It is curious how much of this world breaks down into threes. Not only are there the three little pigs, the three stooges, and the three tenors; there are also the triangle, the three act play, the three wise men, and the Holy Trinity.

Communication is easily understood with a particular three-fold division that turns out to be rather helpful:

Intra-personal Communication
Inter-personal Communication
Extra-personal Communication

Inter-personal Communication is the best known.  It is the communication that occurs between two people.  This is where fights and romance and productivity lives.   It is the area in which we both experience the most frustration and also show the most skill.  We practice inter-personal communication a lot, but if practice was always the means of improving we would all type better.

Extra-personal Communication is the domain of public communication, both verbal and written.  Speeches and essays fit here and are marked by the more-or-less lack of interaction.  Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is a great example of this outward communication toward others.

Intra-personal Communication is basically about talking to ourselves.  We use phrases like “telling ourselves the truth” or “admitting the truth to ourselves.”  These phrases capture an odd reality about human self awareness…we functionally can step out of ourselves and talk to ourselves.  In this same way, we also lie to ourselves as well.  In any direction, there is a kind of communication in play that is important to our health and our productivity.

We have a way of defining communication that looks like this:


When you put these categories together with the definition, some pretty interesting things appear.  In particular, you can begin to think about what you are trying to do when you are in any of these frames of communication.

Interpersonal Communication: Your efforts here are directed at helping someone see what you see…and…to see what they see.  Often people spend their time trying to convince the other person, and that WAY BEFORE they even understand the other side.  Camper’s tip here: stop it!

Extra-personal Communication: Your efforts here are directed at helping your audience understand how you think about a particular subject.  Even on the level of humor this holds up.  The most humorous people are those who share with others what they themselves find funny.  If someone sees what you see is funny, there’s a chance that they will laugh as well…if they don’t, well that’s what the other two kinds of communication are about!  Try communicating what you think is hilarious and see what happens.

Intra-personal Communication: Your efforts here are the most profound.  Whether or not we ever own up to it (or know how it all works), the truth is that what we believe and what we perceive has a profound influence on our actions, reactions, and life in general.  The definition helps here because it encourages us to aim for congruence in our thinking.  We need to know what is real and we need to frankly and honestly admit it to ourselves.  If you are overweight it means seeing it and admitting it to yourself.  If you don’t like the way your boss interacts, then you can talk with yourself about it (and maybe to her as well … see Inter-personal Communication above).  If you need to forgive someone, you’ll have to talk to yourself about it first.

Finally, consider how the sequence may best work:

Intra-personal >>>>> Inter-personal >>>>>Extra-personal

Learning to communicate effectively with yourself, with others, and to others is one of the great challenges and great treats in this life.  Stay tuned…we plan to help you learn how.

Peace to you,

Fred Ray Lybrand

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