Breaking Down Communication

Communication, derived from the Latin word communis, literally means ‘to share’, ‘to impart’, ‘to participate’ or ‘to make common’. This implies that the nature of communication is concerned with ‘sharing of information’.

Keyton defined communication as the process of transmitting information and common understanding from one person to another.

Keyton's definition underscores the fact that unless a common understanding results from the exchange of information, there is no communication.

W H Newman and C F Summer Jrn, offer another clear definition: “communication is an exchange of facts, ideas, opinions, or emotions by two or more persons.”

Peter Little also defines communication as “the process by which information is transmitted between individuals and/or organizations so that an understanding response results.”

Characteristics of Communication

Based on the definitions above, the following characteristics are true of communication:

  1. Provides interchange of information
    Communication is a two-way process. Thus, it aims at exchanging information between two or more people. It may be at an individual or an organizational level.
  2. It is a continuous process
    The process of communication is dynamic—constantly changing. The people with whom we communicate, its content and nature, and the situation in which communication is held are subject to constant changes.
  3. It paves way for mutual understanding
    The main purpose of communication is to bring about mutual understanding. The receiver should receive and understand the message as intended by the sender.
  4. It results in response or reaction
    Communication always results in some response or reaction. A message becomes communication only when the receiver understands or acknowledges it, and also responds or reacts to it.
  5. It is a social activity
    Communication is concerned with the effort of people who get in touch with one another and make themselves understood to others. The process by which people attempt to share meaning and relate to one another is, thus, a social activity.

Classification of Communication

Communication can be classified into three main components: verbal (or linguistic) communication, paralinguistic communication, and nonverbal communication.

  1. The first component of communication is the verbal or linguistic type, concerned with various words combinations that are used to convey information. This involves the content and the organization of speech.
  2. The second type of communication is paralanguage. Although it uses the auditory-vocal channel, it is considered nonverbal. ParalanguageOpens in new window is that type of communication which concerns nonvocal elements including pitchOpens in new window, rateOpens in new window, intonation, articulation, etc.
  3. Nonverbal communicationOpens in new window—the third type of communication—in its broader sense, includes both paralingual aspects and nonverbal modes of behaviour such as facial expressionsOpens in new window, gestureOpens in new window, and postureOpens in new window.

The Communication Process

Communication is a cyclical process which begins when the sender encodesOpens in new window the idea by selecting wordsOpens in new window, symbols, or gesturesOpens in new window with which to compose a message. The messageOpens in new window is the outcome of the encoding, which takes the form of verbal (oral or written form) and nonverbal symbols.

The message is sent through a medium known as channelOpens in new window, which is the vehicle with which the communication is transmitted. The medium can be a face-to-face conversation, telephone call, e-mail, a written report, or text via cell phone. The receiver decodesOpens in new window the received message into meaningful information and transmits feedbackOpens in new window to the sender.

Feedback occurs when the receiver responds to the sender’s message by returning the message to the sender. Feedback allows the sender to determine whether the message has been received and understood.

More often than not, communication—smooth transmission or comprehension of a message—may be interfered by noise. NoiseOpens in new window is anything that distorts the message. Different perceptions of the message, language barriers, interruptions, emotions, and attitudes are examples of noise.

In summary, the main components of the communication processOpens in new window include the senderOpens in new window, messageOpens in new window, channel (medium of transmission)Opens in new window, receiverOpens in new window, and feedbackOpens in new window.

The components in the communication process determine the quality of communication. A problem commonly known as barrierOpens in new window, in any one of the components can reduce communication effectiveness (Keyton, 2011). There are numerous barriers that may negatively influence communication: physical barriersOpens in new window, physiological barriersOpens in new window, psychological barriersOpens in new window, semantic barriersOpens in new window, organizational barriersOpens in new window, to name but a few.