Articles

Can you master the art of connection?

By Derek Zboran

Communication is everything.

But what does that mean?

Philosopher Marshall McLuhan wrote about it in a quirky little book published in 1967, titled The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects.

All media work us over completely. They are so pervasive in their personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical, and social consequences that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected, unaltered… Any understanding of social and cultural change is impossible without a knowledge of the way media work as environments.

WHAT is occurring in these “communication environments” that work us over so completely? It is not just the creation, distribution and consumption of mass media. There is a lot more to the story.

If you do a master’s degree in communication at some fancy university, at least one of your overpriced textbooks will tell you to conceptualize communication in five levels:

  • Intrapersonal
  • Interpersonal
  • Group
  • Public Speaking
  • Mass Media

Communication theorists sometimes organize it into a pyramid such as follows:

All five levels influence each other.

Examples…

What you watch on television (mass communication) might reinforce or challenge your self-esteem (intrapersonal communication).

If somebody you love were to become angry with you and tell you that you’re worthless during an interpersonal argument, that would likely hurt you deeply and scramble elements of your intrapersonal dialogue.

How you address your fellow workers in a staff meeting (group communication) might be impacted by the little talks you have with coworkers, just one-on-one (intrapersonal communication), on typical work days.

Therefore, we live in a state of constant communication. And the thoughts, talk, and to-dos we engage in at one level can influence other levels.

Today’s post will explore the five basic forms of communication:

Intrapersonal communication is communication with the self, including conscious and unconscious processes triggered by stimuli in our internal or external environments. Intrapersonal communication is complex and different for every person. It is responsible for self-concept, social adjustment, processing emotions, setting goals, and even determining “attitude.”

Interpersonal (not to be confused with intrapersonal) communication is communication between two people whose lives are relevant to each other. One-on-one connections exist in numerous social structures. It can build or break direct connections between oneself and another. What a person says, does, or even thinks can build or erode connection with his or her lover, friend, neighbor, business partner, or political ally. Factors such as authenticity, effective listening skills, boundaries, and effective conflict management help people excel in interpersonal communication.

Group communication occurs among three or more people. What defines a group? All 3+ people must be working toward a shared goal. If you worked in a library, the group communication of a staff meeting is more formal and goal-oriented than the interpersonal chit-chat you have at the water cooler with a coworker. Group communication involves interpersonal elements but is also about getting things done. It can be one of the most frustrating forms of communication because people in groups frequently have difficulty getting on the same page about a shared goal. Worse than a group with fractured goals is one with unresourceful communication styles that make collaboration as joyful as passing a kidney stone.

Public communication happens when a person seeks to convey information to an audience. While the talk and presentation might have similarities with interpersonal communication, the fact that an audience exists changes the dynamic. Speeches remain a significant form of communication in politics, business, the arts, and other spheres where cultural storytellers can share big ideas and influence how people think, talk, and do. The success of in-person TEDx Talks illustrates how significant public speaking remains in the 21st century.

Mass communication involves acts of communication that are delivered to audiences via digital or print means. One of the reasons why Johannes Gutenberg is a legend in history is because his invention of the “Gutenberg Press” helped launch the printing revolution and made the distribution of ideas and narratives more scalable. Print and other traditional media forms often lack accessible mechanisms for direct feedback from the audience. Communication with oneself, others, groups, or even an audience of speech listeners is subject to immediate feedback. (“Booo! Your speech sucks! Somebody tar and feather this guy!”) But this is less true with traditional media. For example, in the 1970s, you had to write a letter to your newspaper if you wanted to respond to an editorial that you liked or hated. And it was up to them to print (or not) your response. Things are changing with new media. Feedback happens with greater frequency, accessibility, and speed in the age of social media. People freely (or maybe not so freely if you are wary of censorship) give feedback to the biggest brands on the planet by leveraging platforms such as Facebook, X, LinkedIn, YouTube, and the plethora of other social media sites. In this way, ordinary people have a bigger role in mass media than ever before, even if their ability to influence structural or institutional changes remain frustratingly difficult.

And that’s all for today!

This is a working synthesis of the five levels of communication. I am working on explaining it with less words and more impact. More thinking needed!

Anyway…

If you skimmed this article, the main takeaway is that communication occurs in five forms — 1) intrapersonal, 2) interpersonal, 3) small group, 4) public speaking, and 5) mass media communication. These levels summarize how we connect with ourselves, others, and society. Tomorrow we will sketch out decades of communication theory as we study the environment in which the five types of communication occur.

Article originally published on Notebook of a Working Writer, Derek Zboran’s substack.