with whom we shared details of our lives. Sexual partners may have been restricted to one person, or to a relatively small number of people, with whom we had first established a loving and trusting relationship and whom, perhaps, we intended to be committed to for an extended period of time. Today our definitions of interpersonal relations are more complex and variable. People may count dozens, or even hundreds, of others as their “friends.” College studentsPage 116 may experience a sexual relationship with someone they consider to be a friend but with whom they have no long-term commitment. One advantage of these new relationships is the ease with which they can be begun or ended. The disadvantage is that they may be shallow or unfulfilling. Scholars are fascinated by these new developments. They see them as raising some important issues about the definitions of interpersonal relationships and interpersonal communication. For what reasons do people form their online relationships? How do they know whom they can trust to have a sexual relationship with? How do people interact when a relationship is exclusively online rather than in face-to-face settings? What is their relationship with a friend with whom they have had a sexual relationship after the sex is gone? Can people manage to move between online and offline friendships? Can they move into and out of sexual relationships with friends? These questions are part of the fabric of our society today. In this chapter you will learn about interpersonal communication among a variety of relational forms. You will discover what interpersonal communication is, what constitutes interpersonal relationships, how we communicate within them, and how relationships are maintained and enriched. The Nature of Communication in Interpersonal Relationships DEFINING INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION Interpersonal communication is defined by the context, or the situation. In other words, interpersonal communication is the process of using messages to generate meaning between at least two people in a situation that allows mutual opportunities for both speaking and listening. Defined in this manner, interpersonal communication includes our interactions with strangers, with salespeople, and with waiters, as well as with our close friends, our lovers, and our family members. This definition is very broad. We can also think of interpersonal communication as communication that occurs within interpersonal relationships.1 This idea suggests that interpersonal communication can be limited to those situations in which we have knowledge of the personal characteristics, qualities, or behaviors of the other person. Indeed, Miller and Steinberg assert that, when we make guesses about the outcomes of conversations based on sociological or cultural information, we are communicating in a noninterpersonal way. When we make predictions based on more discriminating information about the other specific person, we are communicating interpersonally. When we communicate with others on the basis of general social interaction rules, such as engaging in turn taking, making pleasantries, and discussing nonpersonal matters, we are engaging in impersonal, or nonpersonal, communication. For instance, when you engage in small talk with the barista at your favorite coffee shop, this can be viewed as a form of impersonal communication. When we communicate with others based on some knowledge of their uniqueness as individuals and a shared relational history, we are communicating interpersonally. None of our interpersonal relationships are quite like any of our other interpersonal relationships. A friendship you might have had in high school is not the same as your new friendships in college. Your relationship with one of your parents or parental figures is uniquely different from your relationship with the other. Likewise, if you have multiple siblings, your relationship with each of them will be different. Even if you have several intimate relationships with people, you will find that none of them is quite like the others. On the one hand, our interpersonal relationships are mundane; on the other, they can also be the “sites for spiritual practice and mystical experience.”2 Nonetheless, we have accumulated a great deal of knowledge about how to communicate more successfully in our interpersonal relationships.3 This chapter will explore that knowledge by first defining what interpersonal relationships are and why we form them. Then you will learn about the skills needed to develop and maintain relationships. communicating creatively Describing Your Relationships Visually In his book Relational Communication, William Wilmot discusses various metaphors we have for relationships. For instance, relationships can be described as work, in that two people must negotiate and engage in a process of give-and-take; as a journey, in that people progress along a path as they move through a relationship; and as a game, in that romance and perhaps friendship are viewed as play and competition. Consider what your relationship would look like as a picture. Take out a piece of paper and draw an image that represents your relationship. Would you draw an image of a safe place, dangerous territory, or a novel adventure? Are there bright colors or muted hues? How would you describe in words the image you’ve drawn. Source: Wilmot, W. W. (1995). Relational communication. New York: McGraw-Hill. DEFINING INTERPERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS On the simplest level, relationships are associations or connections. Interpersonal relationships, however, are far more complex. Interpersonal relationships may be defined as associations between at least two people who are interdependent, who use some consistent patterns of interaction, and who have interacted for an extended period of time. Consider the various elements of this definition in more detail: • Interpersonal relationships include two or more people. Often, interpersonal relationships consist of just two people—a dating couple, a single parent and a child, a married couple, two close friends, or two co-workers. Interpersonal relationships can also include more than two people—a family unit, a group of friends, or a social group. • Interpersonal relationships involve people who are interdependent. Interdependence refers to people’s being mutually dependent on each other and having an impact on each other. When individuals are independent of each other, we typically do not define the resulting association as an interpersonal relationship. Friendship easily illustrates this concept. Your best friend, for example, may be dependent on you for acceptance and guidance, whereas you might require support and admiration. If you did not care about your best friend’s well-being or needs, then you would not offer her guidance, and therefore you would not truly have an interpersonal relationship. • Individuals in interpersonal relationships use some consistent patterns of interaction. These patterns may include behaviors generally understood across a variety of situations, as well as behaviors unique to the relationship. For example, your partner may always greet you with a kiss. This kiss is generally understood as a sign of warmth and affection. On the other hand, you may have unique nicknames for your partner that are not understood outside the relationship. • Individuals in interpersonal relationships generally have interacted for some time. When you nod and smile at someone as you leave the classroom, or when you place an order at a fast-food counter, you do not have an interpersonal relationship. Although you use interpersonal communication to accomplish these activities, one-time interactions do not constitute interpersonal relationships. That said, these interactions could be the beginnings of an interpersonal relationship, should the other elements we’ve discussed occur. We should note, however, that interpersonal relationships might last for varying lengths of time—some are relatively short but others continue for a lifetime. THE IMPORTANCE OF INTERPERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS According to psychologist William Schutz, we have three basic interpersonal needs that are satisfied through interaction with others: 1. The need for inclusion, or becoming involved with others 2. The need for affection, or holding fond or tender feelings toward another person 3. The need for control, or having the ability to influence others, our environment, and ourselves4 Although we may be able to fulfill some of our physical, safety, and security needs through interactions with relative strangers, we can fulfill the other needs only through our interpersonal relationships. The interdependent nature of interpersonal relationships suggests that people mutually satisfy their needs in this type of association. Interdependence suggests that one person is dependent on another to have some need fulfilled and that the other person (or Page 119persons) is dependent on the first to have the same or other needs fulfilled. For example, a child who is dependent on a parent may satisfy that parent’s needs for inclusion and belonging. The parent, in turn, may supply the child’s need for affection in hugging, kissing, or listening to the child. • Interpersonal relationships fulfill basic needs. © Floresco Productions/Corbis RF Complementary relationships—those in which each person supplies something the other person or persons lack—provide good examples of the manner in which we have our needs fulfilled in interpersonal relationships. An example is a friendship between an introverted individual and an extroverted one. The introvert may teach her friend to be more self-reflective or to listen to others more carefully, whereas the extrovert might, in exchange, encourage her to be more outspoken or assertive. Our needs also may be fulfilled in symmetrical relationships—those in which the participants mirror each other or are highly similar. A relationship between two intelligent individuals may reflect their need for intellectual stimulation. Two people of similar ancestry might marry in part to preserve their heritage. Conflict is inevitable and normal in interpersonal relationships; indeed, conflict can be constructive and creative. Conflict can be healthy when it is used to resolve differences and to “clear the air.” On the other hand, it can also be dysfunctional. You might have grown up in a family in which sequences of conflict were ever present, and the only way you know how to have a conversation is by fighting. Or you might have had parents who never discussed differences, and the only way you know to manage conflict is to walk away or not talk about what bothers you. Conflict is dysfunctional when you avoid talking about problems, withdraw, or become sullen. Conflict is also dysfunctional when you take any criticism or suggestions as a personal attack. Do you fight fairly, or do you attack the other person rather than raising the issue that is at stake? If you feel out of control when you are engaged in an argument with a family member, you may experience conflict as dysfunctional. Finally, conflict can be dysfunctional when you store up many complaints and then attack your roommate with all of them. If you have experienced conflict as dysfunctional, you can begin to experience it more positively when you follow some straightforward guidelines. First, you need to remain calm. You should also express your feelings in words rather than in actions such as breaking objects, driving recklessly, or using alcohol. Try to be specific about what is bothering you. Rather than bringing up multiple grievances of the past, try to deal with only one issue at a time. Consider your language and avoid words such as never and always in describing the problem—particularly when it is about your roommate’s actions. Do not exaggerate or invent additional problems that are not central to the discussion. Finally, you may find that it is important to establish some ground rules that both you and your partner adopt. sizing things up Interpersonal Motives We enter into interpersonal relationships for a variety of reasons. Below you will read several statements that describe possible reasons for joining interpersonal relationships. Indicate how likely you are to enter into an interpersonal relationship for each reason using the following scale: 1 = Never 2 = Unlikely 3 = Likely 4 = Frequently I enter into interpersonal relationships . . . 1. Because I can have influence over others. 2. So that I can share emotions with others. 3. To feel part of a group. 4. To be involved in things with other people. 5. To gain affection from others. 6. To bring control to my life. 7. So that I can have more influence over my surroundings. 8. Because I need to know that people like me. 9. Because I want to be included in different activities. A guide for interpreting your responses appears at the end of this chapter. THE DARK SIDE OF INTERPERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS Conflict is only one aspect of interpersonal relationships that seems to represent a “dark side” to these most personal affiliations. Although your interpersonal relationships are generally pleasurable and positive, you might also have experienced painful and negative liaisons. Spitz-berg and Cupach have provided the most comprehensive treatment of the shadowy side of relationships.5 What are some of the qualities of negative relationships? Obsession that includes fatal attraction and jealousy certainly creates negative outcomes. Similarly, misunderstanding, gossip, conflict, and codependency can lead to harmful results. Abuse, which includes sexual, physical, mental, and emotional abuse, is truly harmful to individuals and destroys relationships. In addition, some of the qualities we associate with healthy relationships—self-disclosure, affectionate communication, mutual influence, and the development of a unique relationship—can all become extreme and therefore unhealthy. Effective communication, as you have been learning, is very challenging, and interpersonal communication may be the most challenging context of all. This chapter focuses primarily on positive interpersonal relationships and how to improve them. SELF-DISCLOSURE IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF INTERPERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS One change that occurs as relationships become deeper and closer is an increasing intentional revealing of personal information. Self-disclosure is the process of making intentional revelations about yourself that others would be unlikely to know and that generally constitute private, sensitive, or confidential information. Pearce and Sharp distinguish among self-disclosure, confession, and revelation.6 They define self-disclosure as voluntary, confession as forced or coerced information, and revelation as unintentional or inadvertent communication. Jourard suggests that self-disclosure makes us “transparent” to others, that disclosure helps others to see us as a distinctive human being.7 Self-disclosure goes beyond self-description. More specifically, your position on abortion, your close relationship with your grandfather, your sexual history, your deepest fears, your proudest moments, and your problems with drugs or alcohol are considered selfdisclosure by most definitions. Self-disclosure is not always negative, but it is generally private information. Sandra Petronio’s communication privacy management (CPM) theory provides a useful framework for helping people think about the rules they create regarding when they will and will not share private information and how they manage privacy boundaries once they have shared private information.8 Have you ever told someone something in confidence and then said, “Now don’t tell anyone else about that.” According to CPM, this is an example of how people intentionally make rules surrounding who has access to their private information. Privacy rules are created to control the permeability of the boundary. Why Is Self-Disclosure Important? Self-disclosure is important for three reasons. First, it allows us to develop a greater understanding of ourselves. Consider the Johari window depicted in figure 1. Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham created this diagram to depict four kinds of information about a person. The open area …

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