1 Take on Me

Meet Forrest and Emma

Forrest and Emma initially met online through social media and have maintained their friendship over an extended period. Despite living in separate states, they cultivated a bond by communicating daily about their lives. For roughly a year, they engaged with one another primarily through messaging, voice calls, and video chats, becoming increasingly comfortable with each other. Eventually, they felt ready to take their relationship to the next level and began planning to meet in person. Forrest traveled to meet Emma and quickly noticed that some of her mannerisms or tendencies were unfamiliar since they often communicated online. Both partners appreciated the added element of nonverbal communication and felt that eye contact was more genuine in person as opposed to on a video call. Their meeting was a transformative experience that strengthened their relationship. They acknowledged that while online communication had enabled them to establish and maintain their friendship, in-person interactions allowed them to communicate more deeply and experience a greater sense of connection.

What are some memorable face-to-face moments in your relationships?

Meet Forrest and Emma

The proliferation of technology has encouraged a significant transformation in our communication patterns over the last couple of decades. Now, individuals can now communicate instantaneously with others, and with the emergence of diverse technological channels, our communication options have expanded exponentially. Therefore, many individuals choose to leverage these technological means to their relational benefit, making most of our relationships today hybrid ones that are sustained through offline and online communication modes.

Furthermore, the boundaries between face-to-face and online communication are starting to blur in certain contexts; with smartphones becoming the primary mode of communication for many, mobile communication has become more accessible. The widespread use of social media has also enabled us to connect with a diverse range of individuals and establish interpersonal relationships. Given these developments, researchers are increasingly examining how our relationships are influenced by the various ways in which we communicate. While not all relationships utilize both face-to-face and online communication, it is crucial to recognize that most modern communication is hybrid in nature. Therefore, this chapter will explore the advantages and disadvantages of both face-to-face and online communication concerning our relationships.

1.1 What do the different modes of communication entail?

To gain a deeper understanding of the two foundational modes of communication (asynchronous and synchronous), one must first comprehend the concept of computer-mediated communication (CMC). CMC is defined as any interpersonal communication method facilitated through computer-assisted technologies, which essentially involves asynchronous communication (Spitzberg, 2006). Given the prevalence of technology in modern communication (e.g., mobile apps, texting and direct messaging, video-calling), CMC is a process we commonly engage in when we interact with others.

Asynchronous Communication

Asynchronous communication is a mediated form of communication that involves a delay between when a message is sent and when it is received and interpreted by the receiver. The length of the delay differs depending on the mode of communication. Asynchronous communication is not exclusive to CMC but is predominantly experienced through activities such as texting, emailing, and posting on social media platforms.

Unlike synchronous communication, which occurs in real-time, asynchronous communication occurs over a period of time and is generally at the pace of the individual engaging in the communication. This flexibility is a significant advantage of asynchronous communication as it allows for a more thoughtful response without the pressure to respond immediately. However, depending on the urgency of the matter, asynchronous communication may interfere with response time and a sense of connection compared to synchronous communication.

What are some of the things you enjoy about asynchronous communication? 

Synchronous Communication

Synchronous communication is the mode of communication in which messages are exchanged between the sender and receiver in real time. This means there is no delay between the transmission and reception of the message. Synchronous communication is experienced through various modes, including speaking face-to-face, making phone calls, and video conferencing.

This type of communication is advantageous when immediate responses are required, as it allows for efficient and effective communication. Synchronous communication also provides a sense of connection and immediacy that may not be present in asynchronous communication. However, because synchronous communication occurs in real-time, there can be a sense of pressure to respond well and quickly, which may limit one’s capacity to respond carefully. Furthermore, synchronous online communication can be impacted by factors such as technology issues, time constraints, and scheduling conflicts, which is important to consider.

1.2 Improving Communication through CMC Competency

Given the nature of modern communication, it is crucial to recognize that we can enhance both our face-to-face (FTF) and CMC skills to improve our communication experiences. In FTF communication, we focus on factors such as establishing eye contact, practicing active listening, avoiding interruptions, and asking questions to improve our competence. Similarly, we can develop our CMC through attentiveness, composure, coordination, and expressiveness in mediated contexts.

It is crucial to understand that the more we familiarize ourselves with CMC, the more motivated we will be to use it, and this motivation will, in turn, lead to further knowledge and skill development in CMC (Spitzberg, 2006). Competence in CMC can be viewed as a skill that can be developed and enhanced through exposure and experience—a skill that has been linked to increased intimacy in online friendships and greater satisfaction with online relationships (Wrench, 2004). Competence in CMC is essential for establishing and maintaining long-term, meaningful interpersonal relationships (Wrench, 2004). Individuals who spend time using and learning CMC become more proficient at being present in CMC interactions, which is crucial for effective communication in this mediated context (Wrench & Punyanunt-Carter, 2007).

Reflection Questions

How do you typically engage in asynchronous communication in your personal or professional life?

In what ways does synchronous communication contribute to a sense of connection and immediacy in your personal and professional relationships?

1.3 Advantages and Disadvantages of Online Communication

Communication in online interpersonal relationships has both advantages and disadvantages when compared to face-to-face communication. In our technologically driven world, many of our relationships are initiated and maintained through various online modalities. CMC plays a significant role in these relationships, allowing us to connect with others in ways that were previously impossible.

Advantages of Online Communication

Joseph Walther’s (1996) Hyperpersonal Model is a theoretical framework that explains how CMC can enhance the formation and maintenance of interpersonal relationships beyond FTF communication. The model describes how CMC can facilitate selective self-presentation by allowing individuals to present themselves in a positive light and manage impressions more effectively than in face-to-face communication. This can lead to greater levels of trust and intimacy within the relationship. The model also illustrates how CMC can provide more thorough feedback, allowing individuals to reflect and respond more thoughtfully in online interactions.

Similarly, online relationships also offer a notable advantage in that online relationships can be formed without the constraints and effort required in traditional FTF settings. In addition, the ease of initiating and maintaining communication online through CMC can promote greater comfort when engaging with others. Finally, for some, the reduction of cues in CMC can enhance interpersonal relationships for some individuals (Walther, 1996). Notably, individuals who experience social anxiety, communication apprehension, or loneliness may benefit from the less demanding nature of expressing themselves online, and possibly form relationships more easily in online spaces rather than offline spaces (Flaherty et al., 1998; McKenna et al., 2002). Those with heightened communication apprehension are also inclined to use social media more frequently than their counterparts with lower communication apprehension levels; this preference stems from the gratification of social needs that online communication affords, as well as its potential to aid in overcoming communication barriers (Punyanunt-Carter et al., 2017). Therefore, CMC affords unique opportunities for social connection and relationship building, particularly for those who may face challenges in conventional FTF settings.

Disadvantages of Online Communication

It is crucial to recognize that CMC also has its drawbacks and limitations. One of the primary limitations of CMC is that it lacks nonverbal components such as facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice, which are essential for conveying emotions, attitudes, and intentions. Unfortunately, CMC cannot capture these nuances, which can lead to misunderstandings and misinterpretations of meaning. Moreover, the increasing amount of text in online communication can lead to more misunderstandings. Without the benefit of nonverbal cues, individuals may miss out on the tone or true intentions behind the words. This can result in communication breakdowns, misunderstandings, and conflicts. Another issue with CMC is that it can contribute to a lack of trust between individuals. This is because online environments are more conducive to deception and misrepresentation than face-to-face contexts (O’Rourke et al., 2018). This can make it challenging for individuals to build and maintain trusting relationships online.

Reflection Questions

What has been your personal experience with online interpersonal relationships?

How have the advantages and disadvantages of CMC impacted your online relationships?

1.4 Advantages and Disadvantages of Face-to-Face Communication

While computer-mediated communication (CMC) has revolutionized how people communicate and connect with others, it is vital to acknowledge the unique benefits of face-to-face (FTF) communication. While CMC may offer convenience and accessibility, it lacks the authenticity and depth that only FTF communication can provide. Face-to-face communication allows for a more genuine and nuanced interaction, where people can connect more meaningfully and create stronger relationships. Online communication does offer its own unique ways to express ourselves, such as using emojis and other digital means to express ourselves, but they are not always the perfect solution to lacking cues. In-person communication helps us to build trust more effectively (Rhoads, 2010). Trust is a crucial component of any interpersonal relationship, and it is more challenging to establish in an online environment where people can misrepresent themselves. Further, in-person communication allows people to practice their nonverbal and verbal communication skills, which can be a practical asset in both personal and professional settings.

Advantages of Face-to-Face Communication

Miles Patterson’s (1982) Sequential Functional Model of Nonverbal Exchange seeks to provide a comprehensive approach for analyzing and understanding nonverbal exchanges by proposing several functional classifications. These functions help identify the immediate utility of isolated behaviors in our interpersonal relationships, such as nonverbal cues, facial expressions, touch, or any other nonverbal signal, as well as the pattern of behaviors over time. Furthermore, the model proposes that nonverbal behavior may be a product of strategy and not necessarily reactive to another individual’s behavior. The five functions of the Sequential Functional Model of Nonverbal Exchange are: providing information, regulating interaction, expressing intimacy, social control, and service-task.

Providing Information: In interpersonal relationships, nonverbal behavior is integral in providing valuable information about the individuals involved. Nonverbal behaviors such as facial expressions, posture, gestures, and other nonverbal cues can reveal an individual’s current emotional state, personal traits, comfort or discomfort, and even motives. This information can be critical for understanding and interpreting interpersonal interactions accurately. Nonverbal behavior can reveal more about a person than their verbal communication, and consequently, it is an essential aspect of interpersonal communication.

Regulating Interaction: Nonverbal communication also plays an integral role in interpersonal relations by aiding in the traditional communication exchange between individuals. For example, in FTF conversations, nonverbal exchanges act as transitional markers between the communicating individuals, determining the end of one’s speech and indicating the other’s turn to speak. This is accomplished through various nonverbal cues such as alterations in vocal pitch, prolongation of syllables, and eye contact directed toward the other individual. Such cues facilitate a smoother and better organized transition between speakers by helping reinforce the roles of the speaker and listener in the interaction.

Expressing Intimacy: Intimacy is an important factor that influences nonverbal exchanges within interpersonal relationships, as it is reflected in the level of nonverbal involvement during interpersonal communication. Certain nonverbal cues can indicate a heightened level of intimacy, such as the frequency of touch, prolonged eye contact, and body movement. These cues are often interpreted as signs of intimacy between individuals, suggesting a closer and more personal connection.

Social Control: Social control is an essential element of interpersonal relationships, and nonverbal behavior can be used purposefully to influence others. When individuals are aware that they want to influence someone, they may engage in specific nonverbal behaviors, such as smiling or using touch to assert their control over the situation. Through these nonverbal cues, individuals can assert their influence over others.

Service-Task: Nonverbal communication can serve not only social but also service functions. In such cases, nonverbal exchanges are focused on a specific task or service, which justifies the nonverbal involvement. Unlike social nonverbal behavior, this type of nonverbal exchange does not reflect a social relationship between individuals but rather a transactional relationship between a service provider and recipient. For example, a hairdresser must touch their client’s head in order to perform their profession rather than out of a motivation to establish a social connection.


In this TED Talk, Joe Navarro discusses “giving information up” through our nonverbals. How do the stories he recalls from his career with the FBI reflect the importance of “reading” people? Does/will your career involve “reading” people? How so?

Disadvantages of Face-to-Face Communication

While FTF communication has long been the standard mode of communication, it does have disadvantages. FTF communication can complicate the conveyance of emotions and intentions because it demands immediate responses. It is necessary to mention that nonverbal cues can be easily overlooked or misinterpreted in face-to-face communication because it can be challenging for people to communicate their emotions and intentions effectively. Some people are not as skilled at verbal and nonverbal communication and may need more time to communicate their needs and opinions, though societal expectations about FTF communication may not be as accommodating.

In light of the limitations of both modes, it is important to recognize that CMC should not be viewed as a replacement for FTF communication, but rather as an additional means of initiating, engaging, developing, and maintaining interpersonal relationships. It is critical that individuals do not become overly reliant on online interactions but instead incorporate them into their daily communicative lives in a balanced and meaningful way. Consider the advantages and disadvantages of both modes as you move through the rest of the chapters in this book.

Closing Questions

How do you navigate the challenges of interpreting and expressing the different nonverbal cues within your personal social situations?

Can you provide an example of a situation where misinterpreting nonverbal cues led to a misunderstanding?

The Chapter 1 MixtapeA tape player with headphones resting on top sits under the words "chapter 1 mixtape."

    • A-ha – “Take On Me”

    • Lipps Inc. – “Funky Town”

    • Guns N’ Roses – “Sweet Child O’ Mine”

    • The Buggles – “Video Killed the Radio Star”

    • Madonna – “Material Girl”

Chapter References

Flaherty, L. M., Pearce, K. J., & Rubin, R. B. (1998). Internet and face‐to‐face communication: Not functional alternatives. Communication Quarterly, 46(3), 250-268. https://doi.org/10.1080/01463379809370100

McKenna, K. Y., Green, A. S., & Gleason, M. E. (2002). Relationship formation on the internet: What’s the big attraction? Journal of Social Issues, 58(1), 9-31. https://doi.org/10.1111/1540-4560.00246

O’Rourke, S., Eskritt, M., & Bosacki, S. (2018). Communication, compassion, and computers: Adolescents’ and adults’ evaluations of online and face-to-face deception. Journal of Adolescence, 65, 133-140. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.adolescence.2018.03.010

Patterson, M. L. (1991). A functional approach to nonverbal exchange. In R.S. Feldman & B. Rime (Eds.), Fundamentals of nonverbal behavior (pp. 458–495). Cambridge University Press.

Punyanunt-Carter, N. M., De La Cruz, J., & Wrench, J. S. (2017). Investigating the relationships among college students’ satisfaction, addiction, needs, communication apprehension, motives, and uses & gratifications with Snapchat. Computers in Human Behavior, 75, 870-875. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2017.06.034

Rhoads, M. (2010). Face-to-face and computer-mediated communication: What does theory tell us and what have we learned so far?. Journal of Planning Literature, 25(2), 111-122. https://doi.org/10.1177/0885412210382984

Spitzberg, B. H. (2006). Preliminary development of a model and measure of computer-mediated communication (CMC) competence. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 11(2), 629-666. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1083-6101.2006.00030.x

Walther, J. B. (1996). Computer-mediated communication: Impersonal, interpersonal, and hyperpersonal Interaction. Communication Research, 23(1), 3-43. https://doi.org/10.1177/009365096023001001

Wrench, J. S. (2004, November). Face-to-face v. online friendships: An examination of friendship intimacy, interpersonal communication satisfaction, and interpersonal communication motives. National Communication Association. Chicago, IL.

Wrench, J. S., & Punyanunt-Carter, N. M. (2007). The relationship between computer-mediated-communication competence, apprehension, self-efficacy, perceived confidence, and social presence. Southern Communication Journal, 72(4), 355-378. https://doi.org/10.1080/10417940701667696



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In Your Eyes: Communicating in Close Relationships Copyright © 2023 by Sydney Brammer; Ryan Martinez; and Narissra Punyanunt-Carter is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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