“The real education is your attitude and behavior with others. It defines your whole personality, no matter how qualified you are”. By analyzing ‘The Proposal’ movie, we can identify many aspects of interpersonal communication. Interpersonal communication is the exchange of verbal and nonverbal messages between people who build relationships, share meanings, and accomplish social goals. In the movie, ‘The Proposal’, Sandra Bullock is casted as Margaret Tate, an assertive and very powerful, executive editor-in-chief of a New York publisher, and Ryan Reynolds is cast to play as Andrew Paxton, her assistant. After Margaret learned that she was about to be deported back to Canada because she violated the terms of her work visa, she persuades her assistant, Andrew, to marry her in order to keep her visa status in the U.S. and avoid deportation to Canada. As their story develops, we can analyze several interpersonal communication concepts. The purpose of this paper is to explore three concepts of interpersonal communication as it relates to relationships and communication behaviors. The three main concepts in the film I want to address are power dynamics, social penetration and social exchange theory.
One of the first concepts we observe in the movie was power dynamics. As we know, when one person has power over another, that dynamic can cause one or both of the people to handle conflict unproductively. We can observe the power dynamic when Margaret asserts her power by firing Bob. She fired him because Bob failed to complete a task, which she has asked him to do repeatedly. However, as Margaret walked away from Bob’s office after firing him, Bob reacted by storming out of his office yelling and insulting Margaret in front of all the employees. Bob’s aggressive behavior perhaps was triggered by Margaret’s insensitive and distant communication style, or he felt humiliated by the lack of empathy she expressed when letting him go. Regardless, Margaret’s coercive power escalated the situation. Margaret abused her power by humiliating, insulting, and threatening Bob instead of trying to de-escalate the situation. She could have avoided this situation by calmly asking Bob to talk in a private location, away from the other employees. Instead, Margaret used the situation to highlight her power and ego in front of her employees. When you are in a position of authority, like she was, it is easy to see how you could let that power go to your head and ignore who you really are and how you should react. “When people use power for good, they can create positive working environments, high-quality products and services, and opportunities for others” (Bentley, 2020).
Another concept we observe in the movie is social penetration. The social penetration theory explains how partners move from superficial levels to greater intimacy. Through the onion model metaphor, we can describe how the theory of social penetration works. Social penetration is the process through which people ‘peel back’ others’ layers of personal information through interpersonal interaction to reach the core. Social penetration is specifically accomplished through self‐disclosure, the purposeful process of revealing information about oneself. For example, when Margaret and Andrew are forced to sleep in the same room, they start to warm up to each other with small talk. In one scene, Margaret opens up to Andrew by telling him a few personal and private details that he probably didn’t know about her. She shares with him that her tattoo of two swallows is meant to immortalize her parents, who died when she was sixteen. She even shared more of her feelings and told him that she went to the restroom and cried after Bob insulted her. Andrew was quietly processing what Margaret was telling him, probably realizing that he cares more than he thought for her. Andrew then asked her not to take it wrong when he says she’s very beautiful. He continues to lighten the mood by singing ‘It Takes Two’ by Margaret’s favorite band and they both end the night singing and laughing. We can see by them having an open conversation, they were able to bond, allowing their relationship to move from superficial to more intimate. I believe that, in order for relationships to develop, there must be an exchange of information through effective communication.
The final concept is the social exchange theory. The social exchange theory explains the process of balancing the advantages and disadvantages of a relationship. The way this concept was made apparent in the movie was when Margaret finds out that her visa application had been denied and she was to be deported. In response, Margaret came up with the idea of marrying her assistant, Andrew. Despite being told that this would have severe consequences, had it been determined that their engagement was not truthful, they still decided to take the risk and continue with committing fraud. For them, the reward that came with their agreement outweighed the cost that it implied. In chapter 8, we learned that rewards are elements of a relationship that you feel good about (benefits such as social status or intellectual stimulation) and costs are aspects of the relationship that upset or annoy you, cause you stress, or damage your own self-image or lifestyle (such as conflict or jealousy). For Margaret, the benefit of marrying Andrew was that she could stay in the United States permanently and she could keep her job. The risk of lying, however, was her potential deportation. For Andrew, the cost of marrying Margaret was getting fined $250,000 and being at risk of spending 5 years in federal prison. Publishing his manuscript and getting a promotion, however, was a much greater benefit. The social exchange theory is apparent in both Margaret and Andrew’s attempts to grow in their individual and professional lives.
In conclusion, through analyzing these three concepts of interpersonal communication, power dynamics, social penetration, and social exchange theory, we can see that interpersonal communication is crucial for personal and professional life development. It helps one to communicate more effectively with others. Communication is said to be the foundation of every interpersonal relationship. Without interpersonal communication, problems are bound to happen, as it plays an essential role in reducing misunderstandings and eventually strengthens individual relationships. The analysis of the movie ‘The Proposal’ helps to identify the aspects of interpersonal communication and the impact on relationships through the development of these concepts.