Interpersonal Communication

Peter Hartley

The literature on interpersonal communications is so dominated by American research that it was a pleasure just to receive this brief monograph published in New Fetter Lane, London. Probably none of my students have ever had a hard-covered book in communications, but I hope that they would open the text with as much curiosity as I did.

Designed as an introductory text for undergraduate students, the book is organized into three sections on interpersonal communications: definitions, components, and group situations beyond that of the basic dyad. One aim of the author was to be "readable and interesting," and in this goal he succeeded admirably. Social science jargon has been transformed into plain English written with a style that encourages readers to explore each paragraph. In the chapter endnotes, classic references are summarized succinctly and placed into context so that students would have an understanding of current debate and research problems. Concepts are illuminated by examples drawn from personal and professional situations, highlighted by humour. Although the focus of the book is face-to-face interaction between two people, the 30-page chapter on intra-group (within a group) and intergroup (between groups) communication is probably the best brief overview I have ever read.

Furthermore, while acknowledging the importance of Michael Argyle's work on social skills development, Hartley confronts an issue usually not discussed in American literature: to what extent does communication skills training represent a political agenda? Social class differences are also reviewed with an emphasis often missing from American material. Thus, while much of the content about what comprises human communication is similar to any undergraduate text, Hartley's conclusion that "our communication is the expression of our ideas and values" drives home the point that the field of interpersonal communication is embedded with cultural connotations rarely considered when literature is referenced.

Surprisingly, multicultural diversity is underplayed. The author and publisher have bypassed an important arena, given the emergent global marketplace. Thus, the chapter on codes is weak, especially with regard to non-verbal communication, a dynamic area of research. Cross-cultural insights obtained from research that explores differences in verbal and non-verbal channels of communication between cultures is essential information for contemporary students. The British Commonwealth might not exist for all the attention it receives and even the European Common Market is virtually ignored. For Canadian educators teaching communications, multiculturalism is a priority and, perhaps with regard to this topic, we would have much to contribute to the broader discussion. For us, it is not only a matter of interpreting non-verbal codes when visiting other cultures; our urban classrooms are filled with youngsters who are non-native English speakers. The need to learn cross-cultural codes is imperative for both student and teacher.

I would recommend this text to colleagues who wish to access a British point of view on the subject of interpersonal communications. Phrases such as a "bit of a wet" and a "bit of a tearaway" remind us that our North American context can be limiting, and certain emphases in the presentation of concepts restore a balance when considering the general topic. The book would be a good resource for any student challenged by the longer and more formidable Ronald Adler volumes which are commonly used in Canadian classes on interpersonal communications. However, the student should be prepared to read text, because visuals such as the attractive sidebars and pictures present in the Adler books are absent from this one. Finally, the book is useful in that it should provoke Canadian educators who teach interpersonal communications to question just whose ideas and values they are transmitting when they import foreign texts into their classrooms.