The Open Communication Journal


ISSN: 1874-916X ― Volume 9, 2015

An Examination of Perceived Relational Messages that Accompany Interpersonal Communication Motivations

The Open Communication Journal, 2012, 6: 1-7

Gwen A. Hullman , Audrey Goodnight, Jessica Mougeotte

Division of Communication Studies University of Nevada, Reno Mail Stop 0229 Reno NV 89557-0229 USA.

Electronic publication date /1/2012
[DOI: 10.2174/1874916X01206010001]


Interpersonal scholars are concerned about what motivates people to communicate with one another, and how motivation manifests itself in dyadic interaction. Rubin, Perse, and Barbato (1988) identified the main motives for interpersonal communication: control, inclusion, affection, relaxation, pleasure, and escape. Although Myers and Ferry (2001) examined interpersonal communication motives and immediacy behaviors in general, there is a dearth of research addressing how nonverbal cues or messages correlate to motives in specific communication events. Examining the nonverbal layer that accompanies a verbal message is an important step in interpersonal communication motives research.

Most of the meaning of a message is derived from the nonverbal layer of the message (Mehrabian, 1969). Incongruent verbal and nonverbal messages are more difficult to interpret than are congruent messages (Burgoon & Bacue, 2003). In addition, the sender of incongruent messages might “come across as smug, insincere, or patronizing” (p. 194). Schrader (1994) found, however, that messages attempting to convince an adversary were rated more appropriate when accompanied by nonverbal indicators of immediacy and intimacy, not dominance. In this case, incongruent behaviors preserved a favorable impression of the sender. Given these findings, it makes sense to examine whether or not nonverbal messages seem to complement or contradict the motivation of the message.

Nonverbal cues normally tell us little about the messages when viewed in isolation from one another. Burgoon and Hale (1984) argued that relational messages encompass “both the verbal and nonverbal expression that indicate how two or more people regard each other, regard their relationship, or regard themselves” (p. 193). Although they identified several relational messages, Dillard, Solomon, and Palmer (1999) argued that substantive relational messages could be subsumed into two larger categories: dominance and affiliation.

This study examines how nonverbal cues are interpreted in terms of dominance and affiliation for messages motivated by the three primary interpersonal communication motives: control, inclusion, and affection. The findings will illuminate how speakers package messages according to the motive for the communication.

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