Improve Relationships with Immediacy

This post defines and explains the skill of immediacy, so you can begin using immediacy to improve your relationships immediately.

What is Immediacy?

Immediacy is a person’s ability to use the immediate situation to invite the person they’re communicating with to look at what’s going on between them in the relationship. Immediacy can involve being honest about how you’re feeling, offering a hunch of what the other person may be feeling and inviting the other person to discuss what is going on between you in the relationship.

Why Practice Immediacy?

Immediacy is a fundamental relationship skill that creates a foundation of trust. It helps you build and maintain close relationships because it lets the other person know that you are completely available for them, and that you are more interested in what’s going on for them than anything else.

People respond better to immediate communication than to any other form of communication. It demonstrates interest, care and helps to build rapport in the relationship. Learning to use immediacy will have a huge effect on the quality of your relationships by increasing the degree to which others find you attractive and respond positively toward you.

Immediacy Example

‘I know that you’ve said you never get angry, but I’m sensing that, although your voice is quiet, you are very angry with me’.

In the above example the speaker is acknowledging something the other person said, and is making an observation that seems to be in conflict with never getting angry. This is designed to invite conversation, and to show that the speaker is paying attention, not only to what is said, but also to what is not said.

Immediacy can be used any kind of relationships, be they friendly, familial or professional. In fact, there is substantial evidence to show that using immediacy in workplace communication between supervisors and staff is very effective.

A supervisor who uses immediacy is seen by their employees as being interested and concerned. The staff are therefore likely to feel more comfortable opening up, and being honest about issues that may benefit the supervisor and the organization.

This help to resolve workplace problems, and using immediacy also creates a workplace environment where people feel more comfortable being themselves. This increases employee motivation and job satisfaction.

Cautions When Using Immediacy

People might respond to immediacy differently across various cultures. For example, in Canada, immediacy is generally seen as friendly and appropriate. However, people of other cultures could view immediacy as being overly familiar, or as assuming that a relationship is close when it is only acquaintance-level.

Some people may interpret immediacy as a desire for increased intimacy within the relationship. Although immediacy is designed to build rapport and trust, some may interpret immediacy as a romantic invitation where you only intended friendliness.

Certain individuals will find immediacy intimidating and challenging, so it may not be well received. Some people are fearful about communication, and might want to get the interaction over with as soon as possible. Because immediacy prolongs and encourages a greater depth of communication, this can prove challenging for such individuals.

8 Ways to Practice Immediacy

You convey immediacy through both verbal and nonverbal communication.

1. Self-disclose

Reveal something important about yourself. This helps the other person to feel more comfortable opening up with you. Ultimately, self-disclosing says, “I’m willing to trust you with this information, and in the same way, you can trust me.”

2. Consider your body posture

We express how open or closed we are with our body language and posture. For example, we might maintain physical closeness, or we might sit or stand in a way that excludes any third parties. Open body posture demonstrates that we’re fully engaged and interested only in the other person.

3. Focus on what the other person is saying

Pay attention for real. Prove that you’re not zoning out, or just planning your response to whatever is being said.

You can show the other person that you’ve heard and understood what they’ve said by offering them appropriate verbal and nonverbal feedback. This is related to #7 below.

Don’t force it. It needs to be natural and fit the conversation.

4. Be honest with the other person and offer your view of them, and of your relationship together

For example you might say, “I notice that you haven’t looked at me throughout this conversation which is leaving me feeling rather shut out. It feels like you’re trying to prevent me from getting too close… I wonder if that’s how it feels to you?”

5. Refer to the other person’s good character traits

You might comment on their dependability, intelligence, or integrity, for example. You could say, “You are always so reliable.”

In doing so, you’re complimenting the other person and indicating that you are ‘for’ them. Sincere compliments make people feel good. People will naturally like you more if you make them feel good.

6. Discuss common ground 

Talk about things you have in common, or things you’ve done together, or shared.

This shows the other person that you on the same level, and that you appreciate the time you’ve had together. It also shows that you’re choosing to speak about things you have in common because you want to connect with them and deepen your relationship.

7. Offer verbal cues

By giving feedback cues, you indicate that you want to listen more, and that you’re interested. For example you could say, “and then what happened?” This shows the other person that they have your full, undivided attention.

8. Maintain appropriate eye contact

This can be challenging for some people. I’s important to maintain eye contact, and prevent yourself from looking around the room, and at other people because this might indicate disinterest to the other person.

Anti-Immediacy: a final caution

At the same time that you’ll want to demonstrate immediacy in conversation, try to avoid non-immediacy messages such as speaking in a monotone, looking away from the person you’re talking to, frowning while talking, having a tense body posture, or avoiding gestures.

Immediacy is one of those verbal and non-verbal communication skills that can take anything up to a lifetime to become an expert at. Practice, and keep practicing.

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