Interpersonal communication is the universal form of communication that takes place between two individuals. Since it is person-to-person contact, it includes everyday exchange that may be formal or informal and can take place anywhere by means of words, sounds, facial expression, gestures and postures.

In interpersonal communication there is face-to-face interaction between two persons, that is, both are sending and receiving messages. This is an ideal and effective communication situation because you can get immediate feedback. You can clarify and emphasise many points through your expressions, gestures and voices. In interpersonal communication, therefore, it is possible to influence the other person and persuade him or her to accept your point of view. Since there is proximity between sender and receiver, interpersonal communication has emotional appeal too. It can motivate, encourage, and coordinate work more effectively then any other form of communication. Also, in a crisis, through interpersonal channel, flow of information is tremendous e.g. news of violence, famine or disaster.

Interpersonal messages consist of meanings derived from personal observations and experiences. The process of translating thoughts into verbal and nonverbal messages increases the communicator’s self-concept. In fact, effective interpersonal communication helps both participants strengthen relationships through the sharing of meaning and emotions.

Functions of Interpersonal communication

We use interpersonal communication for a variety of reasons. For example, interpersonal communication helps us understand our world better. It helps us understand a situation in a better way. We also use interpersonal communication to think and evaluate more effectively. Often it is used to change behavior also. The three specific functions are:

1. Linking function
2. Mentation function and
3. Regulatory function.

The linking function connects a person with his or her environment. The mentation function helps us conceptualize, remember, and plan. It is a mental or intellectual function. The regulatory function serves to regulate our own and other’s behavior.

Through interpersonal communication we are nurtured as infants, physically, emotionally and intellectually. Again through interpersonal communication we develop cultural, social and psychological links with the world. In fact, interpersonal communication is the very basis of our survival and growth as it helps us to function more practically.

Variables affecting interpersonal relationships

Many variables affect the interpersonal relationships. These are self-disclosure, feedback, nonverbal behavior and interpersonal attraction. Our success or failure in handling these variables, determine how satisfying our interpersonal relationships will be. Self-disclosure lets others know what we are thinking, how we are feeling and what we care about. Self-disclosure helps reduce anxiety, increase comfort, and intensify interpersonal attractions. Feedback is the response of a receiver that reaches back the sender. It involves agreeing; asking questions and responding through feeling statements. Nonverbal behavior plays an important role in interpersonal communication. A smile, a hug, a pat, a firm handshake, etc. can achieve much more than words in certain situations. Eye contact, gestures, posture, facial expressions, etc. are also important elements of our nonverbal behavior. Interpersonal attraction is the ability to draw others towards oneself. Some people are said to have magnetic personalities. People are drawn to them. It is this special chemistry that causes ‘love at first sight’.

Development of Interpersonal relationships

Research has proved that like individual personalities, interpersonal relationships also evolve over time through our experiences, acquired knowledge and environmental factors. The phases through which interpersonal relationships develop are:

  • Initiating
  • Experimenting
  • Intensifying
  • Integrating and
  • Bonding

Initiating is the first phase during which we make conscious and unconscious judgments about others. In fact, sometimes it takes us as little as 15 seconds to judge a person. Then communication is started either verbally or nonverbally (through eye contact, being closer to the other person, etc.)

The next phase is experimenting. Here, we start small-talks (talking about general things rather that about specific things), while attempting to find out common interests. During this stage we try to determine whether continuing the relationship is worthwhile.

The third stage is intensifying. Here the awareness about each other is increased and both the persons start participating more in conversation. Self-disclosure by both participants results in trust and creates a rapport. Experiences, assumptions and expectations are shared and we start becoming more informal. Also there is increased nonverbal behavior with more touching, nodding, etc.

The next step is integrating. Here we try to meet the expectations of the person. We also start sharing interests, attitudes, etc.

The final stage is bonding. Here serious commitments and sacrifices are made. One example of commitment is to decide to remain as friends. Another is marriage. All these phases can take a few seconds to develop (as in case of love at first sight) or may take days or weeks or more time.