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· Prior to beginning work on this discussion forum, read Chapters 7 and 8 of Making Connections: Understanding Interpersonal Communication, specifically Sections 7.2 and 8.3. Also, watch the video below.

To be an effective communicator; you must master the core competency of listening. A willingness to listen during an interaction allows you to understand others, respond appropriately to what they say, and provide helpful feedback. Bevan (2020) describes ideal listening as active and empathic. In this discussion, you will take a listening quiz, and then explain how using active empathic listening can help you improve as a communicator in your personal and professional relationships.

· In your initial post,

1. Using and citing Bevan, define active empathic listening. Report on both meaning and significance of the definition, in your own words.
2. Complete this listening quiz (Links to an external site.) and report your results and feedback to the group.
3. If you cannot access this resource, take a similar, text-based version in Bevan (Section 8.3) titled “Self-Test: Bodies’ Active-Empathic Listening Scale.”
4. Explain how you can use active empathic listening to help you improve your communication in your personal interactions or in the workplace.
5. Provide at least one example of exactly how you can change your listening habits and how you will benefit from this change.
For this discussion forum, your initial post should be 300 to 350 words in length.

I could not access the listing quiz, I had to take the self-test: Bodies’ Active-Empathic Listening Scale

Here are my results:

Sensing: 2.9
Processing: 2.7
Response: 3.6
The higher your scores are for each AEL stage, the more you are an active-empathic listener.

AEL has three stages:

1. Sensing: The listener indicates that she is actively involved and taking in the information provided by the speaker. Focusing on the speaker’s nonverbal messages can assist with understanding the content and relational meanings of the message.
2. Processing: The listener shows engagement by remembering what the other says and clarifying points made by the speaker. In essence, the speaker’s message is evaluated by the listener.
3. Response: The listener asks questions, paraphrases, and nonverbally indicates involvement in and understanding of the interaction.

8Maintaining Interpersonal Relationships

Stephanie Deissner/F1online/Getty Images

Learning Outcomes

After reading this chapter, you should be able to

ሁ Understand key elements of relationship maintenance and the differences between positive and
negative relationship maintenance behaviors.

ሁ Identify the role of interpersonal communication in the commitment and intimacy processes.
ሁ Explain how empathy and social support contribute to relationship maintenance.
ሁ Describe challenges of relationship maintenance, including restoring equity, geographic distance,

and interactions via mediated channels.
ሁ Apply strategies for competent relationship maintenance communication.

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Introduction

Introduction
In his acceptance speech after winning Best Picture at the 2012 Academy Awards for the film
Argo, actor and director Ben Affleck thanked his then-wife, actress Jennifer Garner, by saying
“I want to thank you for working on our marriage for 10 Christmases. It’s good. It is work, but
it’s the best kind of work, and there’s no one I’d rather work with” (Zadan & Meron, 2013).
This seemingly innocent statement instantly ignited a firestorm, with many reporters and
media outlets criticizing Affleck’s choice of words and some even going so far as to question
whether Affleck and Garner’s marriage was in trouble at that time (they have since divorced).

However, the very notion that marriage—and any other close relationship—does not require
work is inaccurate. Melissa Wall, a blogger for the online dating website HowAboutWe.com,
wrote a post that stood up for Affleck and Garner the next day, calling his statement “moving
and authentic” (2013, para. 1). Wall (2013) continued her post by noting that individuals who
decide to get married make an enormous “emotional leap of faith” upon conducting an analy-
sis of the costs versus benefits of marriage and deciding that the positives are greater than the
negatives. She goes on to describe the rewards that we hope to garner from marriage:

But at no point can we ever assume that these rewards will come without
putting in the work to achieve them. We’re signing up for a daily struggle—
some days it’s a small struggle, some days larger—and a distinct set of tasks
that must be completed in order to keep the whole thing from falling apart.
. . . Large or small, it’s still work—there is no way around that. And failing or
refusing to do this work means the death of the relationship, maybe not today,
but eventually. (Wall, 2013, paras. 7–8)

As we have discussed throughout this text, one of the most fundamental human needs is to
experience close, mutually caring, and supportive relationships. They are safe havens in times
of trouble and can provide comfort and support in times of need. To some degree, you have
been shaped and molded by how you communicate in your relationships with your parents,
siblings, and other family members, as well as your interactions with your romantic partners,
friends, and professional colleagues. You will most likely maintain a number of these relation-
ships throughout your life because they provide you with innumerable positive experiences.
The excerpt from Wall’s blog post emphasizes many of the concepts that we are going to
discuss in this chapter, including relationship maintenance messages, equity, social support,
and commitment. Most importantly, Wall highlights the importance of putting in consistent
effort—often via communication—to sustain a relationship that is important to us.

Your interpersonal communication skills are some of the most important tools when building
a strong relationship. Competent communication patterns and skills are important character-
istics of a quality relationship. Other specific factors that contribute to building and maintain-
ing strong relationships include the following (Lang, Fingerman, & Fitzpatrick, 2003):

• commitment to one another
• willingness to work together to maintain the relationship
• exchanges of social support
• intimacy
• empathy

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Section 8.1Relationship Maintenance

In this chapter, we build on concepts discussed in Chapter 7 related to initiating interpersonal
relationships and explore how to maintain relationships. We explore how each of the above
relationship and communication concepts factor into relationship maintenance. We will also
discuss a number of things that can challenge our ability to maintain a relationship, along
with strategies for improving your relationship maintenance competence.

8.1 Relationship Maintenance
As we have just noted, relationship maintenance is crucial but is too often overlooked or
viewed merely as work—a word that often has a negative connotation. Until just over 20
years ago, communication and social psychology researchers also ignored relationship main-
tenance processes in favor of understanding how relationships were formed and ended.
However, in 1991, communication researchers Laura Stafford and Daniel Canary formally
established relationship maintenance as a distinct and important form of interpersonal com-
munication. Since then, hundreds of studies have increased our understanding of how we use
communication to preserve our relationships. How do you show your relational partners that
you care about them? Do you help your romantic partner by washing the dishes before they
get home from work? Do you post a link about an inside joke on your best friend’s Facebook
wall? Do you call your parents on their wedding anniversary to tell them that you are thinking
of them? When we behave in these ways, we are engaging in relationship maintenance—
actions and interactions that sustain or preserve the desired states of our relationships (Din-
dia & Canary, 1993).

To better understand the complexity of the various messages and actions that are a part of
relationship maintenance, Kathryn Dindia and Daniel Canary (1993) conducted an analysis
of how researchers defined relationship maintenance. They determined that there are four
common relationship maintenance definitions, identified in Table 8.1.

Table 8.1: Common definitions of relationship maintenance
Definition Explanation Example

Keeping a relationship in
existence

Partners sustain the presence
of the relationship and avoid its
termination

Keeping up agreed-upon daily
routines and tasks, such as tak-
ing out the trash or making sure
to ask how the partner’s day was

Keeping a relationship in a spe-
cific condition or state

Partners believe certain qualities
and aspects are important for
maintenance so that the relation-
ship is not terminated

Agreeing with a friend that you
are “just friends” and nothing
more

Keeping a relationship in a satis-
factory condition

Partners experience satisfaction,
in addition to stability, and desire
to maintain this status

Feeling consistently content with
the partner and the relationship

Keeping a relationship in repair Partners keep a relationship in
working condition or fix a rela-
tionship that is in disrepair

Being willing to talk about issues
if the relationship begins to have
problems

Source: Adapted from Dindia, K., & Canary, D. J. (1993). Definitions and theoretical perspectives on maintaining relationships.
Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 10, 163–173.

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Section 8.1Relationship Maintenance

Overall, these definitions of relationship maintenance can overlap with one another and
are applicable to relationship maintenance in a variety of relationships, including romantic,
friend, family, and professional. The first, keeping a relationship in existence, is the most basic
definition of relationship maintenance because it only involves sustaining the presence of
the relationship and avoiding its termination (Dindia & Canary, 1993). This definition thus
does not acknowledge the changing and shifting nature of relationships, nor does it account
for the variety of maintenance behaviors and messages partners can use. The second defini-
tion, keeping a relationship in a specific condition or state, includes the relationship qualities
or aspects that the partners believe are important for maintenance, such as intimacy, trust,
stability, and commitment, so that the relationship is not terminated. The third definition,
keeping a relationship in a satisfactory condition, emphasizes the belief that relationships can
be maintained when both partners experience satisfaction, in addition to the basic stabil-
ity that is the focus of the second definition. The fourth and final relationship maintenance
definition is keeping a relationship in repair. There are two aspects of this definition: fixing
a relationship that is in disrepair and keeping a relationship in working condition (Dindia &
Canary, 1993).

It is important to understand how relationship maintenance is defined, but it is also crucial
to determine what behaviors or communication messages assist in the maintenance process.
Relationship maintenance behaviors are the actions, messages, and tasks that assist with
maintaining, managing, or repairing a relationship (Burleson, Metts, & Kirch, 2000). These
behaviors and messages are conscious and strategic and specifically involve how to define
and establish the parameters of the relationship and manage the tensions and threats to the
relationship’s integrity and existence (Burleson et al., 2000; Stafford, Dainton, & Haas, 2000).

There are many benefits to using relationship maintenance behaviors and messages. For
example, the more spouses engage in relationship maintenance, the greater the marital sat-
isfaction (Stafford & Canary, 2006). In addition, the more romantic partners employ main-
tenance behaviors and messages, the less likely they are to terminate their relationships
(Guerrero, Eloy, & Wabnik, 1993). As with the definition of relationship maintenance, these
behaviors and messages can occur in a number of close relationship contexts.

The next sections identify the variety of behaviors and messages that we can employ to main-
tain our relationships. There are both positive and negative behaviors for maintaining close
relationships, which suggests that relationship maintenance is a complex interpersonal inter-
action that is not just confined to happy, satisfied couples. In other words, we may choose or
even be required to sustain and preserve a relationship that we have with another person,
such as a family member, that one friend in a tight-knit group that we don’t get along well
with, or a coworker.

Positive Relationship Maintenance Behaviors
Wall’s (2013) blog post about marriage, described at the beginning of the chapter, highlights
the importance of relationship maintenance messages in a successful marriage. The same is
true for other types of relationships. Conscious actions, such as cheerfully saying “good morn-
ing” to your colleagues at work or supporting a friend or loved one when a parent passes
away, are examples of positive maintenance behaviors. There are seven positive or construc-
tive behaviors that can be strategically used to maintain relationships. The first five behaviors
were identified by Stafford and Canary (1991), and the remaining two behaviors were added
by Stafford and colleagues (2000):

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Section 8.1Relationship Maintenance

• positivity: being optimistic, cheerful, pleasant, not criticizing your partner, and
showing affection and appreciation for the other person and the relationship

• openness: balancing self-disclosures and honest communication about the
relationship

• assurances: expressing commitment, love, faithfulness, emotional support, and
messages that imply that the relationship has a future

• social networks: seeking and providing support from common family and friend
networks

• sharing tasks: performing one’s fair share of joint jobs and responsibilities in the
relationship

• advice: expressing partner-related emotions and cognitions and the willingness to
communicate opinions

• conflict management: using constructive and positive behaviors such as cooperat-
ing, listening, and apologizing when in conflict or disagreements with the partner

Let’s consider these positive maintenance
behaviors in relation to the communication
between Sidney and Jaime, a couple who
have been married for 12 years. Sidney and
Jaime work full-time and have two children.
In addition, Jaime is taking online business
courses in order to move up in his company.
In other words, they are a typical, busy adult
couple. However, despite all of these family
and professional responsibilities, Sidney
and Jaime make conscious efforts to main-
tain their relationship. They communicate
all of the above positive maintenance behav-
iors: They tell each other “thank you” when
one does something nice for the other (posi-
tivity), and they discuss issues and are
truthful and kind to each other when they
disagree (openness and conflict management). Sidney and Jaime try to be clear about who
completes which task, such as emptying the dishwasher or running errands (sharing tasks),
and they ask Sidney’s sister, who lives nearby, for help with the kids when Jaime is working on
his courses (social networks). Finally, Sidney and Jaime make sure to tell each other that they
love each other, and they express that love by offering support and by seeking out and listen-
ing to each other’s advice when work or parenting issues arise (assurances and advice).

Using these positive maintenance messages in your close relationships can have a number
of payoffs. Spouses who were more committed to their relationships also used maintenance
behaviors more frequently (Stafford et al., 2000). It certainly seems that Sidney and Jaime
have a close, committed, and satisfying marriage, in large part because they treat each other
with respect and kindness by virtue of the above seven positive maintenance behaviors. In
addition, using assurances is most strongly related to positive relationship characteristics
(Stafford et al., 2000). In both heterosexual and same-sex romantic relationships, the most
frequently used relationship maintenance behavior is sharing tasks (Dainton & Stafford,
1993; Haas, 2002). Positive maintenance behaviors thus help both partners preserve a satis-
fying relationship.

Stanislav Komogorov/iStock/Thinkstock
ሁ Using positive relationship maintenance

behaviors can help partners preserve a satisfying
relationship.

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Section 8.2How Communication Helps Support Commitment and Intimacy

Negative Relationship Maintenance Behaviors
Though it is preferable to focus on the positive behaviors that we can use to maintain our
relationships, sometimes partners use negative behaviors. For example, expressing jealousy
or engaging in avoidance can be used to retain a specific relationship status. Marianne Dain-
ton and Jamie Gross (2008) explored such behaviors and identified six negative, antisocial
behaviors that can be used to maintain romantic relationships:

• jealousy induction: flirting with and commenting on others’ attractiveness to elicit
the partner’s jealousy

• avoidance: sidestepping discussions about a specific topic or evading the partner
• spying: checking up on the partner by looking at the partner’s e-mails and phone or

talking to others for information
• infidelity: flirting with others and engaging in affairs to keep from being bored and

dissatisfied with the relationship
• destructive conflict: being controlling, starting fights, and bossing the partner

around
• allowing control: giving the partner control in the relationship by not seeing other

people and letting the partner make decisions

Think back to the example of Sidney and Jaime. Consider what their relationship might look
like if they used negative maintenance behaviors instead of positive ones. For example, instead
of being kind and respectful in their everyday interactions and when they are arguing, Sidney
instead seeks to control and manipulate Jaime by threatening him and saying negative things
about him to their children (destructive conflict). Sidney also accesses Jaime’s e-mail and
mobile phone to see who else he is talking to and what they are discussing (spying). To keep
the peace and keep their marriage and family intact, Jaime tries to avoid Sidney and lets her
make most major household decisions (avoidance and allowing control). In essence, Sidney
and Jaime are maintaining their marriage with these negative maintenance behaviors but are
doing so in a much more destructive manner.

Overall, as you might predict, communicating via negative relationship maintenance is related
to decreased liking, commitment, sharing of responsibility, and respect, and such behaviors
tend to be used more by individuals who are insecure and have negative views of themselves
(Goodboy & Bolkan, 2011; Goodboy, Myers, & Members of Investigating Communication,
2010). In addition, the more partners use these negative relationship maintenance behav-
iors, the less satisfied they are with their relationships (Dainton & Gross, 2008). In the case of
Sidney and Jaime, if they rely on negative relationship maintenance behaviors, they are likely
to view each other, as well as themselves, with dislike and disrespect and be dissatisfied with
the very marriage they are trying to preserve. Thus, it is advisable to avoid consistently using
these negative messages to maintain your close relationships; instead, try to integrate more
positive maintenance messages with those to whom you are closest.

8.2 How Communication Helps Support Commitment
and Intimacy

In addition to relationship maintenance, commitment and intimacy are two essential factors
for building and fostering interpersonal relationships (Lang et al., 2003). Communication
is important because it allows partners to express how they feel about each other and the

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Section 8.2How Communication Helps Support Commitment and Intimacy

relationship that they share. This section thus discusses how communication supports com-
mitment and intimacy.

Commitment
If you are committed to a relationship, you are dedicated to your partner and are unlikely to
leave if something goes awry. In other words, commitment is one’s “long-term orientation
toward a relationship, including feelings of psychological attachment and intentions to per-
sist through good and bad times” (Cox, Wexler, Rusbult, & Gaines, 1997, p. 80). Partners in a
committed relationship make the extra effort to work at and improve their relationships, and,
in turn, this increased commitment benefits the relationship because it is associated with
increased relationship quality (Byers, Shue, & Marshall, 2004).

However, if you are not committed to a relationship, you are unlikely to protect it if difficul-
ties arise. For example, romantic partners who are more committed to the relationship are
less likely to give each other the silent treatment and are more likely to admit they are upset
(Wright & Roloff, 2009), which can then initiate discussions about an upsetting issue. In the
next sections, we explore commitment in two different forms: first as a central component of
a theory about relationship maintenance, and second as a motivating force for how one com-
municatively responds to dissatisfaction in one’s interpersonal relationships.

The Investment Model
One of the primary theories used to understand how and why individuals remain in and work
to maintain close relationships is the investment model (Dindia, 2000). The investment
model predicts that our commitment to a relationship is the most helpful relationship char-
acteristic for determining if a relationship will continue and remain stable or deteriorate and
end (Rusbult, 1980). Specifically, Caryl Rusbult (1980) stated that relationship commitment
is enhanced by three relationship components:

• high relationship satisfaction, which involves positive emotion and attraction
toward the relationship

• high investment in the relationship, which involves tangible and intangible
resources such as children, property, or shared feelings and experiences that
improve the relationship

• low quality of relationship alternatives, which are options other than the relation-
ship, such as other partners, spending time with friends, and even being alone, that
could be viewed as more appealing than being in the relationship

Research has determined that the structure of the investment model can help explain ele-
ments of heterosexual and homosexual romances and friendships; it is also applicable in
other situations and contexts where commitment is relevant—such as professional organiza-
tions and educational settings (Le & Agnew, 2003).

Think again about the example scenarios for Sidney and Jaime. In one scenario, the couple
is maintaining their relationship with positive messages such as sharing tasks and assur-
ances. As we noted, communicating using these positive relationship maintenance behaviors
helps Sidney and Jaime feel more satisfied and committed to their marriage. According to the
investment model, the more satisfied and invested Sidney and Jaime are in their relationship

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Section 8.2How Communication Helps Support Commitment and Intimacy

and the fewer quality alternatives to their relationship they perceive, the more committed
they are to their relationship.

The investment model has also been a useful theoretical structure for understanding a vari-
ety of interpersonal communication situations and contexts. The model has helped research-
ers identify connections between commitment and predicting the continuation of different
types of relationships in the following situations:

• why dating partners forgive each other and communicate shortly after committing
relationship transgressions such as infidelity, deception, and dating or flirting with
someone else (Guerrero & Bachman, 2008, 2010)

• how friends communicate with one another (Eyal & Dailey, 2012)
• if supervisors use verbal aggression toward employees at work (Madlock & Dillow,

2012)

In the relationships that are important to you, you can apply the tenets of the investment
model by considering your levels of satisfaction and investment and the extent to which you
perceive that you have alternatives to the relationship. How does each of these contribute to
your overall commitment to the relationship? Could focusing on improving one specific rela-
tionship factor—such as becoming more invested in the relationship—increase your commit-
ment? What might this mean for the relationship and your communication with your part-
ner? (The Web Field Trip feature gives you a chance to put the investment model into
practice.)

Communicative Responses to Dissatisfaction
Rusbult and her colleagues (1982) next sought to examine how relationship commitment
connects with communication when a partner is unhappy or dissatisfied in the relationship.
They created a typology of four responses that is based on how partners communicated
their dissatisfaction. The responses varied on two sets of related factors: (1) positive versus

Web Field Tr ip: Apply ing t he Pr inciples of t he
Invest ment Model
Luvze (https://www.luvze.com/) is a website that features content edited and written
by academics who study, research, and teach about different aspects of relationships. The
editors and contributors to this site, who hold advanced degrees in many different fields
of study, emphasize the importance of presenting readers with information and advice
that is backed by scientific evidence. Search for an article titled “Why Do Victims Return
to Abusive Relationships?” Consider the information presented, assessing how the content
relates to the material in this chapter, and then address the following questions.

Critical Thinking Questions

1. What specific types of resources and opportunities (i.e., alternatives to the abusive
relationship) could be provided to women to increase the likelihood that they will not
return to the abusive relationship?

2. In what other ways could the investment model be applied to other relationship
situations?

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Section 8.2How Communication Helps Support Commitment and Intimacy

negative (i.e., how kind or constructive versus how hurtful or destructive one acts), and (2)
active versus passive (i.e., how direct or dynamic versus how avoidant or static one’s behav-
iors are). Each of the typologies is identified and explained in Table 8.2.

Table 8.2: Responses to relationship dissatisfaction

Typology
Active versus
passive

Positive versus
negative Examples

Exit Active Negative Breaking up, threatening to leave, or
moving out

Voice Active Positive Discussing issues, suggesting solu-
tions, or entering into therapy

Loyalty Passive Positive Being patient and waiting out prob-
lems that might arise

Neglect Passive Negative Ignoring the partner, refusing to
discuss issues, or spending less time
together

Source: Adapted from Rusbult, C. E., Zembrodt, I. M., & Gunn, L. K. (1982). Exit, voice, loyalty, and neglect: Responses to
dissatisfaction in romantic involvements. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 43, 1230–1242.

Based on the above descriptions, Rusbult and her colleagues (1982) found that voice and loy-
alty behaviors were more likely when romantic partners were more committed to each other
and had greater satisfaction with the relationship before the problems arose. Conversely, exit
and neglect were less likely in committed and satisfied romantic relationships, and express-
ing dissatisfaction via voice or loyalty also resulted in positive immediate and later conse-
quences, including greater satisfaction and commitment over the long term (Rusbult et al.,
1982). In addition, Farrell and Rusbult (1992) found that using voice and loyalty—and not
using exit or neglect—when expressing dissatisfaction in the workplace was also associated
with higher employee job satisfaction.

These studies indicate that using positive and active responses, specifically voice responses,
are the best course of action when partners are dealing with issues but want to preserve
their relationship. Whether active or passive in nature, positive messages are more direct
and show consideration. Though loyalty behaviors can have the same benefits, such actions
might go unnoticed because they are less direct and thus more difficult for a partner to detect
(Drigotas, Whitney, & Rusbult, 1995).

Intimacy
Relationships rarely remain static. One important change can be growth toward greater inti-
macy. The root meaning of the word intimacy is “making known to a close friend what is
innermost” (Kasulis, 2002, p. 24). Intimacy involves growing closer by verbally and nonver-
bally sharing your deepest thoughts, feelings, and ideas with another person. All relation-
ships—romantic, friend, family, and even professional—have the potential for intimacy. Social
psychologist Karen Prager (2000) even goes so far as to say that intimacy is “the distinguish-
ing mark of a person’s most important and valued relationships,” contributing to the greatest
levels of satisfaction, trust, closeness, and love (p. 229).

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Section 8.2How Communication Helps Support Commitment and Intimacy

As its definition suggests, communication
is inherent in intimacy; in fact, Prager
(2000) argues that intimate relationships
become so as a result of intimate interac-
tions that are characterized by frequent,
emotional, personal, and private disclo-
sures. Though we can have an intimate
conversation with someone whom we do
not know well, such as sharing personal
information with a seatmate on an airplane
or someone we meet on vacation, we can-
not have intimate relationships without
personal and private disclosures (Prager,
2000). In other words, intimate communi-
cation is a necessary condition for having
an intimate relationship.

What messages do you use when you want
to convey intimacy to your close relational partners? Most likely, you use a combination of
words, gestures, facial expressions, and touch. Indeed, research consistently finds that verbal
and nonverbal communication each uniquely contributes to our experiences in intimate rela-
tionships. Self-disclosure, an idea covered in Chapter 7, is the primary verbal message that
characterizes intimacy. Not only does disclosing private and personal …

7Beginning Interpersonal Relationships

Fuse/Thinkstock

Learning Outcomes

After reading this chapter, you should be able to

ሁ Explain how perceptions and impressions frame and shape the relationship initiation process.
ሁ Identify how individuals start and manage conversations with others.
ሁ Compare and contrast three of the primary theories of relationship development.
ሁ Explain why self-disclosure is significant when beginning relationships.
ሁ Describe Knapp’s five stages of relationship formation.
ሁ Apply strategies for competent communication during relationship initiation and formation.

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Introduction

Introduction
To the blonde journalist that was at my register a few days ago. Even though I
had to check your ID I do not remember your name and wish I would of asked
before you left

I highly enjoyed our interaction and conversation together. Even though it was
in a hectic environment, I could of stood there all day and night talking with
you! You had such beautiful, kind eyes, great smile, awesome personality and
just great energy! We both share some similar experience and traumas due to
my past profession and you as a journalist.

If for some reason you do read this, please don’t take this as me trying to hit
on you.

I genuinely enjoyed our interaction and you as a person. All I am looking for
is a chance to reconnect and make a friendship with an awesome person!

Either way… if you read this or not…I wish you all the best and safe travels with
your career. (Anonymous, n.d.)

Even the first few minutes of the initial interaction with another person can be powerful: The
fact that people place ads to reconnect with relative strangers is an example of just how much
of a lasting impression those first moments can leave. The above excerpt is a “missed connec-
tions” advertisement posted on Craigslist. Such missed connections occur when individuals
meet each other, exchange glances, exchange smiles, or initiate a conversation. At least one
person finds the other attractive or memorable, even in that brief interaction, but the interac-
tion abruptly ends, for one reason or another, before contact information is shared or future
plans are made. “Missed connections” ads also indicate that interpersonal communication
does not just happen: For people to communicate, one person must take the initiative and
make contact with another person. The other person must then respond in some way for a
connection to occur. Sometimes that initial connection is broken, often to one communica-
tor’s regret.

Earlier in this text, we defined communication as a process—a series of steps in which an
idea is formed, a message is encoded, and this message is sent via a channel to a receiver who
decodes or interprets the message and responds to it. Now we turn our attention to how we
first make these connections with other people, engage in conversations to get to know them
better, listen and share information, and begin to form close relationships.

In sum, in Chapter 7, we discuss how relationships are initiated. Relationships are the impor-
tant and close connections or associations that we forge and maintain with other people via
communication. We explore the importance of first impressions and perceptions, how we
carry on conversations with others, the concepts of self-disclosure, and the stages of inter-
personal relationships.

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Section 7.1First Impressions Matter: Perceptions and Impressions

7.1 First Impressions Matter: Perceptions
and Impressions

When you initially meet someone, you immediately form an impression of the person—and
the person forms an impression of you. These impressions are formed based on how indi-
viduals look, including their physical attractiveness and what they are wearing; what they
say; and how they sound. As you learned in Chapter 2, when you interact with others, each
person presents an image of himself or herself. We each have a self that we display in social
situations—a public personality that we show to other people. To create a positive impression
when you first meet someone, you need to understand the process of creating first impres-
sions and the ways you can manage the impressions you create with others. In this section,
we discuss perceptions and impressions.

Perceptions
When we communicate, we must first perceive others and the world before us. Perception is
a dynamic process that involves selecting, organizing, and interpreting the world around us.
We do not objectively see things that are external to us; rather, we become aware of objects,
events, people, and messages by perceiving them via one or more of our five senses. We can-
not process and attend to everything we are exposed to in our daily lives, but perception
allows us to make sense of and organize what we do encounter. The process of perception
involves three general stages:

1. selection, which occurs when something stimulates our senses in some way, and we
respond by focusing on or attending to it

2. organization, which occurs when we arrange the information that we have per-
ceived in a manner that makes sense to us

3. interpretation, which is a subjective process that occurs when we explain and assign
meaning to the thing that we have selected and organized

Within these stages, there are four specific concepts that we employ when we perceive some-
thing; each is described below.

Selective Perception
Consider the last face-to-face interaction you had with someone. Close your eyes and try to
remember everything you can about what you both said, where it took place, how it started
and concluded, and what communication barriers were present. Though you may attempt
to perceive everything that is part of a specific interaction, doing so is impossible. There are
too many stimuli. Thus, in the selection part of the perception process, we engage in selective
perception, directing our attention to the task of perceiving some stimuli and ignoring or dis-
regarding others. The stimuli that we choose to perceive catch our attention in a number of
ways. A stimulus may be appealing in some way, such as a photo you find beautiful. A stimulus
may be the most dominant, such as extremely loud yelling. Or a stimulus may be something
important to you, such as a thought you want to communicate. You are likely to notice these
types of stimuli first in the selection process and then continue to organize them in the next
step of the perception process.

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Section 7.1First Impressions Matter: Perceptions and Impressions

Schemas
Assume you have been invited to a concert.
You have been to the venue before, and you
remember that the acoustics are wonderful
and all the seats offer great views of the
stage. You know that parking is convenient,
and several restaurants are nearby where
you can eat before the concert. You also like
the group performing. You are excited about
attending the concert, and you expect to
have a terrific evening.

Your expectation that the concert will be fun
is based on the operation of a schema. Sche-
mas are organized collections of informa-
tion about a subject that are stored in your
memory from past experiences. Schemas
can be based on personal experiences you
have had and also formed as part of your
dominant cultural and co-cultural member-
ships. These mental structures or templates help you process and categorize new information
quickly, rather than starting from a blank slate every time you encounter a new situation. As
such, schemas are a significant part of the organization process of perception. You tend to
believe in the validity of your schemas, and they create expectations about a situation (Fiske
& Taylor, 1991).

You have schemas about social situations, objects, and people and their social roles. We all
assume roles in our lives—functions or positions that we have in our society. We may occupy
several social roles at the same time. For example, someone may be a wife, mother, daugh-
ter, doctor, and community volunteer, but each of these roles has a different set of expected
behaviors. A person schema is an expectation about what a specific person will be like based
on certain characteristics he or she has. For example, you are referring to a person schema
when you say something like, “Every person I’ve known named Jose has been a nice guy.”

A role schema is a set of expectations you have about how someone in a certain role should
look or behave. For example, you might state, “Parents should not swear in front of their chil-
dren.” These person schemas and role schemas are mental images based on your personal
experiences or on the behavior of other people in your life who have played these roles. Per-
son and role schemas can also be formed through your personal experiences and your cul-
tural norms and beliefs. You make judgments about people based, in part, on whether they
conform to these schemas, and your impressions contribute to your decision about whether
to get to know them better.

Stereotypes
When we use stereotypes, we are answering the question “What can I expect to happen?”
by relying on predictive, broad generalizations. As discussed earlier in this text, stereotypes
are a specific type of schema; they are preconceived opinions you hold about someone or
something. A stereotype assumes that all members of a particular group possess the same

Paul Chesley/The Image Bank/Getty Images
ሁ We have schemas for social situations, objects,

and people and their social roles. One person
can occupy several of these social roles at the
same time, such as grandmother, teacher, and
community leader.

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Section 7.1First Impressions Matter: Perceptions and Impressions

or similar characteristics. Whereas schemas are based on your own experiences, stereotypes
are usually not based on reason, fact, or past experiences. You may form stereotypes based
on what others have said, images portrayed by the media, or mistaken beliefs you have about
people. Stereotypes are also often guided, reinforced, or determined by cultural beliefs about
race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, and class.

Schemas are more likely to be related to individual characteristics of a person, but stereo-
types ignore the individual characteristics and assume that a person possesses personality
traits or holds attitudes that are typical of an entire group. Stereotypes are often negative and
reflect prejudices, preconceived opinions of dislike, hostility, or unjust behavior. Schemas, on
the other hand, do not necessarily have negative connotations (Pennington, 2000).

Prototypes
Another way to organize the perceptions that you select is by using prototypes. Prototypes
represent a mental image you have about the attitudes and behaviors of the ideal person in a
specific role. As with schemas and stereotypes, they can be formed and reinforced based on
both personal experiences and on cultural beliefs. Your prototype of a best friend, for exam-
ple, would probably include what you think their personality should be like, what interests
and beliefs they should have, and what you can talk to them about. This prototype is the
epitome of what you envision a best friend to be. The person who actually becomes your
best friend will probably have a great deal in common with your prototype of a best friend.
However, if your friend suddenly becomes unavailable to talk to when you need them, the
gap between the prototype and the actual person will grow. If that happens, the relationship
might change, and, although you might still be friends, you may no longer be best friends
(Pennington, 2000).

Prototypes, like stereotypes and schemas, are oversimplifications and generalizations. To
some extent, we need to generalize across the many perceptions we select each day to catego-
rize them in a useful and efficient way. You will not, for example, need to relearn or seriously
consider each time how to interact with the checkout person at the grocery store because
you have a prototype in your mind for how that general type of interaction should unfold.
You thus carry these mental images into your interactions with other people, but these ways
to organize your perceptions become problematic when you start to rely on them as your
only source of information about a person or situation. When you meet people and initially
interact with them, it is important that you keep an open mind and guard against letting your
preconceived ideas influence your early judgments of others. In that way, you can get to know
another person as the unique individual he or she is based on how that person acts and the
interactions you share. If you build a relationship with that person, over time, some of your
initial impressions will be confirmed and others will be discarded (Zunin, 1986).

Implicit Personality Theory
How do these perceptions work together to form a general impression or perception of some-
one? Implicit personality theory provides an explanation of how perceptions are predicted
to fit together. According to this theory, once we know a small amount about someone’s char-
acteristics or traits, we use that information to fill in our general expectation about that per-
son with other similar qualities. Which personality characteristics go together is typically
determined by our previous experiences and interactions with others.

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Section 7.1First Impressions Matter: Perceptions and Impressions

For example, research has found that people who perceive that someone is physically attrac-
tive (a nonverbal aspect of interpersonal communication we discussed in Chapter 4) will also
think that he or she is kind, friendly, generous, and smart as well, even if they have no direct
evidence for the existence of those personality traits (Dion, Berscheid, & Walster, 1972; Lan-
glois et al., 2000). Grouping positive personality characteristics in this way is called the halo
effect. In contrast, the reverse halo effect, also called the horn effect, describes the group-
ing of negative characteristics on the assumption that the individual only has other negative
traits as well.

As with stereotypes and prototypes, we use implicit personality theory to organize and inter-
pret our interactions with others. The danger associated with this theory occurs when we do
not check our perceptions via communication or are unwilling to learn more about the per-
son to more accurately understand who the individual is. In other words, rather than allowing
our implicit (usually initial) assumptions about someone to “fill in” the rest of their personal-
ity characteristics, we must be open to communicating with them and allowing the percep-
tions that stem from our direct interactions to determine how we perceive who they are as a
person.

Impressions
At the broadest level, an impression is the overall effect of someone or something, which is
based to some extent on your experience with that individual or that thing. There are three
important aspects of impression that researchers study: how we form impressions of other
people, how long these impressions last, and how we attempt to manage the impressions
others form of us. Interpersonal communication is instrumental in assisting us in forming
impressions of others and managing others’ impressions of us.

Impression Fo r m a t i o n
The saying “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression” is true. Not only
do we form impressions and make judgments about people quickly, but these split-second
impressions are often long lasting and difficult to change. With impression formation, you
are decoding, or interpreting, dimensions of another person’s “image,” be it how they appear,
their nonverbal messages, or what they say.

For example, studies have shown that when you first meet someone, you form general impres-
sions of the person based on facial appearance alone—and you form these impressions in less
than a tenth of a second. Based on that split-second impression, you immediately judge the
attractiveness, trustworthiness, and likeability of the other person, and you also form impres-
sions of specific traits, such as competence or aggressiveness, that you believe the person
possesses (Willis & Todorov, 2005).

Researchers have found that you usually approach new people with preconceived ideas about
their personalities, attitudes, and beliefs as well as certain expectations of how they should
behave (Uleman, 1999). Any number of things can aid in forming these impressions. For
example, wearing the color red in a job application context led participants in one German
study to form impressions that the job candidate was less intelligent and would be less likely
to be hired in comparison to applicants wearing blue or green clothing (Maier et al., 2013).
In this way, implicit personality theory and stereotypes can come into play when you form
impressions of others.

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Section 7.1First Impressions Matter: Perceptions and Impressions

But in many ways, the ability to make quick assessments of other people is a valuable trait;
the judgments you make can help you detect potential threats and keep you safe. You continu-
ally encounter strangers as you walk down the street, sit next to them in a crowded movie
theater, or swipe left or right on a dating app. Your safety may depend on your ability to judge
their personalities and accurately predict the behavior of people you encounter. This ability
to form accurate impressions of others can help you sense if it is a good idea to give your num-
ber to someone that you have just met or if you can trust the person you are talking to via an
app enough to meet in person.

Impression Management
At the same time that we are forming impressions of others, we also trying to influence the
impressions others form of us. The act of encoding, or creating, dimensions of your own image
is called impression management. When you are preparing to go on a first date with some-
one, for example, you probably pay particular attention to your grooming, your clothing, and
other aspects of your appearance. When you see the other person, you most likely put your
best “self ” forward, and you do your best to smile and convey a positive image. These are all
attempts to create a good first impression.

Social psychologists have identified two common techniques that people use for impression
management: self-enhancement and other-enhancement. Self-enhancement includes behav-
iors such as paying attention to how you dress, describing yourself in positive ways, and
playing up your accomplishments, which help you present yourself in the best way possible.
Researchers have found that people who used self-enhancement techniques when trying to
make a date with another person were more successful than people who were more honest or
modest about their accomplishments (Rowatt, Cunningham, & Druen, 1998).

Other-enhancement refers to attempts to
create a favorable impression by making the
other person feel good. The most obvious
method is by flattering the other person;
flattery, or complimenting a person, is an
other-enhancement technique that has
been found to increase the likelihood that
the other person will comply with a request
you make of him or her (Grant, Fabrigar, &
Lim, 2010). However, flattery should not be
overdone because it can backfire and seem
insincere. Agreeing with another person,
being interested in what the other person
has to say, and asking for advice on issues
are additional other-enhancement tech-
niques that can create positive impressions in others.

It might seem as if these techniques and methods are manipulative or disingenuous. However,
effective use of impression management relies on one’s ability to identify when and how to
best apply such techniques. The key is to avoid manipulative use and overuse. We all want to
put our best foot forward, yet our impression management should not create a false impres-
sion. We should present the best aspects of who we are.

Eternity in an Instant/The Image Bank/Getty Images
ሁ We can use other-enhancement to create a

favorable impression in an interaction.

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Section 7.1First Impressions Matter: Perceptions and Impressions

Four Components of Impressions
According to Michael Eaves and Dale Leathers (2018), there are four components, or dimen-
sions, of impressions, and each have their own way of being communicated:

1. Credibility emphasizes believability and trustworthiness. Consistency between the
verbal and nonverbal messages, high level of eye contact, and use of short, purpose-
ful pauses are cues that indicate credibility.

2. Likeability emphasizes affability and friendliness. Likeability cues include sincerely
smiling, maintaining mutual gaze, and open body postures.

3. Interpersonal attractiveness emphasizes sociability, interestingness, and emo-
tional expressiveness. Physical attractiveness, being facially animated, and being
willing to disclose about oneself are cues that show you are interpersonally
attractive.

4. Dominance emphasizes power and assertiveness. Dominance cues include staring,
frequently interrupting others, and speaking in a loud voice.

Depending on the situation, one of the dimensions of impression may be more important than
others (Eaves & Leathers, 2018). For example, during a job interview, the candidate will likely
focus more on managing his or her credibility and likeability. In addition, we may base these
impressions on a number of communication cues, including what individuals say and how
they look and speak. For example, surgeons who used a more dominant tone of voice with
their patients were more likely to have been involved in malpractice suits than surgeons with
less dominant vocal tones (Ambady et al., 2002). (See the Everyday Communication Challenges
feature for a look at how impressions of others and ourselves are interpreted online.)

Ever yday Communic at ion Challenges: Is t he Grass
A lways Greener on Your Fr iends’ Facebook Pages?
The introduction and growth of Facebook has changed the way that we communicate in
many ways, but has it also altered our perceptions and impressions of ourselves? Has it
changed how we perceive others? As we discussed in Chapter 2, social media users will
often consciously craft an image of themselves online that is positive and that will garner
favorable impressions from others. These positive social media selves have been found to
improve users’ perceptions of themselves and other peoples’ perceptions of the user.

For example, a study by Hui-Tzu Grace Chou and Nicholas Edge (2012) sought to determine
if the online selves of others affect users’ impressions of themselves. This research consid-
ered these general ideas:

• Were users comparing the status of their own lives to what they saw on their Facebook
friends’ pages?

• Did they perceive that they were as happy as and having as much fun as their Facebook
friends based on the posts they read and the pictures that they viewed of them?

• If they did not perceive themselves as happier than their Facebook friends, how did such
a comparison make the users feel?

(continued on next page)

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Section 7.1First Impressions Matter: Perceptions and Impressions

Overall, it is important to remember that your impressions of others are not necessarily com-
plete and accurate. These impressions can be wrong, especially if the other person is trying to
manage the impression you receive. But how do you know if your impressions are correct or
incorrect? You can test your first impressions by

1. communicating your impressions to the other person and asking if he or she agrees
with your judgment,

2. communicating with other people about the person and asking if their opinions are
similar to yours, and

3. observing their actions to see if their behavior matches your prediction (Pennington,
2000).

Ever yday Communic at ion Challenges: Is t he Grass
A lways Greener on Your Fr iends’ Facebook Pages?
(cont inued)
Chou and Edge (2012) surveyed 425 college students and examined variables such as years
since joining Facebook and hours spent on Facebook in relation to perceptions that others
are happier and have better lives than the participants. Results indicated that the more
hours a user spent on Facebook, the more he or she felt that others had a better life. In
addition, participants who had been Facebook users for longer were more likely to believe
that others were happier and less likely to feel that life was fair. Interestingly, the opposite
was the case when participants spent time with their friends in a face-to-face context:
Individuals were less likely to perceive that others were happier and had better lives.

Chou and Edge (2012) argue that Facebook users may remember positive photos and
information seen on Facebook more readily and then conclude from such information that
others are better off. This was not the case during in-person interactions—where there are
more cues and messages about the person and less ability to manage one’s impression com-
pared with Facebook—which indicates that social networking sites are a unique context
for forming and managing impressions and perceptions. Apply these findings to your own
perceptions of your online friends, and then consider the following questions. Remember
that most users are likely trying to project a positive image of themselves online and that
these depictions are only partial glimpses of each individual life. Spending face-to-face
time with your friends will give you a more accurate impression and allow you to see that
the grass is not always greener on the other side!

Critical Thinking Questions

1. Do you ever compare yourself to your online friends in relation to what they post
about themselves online? Does doing so make you feel better or worse about your
own life?

2. How might these research findings impact what you post about yourself online? Will
you consider how others might perceive what you post?

3. How can social network users enjoy the content posted by others without allowing it
to negatively impact them?

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Section 7.2Conversation Management

7.2 Conversation Management
Connecting with other people is an integral part of life, and your ability to engage in everyday
conversations is crucial to your mental and physical well-being and success. Some people are
gregarious; they enjoy meeting people, getting to know them, asking them questions, and
exchanging information. However, other people have difficulty initiating a conversation with
a stranger; they are shy; they get tongue-tied, self-conscious, or embarrassed in social situa-
tions; or they never know what to say when they have to engage in conversation. As we dis-
cussed in Chapter 5, these individuals may have communication apprehension or may be shy,
introverted, or have an unwillingness to communicate. In this section, we examine the impor-
tance of everyday conversations when initiating interpersonal relationships with others.

The Conversation Process
In every situation, there is a process we use to meet and engage in conversations with others.
Let’s look at the main components in the conversation process.

Meeting People
The environment in which you live and work plays a major role in your chances of meeting
other people, which is the first necessary part of the conversation process. Early research
on housing developments, for example, found that location matters in terms of who talked
to whom. Specifically, neighbors whose houses had adjacent driveways had more frequent
conversations with one another than with people whose driveways were farther away, and
people whose houses were in the middle of the block tended to have more frequent contact
with other people on that block than those whose houses were at the end of the block (Whyte,
1956). Other researchers found that people who lived in apartments tended to have greater
social contact and more friendships with people in the same building and particularly from
their same floor. They also tended to converse with people whose doors faced theirs rather
than with those whose doors were next to theirs or some distance away (Festinger, Schachter,
& Back, 1963). In a more recent study, individuals who own dogs were found to spend more
time outside, be more recognizable to their neighbors, and serve as a source of conversation
(Power, 2013), thus decreasing their physical distance from others.

The reason for these results seems obvious: You tend to get to know the people you see or
run into most often due to simple geographic proximity. However, meeting people can be
regarded as a numbers game: …

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