Group Contributors:
Sasha Geukjian, Dawn McGuckin, Nathan Bugden, Gavin Robertson, Elita Partosoedarso, Amanda Paul

The interactional view is a communication theory developed by Paul Watzlwick. It was developed to focus on the interactions of family units and the miscommunications that arise from varying situations.

Keywords: family unit, axioms, Watzlawick, miscommunication, situational

Watzlawick was born in Villach, Austria in 1921. His doctoral degree in modern languages and philosophy was attained from the University of Venice in 1949. The following year he enrolled at the C.G. Jung Institute for Analytic Psychology in Zurich. Watzlawick.jpgWatzlawick stepped into private practice in 1954 and then went to teach at Temple University and the University of El Slavador in 1960. Then he moved on to the Department of Behavioural Science at Stanford University in 1967. In the last years of his career he was a licensed psychologist in California from 1969 until 1998.

He has since passed away in March of 2007. But not before he was able to achieve the publication of 22 books, as well as receiving numerous awards such as the Lifetime Achievement Award, Milton H. Erickson Foundation in 1988, and the Distinguished Professor for Contributions to Family Therapy Award, American Association of Marriage & Family Therapy in1982, to name a few. Possibly his most commonly referenced research is his notion of the interactional view.

Brief Overview of the Theory:
“It is difficult to imagine how any behavior in the presence of another person can avoid being a communication of one's own view of the nature of one's relationship with that person and how it can fail to influence that person.” Watzlawick

The interactional view depends on the current situation. People have different points of view and it is the mismatching of content and relationship that causes miscommunication within the situation. The interactional view is framed within five axioms which include:

One cannot not communicate
Every communication has both content and relationship
Punctuation develops the relationship
Communication can be digital and analogic
Communication is either symmetric or complementary

Although these axioms provide frame work, the unique situation at hand must first be considered as there may be multiple truths. Also there is a large component of individual interpretation within the interactional view. The interactional view offers a potential reason for situations of miscommunication as well as suggestions for reframing the problem to better understand or resolve the miscommunication.

The Interactional View in the Classroom:

Communications and miscommunication can be a difficult concept for anyone however for students it is even harder. Children are still relatively young and impressionable and building their belief system and personal views. In the classroom we tend to see more of the he said/she said mentality where everyone is willing to point a figure and no one generally wants to take responsibility. Schools tend to be very divergent environments where students encounter a wide and sometimes confusing plethora of different values, ethics, and moral systems. For some students who live in very homogeneous family groups, school may be the only environment where they encounter these differences. For other students they may learn at home how to assert their values and to aggressively advocate the beliefs.

How to use the Interactional View in the classroom:

Starting at the very beginning of the school year educators can teach students to value differences and agree to disagree Teachers can also teach listening strategies to their class such as repeating back critical information and asking for clarification if they do not understand.

Using a classroom set up such as TRIBES would allow the students to create a community of tolerance and understanding where they would be more likely to peacefully resolve misunderstandings.

Encourage students to always give each other the benefit of the doubt and be willing to listen to new ideas and thinking.

Critique of the Theory:

Relationships are viewed mechanically in the Interactional View. One individual described it as, “…pair[s] of cybernetic systems interacting through feedback.” Since relationships are systems, many of their properties can be predicted. However, this obviously does not take into account the varying emotions that can affect the relationship. There are several personality traits and mental states that will not be the same for all those interacting with each other. As we well know, human beings can be unpredictable. Particularly if the interaction they are having is negative. You cannot predict why someone suddenly shuts down or starts swearing at you if it is uncalled for in the situation. There may be some hidden mental deficits or psychological conditions are more to blame for the course of the interaction rather than being able to situate it along one of the five axioms.

As well, the first axiom of this theory is left up to interpretation. The axiom, you cannot not communicate, is based on the idea that even if you don’t say anything your non-verbal communication speaks volumes. There are individuals out there who have an extremely hard time appropriately interpreting non-verbal communication and this greatly disrupts their ability to have normal interactions. For example individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome cannot interpret non-verbal cues. Their interpretation of a situation can be totally skewed by their psychological diagnosis, which in turn affects the direction of the interaction. This theory does not account for this.

As well, the idea of misinterpretation can also be related to cultural differences between the individuals interacting. An interesting example occurs when looking at the hand gesture in which the hand is held palm up and the index finger is extended in and out three or four times. This non-verbal gesture means ‘come here’ in North America but has a very different meaning in Latin America. In this society it means that you are very romantically interested in the person and is considered a solicitation. So using this non-verbal cue innocently with someone from Latin America could land you in hot water or with a date for Friday. Regardless, this interaction is affected by interpretation of the non-verbal cue.

The final critique of this theory is held by several people who have produced literature on the topic and it regards the practical application of this theory. The Interactional View was originally devised to look at family units and the interaction among family members. However, in today’s society, several of our interactions are done outside of the family unit. As well, many of our relationships are with individuals in the virtual world we cannot actually see. The non-verbal aspect is no longer there. We need theories that can be transferred from one setting to another. With the influx of technology and changing social nature of our society, we are left to decipher the theory into this new realm ourselves and in doing so, some aspects of the theory fall short.


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