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Comparison Between Two Interpersonal Theories

By aisyah080706 Dec 05, 2012 546 Words

A desire to understand how to improve relationships has fueled the study of interpersonal communication. People assume that if they better understand the processes of interpersonal communication, they can explain how relationship grow, remain static or deteriorate (Knapp, in Robert, 2000). Ever since scholars demonstrated that people grow personally and relationally through communication, scholars have been sensitive to the importance of interpersonal interaction. According to Robert (2000), interpersonal communication research and theory address a wide array of topics, especially five major themes that is co-created during interaction, quality of relationships, social conflict, accuracy of people’s understanding of one another, communication planning and competence.

How people communicate and affects and reflects the quality of relationships. For instance, although all couples seem to voice the same number of complaints to another, the quality of their relationship influences the types of complaints the voice. Couples who enjoy a good relationship complain about each other’s behavior, make complaints that carry positive affect and deal agreeable with their partner’s complaints. To understand interpersonal communication requires insight into how relational partners interact to provide and obtain information each other, themselves and their relationship.

Hence, this assignment is to compare and contrast two theories within the scope of interpersonal communication that is Theory of Interpersonal Relationship and Social Penetration Theory. This assignment will then discuss the effectiveness of these two theories in explaining the cause and effect of communication situation such as conflict in an intimate relationship.


Communication is one of the perspectives that give us the most insight into the human nature. Understanding the phenomena of our lives begins with a hypothesis that can be tested and a theory that can be examined. Theory is needed no matter how long and hard people examine any object of inquiry in communication, it will not reveal itself. Only by developing and testing hypothesis and weighing the lines of arguments advanced by different theories can the secrets of human communication be unlocked. Below are two theories related to human communication:

1. Social Penetration Theory

Social penetration theory was formulated by psychology professors Irwin Altman and Dalmas Taylor as their attempt to describe the dynamics of relational closeness. They proposed that closeness occurs through a gradual process of self-disclosure, and closeness develops if the participants proceed in a gradual and orderly fashion from superficial to intimate levels of exchange as a function of both immediate and forecast outcomes. This psychological theory, as with many others, is applied in the context of interpersonal relationships such as communications. It can also be defined as the process of developing deeper intimacy with another person through mutual self-disclosure and other forms of vulnerability.

Self-disclosure is the voluntary sharing of history, preferences, attitudes, feelings, values, secrets with another person. Self-disclosure is the act of revealing more about ourselves, on both a conscious and an unconscious level. Altman and Taylor believe that only through opening one's self to the main route to social penetration self-disclosure by becoming vulnerable to another person can a close relationship develop. Vulnerability can be expressed in a variety of ways, including the giving of anything which is considered to be a personal possession, such as a dresser drawer given to a partner.

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