Interpersonal relationships are normally evidenced between two or more individuals and may be based on (among other factors) love and solidarity (Berscheid, 1983, p. 1). These bases of interpersonal relationships normally vary but basically, they are centered on social, cultural, family or kinship relationships (in addition to other forms of social relations). This fact is affirmed by Jeannette (2010) who states that:
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“Interpersonal communication is derived from the close relationships we have in our life of our choosing. Yet, we have interface with people on many levels in our life, ranging from personal to professional. Interpersonal relationships constantly change and shift and can derive from formal settings. Relationships can vary from friendships, family members, lovers, acquaintances, professionals and even adversaries. Life welcomes and encompasses most relationships in each of these categories” (p. 12).
It is important to note that interpersonal relationships command some level of interdependence but there are often incidences where people in interpersonal relationships influence each other in thought, actions, activities and feelings (Fincham, 2010, p. 4).
The level of interdependence among partners in interpersonal relationships allows for the influx of opinions, thoughts and feelings but the success and longevity of interpersonal relationships basically thrives on communication as a basic component, determining the thriving of interpersonal relationships. Dr. Ramesh Rao, a sociology researcher, explains that “We thrive when we communicate well, and we starve ourselves of companionship, camaraderie and community when we fail to communicate effectively” (Rao, 2010, p. 1).
When communication lacks, people tend to live in worlds completely and needlessly alienated from each other, and in extreme cases, miscommunication may lead to excessive boredom and even the eventual breakup of two individuals. Those who decide to live with communication problems are normally subjected to a lot of despair, agony and frustration. However, the positive thing regarding the controversy surrounding miscommunication in interpersonal relationships is that it need not be that way.
In other words, there are a number of ways and strategies through which if properly applied can avoid instances of miscommunication. From this basis of understanding, this study will explore the barriers to effective communication as the background research to understanding how to avoid miscommunication in interpersonal relationships. Secondly this study will explain the principles and misconceptions in effective interpersonal communications, which consequently causes miscommunication in interpersonal relationships.
Lastly this study will identify how people in interpersonal relationships can assess their personal communication strategies to improve their communication competencies. Comprehensively, these elements when applied sequentially will eventually lead to the avoidance of miscommunication within interpersonal relationships.
Barriers to Effective Communication
Communication essentially defines the basic social fabric of any society and it is an effective tool that has been used in upholding social cohesion for centuries (Mystic Madness, 2011, p. 1). However, there are barriers to communication that prevent the conveyance of thoughts or ideas from one individual to another.
Consequently, this causes ambiguous communication between individuals because if there are barriers to effective communication, the messages passed across cannot be appropriately received. If the sender or receiver finds himself or herself in such a situation; it means that there are surmountable barriers to communication.
The barriers to effective communication therefore become a hurdle for many individuals to express their thoughts and feelings, and in extreme situations; this scenario has been seen to limit professional and social progression. In fact, Mystic Madness (2011) affirms that “According to various psychologists, approximately 50 percent of message looses its meaning while being conveyed from the sender to the receiver” (p. 3).
There are therefore a number of stages where communication between two or more individuals loses its meaning and they are summarized in the following paragraphs:
Physical barriers have been identified as the main problem why people across the globe have found it difficult to maintain healthy interpersonal relationships (Jain, 2011).
This was the problem I experienced a year ago in my workplace where the company had a large working area and existing employees were physically estranged from each other. Also, each office had its own doors where each worker operated under closed doors and the general employee population was divided on the basis of ranks (where high-ranking employees operated in their own environment while low-ranking employees also operated in their own environment).
The organizational environment was therefore not conducive for effective interpersonal communication and it was further aggravated by the fact that there was a lot of noise from cars on the background. This type of environment significantly strained the development of interpersonal relationships within my workplace.
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Mystic Madness (2011) categories physical barriers to communication in four categories; the first is environmental barrier where the physical environment becomes non-facilitative to the development of a good interactive atmosphere (probably because of excessive humidity, excessive lighting, high or low temperatures, or even poor ventilation and the likes).
The second category of communication barrier is the challenging stimulus where if there is a disturbing stimulus such as noise in the background or a wide distance between a sender and receiver of information, miscommunication may eventually occur because it would be quite difficult for both parties to interpret what each other is saying.
Thirdly, Mystic Madness (2011) identifies subjective strain as another barrier to communication where miscommunication may occur if one of the parties is in bad health, is of poor mental state, lacks adequate sleep (and the likes). Miscommunication is bound to occur because effective communication occurs only if there is high concentration about the message conveyance process among the two parties involved.
Lastly, Mystic Madness (2011) identifies media ignorance as the last category to physical barriers to communication because of the fact that some communicators are not versant with the best mode of media to convey their messages. For instance, in my organization, the senior managerial team used to explain the company’s progress to workers using maps and charts. This mode did not seem effective for the workers.
Linguistic barriers are also identified as a major barrier to communication because in scenarios where it is present, language becomes excessively vague and the words mentioned by one party (for example) are rather symbolic and may convey a number of meanings to the receiver (if he or she understands it at all).
The miscommunication evidenced here basically occurs where the sender and receiver variably interpret different language symbols. In fact, it has been affirmed in many research studies that communicating to someone in his or her own language is an effective communication tool as opposed to someone communicating using an alien language (Mystic Madness, 2011).
Cultural barriers have also been identified to be a strong barrier to communication, especially where two or more people in an interpersonal relationship are from different religions, cultures or places. However, cultural barriers does not only end in form of cultural, religious or place variations; it also extends to age, social position, mental behaviors, social status and other socioeconomic parameters.
If communication occurs within the confines of a given culture, there is a very minimal probability that misinterpretation will occur, but when communication occurs between two or more cultures, there is a high probability that misinterpretation will occur.
Lastly, emotional barriers have been advanced as a critical barrier to effective communication because people who are emotionally distant are bound to differ from each other in situations and affairs (Mystic Madness, 2011). There are often many types of emotions that present themselves in form of anger, fear and hostility and all result in a number of reactions encompassing sudden reactions, unfair assumptions, terror, overconfidence and defense (Jeannette, 2010). These factors comprehensively define the major barriers to communication.
Principles and Misconceptions in Effective Interpersonal Communication
Misconceptions about interpersonal relationships often arise out of the fact that people are different and it is therefore very easy for someone to misunderstand the other. The biggest misconception among many people regarding interpersonal communication is that it is an innate trait that often does not need to be perfected (HR Council for the Nonprofit Sector, 2011).
It is also widely misconceived that interpersonal communication applies to all individuals and can be applied in virtually all social contexts (HR Council for the Nonprofit Sector, 2011). This assumption is wrong because interpersonal communication has its own shade of grey areas where different people are in different relationships, and therefore, not all relationships are the same.
Moreover, each person is different from each other and therefore the characteristics of one person in a relationship may sometimes disparage the personality of the other or in another way, compliment it. It is therefore essential that the right attitude is applied to different situations because relationships are different and so are people.
There is also a common misunderstanding about interpersonal communication where one person thinks that if he or she communicates, the other person will automatically understand them. This is not necessarily the case considering there are usually many factors that can cause wrongful misinterpretation of information and therefore it is important to carry out a follow-up conversation to determine whether the previously conveyed information was correctly understood.
Many people also carry on the misconception that the more the quantity of information a person conveys; the more he or she will be understood (HR Council for the Nonprofit Sector, 2011). This is normally not the case because if a person is misunderstood, talking more would not essentially be the correct approach to take because this would only mean that there will be more misunderstandings and misinterpretations of the information being conveyed.
While a person may think that he or she is clarifying the information conveyed, he or she may only be exacerbating the situation. In such situations, one would be tactful to know when to tone down, keep quiet and explain further.
The reason why the above misconceptions about interpersonal communication are evidenced is because many people don’t understand the principles to effective communication. It is therefore important for people to understand relevant principles surrounding effective communication so that they can be able to communicate effectively in the first place. The first principle in effective communication is understanding oneself.
Even though interpersonal communication occurs between two people, it is normally recommended that people who want to effectively communicate with each other need to understand themselves first (their goals, personalities and the likes). Mares (2010) affirms that “Self-awareness helps you identify the actions required to behave competently in different situations. The more self-aware you are, the more able you are to manage your own behavior and your ability to adapt your behavior to changing circumstances” (p. 12).
Another principle of communication in interpersonal relationships is to communicate effectively. Mares (2010) explains that in this type of situation, the sender or receiver should describe various behaviors without being judgmental or giving evaluative statements which may change the course of the communication process. He also explains that people should maintain congruence between verbal and nonverbal messages in addition to precisely describing ones feelings.
Lastly, listening and responding is also another important communication principle in interpersonal relationships where people will be able to understand one another’s feelings and thoughts more effectively (Mares, 2010). In fact, it has been affirmed that taking into consideration the other person’s feelings is an effective communication strategy. Conversely, this can be linked to talking from the “shoes” of the other person (Mares, 2010).
Improving Communication Competencies
Using the obliging style has been advocated as one of the most basic ways through which people can effectively develop their communication competencies (Jeannette, 2010). This style has been pit against the avoidance strategy where people avoid conflict in relationships by ignoring miscommunication altogether (Jeannette, 2010).
The obliging style empowers people to be more empathic and critical listeners to what the other party in the relationship says. This style also proposes that if a person feels like expressing his or her opinion, he or she should do so gently, without being assertive. Comprehensively, the obliging strategy has been evidenced to provide the bedrock to the development of interpersonal relationships because it essentially lays the groundwork through which two people relate (Jeannette, 2010).
The other competence element identified by many social researchers, with regards to improving interpersonal competence, is basically related to the principles of effective communication which is putting oneself in the other’s shoes. This is congruent to understanding the values of the other person, their beliefs and points of view. Jeannette (2010) explains that:
“It can be challenging to assess each individual and how to correctly approach communication when there are so many factors involved. With the proper effort and evaluation, one can identify personality traits of an individual and build positive communication around those aspects. This not only develops proper interpersonal relationships, but also broadens the skills necessary to effectively communicate and represent oneself in a positive manner” (p. 29).
Understanding these communicative variables is essential to developing genuine empathy with another party in a relationship, but more importantly, understanding them enables the other party to better empathize with the other.
Lastly, inquiry is another competence element that if well inculcated among individuals, it can expressly show genuine concern about the other person’s welfare. Genuine concern is a good attribute in avoiding miscommunication in interpersonal relationships and this is the reason why many researchers advocate that people should be more inquisitive of each other at all times (Jeannette, 2010).
This study points out that the avoidance of miscommunication within interpersonal relationships is a simple process that can be avoided if people understand the barriers to communication, develop an understanding of the principles and misconceptions about personal relationships and eventually horn specific competencies needed in developing personal relationships. It is only through understanding communication problems in interpersonal relationships that people can be able to avoid miscommunication altogether.
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Fincham, F. (2010). Of memes and marriage: Toward a positive relationship science. Journal of Family Theory & Review, 2, 4–24.
HR Council for the Nonprofit Sector. (2011). Workplaces that Work. Web.
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Mares, T. (2010). Avoiding Miscommunication: This Darned Elusive Happiness. Web.
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