Communicating About Our Relationships

IDevice Icon Relationship Signals Matter

When it comes to issues of classroom management and conflict resolution in education, the Relationship Function of Nonverbal Communication plays a key role. Students and colleagues watch us and listen to how we we interact with them, and they make assumptions about the nature of our relationship based on what they perceive.

Two key dimensions of our communication are the signals we send about the following:


  • Involvement is the indication of level of engagement in interaction
  • Immediacy is the indication of the degree of liking or disliking of other


  • an indication of one's relative status
  • an indication of how much control or lack of control one expects

As you can imagine, people behave differently when they perceive that we are interested in engaging in interactions with them and that we have a positive regard for them. Likewise, people may resist if they feel their status is being threatened or if they believe that they will lose control over important aspects of their experience.

IDevice Icon Immediacy in the Classroom

Albert Mehrabian, discussed earlier, has been credited with defining the concept of immediacy in terms of his "principle of immediacy," which states "people are drawn toward persons and things they like, evaluate highly, and prefer; and they avoid or move away from things they dislike, evaluate negatively, or do not prefer" (Mehrabian, 1971).

Nonverbal behaviors by teachers play a key role in signaling immediacy.

Nonverbal Immediacy Behaviors

  • Gestures while talking to the class
  • Uses vocal variety (non-monotone) when talking to the class
  • Looks at the class while talking
  • Smiles at the class while talking
  • Has a relaxed body posture while talking to the class
  • Moves around the classroom while teaching
  • Looks very little at board or notes while talking to the class
  • Removes barriers between self and students
  • Uses appropriate touch when dealing with students

Benefits of Immediacy

The benefits of Immediacy in the Classroom appear to be quite strong.

Immediacy is Positively Correlated with:

  • Student affect and affective learning (Gorham, 1988; many others, across cultures; recent: Pogue & AhYun, 2006), even in large classes (Messman & Jones-Corley, 2001)
  • Student cognitive learning (Chesebro & McCroskey, 2001; Christophel, 1990; Kelley & Gorham, 1988; Titsworth, 2001), though a smaller relationship was found than for affective learning.
  • Perceived instructor competence, caring and trustworthiness (Thweatt, 1999)
  • Positive student evaluations (Moore, Masterson, Christophel, & Shea, 1996)
  • Attitude and background homophily with instructors (Rocca & McCroskey, 1999)
  • Interpersonal attraction (all 3 forms: task, physical, and social attraction), (Rocca & McCroskey, 1999)
  • Perceived teacher assertiveness and responsiveness (Thomas, Richmond, & McCroskey, 1994)
  • Student attendance and participation (Rocca, 2004)

Immediacy is Negatively Correlated with:

  • Verbal aggression (Rocca & McCroskey, 1999)
  • Student resistance (Kearney, Plax, Smith & Sorensen, 1988)

(Based on a presentation by Kelly Rocca - For more on immediacy in the classroom, and for the references for these citations, visit Immediacy in the Classroom: Research and Practical Implications)

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