Key Concepts of Interpersonal Communication

Defining Two Key Concepts of Interpersonal Communication

Key concept one- Immediacy

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According to Andersen (1979) and Mehrabian (1971) “immediacy relates to approach and avoidance behaviours and can be thought of as the perceived distance between people”. Immediacy can be verbal and or non-verbal communication that can enhance physical and psychological closeness. Findings conducted by several researchers indicate that teacher immediacy is associated with cognitive learning, affective learning, recall of information, classroom management, humor, motivation, willingness to communicate in and out of the classroom and positive evaluation by the students. (Gorham, 1988; Richmond, McCroskey, & Payne, 2007). Therefore, Immediacy refers to the interaction between two or more persons and how that interaction affects the relationship between those people. The immediacy between a teacher and his students depends on the use of humor, the amount of encouragement, calling students by their name, smiling, eye contact, relaxed body language and facial expressions. Establishing immediacy between the teacher and student is likely to improve motivation because of the positive impact on attention, confidence and satisfaction. (Frymeir and Shulman, 1995).

For example, within a classroom environment as a teacher is marking the roll of a morning, he may choose to greet each child by looking at them with a smile and greeting them good morning using the student’s name.

Although research indicates that immediacy within the classroom is a supporting factor for increased effective learning (McCroskey, 1996), realistically for a teacher to say a student’s name every time he speaks or even making eye contact with the student can be difficult and even time consuming. Distractions caused by other students or colleagues may take attention off a student whom is talking, which could result in loss of eye contact. Body language of a teacher may also vary at different times of the day; For example, a teacher may need to observe students from the front/back of the classroom during a test. The principle of immediacy is that people are drawn towards persons and things they like, evaluate highly and prefer (Mehrabian, 1971) therefore it is important for teachers to establish immediacy between himself and his students. However, maintaining constant immediacy within the classroom environment could be quite difficult to uphold. This might suggest that teachers use a variety of immediacy methods such as humor within his teaching, sharing personal experiences that relate to learning and offering plenty of encouragement.

Key concept two- Communication style

Classroom relationships are developed through interpersonal communication with students. Simonds and Cooper (2011) describes successful teachers as those who posses a well-developed repertoire of communication styles and skills. Communication style, as described by Norton (1978), is the way an individual verbally and paraverbally interacts to signal how literal meaning should be taken, interpreted, filtered or understood. Potter and Emanuel (1990) refer to three styles of communication: friendly, attentive and relaxed. Communication style can be described as the way a teacher uses volume, pace, cadence and intonation to communicate lessons and planned experiences. Students’ feedback and response to the communication style determines whether or not the intended meaning was successfully acquired or if the teacher needs to adjust his communication style.

For example, in a traditional classroom context a teacher may be introducing a new topic to his students, he may use the volume and pitch in his voice to show enthusiasm to encourage excitement in his students. The teacher may also use previous classroom or personal experiences to relate to the new topic, the teacher may also call upon students to share their prior knowledge or experiences. According to Potter and Emanuel (1990) a successful teacher must carefully listen, speak friendly and informally, use facial expressions, be a good story teller and is well organised. It is important for teachers to consider the variety of students in the class. Some students may require more encouragement then others or a slower pace when being given instructions. This would suggest that a teacher take into account each student’s needs and adjust his communication style when
necessary. This may not always be ideal in a classroom environment as it could be difficult to address one task in several different ways, however allocating extra time for the delivery of content may prove beneficial for teachers. Using a variety of communication styles during the delivery of content such as, speaking at a steady pace, relating to previous learning, walking around the room and using energy when teaching could further assist student learning.


Andersen, J. F. (1979). Teacher immediacy as a predictor of teaching effectiveness. In D. Nimmo (Ed.), Communication Yearbook, 3 (pp.543-559). New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books.

Frymier, A., & Shulman, G. (1995) What’s in it for me? Increasing content relevance to enhance student’s motivation. Communication Education, 41, 388-399.

Gorham, J. (1988) The relationship between verbal teacher immediacy behavior and student learning. Communication Education, 37, 40-53

McCroskey, J. C., Sallinen, A., Fayer, J. M., Richmond, V. P., & Barraclough, R. A. (1996). Nonverbal immediacy and cognitive learning: A cross-cultural investigation. Communication Education, 54, 200-211.

Mehrabian, A. (1971). Silent messaes. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company.

Norton, R. W. (1978). Foundation of a communicator style construct. Human Communication Research 4,99.

Potter, W., & Emanuel, R. (1990). Student’s preferences for communication stylesand their relationship to achievement. Communication Edcation,39, 234-249.

Richmond, V.P., & McCroskey, J. C., & Payne, S. (2007). Nonverbal behaviour in interpersonal relations (6th edn.). Englewood Cliffs, N: Prentice Hall.

Simonds, C. J., & Cooper, P. J. (2011). Communication for the classroom teacher (9th ed.). Glenview, IL: Pearson Education

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