In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Interpersonal Communication

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks
  • Anthologies
  • Journals
  • Definitions

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Communication Interpersonal Communication
Michael E. Roloff
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 October 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 September 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0001


Communication scholars have a long history of studying public discourse. Researchers have investigated public address and oratory as well as messages communicated to the public through print and electronic forms. However, in the late 1960s there was a realization that relatively little was known about the interaction processes that are more private and personal. In response to this void, the study of interpersonal communication began. Interpersonal communication scholars found that few of the models associated with public discourse informed about conversations, and they turned to allied fields and disciplines for theory. Hence, perspectives such as symbolic interactionism, social exchange theory, and relational pragmatics were imported from other social sciences. As research on interpersonal communication flourished in the 1980s, social psychological perspectives associated with social cognition were adopted, as were linguistic perspectives on discourse production and processing. However, a focus on relational processes also emerged and remains dominant as researchers examine how communication is used to initiate, define, maintain, and terminate relationships. Traditionally, interpersonal communication was heavily focused on face-to-face interaction, and, with the growth of information technology and social networking, many interpersonal scholars have concentrated on computer-mediated communication.


Because many communication departments offer courses in interpersonal communication, there is no dearth of textbooks. Reflecting the research focus on relationships, most texts adopt a relational perspective when discussing interpersonal communication. A relational perspective assumes that interpersonal communication defines the nature of a relationship and is used to create, maintain, and terminate an association. Most texts include chapters emphasizing person perception, relational initiation, relational maintenance, and conflict management. Often departments offer an introductory communication course, and many textbooks are written for undergraduates who are new to the subject (e.g., DeVito 2009, West and Turner 2009). These texts sometimes offer instructor guides (e.g., Galvin 2010) and websites that serve as resource centers (e.g., DeVito 2009). Other texts are written for more advanced undergraduates and for new graduate students with a strong focus on specific research areas (e.g., Canary, et al. 2008; Guerrero, et al. 2007) or theories (e.g., Baxter and Braithwaite 2008). Many of the texts have gone through several editions that update the literature and topics, including recent trends in interpersonal communication such as computer-mediated communication and diversity (see DeVito 2009, Floyd 2008, Wood 2010). Although most are written by a single author, some are edited volumes with individual chapters written by experts in a given area (e.g., Baxter and Braithwaite 2008, Galvin 2010).

  • Baxter, Leslie A., and Dawn O. Braithwaite, eds. 2008. Engaging theories in interpersonal communication: Multiple perspectives. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    This is an edited volume in which chapters are written by expert scholars who discuss the theories they use to guide their research. The theories are clustered into three broad categories: individual-focused theories, discourse-focused theories, and functional theories. The text is well suited for upper-level undergraduates and graduate students.

  • Canary, Daniel J., Michael J. Cody, and Valerie L. Manusov. 2008. Interpersonal communication: A goals-based approach. 4th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

    This textbook provides an extensive introduction to research in interpersonal communication. The perspectives are organized by interaction goals, including self-presentational, relational, and instrumental goals. The text is well suited for advanced undergraduates.

  • DeVito, John A. 2009. The interpersonal communication book. 12th ed. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

    This book covers a large number of topics ranging from those centered on psychological processes to those arising from culture. Specific features of communication are covered, such as verbal and nonverbal cues, as well as the types of relationships and contexts in which interpersonal communication occurs. A website is offered that provides additional resources. The text discusses effective communication skills based on theory and research. It is well suited for introductory courses.

  • Floyd, Kory. 2008. Interpersonal communication: The whole story. New York: McGraw-Hill.

    Although covering many of the topics included in most interpersonal communication texts (e.g., perception, language, and relationships), this text broadens the coverage to appeal to diverse populations and good and bad interaction experiences of students. The book also describes recent research on interpersonal communication, physiology, and health.

  • Galvin, Kathleen, M., ed. 2010. Making connections: Readings in relational communication. 5th ed. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    This is an edited volume. Chapter contributors include both social scientists and humanists. The contributors are both active researchers and teachers. The topics are discussed in terms of gender, family, and culture. A companion website includes an instructor’s manual and a bank of sample questions.

  • Guerrero, Laura. K., Peter A. Andersen, and Walid A Afifi. 2007. Close encounters: Communication in relationships. 2d ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    This book casts interpersonal communication as relational communication. It provides a history of the research area and covers a large number of research areas that are organized developmentally from relational initiation through to termination. The book is written for advanced courses in interpersonal communication including those taught in psychology, family studies, and sociology.

  • Knapp, Mark L., and Anita L. Vangelisti. 2009. Interpersonal communication and human relationships. 6th ed. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

    This text reviews research on the role of interpersonal communication in relational development. It examines the role of communication in relational growth and decay and focuses on a variety of types of relationships. Beyond research, the text includes reader-friendly material, including stories, applications, and cartoons.

  • West, Richard, and Lynn H. Turner. 2009. Understanding interpersonal communication: Making choices in changing times. 2d ed. Boston: Wadsworth.

    This book is written for the introductory course in interpersonal communication. It covers traditional areas and has been updated to focus on electronic forms of communication. It also discusses the wide variety of context in which interpersonal communication occurs. It offers an online resource center.

  • Wood, Julia. 2010. Interpersonal communication: Everyday encounters, 6th ed. Boston: Wadsworth.

    This text offers insights into communication skills based on interpersonal theories, ethics, and social diversity. Chapters cover topics such as personal identities, listening, emotions, conflict management, and communication in specific types of relationships.

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