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This unit examines the features of intrapersonal communication. This is done under the following subtitles:

  1. Definition of intrapersonal communication; 
  2. Various kinds of intrapersonal communication; 
  3. Definitions and concept of interpersonal communication 
  4. The place of relationship in interpersonal communication 


At the end of this unit, you should be able to:

  1. explain the concept of intrapersonal communication 
  2. identify and describe the various kinds of interpersonal communication 
  3. explain what the concept of interpersonal communication is and what it is not 
  4. explain the place of relationship in interpersonal communication. 


Contexts of Communication

Contexts here mean the different levels at which communication occurs. It can also be referred to as the kinds of communication that are available. Under context of communication, we have the following:

  1.  Intra-personal and Interpersonal Communication 
  2. Group Communication 
  3. Public Communication 
  4. Mass Communication 

3.1 Intra-Personal Communication

This is essentially a neuro-physiological activity which involves some mental interviews for the purposes of information processing and decision making. The basic operations of intrapersonal communication are to convert raw data from environment to information; to interprete and give meaning to that information and to use such meaning. In other words, it is communication that occurs within you. Because intrapersonal communication is centered in the self, you are the sender and the receiver. The message is made up of your thoughts and feelings and the channel is your brain, which processes what you are thinking and feeling. There is also feedback because you talk to yourself, you discard certain ideals and replace them with others. Intrapersonal communication is language use or thought internal to the communicator. Intrapersonal communication is the active internal involvement of the individual in symbolic processing of messages. The individual becomes his or her own sender and receiver, providing feedback to him or herself in an ongoing internal process. It can be useful to envision intrapersonal communication occurring in the mind of the individual in a model which contains a sender, receiver, and feedback loop.

Although successful communication is generally defined as being between two or more individuals, issues concerning the useful nature of communicating with oneself and problems concerning communication with non-sentient entities such as computers have made some argue that this definition is too narrow.

Kinds of Intrapersonal Communication

Below are the different kinds of intrapersonal communication:

  1. Writing (by hand, or with a word processor, etc.) one’s thoughts or observations: the additional activities, on top of thinking, of writing and reading back may again increase self-understanding (“How do I know what I mean until I see what I say?”) and concentration. It aids ordering one’s thoughts; in addition it produces a record that can be used later again. Copying text to aid memorizing also falls in this category. 
  2. Making gestures while thinking: the additional activity, on top of thinking, of body motions, may again increase concentration, assist in problem solving, and assist memory. 
  3. Sense-making e.g. interpreting maps, texts, signs, and symbols 
  4. Interpreting non-verbal communication e.g. gestures, eye contact 
  5. Communication between body parts; e.g. “My stomach is telling me it’s time for lunch.” 
  6. Day-dreaming 
  7. Nocturnal dreaming, including and especially lucid dreaming 
  8. Speaking aloud (talking to oneself), reading aloud, repeating what one hears; the additional activities of speaking and hearing (in the third case of hearing again) what one thinks, reads or hears may increase concentration and retention. This is considered normal, and the extent to which it occurs varies from person to person. The time when there should be concern is when talking to oneself occurs outside of socially acceptable situations. 

Intrapersonal communication is more than just thinking. Intrapersonal communication is how one communicates with oneself. It includes the concepts of inner speech. Explain.

3.2 Interpersonal Communication

Interpersonal Communication occurs when you communicate on a one-to-one basis usually in an informal, unstructured setting. It occurs mostly between two people, though it may include more than two. Each participant functions as a sender-receiver; their messages consist of both verbal and non-verbal symbols and the channels used mostly are sight and sound. It also offers the greatest opportunity for feedback. To better understand the concept of interpersonal communication, one needs to compare it to other forms of communication. In so doing, one would examine how many people are involved, how physically close they are to one another, how many sensory channels are used, and the feedback provided. Interpersonal communication differs from other forms of communication in that there are few participants involved, the interactants are in close physical proximity to each other, there are many sensory channels used, and feedback is immediate.

Another way to understand the concept of intrapersonal communication is through the developmental view. From this view, interpersonal communication is defined as communication that occurs between people who have known each other for some time. Importantly, these people view each other as unique individuals, not as people who are simply acting out social situations.

3.2.1 Functions of Interpersonal Communication

Interpersonal communication is desirous for many reasons.

To Gain Information People engage in interpersonal communication to gain knowledge about another individual. Social Penetration Theory says that we attempt to gain information about others so that we can interact with them more effectively. We can better predict how they will think, feel, and act if we know who they are. We gain this information passively, by observing them; actively, by having others engage them; or interactively, by engaging them ourselves. Self-disclosure is often used to get information from another person.

To Build a Context of UnderstandingAnother reason why people engage in interpersonal communication is to help them better understand what someone says in a given context. The words we say can mean very different things depending on how they are said or in what context. Content Messages refer to the surface level meaning of a message. Relationship Messages refer to how a message is said. The two are sent simultaneously, but each affects the meaning assigned to the communication. Interpersonal communication helps us understand each other better.

To Establish IdentityAnother reason we engage in interpersonal communication is to establish an identity. The roles we play in our relationships help us establish identity. So too does the face, the public self-image we present to others. Both roles and face are constructed based on how we interact with others.

Interpersonal NeedsFinally, we engage in interpersonal communication because we need to express and receive interpersonal needs. William Schutz has identified three such needs: inclusion, control, and affection.

  1. Inclusion is the need to establish identity with others. 
  2. Control is the need to exercise leadership and prove one’s abilities. Groups provide outlets for this need. Some individuals do not want to be a leader. For them, groups provide the necessary control over aspects of their lives. 
  3. Affection is the need to develop relationships with people. Groups are an excellent way to make friends and establish relationships. 

3.2.2 Principles of Interpersonal Communication

Donnel King (2000) identifies four major principles that underlie the workings of interpersonal communication in real life and which cannot be ignored. They are described below:

Interpersonal Communication is InescapableThe truth is that we can’t but communicate. The very attempt not to communicate communicates something. Through not only words, but through tone of voice and through gesture, posture, facial expression, etc., we constantly communicate to those around us. Through these channels, we constantly receive communication from others. Even when you sleep, you communicate. Remember a basic principle of communication in general: people are not mind readers. Another way to put this is: people judge you by your behaviour, not your intent.

Interpersonal Communication is IrreversibleInterpersonal communication is one way. You can’t really take back something once it has been said. The effect must inevitably remain. Despite the instructions from a judge to a jury to “disregard that last statement the witness made,” the lawyer knows that it can’t help but make an impression on the jury. A Russian proverb says, “Once a word goes out of your mouth, you can never swallow it again.”

Interpersonal Communication is Complicated

No form of communication is simple. Because of the number of variables involved, even simple requests are extremely complex. Theorists note that whenever we communicate there are really at least six “people” involved: (1) who you think you are; (2) who you think the other person is; (3) who you think the other person thinks you are; (4) who the other person thinks /she is;( 5) who the other person thinks you are; and (6) who the other person thinks you think s/he is.

We don’t actually swap ideas, we swap symbols that stand for ideas. This also complicates communication. Words (symbols) do not have inherent meaning; we simply use them in certain ways, and no two people use the same word exactly alike.

Osmo Wiio gives us some communication maxims similar to Murphy’s law (Osmo Wiio, Wiio’s Laws–and Some Others (Espoo, Finland: Welin-Goos, 1978) :

  1. If communication can fail, it will. 
  2. If a message can be understood in different ways, it will be understood in just that way which does the most harm. 
  3. There is always somebody who knows better than you what you meant by your message. 
  4. The more communication there is, the more difficult it is for communication to succeed. 

These tongue-in-cheek maxims are not real principles; they simply humorously remind us of the difficulty of accurate communication.

Interpersonal Communication is Contextual

In other words, communication does not happen in isolation. There is:

  1. Psychological context, which is who you are and what you bring to the interaction. Your needs, desires, values, personality, etc., all form the psychological context. (“You” here refers to both participants in the interaction.) 
  2. Relational context, which concerns your reactions to the other person–the “mix.” 
  3. Situational context deals with the psycho-social “where” in which you are communicating. An interaction that takes place in a classroom will be very different from one that takes place in a bar. 
  4. Environmental context deals with the physical “where” in which you are communicating. Furniture, location, noise level, temperature, season, time of day, all are examples of factors in the environmental context.
  5. Cultural context includes all the learned behaviors and rules that affect the interaction. If you come from a culture (foreign or within your own country) where it is considered rude to make long, direct eye contact, you will out of politeness avoid eye contact. If the other person comes from a culture where long, direct eye contact signals trustworthiness, then we have in the cultural context a basis for misunderstanding.

3.2.3 Types of Interpersonal Communication

Interpersonal communication has three major types. They include:
1. Dyadic communication,
2. Public speaking, and
3. Small-group communication.


Dyadic communication is simply a method of communication that only involves two people such as a telephone conversation or even a set of letters sent to and received from a pen pal. In this communication process, the sender can immediately receive and evaluate feedback from the receiver. So that, it allows for more specific tailoring of the message and more personal communication than do many of the other media.

3.2.4 Basic Elements in Interpersonal Communication

The basic elements involved in interpersonal communication process
1. Sender; person who sends information.
2. Receiver: person who receives the information sent. 

3. Message: content of information sent by sender.
4. Feedback: response from receiver.

3.2.5 Barriers against Effective Interpersonal Communication

EmotionsSometimes when people communicate an idea or matter across, the receiver can feel how the sender perceives the subject matter. Often messages are interpreted differently for different people. Extreme emotions are most likely to hinder effective communication because the idea or message may be misinterpreted. It’s always best to avoid responding or reacting to the subject matter when you’re upset or angry because most of the time, you’ll not be able to think in a clear manner.

FilteringThis is where the sender manipulates the information that he communicates to the receiver. The purpose of this is because sometimes people would shape and reform the message so that it appears and sounds favourable to the receiver. Filtering information may mislead the receiver into thinking something favourable and the let down may be upsetting if it is found out that information has been filtered.

Overloaded with InformationToo much information about the same subject matter may be confusing. For example, you have 50 e-mails on the same subject matter, each e-mail contains a little part of the subject matter. It would be better to have one e-mail from the sender which includes all the information in clear and simple form with only the information that you asked for. Normally, the human brain can only take in so much information to process, overloading it with information will exceed our human processing capacity, and the receiver would misunderstand or not understand at all what the sender is telling them.

Humans tend to refuse for a mutual understanding when they feel that they are being threatened or are put in a position in which they are at a disadvantage. Defensiveness normally consists of attacking what the sender tells you, putting out sarcastic remarks, questioning their motives or being overly judgmental about the subject matter.

Cultural DifferenceSometimes our culture may be a huge hinderance for effective interpersonal communication. When two people with different cultures communicate, they often do not understand each other’s cultures and may misunderstand the true meaning of what each other are trying to convey through such a sense. For example, Japanese people would say “” (pronounced as ‘ha-i’) and Americans may misunderstand that they are saying “hi”. This makes the intentions unclear between both people.

Not everyone understands each other’s jargon words. Jargon should be avoided when talking to someone who isn’t familiar with you personally or within your organization.

3.2.6 Overcoming the Barriers of Effective Interpersonal Communication

Simplify Language By structuring your language to clear simplistic sentences, the receiver would be able to easily understand what the sender is saying. For example, jargon can be used within your organization as it will only use one word rather than a whole sentence to explain what you are trying to communicate across.

Constrain EmotionsHold back emotions whilst discussing a certain sensitive issue. Speaking in a neutral manner allows mutual understanding to occur and for both sender and receiver to communicate in a rational manner.
Listen Actively Often, when the sender says something, the receiver normally hears but does not listen. Place yourself in the sender’s position and try to understand exactly what they are trying to convey to you. The receiver is trying to understand fully what the sender is trying to say, so putting the receiver in the sender’s point of view makes understanding much easier.
FeedbackDone by the sender, as a word of confirmation by using closed ended questions such as “Did you understand what I just said?” or “Is what I said clear to you?”, or using an open ended question to have the receiver summarize the message. This results in the sender knowing that the receiver has fully understood what is being communicated.


Interpersonal communication is said to be contextual and complicated. Explain

3.3 Interpersonal Communication and Relationship

Communication and relationship are intertwined. One of the most fundamental outcomes of human communication is the development of social networks, and no such networks are more fundamental to our lives than relationships. Our relationships are essential to our learning, growth and development. It is in relationship that most of our purposeful message sending activities take place.

The desire for relationships is universal; they are important to men and women. When we are deprived of relationship for long periods, depression sets in, self doubt surfaces, we find it difficult to manage even the basics of daily life.

Relationship is formed whenever reciprocal data processing occurs, i.e., when two or more individuals mutually take account of one another’s verbal or non-verbal activities. This reciprocal data processing which we can call interpersonal communication is the means, through which relationships of all types are initiated, develop, grow and deteriorate.

Relationship can be dyadic (involving two persons), triadic (three persons) or quadradic. They can also be short term or long-term. But the longer the duration, the greater the investment one is willing to commit into the relationship. Relationship can also be casual or intimate.

3.3.1 Advantages of Interpersonal Relationships

  1. To lessen loneliness: Contact with other human being often lessens loneliness. You want to feel that someone loves, likes and cares for you. Close relationships assure you of protections and someone will be there when needed. 
  2. To secure stimulation: Human beings need stimulation. Through human contact, we derive intellectual, physical and emotional stimulation. We are stimulotropics. 
  3. For self-knowledge and self-esteem: You learn about yourself through contact with others. Your self-perception is greatly influenced by what you think others think of you. You are able to see yourself in different perspectives as you relate with people. Besides, relationships help enhance self-esteem and self worth. When you have a friend, you feel desirable and worthy. A supportive partner relationship enhances your self-esteem.
  4. To enhance physical and emotional health: Interpersonal relationship can help you to overcome depression and its consequent physical illness. Isolation contributes to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, smoking, and lack of physical exercise. 
  5. To maximise pleasure and minimise pain: Through interpersonal relationship, you are able to share your joy and good fortune as well as share your pain and sorrow. 

3.3.2 Disadvantages of Interpersonal Relationships

  1. Pressure for exposure: Close relationships put pressure on you to reveal yourself and to expose your vulnerabilities. This may backfire when the relationship deteriorates and these are weaknesses used against you. 
  2. Increased obligations: As you get involved in close relationships, the demands on you will also increase. You will need to make sacrifices because whatever you have will no longer be entirely your own. On the positive side, your partner shares your losses and you share in your partner’s gains. Emotional obligation is of course the most difficult demand, because it is not easy to be emotionally responsive and sensitive. 
  3. Increased Insulation: Intimate relationship can result in abandoning other relationships. 
  4. Difficulty in dissolving: Once you are involved, a relationship may prove difficult to get out of. (e.g. Religion and Marriage) Where a lot of money is committed, getting out may mean giving up the fortune as well. And if there is eventual break up, the pain, cost and trouble of such dissolution may be calamitous and catastrophic. 

3.3.3Stages in Relationship Building

InitiationHere the relationship begins with social initiation. You have perceptual contact- you see, hear, and perhaps smell the person; you get physical picture- gender, approximate age, height etc. You exchange both verbal and non-verbal messages.

ExplorationImmediately after the first stage, you begin to explore the potentials of the other person and the possibility of further pursuing the relationship. You experiment and try to learn more about the other person and reveal yourself.

IntensificationAt this level, the individuals have arrived at a decision- which they may or may not verbalise– that they wish the relationship continue. Individuals acquire a good deal of knowledge of the communication behaviour of the other involved, and at the same time a number of joint rules, shared language and relational rituals will emerge. Relationship at this stage, may deteriorate, or continue to develop.

FormalisationThe relationship here becomes formalised and established e.g. Two people entering a business partnership ratify legal agreements. With an individual being hired for a job, the employee and employer may sign a contract. In love relationship, a formal bonding makes take the form of engagement or wedding rings.

RedefinitionAs the relationship continues, there may be need to redefine some of the joint rules of the relationship. Dissatisfaction in any of the parties may call for redefinition, which may likely result in deterioration of the relationship. If a repair of the relationship cannot be worked out then, it will result in dissolution.

DissolutionAt this point, the bonds between the ex-partners are broken. The individuals begin to look at each other as individuals rather than halves of a pair.


Justify the place of relationship in Interpersonal communication.


Communication occurs at different levels. Communication is grouped by virtue of the level it belongs. These levels are otherwise known as context, which means different levels at which communication occurs. It can also be referred to as the kinds of communication that are available.
Communication within oneself is called Intra-personal communication. Those that involve two or more persons are referred to as Interpersonal communication. The one involving a group of people is called Group communication and so on.


The unit has been able to discuss in appreciable details the various contexts of communication. It examined the specific context like Intra-personal and Interpersonal Communication; Group Communication; Public Communication; and Mass Communication. The unit stressed the link between interpersonal communication and relationship. It looked at stages in relationship building as well as exploring the advantages and disadvantages of interpersonal relations


Make a strong case for the place of communication in human relationship.


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