Models of Interpersonal Communication

Models of Interpersonal Communication

Each model of interpersonal communication helps illustrate the way thoughts and ideas are communicated and interpreted. By studying and understanding models of communication, dispute resolution practitioners can find new ways to help guide and understand the conversations that happen in front of them. This can help a person reach their personal and professional goals. Models help us decode interpersonal communication by eliminating unnecessary components and outlining the key aspects, such as immediate feedback, communication techniques, and the concept of noise.

We live in a world where communication is essential for creating and maintaining relationships. However, communication can be frustrating to understand or describe outside of context, especially for those of us not studying the world of interpersonal communication and communication theory. Yet because interpersonal communication skills are essential to work and life for those focusing on dispute resolution, it is important to understand the various theories that specialists have created to help understand interpersonal communication.

This article will look at the various communication models that we use to illustrate the communication process. This will help define and exemplify the various methods and modes of communication that people use and identify with. We will begin by outlining some important definitions to ensure that we are operating with the same working definitions when discussing each of the models of communication.

After this, we will look at the difference between a linear model, an interactive or interaction model, and a transactional model. Finally, we will discuss the more exact types of models that have been developed. The goal of this article is to help the reader understand interpersonal interactions on a deeper level and identify certain models when they occur.

Essential Parts of the Communication Process

Before diving into the models of communication, it is necessary to identify and define the essential parts of the communication process that will be present in some regard within each model of communication. While the models will vary in how they apply and define these terms, it is important to understand what they generally mean at a basic level, as they will be used throughout to refer to specific parts of a communication event.


The first term is the sender. This is the person who is offering the communication to another. They create and determine how to send the message to another. There is no communication without the work of the sender.


Another vital part of the communication process is the audience. This is the person or people who are receiving the message that is sent from the sender. The sender will often direct a message to the desired audience; however, someone may receive the message and be a part of the audience even if the sender does not intend for them to be.


The mode of communication is another essential piece of the puzzle. The mode is the method through which the communication occurs. Communication can take place through physical noise, which is the most frequently considered option, but it can also happen through written word or cues.


The last piece of the communication process is the interpretation that the audience makes as they receive the message. The message passes through a variety of contexts depending on the person and various factors can affect communication and the way it is received. The perception process begins the moment the sender begins the message.

First. physical context, such as where the people are, how well they can hear, and what is going on around them will influence the interpretation. Next, psychological context, such as the mental and emotional factors of how a person is feeling, can influence perception. Social context, such as the relational context between the sender and the audience, may also impact the reception of the message. Finally, a person’s cultural context will greatly influence the perception. Cultural contexts include many aspects of a person’s identity, such as race, nationality, gender, class, sexual orientation, and ability.

The Basic Communication Models

Because communication is a complex process, it is helpful to break it down. The elements of the process described above help us understand the various pieces and players that interact with the system to create relationships and interaction as we see it today. The next step is to understand the three main categories that each communication model will fall into. These are linear models, interactive or interaction models, and transactional models. Understanding these basic models of communication will help create building blocks to identify and categorize the models as you see them.

Linear Models

The first type of model is the linear communication model. A linear model of communication describes communication as a one-way process from the sender to the audience. The sender intends to ensure that the audience receives the message, and the audience is viewed less as a participant and more as the target of the message. No feedback tells the sender whether or not the person received the message or interpreted it correctly. This model of communication is associated with early communication models, but the creation of the model helped guide the way for different models.

An example of a communication encounter that follows the linear model is a podcast episode. The sender is the podcast host or hosts and the audience is the listener. There is no line of communication from the audience to the hosts, especially not within the conversation and communication of the episode. It is a one-way process with little regard for how the message is received or interpreted.

Interactive Models

The interactive model alternatively called the interaction model, builds on the linear model by including the role that both the sender and the audience play in effective communication. This model views communication as a process where two or more people participate in communication with each other, trading the sender and audience roles as they do. This model helps demonstrate the role that both parties have in communication and encourages the back-and-forth interaction that is often found in a conversation. It focuses more on the actual communication interaction and less on the message being communicated.

To illustrate the interactive model of interpersonal communication, picture a university class. The professor begins the discussion by speaking on some topic while the students take notes and receive the message. However, when the professor asks a question or opens up the floor for discussion, the students suddenly become the sender and the professor the audience. They will likely trade the roles several more times, but real learning and communication happen within the interaction.

Transactional Models

The transactional model eliminates the roles of the sender and audience and instead focuses on either party as a communicator. This model holds that either communicator is simultaneously a sender and the audience for the overall communication. They do not trade roles, but embrace both. Additionally, it focuses heavily on how both parties use the physical, psychological, social, and cultural context between them to create meaning and interpret the messages.

Instead of focusing on the message or the interaction as a whole, the transactional model of communication views communication as a force that shapes our understanding of the world as we approach and remove ourselves from the situation.

An example of how to conceptualize transaction models of communication is the everyday conversation between two friends. They alternate trading stories back and forth as they talk about their lives. Context plays a role in how they view and interpret the messages, but it is done fairly easily because the context has been built between them for some time. The relationship between them and their shared experience adds more context and color to the conversation that one would between two strangers, and both of them leave feeling fulfilled and with new plans for their lives.

Going Deeper with More Complex Models of Interpersonal Communication

Now that we have an understanding of the groups of communication models, we can dive into the more complex ideas and explore the evolution of humans creating models to understand communication.

Aristotle’s Model

Likely the oldest communication model, Aristotle created a linear understanding of communication. To Aristotle, the goal of communication was to convey the message that you wanted to convey and to do so with credibility and ease. It was focused on honing communication skills and ways to improve communication. As an early model, it sought to help those needing assistance by identifying the speaker, speech, occasion, target audience, and effect of the communication. He also dealt heavily with persuasive speech, emphasizing credibility and the role of logic in speech.

Shannon-Weaver Model

Another linear understanding of communication is found in the Shannon-Weaver Model of Communication. This system has five components–sender, encoder, channel, decoder, and receiver. The sender creates the message, which is encoded by the sender as they transmit it. It passes through a channel of communication, whether spoken, written, or nonverbal cues. It is then decoded by the receiver as they take in the message. Another vital addition to this model is the concept of noise, which can cloud the way a message is sent or received. There are several types of noise, such as physical noise from the environment and semantic noise from word choice.

Berlo’s S-M-C-R Model

This model is similar to other linear models in that each interpersonal communication encounter is viewed as a one-way interaction. There are four components to this model–the sender, the message, the channel, and the receiver, Berlo noted additional influences on each of these roles noting that both the sender and receiver will be influenced by their communication skills, attitudes, knowledge, social system, and culture. The message will be influenced by the elements, structure, content, code, and treatment. Finally, the channel where the message is transmitted will be influenced by the five senses.

Osgood-Schramm Model

The Osgood-Schramm model is the first that would be considered an interactive model. This idea was built on Schramm’s earlier model that introduced feedback and more context to the Shannon-Weaver Model. This model viewed communication as a two-way process that allowed both parties to be the sender and audience in communication encounters. It focuses on the circular models of communication, understanding that both parties can participate in the key components of communication.

Westley and Mclean Model

This model follows a similar circular model to the standard interaction models, yet it introduces the importance of the external environment and cognitive processes that affect how communication is shared.

Barnlund’s Transactional Model

This is the first of the various transactional models that have been developed over the years. This model recognized that the linear and interactive communication models relied too heavily on consciously creating and sending messages. In this model, the focus is on each party sending and receiving messages simultaneously. It introduced a multi-layered feedback system understanding the importance of both verbal and nonverbal cues in feedback.

Barnlund’s transactional model also introduced the key aspect of cues and their influence on communication. Public cues are anything physical or environmental. Private cues are those that either party is privately influenced by, such as the senses. Behavioral cues are the verbal and nonverbal cues sent between the parties.

Dance’s Helical Model

Dance’s helical model is based on the idea that interpersonal communication can be shaped like a helix, revolving around the same circular path, but getting more exact and more effective with each pass. As a transactional model, it focuses heavily on how the feedback introduced by either party creates a more exact type of communication between the parties.

Final Thoughts

Many other communication models illustrate the ways that we communicate, such as a mathematical theory or Lasswell’s model. However, these theories provide a way for us to categorize and understand the ways that we communicate, whether it be through telephone conversations with a friend or a large discussion with strangers.

To learn more about models of interpersonal communication, communication skills, and more, contact ADR Times!

Emily Holland
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