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Review of The Interpersonal Communication Book, 13th edition by Joseph A. Devito, New York: Pearson, 2012, 432 pages
The topic of interpersonal communication has recently gained increasing acknowledge-
ment as a separate field of study in the broader family of communication studies, in a changeof perspective that now takes our daily one-on-one interactions into account as the relevant,micro-scale acts that represent the foundation of all larger-scale communication – be it cor-porate, mass media, or online social media.
Despite numerous handbooks, encyclopaedias and essential volumes on the topic which
became available on the market throughout the years, one book stands apart, and has nowreached its 13th edition and continues to inspire and inform young academics in universitiesworldwide. Joseph A. Devito’s “The Interpersonal Communication Book” is a well-struc-tured and fundamental book on interpersonal communication, which covers topics as broadas relationships, conflict and communication ethics, and proves the key point that interper-sonal communication is many-faceted, depending on dimensions such as individual appre-hension, assertiveness or adequacy. We cannot speak of a general thesis that the book defends,but rather of separate conclusions for each unit, ranging from the idea that self-disclosure ina relationship at its early stages is perceived as riskier by women, as compared to men (in thepart dedicated to the self in communication), to newly found support for the theory that allverbal and nonverbal communication is intentional and a matter of choice.
This updated book appears to be a truly complete view of the literature and research in
the field of interpersonal communication. At the same time it is a very practical compendi-um, as it openly offers suggestions for effective communication when considering ethics, di-versity and power in interpersonal communication, as well as differentiating betweenface-to-face and mediated (computer-mediated) interaction.
Thus, most noteworthy, the 13th edition of the book is brought up to date and adjusted to
strongly highlight the concept of choice in communication. Devito clearly stresses how to adaptour skills in order to make better choices in communication, irrespective of the context (per-sonal, social, professional) and, at the same time, directs readers towards bettering their so-cial interactions through a rich palette of interpersonal skills. There is also an updated focuson culture and interpersonal communication, with aspects of cultural diversity integrated inall major units of the book.
The author successfully and diligently walks the readers through the specifics of interper-
sonal communication, and demonstrates that it is a process through which individuals definethemselves and their interaction partners, through ever-changing and periodically redefined
* PhD student, Communication Science, National University of Political Studies and Public Adminis-
tration, Bucharest, Romania, [email protected].
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Revista românã de comunicare ºi relaþii publice
relationships. The book is well supported by the creative use of literature and detailed evi-dence of studies and research, which makes it a significant contribution to the field.
“The Interpersonal Communication Book” is organized in separate parts and subunits, ad-
dressing key aspects of interpersonal communication, such as the Preliminaries to Interper-sonal Communication, Interpersonal Messages, Interpersonal Relationships, each separatepart being a comprehensive theoretical review.
Within the first part, a unit that is worth reading is “Perception and the Self and Others in
Interpersonal Communication”, dwelling on such specific dimensions as self-disclosure and“impression management”, testing students to see how accurate they are at people perception.
The second part of the book is structured to deal with verbal, nonverbal, emotional and
conversational messages. In terms of verbal messages, special attention should be paid to thesubunits discussing ethics in communication and lying, in particular. The section on nonver-bal communication guides readers through the main principles of nonverbal communicationand ends with an interesting test for students –“Do you avoid touching?” which should per-haps, more effectively than any theory cited, prove to students that there are very differentnonverbal customs in the world.
The book makes use of charts, graphs and photographs that contribute to the clarity of the
information provided, while at the same time it prompts readers to make comparisons and per-haps find valuable new research questions of their own. Such examples are the graphs detail-ing “body availability” (areas where touching is permitted) for male and female collegestudents in the USA (S.M. Jourard) and “areas and frequency of touching” in Japan versusthe USA (Dean C. Barnlund), in the unit on nonverbal communication.
The book seems to differ in structure from other similar works in the field – as Kory Floyd’s
“Interpersonal Communication” (Floyd, 2013), to name just one of the books that have recent-ly entered the Romanian market – in the sense that it has a more organic view on matters. There is a difference in approach which can be noticed by simply looking at the table of con-tents. While Floyd’s book seems to have a slightly more scholarly (verging on arid) notion onhow to organize its information, Devito’s book is intuitively and psychologically ordered. Partsand units such as “perception, the self and others”, “emotional messages”, “interpersonal con-flict and conflict management”, “interpersonal relationships”, which allow for a clear and easyto memorise overview of all the dimensions of interpersonal communication.
The chapter on the self raises questions about self-disclosure, which is ultimately present-
ed as a matter of choice. In fact, the concept of choice is presented in a variety of contexts,demonstrating that there are right and wrong decisions when it comes to developing a com-municational relationship, ranging from the conscious choice of a “life position” (such as the“I’m OK, you’re OK” script), to decide how to respond to a partner’s silence.
In the updated version, each new chapter opens with Interpersonal Communication ChoicePoint Videos (which students can access online, on MyCommunicationLab.com). The infor-mation in the section is presented as a related scenario which students can follow and after-wards observe different endings for the scenario, to see how their different choices end. Interms of new didactic instruments used, the updated version of the book has clearly becomeeven more interactive, containing side boxes (such as the “Ethics in Interpersonal Commu-nication” boxes, containing “Ethical Choice Points”) that encourage students to think how theywould act in day-to-day situations.
A truly interesting subunit of the book analyses listening and silence – in other words, the things
we tell each other when we do not speak. Devito makes clever use of literature to point out that
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silence is an aspect that we can connect to nonverbal communication, and which can be seen di-chotomously, either as creating walls and isolation, or as serving a complete and independent func-tion in itself, while listening is a skill that is a must for communicational proficiency.
The book also addresses the very opposite of silence, namely the human voice and im-
pression forming based on one’s tone and voice volume. It is, thus, a paralanguage cue thatDevito analyses, and cites studies that prove that we are able to judge age, sex and, most sur-prisingly, even social status (upper, middle, lower class) with remarkable accuracy. Howev-er, studies cited prove that, when attempting to ascertain one’s personality based solely onparaverbal, voice interpretation, we are often in error – thus once more raising questions aboutsubjectivity and its interference with our power of analysis.
However, since this is ultimately an all-comprehensive textbook, it does not extensively
explain the interconnections of all the aspects, triggers, contexts and effects of interpersonalcommunication. There are, nonetheless, indicators of how each unit connects to the next, inpractical terms.
For instance, in the part covering nonverbal communication we find indicators of how
nonverbal behaviour connects with status roles and power indicators. Touching is, in most cul-tures, dependent on status, determined by what Nancy Henley (cited in the book) calls BodyPolitics, wherein those with higher power status can touch those with lower power status andnot vice versa. Conversely, in the part covering issues of interpersonal relationships, we finda unit dedicated to power in interpersonal relationships, which details the power aspect thatall relationships have and the “power play” we all engage in.
The 13th edition is also available in an innovative physical format of an unbound binder
(and thus allows students to integrate their own notes and bring to class only the needed sec-tions). Despite the fact that it has become a classic guide to interpersonal communication, onenew edition after another, the book does risk becoming engulfed by the very generous offerof textbooks on the subject that are available in bookstores and libraries. The next editionsmust continue the clear line of innovation of the 13th reprint, in order for the book to remainone of the best ranked textbooks.
1. Floyd, K. (2013), Comunicarea Interpersonalã, Iaºi: Polirom.
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