Four Principles of Interpersonal Communication

These principles underlie the workings in real life of interpersonal communication. They are basic to communication. We can't ignore them

Interpersonal communication is inescapable

We can't not 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 behavior, not your intent.

Interpersonal communication is irreversible

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; 30 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):

These tongue-in-cheek maxims are not real principles; they simply humorously remind us of the difficulty of accurate communication. (See also A commentary of Wiio's laws by Jukka Korpela.)

Interpersonal communication is contextual

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

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Copyright © 2000 by Donnell King. All rights reserved.