Interpersonal Communication This Classic Axiom Essay

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Interpersonal Communication

This classic axiom, by the communications theorist Paul Watzlawick, is very important to understanding how we communicate. The axiom stating "one cannot not communicate" is important because it emphasizes that we are always affecting other individual's perceptions, despite wanting to or not (Littlejohn, 2002, p. 235). "One cannot not communicate" means that any perceivable behavior has the potential to be communicative. When one individual (the sender) is in the presence of another (the receiver), he or she is always communicating something, regardless of wanting to or not. Additionally, it should be noted that a person is always functions as the sender and receiver simultaneously; he or she cannot be one or the other.

"In the presence of another person one cannot not behave nor can one not communicate" (Greene, 1996, p. 119). It is important to note that even when the sender remains quiet and silent in front of the receiver, he or she is still communicating to the reciever that he or she is not interested in talking or interacting. Additionally, the sender's body language conveys something to be communicated between the individuals interacting. Whether rejecting eye contact or crossing one's arms in front of his chest, these examples of body language demonstrate and convey a desire to not communicate, yet in their very existence qualify as communication. "Activity or inactivity, words or silence all have message value" (Watzlawick, 1967, p. 49). In other words, non-verbal communication is still a form of communication, whether the sender wants the communication to happen or not.

The axiom "one cannot not communicate" is applicable to our lives because it is essential to communication, which is essential to our existing and being. "Being human, therefore, means to always be communicating, even if it is done on a subconscious, unintentional, and non-verbal level" (Communication, n.d.). In other words, communication never ceases to be a part of our every day lives. In the work situation, individuals have no choice but to communicate with their co-workers and supervisors, yet even when they try not to, they are still communicating messages (although sometimes non-verbal and unintentional).

"Once cannot not communicate" is important because it essentially takes all the six different types of communications (intrapersonal, interpersonal, small group, organizational, face-to-face and mediated communications) and demonstrates how an individual is always engaging in one of those six types. Overall, this axiom helps us understand and appreciate that communication is not always verbal. There are many messages and signals that we present, sometimes without even realizing, that the individuals we interact with pick up on. This has the potential to be both advantageous or disastrous for human relationships.


Intrapersonal communication is viewed as the foundation for all communication and is an important source for understanding ourselves (Barker, 1980, p. 20). Stacks writes that "intrapersonal communication is the most individualistic while mass communication is the most collectivistic" (Honeycutt, 2008, p. 323). Intrapersonal communication, therefore, occurs when individuals focus on their own thoughts or internal messages. It is an individualized, private communication process.

The intrapersonal communication process has been broken down into three parts (Honeycutt, 2008, p. 324). First, there is the mental process, which interprets one's self, others, and the environment. Second, there is the physical state, which includes the physiological aspects one goes through. Third, there is the biological-psychological system, which is the relationship between the first two parts.

The contrast of intrapersonal communication is Interpersonal Communication. Interpersonal communication consists of "the skills we employ when interacting with other people" (Hargie, 2004, p. 4). Hargie continues that interpersonal communication is "the process whereby the individual implements a set of goal-directed, inter-related, situationally appropriate social behaviours which are learned and controlled" (Hargie, 2004, p. 5).

There are three types of interpersonal communication: oral, written, and nonverbal (Communication, n.d.). Nonverbal communication is done through body language, involving eye contact, gestures, touching, posture, and even physical proximities between individuals. Verbal communication is broken down into the oral and written sub-categories. Oral communication is the spoken language and written communication is the transferring of physical versions of messages (including messages based on technology, such as emails and text messages). Interpersonal communication can also be broken down into formal and informal communication (Communication, n.d.). Formal interpersonal communication is more strict and official, and usually takes place in the work or business environment. Informal interpersonal communication is more relaxed, and is usually associated with friends and family.

Interpersonal communication, essentially, is the larger underlying concept for small group communication, organizational communication, face-to-face public communication, and mediated public communication.

Small group communication is defined as "three or more people working interdependently for the purpose of accomplishing a task" (Myers, 2008, p. 7). The primary aspects of small group communications are group size, interdependence, and task (Myers, 2008, p. 7). Although it is debatable by researchers exactly how many members equate to a group, what is important is to acknowledge about group size is that all members influence each other (Myers, 2008, p. 7). Interdependence is "the process by which a change in one part affects the other parts" (Myers, 2008, p. 7). Interdependence occurs when members work together and coordinate their efforts and steps to accomplish their goal or task. but, when something affects one group member (both positively and negatively), it will no doubt affect the rest of the group members. The third part of small group communication, task, is the purpose for a group. Ira Steiner's study (1972) states that there are two main types of tasks: additive and conjunctive (Myers, 2008, p. 8). Additive tasks require group members to work individually on a task, and then later combine these individual tasks for the final product. Conjunctive tasks require coordination between group members to work collectively to create a final product.

Organizational communication is how people communicate within an organization. Sinha writes that communication is basic to organization because it links organization members and mediates the inputs to the organization from the environment (Sinha, 1991, p. 1). In other words, communication is essential to the effectiveness and efficiency of an organization. Organizational communication involves the way people are structured and work within a group. Most organizations have people assigned roles to accomplish the organization's tasks and objectives. The most common example is the "chain of command' setup that most business and companies, and even schools, use. To accomplish these goals, members of the organization "use information to make choices among a range of alternatives. The information they receive and send is a function of their role relationship in their organization" (Sinha, 1991, p. 2).

Face-to-face public communication is the physical process of interacting with people. Through face-to-face public interactions, the sender and receiver have the chance to enhance and develop their mental images of each other and to think about further developments. "Face-to-face meetings are essential for forming the precise mental images of others that facilitate the development of our strategy for interacting with them (Nohria, 2000, p. 1666). Additionally, "face-to-face interaction is especially effective at making each person aware of changes both in the other and in his or her self as reflected in the other, thereby facilitating necessary adjustments in the relationship" (Nohria, 2000, p. 1671).

Mediated public communication is interpersonal communication that is assisted by a device, such as a telephone, pen, or computer (Turow, 2009, p. 8). This type of communication is different from face-to-face public communication because the individuals involved cannot touch each other physically because the technology becomes the medium that allows for the interaction to occur. Mediated public communication is a written form of communication, and is increasingly more common and widely used in our society due to the Internet, such as email and online social sites such as Facebook and MySpace. It is also more common due to the wide spread use of cell… [END OF PREVIEW]

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