According to Keyton, communication “is the process of transmitting information and common understanding from one person to another.” The definition underscores the fact that unless a common understanding results from the exchange of information, there is no communication. “Understanding” is the essence of communication. This only happens when there is an intention of understanding and being understood by those involved in a communication situation. Interaction with the purpose of sharing involves the exchange of signs and symbols (i.e. words). In a given communicative context, the absence of them also still communicates the absence of the ‘ingredients’ of communication; the intention, the skills or the presence of barriers.
Communication is a matter of effectiveness, which is dependent on the interlocutors’ communication competency. In other words, its effectiveness is dependent on one’s competency in communication. Communication involves intents and efforts from both the sender and the receiver of the message. It is a process that can be fraught with error such as with messages muddled (i.e., mixed up by the sender, or misinterpreted by the recipient). Miscommunication is avoidable. However, if this isn’t detected, it can cause tremendous confusion, waste efforts and miss opportunities. In fact, communication is successful only when both the sender and the receiver reach a common understanding regarding the same information as a result of the communication process.
Elements and Process of Communication
Communication is a process and as such contains many elements to enable it to happen. Here are some major elements of the communication process:
1. Stimulus: This is the originating point. It is the urge that necessitates communication. The stronger the stimulus or the urge, the greater the need to communicate. The greater the need to communicate, the more the need for effectiveness. Effective communication, therefore, results in the form of desired outcome.
2. Encoding/message: The urge to satisfy a need necessitates expression. Without getting into the ages-old debate whether first is the word or the thought, the expression has to take a comprehensible form so as to enable the receiver to decode or interpret it. This is done by using different conventions. The expression can be through signs and symbols. Symbols here denote the verbal mode; or the use of words whereas the signs are non-verbal. Both symbols and signs together make the language we use to communicate. Language, both verbal and non-verbal, is thus employed to encode the message that is intended to be communicated. It is imperative that the encoding be done in a language that conveys, or for that matter, communicates.
3. Channel: Channel is the means through which the message travels or gets transmitted. The channel is the medium such as e-mail, face-to-face or phone conversation, letter, presentation, etc. The sending and feedback channels may not necessarily be the same. The type of communication, viz. formal and informal communication is an important aspect in choosing the most appropriate channel for communicating effectively.
4. Decoding: Decoding of a message is as integral to communication as encoding it. It is the process of giving meaning to the encoded message. It can also be referred to as extracting the embedded meaning or interpreting what was encoded by the sender.
5. Receiver: A message is directed to a receiver being the eventual recipient of the message. Communication is a matter of comprehending the sent message in its true essence and thus requires a certain level of Knowledge, Skills and Abilities (KSA) on the part of the receiver to correctly interpret the message.
Barriers to Communication
I. Physical Barriers: Physical distractions can interfere with the effectiveness of communication, including a telephone call, drop-in visitors, and distances between people, walls, etc. People often take physical barriers for granted, but sometimes they can be removed. For example, interruptions such as telephone calls and drop-in visitors can be removed by issuing instructions to the secretary.
II. Semantic Barriers: The words we choose, how we use them and the meaning we attach to them, cause many communication barriers. The problem is semantic, or the meaning of the words we use. Words and phrases such as efficiency, increased productivity, management prerogatives and just cause may mean one thing to a school administrator, and something entirely different to a staff member. Today’s complex businesses are highly specialized. They have staff and technical experts developing and using specialized terminology – jargon – that only other similar staff and technical experts can understand. And if people don’t understand the words, they cannot understand the message.
III. Psycho-social Barriers: Three important concepts are associated with psychological and social barriers: fields of experience, filtering and psychological distance. Fields of experience include people’s backgrounds, perceptions, values, biases, needs and expectations. Senders can encode and receivers decode messages only in the context of their fields of experience. When the sender’s field of experience overlaps very little with the receiver’s, communication becomes difficult. Filtering means that more often than not we see and hear what we are emotionally tuned in to see and hear. Filtering is caused by our own needs and interests, which guide our listening. Psycho-social distance between people is similar to actual physical distance. For example, the school administrator talks down to a staff member, who resents this attitude, and this resentment separates them, thereby blocking opportunity for effective communication. Several communication theorists like Abrell, Auer, Larson, Shettleworth, Weiss, et al., have focused on the major areas where failures in communication most frequently occur.
The following are the major areas where communication breakdowns most frequently occur:
Sincerity— nearly all communication theorists assert that sincerity is the foundation on which all true communication rests. Without sincerity—honesty, straightforwardness, and authenticity—all attempts at communication are destined to fail.
Empathy—research shows that lack of empathy is one of the major obstacles to effective communication. Empathy is the ability to put one’s self into another’s shoes.
Self-perception—how we see ourselves affects our ability to communicate effectively. A healthy but realistic self-perception is a necessary ingredient in communicating with others.
Role perception—unless people know what their role is, the importance of their role, and what is expected of them, they will not know what to communicate, when to communicate, or to whom to communicate.
Efforts to distort the message—pitfalls in communication often occur in our efforts—both consciously and unconsciously—to distort messages.
Images—another obstacle to successful communication is the sender’s image of the receiver and vice versa. For example, school administrators are sometimes viewed as not too well informed about teaching, seen as out of touch with the classroom, and looked on as paper shufflers. On the other hand, some school administrators view teachers as lazy, inconsiderate of administrative problems, and unrealistic about the strengths and weaknesses of their students. Such views lead to a “we-they” attitude.
Vehicle for message—the vehicle by which we choose to send messages is important in successful communication. In most cases, the vehicle to be used is defined by the situation.
Ability to communicate—Some of the ways we communicate raise barriers by inhibiting discussion or causing others to feel inferior, angry, hostile, dependent, compliant or subservient.
Listening ability—frequently, people fail to appreciate the importance of listening, do not care enough to become actively involved with what others are saying, and are not sufficiently motivated to develop the skills necessary to acquire the art of listening.
Culture—our cultural heritage, biases and prejudices often serve as barriers to communication. The fact that we are young or old, male or female, and so on, have all proved to be obstacles in communicating effectively.
Tradition—past practice helps determine how, when, and what we send and receive. For example, a school administrator who has an authoritative style may find that his staff will not share information readily. If a new administrator with a collaborative style replaces the authoritarian one, the new administrator may find that it takes a while for his colleagues to speak out on important issues.
Conditioning—the manner in which communication is conditioned by the environment influences the accuracy of messages sent and received.
Noise—noise consists of external factors in the channels and internal perceptions and experiences within the source and the receiver that affect communication.
Types of Communication
1. Verbal Communication
Verbal communication is all about language — a language is a syntactically organized system of signals, such as voice sounds, intonations or pitch, gestures or written symbols which communicate thoughts or feelings. If a language is about communicating with signals, voice, sounds, gestures or written symbols, can animal communications be considered a language? Animals do not have a written form of a language, but they use a language to communicate with each other. In that sense, animal communication can be considered a separate language. Human languages, spoken and written, can be described as a system of symbols (sometimes known as lexemes) and the grammars (rules) by which the symbols are manipulated. Following are the forms of verbal communication:
I. Oral Communication—is the process of verbally transmitting information and ideas from one individual or group to another. It can be either formal or informal. Examples of informal oral communication include:
- Face-to-face conversations
- Telephonic conversations
- Discussions that take place at business meetings
ii. Written Communication—written communication is an innovative activity of the mind. Effective written communication is essential for preparing worthy promotional materials for business development. Effective writing involves careful choice of words, their organization in correct order in sentences formation as well as cohesive composition of sentences.
2. Non-verbal Communication
While verbal communication is much studied and is the focus of attention in areas ranging from journalism to governance to entertainment, the fact is that human beings communicate more through non-verbal means. Some estimates are that so-called body language accounts for 65, 70, even 90 percent of human communication. Non-verbal communication is hugely important in human interaction. Following are some important types of non-verbal communication:
1. Kinesics—simplistically called body language, it deals with physical movement, sometimes called affective displays.
2. Occulesicsis— closely related to kinesics, Occulesics deals with eye behaviour as an element of communication. Some aspects of occulesics deal with a static or fixed gaze versus dynamic eye movement.
3. Proxemics—involves the social use of space in a communication situation. One aspect of this is the closeness between and among people when they speak, and the significant role that culture plays in this.
4. Haptics—focuses on touching as an element of communication, indicating the type of touch as well as its frequency and intensity.
5. Vocalics—also called paralanguage deals with vocal cues, more accurately referred to as the non-phonemic qualities of language.
6. Chronemics—deals with the use of time as an element of communication. Formal time is measured in minutes, hours, days, and so on.
7. Artefacts—deals with the communicative aspect of apparent objects visible in the room – art, possessions and so on – in that these may be personal, indicative of status and/or revealing of lifestyle.
8. Olfactics— is an aspect of non-verbal communication dealing with smells.
9. Synchrony— focuses on the amount of coordination in people’s behaviour when their non-verbal cues are in sync with one another.