Interpersonal communication

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The term interpersonal communication , also interpersonal communication , encompasses communication or communication processes from the perspective that specifically people are the communicators. This perspective is more specific than the more general view of communication, in which all living beings are included.

Interpersonal communication can be seen as part of social interaction ; what is described as such in detail depends on the conditions under which the person is seen and with which terms and / or attributes he is described. In science, this is called “ modeling ”.

Interpersonal communication is often discussed in terms of its function in interpersonal relationships . The focus is not only the communication process and its conditions in the center of attention, but also the results: It is discussed how people through their communication with each other in relation set.

Interpersonal relationships are analyzed and evaluated by observing communication.

From a linguistic point of view, it is pragmatics that, within linguistics , deals with the description of contextual and non-literal meanings when using linguistic expressions in concrete situations and with the conditions under which they arise.

Description and modeling of the "communicating person"

The human being is described in relation to communication from the following perspectives and modeled with different terms:

Description of people as social and jointly developing beings

An essential requirement when describing people as communicators is to see people as social beings. Closely related to this is to describe the aspect of development (this is called the “evolutionary approach”). Starting with the birth parents, there are always other people who take part in the development of a person and their personal identity. Even in adulthood, participation in a community in the general sense is indispensable. This also applies if someone is on their own for a certain period of time. Modeling the human being as a social, developing being means at the same time not viewing and describing human beings in isolation and as complete individual beings. This is particularly true when observing and describing communication: Communication is a process in which something changes and develops; and communication happens with other people (self-talk is not considered interpersonal communication in this context).

Given this premise, communication can be seen as an essential factor in development. Human beings can only develop in relation to others by approaching and separating themselves from them; this takes place, among other things, in communication. Participation is also part of development through communication: people depend on the experience and skills of other people. Interpersonal communication is usually no longer described today without including aspects of development and an already existing community. In brain research, too, reference is made to the proportions of the community: apart from a few innate vocalizations, facial expressions and gestures, there are no genetically guaranteed meanings of signs, words and sentences in humans.

The distinction between individual and social components could be applied as follows: Language as a system of signs and as a form of action is essentially to be viewed socially; nobody has taught himself his language and his speaking alone. At the same time, there are individual components in the use of linguistic signs and in speaking. This distinction is always analytical, which means that for the purposes of description something is broken down into parts that does not appear in observation (as a phenomenon). Linguistic communication is observed as a process between several people - the distinction is then applied to this observation.

Description of the human being as acting and experiencing

The visible behavior of a person - that is, his reactions, body movements, posture and his expression in the environment - can be subject to planning and goal setting. In this case it is assumed that the person acts by evaluating situations, setting up and pursuing goals, drafting plans for action and trying to realize them. The communication purpose in this modeling in its most general form is to solve problems through communication.

Going further, under the aspect of experience, it can be modeled that people cope with new situations more easily with the help of experience structures that they have formed in previous situations. The totality of experiences can also be referred to as the horizon of experience or individual world theory.

The ability to think (in general: to reflect) is also part of the description of the human being as an agent. Thinking and imagining helps to differentiate between the real and the possible and thus to go beyond concretely experienced situations. This also includes the realm of fiction, short stories and fairy tales.

Differentiation of humans from animals

In some discussions the human being is viewed as a special living being (“special position of human being”). As a living being compared to other living beings (animals), humans are viewed as more open to change and development. On the one hand, it can react more flexibly to the changing conditions of its environment, on the other hand, it can influence its environment more than animals. This becomes relevant when properties that are viewed as specifically human are counted among the prerequisites for interpersonal communication. On the other hand, specifically human characteristics can be seen as a consequence of interpersonal communication.

Language as a communication medium

Language is seen as a medium in which communication takes place. Language is seen as a system of signs and a special type of action. The emergence of linguistic signs and linguistic action is seen in part as a decisive step in evolution . With the help of linguistic signs and actions, experiences can be named and delimited (categorized). In collective action, others can be referred to such experiences. In this way, linguistic communication contributes to the creation of community. For example, people no longer need to have all the necessary experiences themselves, but can share in the experiences of others.

Language as a communication medium can be divided into spoken language and written language. Scripture makes communication less dependent on spatial and temporal restrictions. What is written can be read and understood over and over again in different places and over long periods of time. This helps build and disseminate knowledge . The development of writing and the improvement of the printing press by Gutenberg are viewed as outstanding historical events in this regard.

Forms of communication

Interpersonal communication takes place not only in spoken or written language, but also non-verbally , through facial expressions and gestures ( sign-supported communication ), through tone of voice and rhythm ( vocal communication ), through closeness and touch or distance ( proxemics ) and with the use of aids .

According to the mime and university professor Samy Molcho , the non-verbal part of communication causes more than 80 percent of reactions . In addition to facial expressions and gestures , posture is also very effective (on the other and on yourself). This topic is relevant to sign language , assisted communication, and sales psychology . The iceberg model is used in explanations of this type .

Interpersonal communication as a process with general and specific conditions

General conditions determine the communication process in all situations; with their help, communication processes can be explained in general. Special conditions depend on the situation; They can be used to explain the course of specific communication processes. General and special conditions can be described with the help of various distinctions.

Individual or social conditions: Individual factors include the individual experiences that form a personal background. Different people experience situations differently against their personal background; even the same person can assess similar situations differently at different times and communicate accordingly.

Conscious and unconscious conditions: When people communicate with one another, their perception focuses on conscious production and reception. However, communication is influenced by unconscious processes. This includes unconscious parts of feelings, for example subliminal affection or aversion, which influence the perception of the other uncontrollably. Unconscious emotional parts have a significant influence on how what is said is linked and thus on the maintenance of communication. On the other hand, they can become the cause of communication problems.

Interpersonal communication in interpersonal relationships

Interpersonal communication is discussed by therapists and psychologists. The therapists observed interpersonal relationships based on the way both people communicate with each other. Paul Watzlawick and Friedemann Schulz von Thun are mentioned in German-speaking countries . Paul Watzlawick no longer only described communications from the perspective of what was said or claimed - the "content" - but also from the perspective of how a speaker relates to the listener with the help of what has been said - the "relationship aspect". In this respect, Watzlawick understands every communication as a personal statement to the other. Schulz von Thun expanded the distinction between content and relationship aspects to include the functions "self-disclosure" and "appeal".

The particular focus here is on pathological relationships that can be observed on the basis of disturbed communication and that should be treated by the therapist. Disturbances and misunderstandings arise from the fact that producer and recipient (speaker and listener, less precisely referred to as “sender” and “recipient”) assess what is said differently.

As soon as people perceive each other, a related behavior can be observed in them. Paul Watzlawick sees all interrelated behavior as communication and summarized this in a “metacommunicative” axiom : “You cannot not not communicate”. A very comprehensive concept of communication arises from this axiom. For example, silence and looking away can be interpreted as the message “I don't want to speak now”. A denial of communication would therefore already be communication. This is against the background of the therapeutic objective, in which the (pathological) interpersonal relationship is in the foreground for the therapist.

Types and modes of interpersonal relationships that influence interpersonal communication are the attitude towards the communication partner (see also empathy ). It assumes, among other things, a good handling of one's own emotions (see Emotional Intelligence , Daniel Goleman ). The social status and the social function exercised also influence communication. The same messages can be understood differently if the speaker is seen in different roles - for example in the role of a colleague or a manager. The analysis and description of these ways of relating to one another often go beyond communication processes.

Various ambiguities can hinder interpersonal communication. This includes ambiguity about the purpose of the communication: sometimes it is unclear what the speaker is trying to achieve. This can also affect the speaker himself. Ambiguity about the social function currently exercised in communication can also hinder communication. For example, it may be necessary to clarify whether something is meant in the role of colleague or boss, as a politician or as a private individual.

Understanding and misunderstanding (as a process and result)

Understanding takes place against a common cultural background and is geared towards the compatibility (compatibility) of experiences. It can happen that from the perceived uniformity of the characters - for example the same pronunciation or spelling of words - the same meaning is inferred . However, this is not always the case because the meanings always arise from the background of personal experience. The more different the backgrounds of experience and the meanings associated with the signs, the higher the probability of misunderstandings. This also applies to people who speak the same language.

At the level of interpersonal relationships, misunderstandings can be promoted by the nature of self-expression : people try to influence how they are perceived on a case-by-case basis. This happens, for example, by showing off , by camouflage or by demonstrative self-minimization. This makes it difficult for the communication partners to assess the other. Misunderstanding can also arise if what is meant in the message is too implicit , too indirect, or too diffuse, or if the recipient of the message fails to recognize the ambiguity or irony of what is being said. This can have various reasons, for example the avoidance of commitments, the fear of rejection, the desire to save face (see embarrassment , humiliation ).

Misunderstanding happens frequently. Awareness of this is a prerequisite for avoiding misunderstanding. The likelihood of misunderstanding in the communication process can be reduced by various measures. These include, for example,

  • prepare for the situation and the other (if possible),
  • Define terms precisely (avoid ambiguity) and
  • Give feedback ,
  • tell the communication partner what you have understood
  • Ask the speaker about individual aspects that have remained unclear or incomprehensible.
  • ask the communication partner to describe ( paraphrase ) what they mean in other words .

Limits to the reliability of communication

The complexity and general conditions of interpersonal communication mean that understanding is not always achieved. Communication becomes unreliable because the perception is selective and the concentration on the other is not always possible one hundred percent. This problem shows up at all levels of human communication. Communication can therefore be described as generally unreliable.

Interpersonal communication as a research area

Various disciplines also deal with interpersonal communication.

See also


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Gerhard Roth: Feeling, Thinking, Acting . Frankfurt am Main 2003, p. 422.
  2. See for example Gerold Ungeheuer : Pre-judgments about speaking, communicating, understanding . In: Ungeheuer: Communication Theory Writings I: Speaking, Communicating, Understanding . Aachen 1987, p. 337 f.
  3. In this context, categorization is also used. In psychology this is described using the terms schemes and scripts ; see Philip G. Zimbardo: Psychologie. 1988, p. 312f.
  4. Gerold Ungeheuer: Communication-theoretical writings I: speaking, sharing, understanding , Aachen 1987, p. 74, p. 308 ff.
  5. See for example von Lewinski, How lonely does a person stay? Basics, characteristics and limits of human communication , Berlin 2006, p. 96f.
  6. See Arnold Gehlen: Der Mensch. His nature and his position in the world. Athenaeum, Frankfurt 1962
  7. Cf. von Lewinski, How lonely does man stay? Basics, characteristics and limits of human communication , Berlin 2006, p. 94f.
  8. Cf. von Lewinski, How lonely does man stay? Basics, characteristics and limits of human communication . Berlin 2006, p. 221 f.
  9. ^ Paul Watzlawick, Janet H. Beavin, Don D. Jackson: Human Communication. Forms, disorders, paradoxes , Bern, Stuttgart, Toronto 1969, p. 53 f.
  10. The terms “sender” and “receiver” prove to be imprecise, because they involve technical aspects in interpersonal communication.
  11. Friedemann Schulz von Thun: Talking to one another , Volume 1, Reinbek bei Hamburg 1981, p. 62 f.
  12. ^ Paul Watzlawick, Janet H. Beavin, Don D. Jackson: Human Communication. Forms, disorders, paradoxes . Bern, Stuttgart, Toronto 1969, p. 52 f.
  13. See Ungeheuer: Communication semantics: sketch of a problem area . In: Ungeheuer: Communication Theory Writings I: Speaking, Communicating, Understanding . Aachen 1987, p. 74