Difference Between Interpersonal and Intrapersonal Communication

Difference Between Interpersonal and Intrapersonal Communication

Humans are social animals, and hence, live in a society. Communication between individuals is vital for the smooth functioning of society, and it encompasses the interactions that individuals have with each other (interpersonal) as well as the internal thought processes (intrapersonal) of an individual. SocialMettle compares interpersonal vs. intrapersonal communications and elucidates the difference and relationship between the two.

“Without communication, there can be no organization, for there is no possibility then, of the group influencing the behavior of the individual.”
― Herbert Simon

The term “communicate” is derived from the Latin word “communis”, that refers to the act of sharing. Communication is the process by which we ascribe meaning to the occurrences around us, and conduct the exchange of the resultant emotions, facts, ideas, and opinions with other people. Charles Leagans defines it as “a process by which two or more people exchange ideas, facts, feelings or impressions in ways that each gains a common understanding of a message”; while Fred G. Meyer defines it as “the intercourse by words, letters or messages”.

It occurs in different forms such as verbal, nonverbal, oral, and written communication. Each form is based on a unique process of information exchange. Nonverbal communication involves the conveyance of messages by means of gestures, body language, symbols, clothing, architecture, etc. Verbal and oral communication include the usage of speech and language for the purpose of expressing thoughts, and written communication is carried out by the inscription of letters and words of a language. These forms are used by individuals in conducting and experiencing communication, of which, the two majorly distinct types are intrapersonal and interpersonal.

Intrapersonal Communication

The term “intrapersonal” is defined as within oneself. Hence, intrapersonal communication takes place in the form of internal dialog or a monologue within a person’s mind. The source and recipient of the communication is the same person. It is utilized in analyzing situations, assessing scenarios, contemplating their meaning, and to understand and meditate on certain issues. It is a continuous process that involves dreams, thinking, talking to oneself, prayer, mediation, writing, reading aloud, etc. Practicing this form of communication allows an individual to evolve, especially in terms of self-awareness, self-identity, and relatability to fellow individuals. Intrapersonal communication is the foundation on which interpersonal communication is based. This form of communication is influenced by three key factors.

Self Conception

Self motivating woman smiling

The first factor is the internal stimuli received by the brain. It is also referred to as “self-concept”, and involves the way an individual thinks about oneself and the people in their near vicinity. It also includes an individual’s motivations, aspirations, and the general attitude. The person’s belief system and inherent values shape his judgment on what is true or false, or good or bad. The attitude adopted by an individual affects the occurrence of his thought process.


The second factor is the external stimuli that the brain receives from the environment. It includes the perception of the surroundings and their assessment and analysis. It is firmly based on the concept of self that is accompanied by the underlying belief and value system of the individual. It is closely associated with self conceptualization and involves gaining awareness of the events occurring around the individual, with the end result of creating a balance between the understanding of oneself and of the world as a whole.


Man thinking about future

The third factor is future-oriented projections of thought. It is termed as expectation, and is based on the strength of an individual’s acquired ideas, attitude, notions, and way of thinking. It is a long-term prediction about the possibility and the manner in which a particular situation may occur.

Types of Intrapersonal Communication

Internal Discourse

It refers to the process that involves thinking, contemplating, and analyzing within one’s mind. It also encompasses all internal monologues and reasoning. In other words, it is a self-directed communication that occurs purely in the mind of an individual.


It involves talking aloud to oneself while clarifying an idea, or while carrying out a task. The act of vocalization is done to better understand a situation and to help point out errors, if any. It may also include the rehearsal of a certain scenario, or an effort to memorize certain text or information.


Woman writing her thoughts

It involves writing down one’s thoughts to communicate with oneself. It may be used in cases of writing notes for future reference and to set reminders for oneself. It can also be used as a tool for psychological relief that is to rid oneself of burdensome thoughts. The act of writing helps one think rationally and analytically which in turn helps in formulating a solution for the problem at hand.

Skills Involved

People with good intrapersonal skills possess self-awareness and believe in self-reflection. They are self-motivated and work well independently. The skills involved in intrapersonal communication include the following.

▶ Ability to introspect and identify one’s own weaknesses and strengths

▶ Being enthusiastic about analyzing theories and ideas

▶ Self-motivation

▶ Working independently

▶ Achievement of personal goals

▶ Appropriate expression of opinions

▶ Communication of feelings and emotions

▶ Confidence in one’s own capabilities

▶ Judging correctly and making right choices (conscience)

▶ Ability to pursue instincts

▶ Relating to others based on one’s self-perception

Interpersonal Communication

It is a communication where information is exchanged between two or more individuals ,and is a primary way in which different individuals interact with each other. The source and recipient of the information are completely separate and distinct entities (one or many). Its origins are linked with the development and evolution of language and speech. It involves verbal as well as nonverbal communication occurring between two or more individuals which is accompanied by immediate responses and feedback from the individuals involved. It allows the individuals to actively participate by engaging in a conversation using gestures and the sensory organs. It is a translation and expression of intrapersonal thought processes with the purpose of exchanging and increasing one’s knowledge through discourse. However, since every individual interprets nonverbal cues differently, there is a possibility of misconceptions and misunderstandings. This form displays three major styles of communication.

Direct Interpersonal Communication

It involves a clear and obvious transfer of messages between the source and the receiver. It shows no possibility of a misunderstanding, and employs verbal as well as nonverbal cues. It establishes a face-to-face relationship between the participants which is nothing but a direct exchange of thoughts without the use of an intermediary. An apt example: the actions of a policeman while directing traffic.

Mediated Interpersonal Communication

Man video chatting with friends

Communication is said to be mediated when it occurs with the assistance of technology. Technology plays a major role in merging the characteristic features of interpersonal and mass communication. Communication could be between individuals or distinct groups, and can employ formal or informal language. The feedback in such a situation could be immediate or delayed depending on the individuals involved. Internet is an ideal and effective example of this style of communication.

Indirect Interpersonal Communication

Woman having fake smile

This style involves the exchange of thoughts and ideas by means of subconscious and subliminal tools. These tools could involve the use of body language, gestures, double entendres, etc. It implies that the meaning of an individual’s message is not apparent and has to be deciphered. An example of this style is a fake smile by an individual to greet other individuals. In such a scenario, the individual dislikes the other person but does not want to reveal it. A fake smile is deciphered from a genuine one by the number of muscles involved. It involves one voluntary muscle, while a genuine smile utilizes several involuntary muscles.

Types of Interpersonal Communication

Interpersonal communication can be differentiated into three types based on the number of participants involved.

Dyadic Communication

Mother talking with her daughter

It is a direct form of communication between two individuals. For example: two friends conversing with each other, a discussion between a parent and a child.

Group Communication

Teacher talking with class

It is a communication between three or more individuals in a group with no restriction on the number of participants. In this case, the efficiency of communication decreases with the increase in participating individuals. This occurs due to the multiple back and forth passage of information between various participants of the group. For example: a discussion between a teacher and the entire class.

Public Communication

People listening to preacher

It involves a large number of participants, and exhibits a one-way flow of information with little to no feedback generated by the majority of the participants. Such non-interactive participants are observed in case of large gatherings for entertainment, persuasion, or informative purposes. Example: people listening to a preacher or watching a play.

Skills Involved

People possessing good interpersonal skills work well in teams and interdependent partnerships. They exhibit good leadership skills and are able to build a good rapport with most individuals. The skills involved in interpersonal communication are as follows.

▶ Active listening and understanding

▶ Emotional intelligence

▶ Ability to relate to and understand others

▶ Empathetic to others

▶ Effectively expressing feelings, ideas, etc.

▶ Team player

▶ Tolerate and accept differences in others.

▶ Problem solvers

Comparison and Contrast

Both interpersonal and intrapersonal skills are important in the life of an individual to help communicate better. Both forms are interdependent and help an individual in different aspects of life. While these forms show obvious differences, they also exhibit similarities. These features are best highlighted in a professional arena.

It is vital for a team leader to possess interpersonal skills for a positive and professional approach towards his team members irrespective of their personality and character traits. These skills bring out and highlight qualities such as helpfulness, respect, courtesy, tact, empathy, etc. If these skills are well-developed in the leader, he is capable of efficiently communicating with his team members, in order to function smoothly as a team. His empathy and tact towards people will help create a healthy work environment that engenders trust and confidence among the people working there. Such an environment would also lead to an increased dedication to work and in turn increased productivity.

The honing of such interpersonal skills also allows the individual to be open to new opportunities to better oneself and improve their subject and technical knowledge. A person, who possesses excellent interpersonal skills, will exhibit impeccable manners and be sensitive to others. All these qualities increase the likeability of the individual and such an individual has a better chance at succeeding at his endeavors since he has the support of his colleagues. Hence, most institutions and firms seek good interpersonal skills in applicants when looking for new employees.

In contrast, intrapersonal communication skills are also of great importance in shaping a person’s outlook and behavior. A person with good intrapersonal skills will easily adapt to changing situations in any workplace. A person who has a clear notion of his own weaknesses and strengths will work in a way that showcases his strengths which will compensate for his weaknesses. He is also likely to stay calm and composed irrespective of the situation he is in. This state of mind allows him to make appropriate and correct decisions under pressure. Enhancement of one’s intrapersonal skills leads to the improvement of oneself as a person.

In conclusion, both interpersonal skills and intrapersonal skills play an important role in the development of an individual as a functional unit of society. Although there are differences between these communication types, the possession and practice of both interpersonal skills and intrapersonal skills by a person is highly valued by society.

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