The term dyadic communication refers to two people engaged in a conversation.
Meaning is transmitted through an in-person dyadic communication scenario in a range of ways, such as: verbal exchange, body language and gestures, facial expressions, and psychological attributes such as attitude and tone of voice.
Although we usually think of dyadic communication as being an in-person oral communication between two people, it can also occur in email exchanges and phone conversations, which have low media richness.
Types of Dyadic Communication
There are two forms of dyadic communication: formal and informal.
- Formal dyadic communication takes places in a professional context, such as between an employee and supervisor. It can also include a conversation between a counselor and patient, or a job interview. There is usually a power differential between the two, although not always.
- Informal dyadic communication takes place in a non-professional context, such as two friends chatting over a coffee. It can also include family members discussing an issue or two strangers meeting for the first time at a social gathering. There is no power differential in the context, so each person is on equal footing.
Dyadic Communication Examples
1. The Job Interview Dyad
The job interview is an example of a common dyadic communication. Although occasionally an applicant may be subjected to a panel of interviewers, most job interviews at least start with a basic one-to-one scenario.
There is a clear power differential dynamic. The HR representative has a clear power advantage over the job candidate, at least in most situations.
There are exceptions of course. Sometimes a job skill is in high demand, but the labor force is in short supply.
In other situations, sometimes the candidate has a well-established reputation and is in high-demand. Since that individual can only accept one position, the power differential is reversed.
Other aspects of dyadic communication also exist in the job interview. In addition to communication happening via the verbal channel, information is also being transmitted through non-verbal behavior such as body posture, facial expressions, and overt demeanor.
2. Lying in Dyadic Communication
There is a great deal of research on lying in dyadic communication. For instance, Newman et al. (2003) found that a person will use first-person singular pronouns (“I”, “me”, or “my”) less often when lying.
As Hancock et al. (2007) explain, the use of self-oriented references:
“…involves taking ownership of a statement; and deceivers may refrain from using these first-person pronouns
due to either a lack of personal experience or a desire to dissociate themselves from the lie being told” (p. 3-4).
At the same time, research has found that there may be an increase in the use of negative emotion words (e.g., hate, enemy) during lying compared to being truthful (Newman et al., 2003).
When lying, people tend to avoid words that delimit their story. For example, words such as “but,” “except,” and “never” means that the deceiver has to be precise, which can make it easier to be caught in a contradiction.
According to Hancock et al. (2007),
“…truth tellers should be able to discuss exactly what did and did not happen because they were actually there to witness the event being discussed.” Whereas people that are lying are “…forced to keep track of what they have previously said to avoid contradicting themselves later” (p. 4).
The moral of this story: when in doubt, count…the number of self-references, negative emotion words, and delimiting terms.
3. The First-Date Dyad
There may be no other dyadic communication scenario that involves more information exchange than in the first date.
Quite often, the two individuals have very little knowledge or experience with the other. This makes every utterance and facial expression take on twice the normal level of significance.
Both parties are analyzing every micro-second in an attempt to get a better understanding of the person on the other side of the table: is that someone I can trust; are they honest, kind, and forthright; will they be the type of person to stick to a relationship through good times and bad?
The number of questions needing to be answered can be quite long, but the first date may only last an hour, maybe even less, while in some occasions much longer.
Depending on the dating pool and the availability of desirable mates, the power differential can be anywhere from even-steven to one party having the clear upper hand.
Although the first-date dyadic communication can be exciting and at times great fun, most of us are hoping to find Mr. or Mrs. Right asap and finally put an end to this venture.
4. Police and Witness Interrogation Dyads
The dyadic communication that takes police during a police interrogation can affect the trajectory and outcome of a criminal investigation. Unfortunately, there are a number of problematic issues that can occur during that communication.
One of the most well-researched factors involves leading questions. Dr. Elizabeth Loftus and John Palmer conducted a ground-breaking study that demonstrated the power of leading questions and how fallible human judgment is under certain conditions.
First, they showed research participants videos that depicted an accident between two cars. At varying times later, they then asked the participants to estimate the rate of speed of the cars.
This is where it gets interesting. All participants were asked the same question, “How fast were the two cars going when they ______ into each other?” with the exception of the word in the blank.
The researchers varied the word: smashed, collided, bumped, hit, or contacted.
The results were astonishing. When the word “smashed” was used, participants estimated the cars were going significantly faster than when the word “contacted” was used.
This line of research has had a huge impact on law enforcement interrogation practices and the credibility of eyewitness testimony.
5. The Yearly Job Performance Evaluation Dyad
Most larger companies will have a set time in the calendar year to hold annual job performance reviews. This is the type of dyadic communication that can be a great source of pride, or be an excruciating moment of embarrassment and destruction.
The power differential is gaping. The supervisor holds all the cards and the employee can only hope to contain themselves emotionally long enough to eventually be dismissed.
Many employees will try to limit the leakage of their true thoughts and feelings and try to exude an air of quiet confidence, especially in the face of bad news.
Of course, a lot of this really depends on the leadership style of the supervisor. If they subscribe to a servant leadership or coaching philosophy of leadership, then the process will be handled completely differently from those that adhere to an authoritarian style.
The performance evaluation dyad is one of those communication scenarios in which one party has way too much leverage over the other.
See Also: Self-Performance Review Examples
6. Self-Disclosure in Dyads
Self-disclosure refers to the level of personal information that is revealed during a conversation. It is intentional, which means that the person speaking is willfully making those statements.
The distinction is important because sometimes a person can reveal a lot about themselves without saying a word.
We can learn about a person’s level of self-confidence, verbal skills, or guesstimate their IQ just from their nonverbal communication. That’s a completely different phenomenon.
However, with self-disclosure, the information is content that the other person could not know without it being shared. It exists on a continuum, from being mundane, such as what movie a person saw recently, to highly personal such as revealing one’s hopes and dreams.
In a dyadic conversation, it is typical that as one person discloses personal information, the other person is likely to reciprocate, especially if they are attracted to the other person.
As the relationship between two individuals progresses over time, generally speaking, the level of self-disclosure also increases (Greene et al., 2006).
7. The TV Talk-Show Host Interview Dyad
A lot of dyadic communication examples seem to tilt towards the negative; high stakes job interviews, witness interrogations, the ever-dreaded job evaluation, and the list could go on. Fortunately, there are some rather pleasant, even fun examples as well.
Take for example, the interview that occurs on late night TV shows. Here, the number one objective is to produce a very delightful dyadic communication. In fact, if the host can make the audience break-out it bursts of laughter the interview will be considered a great success.
The power differential in this scenario is a bit more difficult to decipher. On the one hand, the show belongs to the host. On the other hand, the guest is the most prized character because they are most likely a glamorous movie star or have fame for some reason valued by society.
Despite who has the advantage, both parties are hoping for a pleasant experience and they often try to feed off of each other to create a good time for viewers.
8. Infant-Caregiver Dyads
The interactions between parent and child can have profound effects in a child’s developmental trajectory (see attachment theory, Bowlby, 1969; Ainsworth et al., 2015).
At the age of a newborn, dyadic communication is primarily non-verbal, but laden with emotional and psychological dynamics.
As succinctly summarized by Hsu and Fogel (2003):
“Infants experiencing synchronous interactions with their mothers develop secure attachment relationships, whereas infants engaging in interactions with their mothers characterized by asynchrony become insecurely attached” (p. 1061).
Other research has shown that individual differences in mother and infant have a substantial impact on the quality and pattern of communication. For example, Field et al. (1990) investigated the effects of maternal depression, while other researchers have examined the role of infant temperament (Feldman et al., 1999).
9. Micro-expressions in Dyads
Micro-expressions are incredibly rapid facial expressions. They last for less than half a second and are not under conscious control. That’s what makes them so interesting.
Micro-expressions occur as a result of conflicting reactions to a given stimulus. On the one hand, a person has a natural reaction to the stimulus.
However, they may wish to conceal that reaction and thus attempt to control their facial expression. That’s when the micro-expression is leaked, for just a fraction of a second.
So, when a person is trying to be deceptive, they cannot control the leakage of their true feelings.
Dr. Paul Ekman is a psychologist that has been studying micro-expressions and human emotions for over 50 years. His research has had a profound impact on criminal investigations and many law enforcement personnel have attended his training programs.
If you think you could identify the true emotions of others, then check out this slightly silly demonstration by National Geographic and put yourself to the test.
10. The Elderly Couple at the Restaurant Dyad
We’ve all witnessed this scene before: on the other side of a restaurant sits an elderly married couple. They seem to not be saying a word.
On the outside looking in, it looks a little bit sad. In terms of dyadic communication, well, it also looks a little bit sad. They hardly speak to each other. At least, not with words.
When we hear the term “communication,” of course we naturally think of verbal communication; two people speaking to each other. But in this example, the term communication encompasses so much more.
If we were to more carefully examine the scene described above, we would see many instances of information being exchanged between the elderly couple.
We would notice the glances at each other when the waitress brings the wife the wrong salad, or when she doesn’t notice their water glasses are empty.
We would see the kind gesture of the husband slowly, but methodically, putting his tomato cherries in his wife’s salad because he knows she likes them so much. In exchange, she gently places her bread on his plate, wrapped in a napkin.
Indeed, there is a great deal of communication occurring at that table; and it is communication that is rich in history and affection.
Benefits of Dyadic Communication
1. Exchange of Ideas
Perhaps the number one benefit of dyadic communication has to do with the free exchange of ideas and opinions. Compared to a group setting, the dyad offers both participants ample opportunity to express their views.
In many Western cultures, there is an unwritten rule that each person takes a turn in speaking. So, each person can share their thoughts, and then the other party can respond in kind by either agreeing or offering a different perspective.
2. Power Differential
In many dyadic communication situations, one person has the clear advantage.
They are in the position of power and therefore they control the pace, tone, and other dynamics of the conversation.
Although this seems unfair, in some scenarios it creates a situation in which the other party needs to communicate openly and honestly. There can be severe repercussions for dishonesty, such as with law enforcement interrogations, legal counseling, or job interviews.
One person’s position of authority means they are likely to receive honest and straightforward information.
3. Getting to Know the Other Person
Having a one-to-one conversation is a great opportunity for two people to get to know each other.
Whether it be in an informal situation such as a social gathering, or in the formal setting of a job interview, both people can express their views on various topics which reveals a little something about themselves.
The value of the one-to-one interaction is that it can be free from distractions and interruptions that can easily and frequently occur in a group.
Most people consider conflicts to be negative, and that is often the case. However, there are some good things that can emerge from a conflict.
For instance, conflicts help clarify people’s position on an issue. Conflicts sometimes provide a cathartic affect that then allows both parties to move forward and pursue resolutions.
So, although dyadic conflicts can be very uncomfortable, there are also positive consequences that will ultimately benefit both parties.
Limitations of Dyadic Communication
One of the biggest limitations of dyadic communication is that it could easily erupt into a heated conflict.
The two parties may have strong, opposing views on an issue, their personalities might just rub each other the wrong way, or maybe something happens to create a total misunderstanding.
As stated above, conflicts are not always negative, but sometimes they can escalate to the point of no return.
If the conflict becomes emotional and involves offensive personal remarks, then it may end with no resolution. Both parties may feel so offended by the other that they refuse further discussion.
2. Power Differential
Yes, that’s right, the power differential is both beneficial and limiting. It really just depends on which side of the equation, or table, you sit.
In job interviews, performance evaluations, and some dating scenarios, one person has a clear advantage.
That means the other party involved must tread lightly. They need to keep control of their emotions and inhibit any leakage that will do damage to their already weakened status. That can create an unfair advantage which prohibits an honest discussion.
3. Dominant Personality
Perhaps the number one limitation of dyadic communication occurs when one member decides to dominate the conversation.
Instead of taking turns speaking, this type of individual views the conversation as an opportunity to exert authority.
This can defeat the usual purpose of communication, because only one person is actually doing any communicating.
The other member may try several times in vain to get a word in edgewise, but the other person either does not process that attempt, or they see it, but choose to ignore it.
Dyadic communication is a conversation that takes place between just two people. It can occur in a wide range of situations, from workplace settings to social gatherings of all sorts.
There is an incredibly large amount of information that can be exchanged between two people, even in a brief conversation of 10 minutes.
Facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures and non-verbal behavior, are all channels that can convey just as much sentiment as the spoken word.
In fact, in the case of micro-expressions, no words are even necessary to reveal a person’s inner most thoughts and feelings that they are actually trying to suppress.
It’s a little scary to think about, especially when we consider that most micro-expressions happen so quickly that the person leaking them is not even aware of what’s happening.
Although it would be nice to put a twist of positivity on this story, it turns out that with the ease and convenience of text-messages in the Internet era, there’s no end in sight to the fragility of dyadic communication.
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