Interpretative and Interaction Theories

all communication is based on meaning and interaction

The interpretative and interaction approach are a collection of many theories. Communication is seen an exchange of people who act with communication and interpret their real situation and form the situation and the self with interaction. These theories also describe what people do with the media. Communication must be framed in a social and cultural context.

See for example: Symbolic Interaction and Coordinated Management of Meaning

Core Assumptions and Statements

Paul Watzlawick's Interactional View deals with interpersonal communication. His theory has five axioms that explain his view.

Axiom 1: One cannot not communicate: This axiom basically says that even if you are not actually talking, or perhaps not doing anything, you are still communicating. Nonverbals are a huge part of communication. Even if you are attempting to avoid speaking, you are still expressing nonverbals. Examples could be facial expressions, the way you are sitting, or your silence in general.

Axiom 2: Human beings communicate both digitally and analogically: Analogical communication "represents things by likeness" (Griffin, 1997). Nonverbal communication, for example, is classified as anological by Watzlawick. Digital communication "refers to things by name" (Griffin 170). Language is considered to be digital.

Axiom 3: Communication = Content + Relationship: Content is "what" is actually said, while relationship is "how" it is said (Griffin, 1997). A few quick examples can make the distinction between content and relationship more clear. If content is what is said, then relationship is how it is said. If content is computer data, then relationship is the computer program. Basically, the content and relationship make up a communication sequence.

Axiom 4: The nature of the relationship depends on how both parties punctuate the communication sequence: This axiom describes how each person perceives, or punctuates, a communication sequence. An example can help to clarify. Let's say that you have a conversation with a roommate. The conversation makes you upset, but you do not tell him or her your feelings. The next time that you see your roommate, you are cold to him or her. Your roommate then realizes that you are upset about something. You have punctuated your feelings during the original conversation. However, your roommate thinks that you have recently become upset.

Axiom 5: All communication is either Symmetrical or Complementary: According to Watzlawick, symmetrical communication is "communication based on equal power." Complementary communication is "based on differences in power" (Griffin, 1997). A healthy relationship will have both types of power. Too much of one type of power can lead to possible conflicts. Watzlawick (1974) refers to the relational aspect of interaction as “metacommunication”. It is communication about communication. This is how I see myself, this is how I see you, this is how I see you seeing me.

The interactional view holds that there is no way to label a relationship on the basis of a single verbal statement. Interaction requires a sequence of two messages- a statement form one person, and a response from the other.

Conceptual Model

See Symbolic Interaction

Favorite Methods

See Symbolic Interaction

Scope and Application

See Symbolic Interaction


Key publications

Watzlawick, P., Weakland, J.H., Fisch, R. (1974). Changing a system. Change, W.W. Norton, New York.

Griffin, E. (1997). A first look at Communication Theory. New York: The McGraw-Hill Companies.

See also Interpersonal Communication and Relations