Basic introduction to communication, Writing Wisdom Tree

Basic introduction to communication

Here is a basic introduction to communication. In this very brief introduction to communication, I’ll explore the definitions of communication, communication situations, barriers to communication, channels of communication, as well as other bits of the ‘nitty gritty’ of communication.

In subsequent articles here, I’ll focus on communication through speaking, writing, listening and reading.

Ways to view communication

Communication is a skill that everybody possesses and practices with varying degrees of competence. It is a subject of study. It is the most important feature of life.

There is no one accepted definition of communication as evidenced by the number of models of communication that scholars have thought up.
Scholars, over the years, have been trying to understand the communication process and as soon as they discover a new insight, they share it with the world. Thus, the number of models out there.
These models are really ideas, in visual form, of how communication takes place.

What is communication?


1. Is it sufficient to say that communication is a process that involves a sender of a message and a receiver of a message?

2. Or, is it sufficient to say that communication is a process that involves a sender of a message and a receiver of a message, both sender and receiver giving feedback about the message to each other?
3. What about saying that communication is an active process that includes communicators who listen to each other and provide feedback, while at the same time creating realities. That is, through the process of communication, communicators:

  • empower themselves by learning about themselves and their style of communicating and

  • contribute to creating and strengthening relationships in the contexts in which they live, work and play

These are all definitions of communication. The models of communication force us to think about what we really do when we communicate; when we interact with each other and the environment.

A basic definition of communication

Communication happens all the time, but what exactly is this communication and how is it defined?

Communication is an activity which involves a process. Simply put, it involves a sender of a message and a receiver of a message. The message can be sent via any medium. Communicators send messages using any of the following media: songs, letters, works of art, speeches, meetings, among others.

These messages may be sent using different channels:

  • face to face

  • technology mediated channels such as email, social media, videoconferences…

  • written newspapers, magazines, among others.

And this communication takes place in a context.

As long as sender, receiver, message, medium and context are present, a communication situation takes place.

Understanding the communication situation

In a communication situation, the sender of the message and the receiver of the message engage in an interactive process. They act on the message and their back and forth responses to that message. That is, they give feedback to each other. But they do much more than this. Remember that all communication takes place in a context and this context impacts the message, sender, receiver and the medium through which the message is sent.

Communication takes place between and among: family members, students and their peers, students and teachers, workers in organisations, bosses and workers, spouses, neighbours, government and the governed…

The communication process is not smooth. The sender doesn’t just send a message and the receiver immediately gets the intended message all the time. Receivers and senders of messages (communicators) face challenges in negotiating the:

  • norms of the culture in which communication takes place

  • attitude of communicators to each other

  • expectations that communicators have of each other

  • non-verbal cues…

So, what happens in communication situations? Communicators do some of the following in each communication situations depending on the context. They:

  • listen

  • read

  • write

  • speak

  • paint

  • draw

  • sculpt

  • interpret non-verbal cues

  • give feedback

  • share ideas

Some of the above are constants in any communication situation, like listening and interpreting non-verbal cues.

Examples of communication situations

  • A classroom setting in which there is a teacher and a student for a consultation.
  • A workplace setting in which there is a worker who is about to be fired by the boss for making a big mistake in doing his job
  • A political rally where politicians are making their cases for citizens to vote for them in an upcoming election
  • The living room at home with mother and child; the child is defending his performance at school after receiving a poor report card

Use everything that you will learn from reading this post to analyse the above scenarios.

Barriers to communication

From your experiences of being in communication situations, you’ll realise that communication does not flow smoothly all the time. There are a number of factors in the environment that affect communication situations. These factors are barriers to communication because of the roles they play in restricting the smooth flow of communication in the contexts in which communication takes place. Some of these barriers are as follows:

Physical barriers

Physical barriers are noise, time, place, space and climate…

Noise – the ‘sounds’ that startle, that annoy, that frustrate, that drown out or muffle the ‘sound ‘that we want to hear. These noises can be music, conversation, revving of a motor bike or car, hammering, the whirring of an overhead fan, attitude of the sender and receiver of messages… Noise is anything that prevents us from deriving meaning from the communication in which we engage, in the spaces in which we communicate.

Timeimpacts much of everything and communication is not exempt. Benjamin Franklin observed that ‘time is money’. This is true, especially in the business context where the aim of business is to make as much money as possible. And this saying is also true in communication situations of a business nature.

Time is especially important in this era of cross cultural communication. Finding a time to communicate to benefit all sides is important when different time zones are involved.

There is another dimension of time that’s also important. Some parents often tell their children ‘there is a time and a place for everything’ when they try to interrupt an important ‘moment’ or say the ‘wrong’ thing at the ‘wrong’ time. Probably a child telling her mother’s friend the bit of gossip about that friend that the mother had shared with another friend. In these scenarios, timing is everything.

It is not the ‘right’ time all the time to share some bits of information.

Another bit of wisdom from parents:

You must know ‘when’, ‘where’ and ‘how’ before you open your mouth.

PlaceThe place in which communication takes place can impede the communication process. Things like the spatial dimensions of the environment can enhance or impede communication. Think about a room which communication is taking place.
Are there windows? How big or small or wide or narrow are these windows? People who suffer from claustrophobia will be concerned about the spaciousness or lack thereof of this room and this will determine the effectiveness of their communication in this space.

SpaceEdward T. Hall did much research on what he refers to as ‘proxemics’ in facilitating interpersonal communication. His book, Silent Language, explored, among other things, how people from different cultures view space during communication.

During the process of communication, how close to each other is close enough?

Being too close or too far away is a barrier to communication depending on who you talk to – the American, Mexican or Jamaican.

Climate – How hot or cold a space in which communication takes place is, is a barrier to communication. Think of yourself in those icy cold air-conditioned rooms at work or in public organisations. Or, think of yourself in a hot airless room. How much communication takes place there in these conditions?

Another dimension of climate has to do with the ambience in the room. Are good vibes flowing or negative vibes? Negative energy in the room can impede communication.

Psychological barriers – are those mental processes that impede communication. Examples of these barriers are the phobias that some people have such as fears of closed spaces, of height, of being too close to other people, of public speaking, of being judged… These fears can impede communication if not managed.

Other psychological barriers are attitudes and beliefs that we hold about things like politics and religion that impede

Physiological barriersThese are impediments in the body that may impact how effective communication is. Think of blindness, deafness, problems with memory, stuttering, problems with attention, pain… There are a number of physiological problems that affect communicators that may prevent them from communicating effectively.

Social barriers/Cultural barriers These barriers refer to factors in the social environment in which we live that may impact the effectiveness of communication. This is because there are norms in the family, school, work places, religion and other social institutions that determine how communication proceeds. These barriers restrict the flow of communication in every direction, but they often help to maintain the ‘peace’ between and among people in their groups.


Communicators have to find a middle ground to ensure that communication is effective.

Types of Communication

  • Verbal – oral, spoken; Think of all the situations that we communicate via ‘word of mouth’.
  • Non-verbal – body language; What is your body language saying to communicators? Is it suggesting boredom or excitement to receive the message? Do you ‘roll your eyes’, fidget, frown, smile…? All these actions say something to communicators.
  • Written – books, notes, letters…

Communication contexts

  • Business
  • Education
  • Family
  • Friendship groups
  • Religious groups
  • Clubs and Societies

Effective Communication
Effective communication is the goal of communication in any communication situation. Effective communication is communication in which communicators derive meaning from the encounter. That is, communicators understand the message and react to it.
This reaction may not be the one that the sender expects. This is because communicators can think and through thinking come up with ‘new’ ways of viewing ‘old’ issues. During the process of communication, they shed ‘new’ light on these ‘old’ issues, leading to new reactions to the issue. This ‘new’ interpretation of ‘old’ issues can lead to far reaching change in how we live our lives in our environment.
Of course, if a communicator responds in an unexpected way to a message, this may also cause conflict. This is so because every communicator has an agenda. It may be to inform, persuade or educate.
The question is:

Do other communicators want to be entertained, informed or persuaded at that point in time about an issue that they may not care about?

Probably not.
Effective communication should lead to understanding. To gain this understanding, communicators should aim to gain insights into the goals, motivation and biases of the persons with whom they communicate. This is important because communication is never neutral.

We communicate to achieve a purpose.

If we understand this, we can be certain that effective communication takes place every time we share ideas with each other because we’ll search for and find the purpose in every communication situation. Having found the purpose of the bit of communication, we can choose an appropriate reaction to it, one that clearly communicates our stance but also reduces negativity.
Effective communication is important to maintain and foster good relations among people within their personal and professional spaces.

Conclusion

This basic introduction to communication introduces some of the themes in communication. From this introduction, we can conclude that communicate is an interactive process in which communicators use different media/channels to send and receive messages. After sending and receiving messages, they act on these messages with an aim to:

  • understand each other.
  • come up with solutions to the problems that they face in the environments in which they communicate.
  • to inform educate and persuade each other.

We learn that the process is not easy because for effective communication to take place, communicators have to overcome a number of barriers that may mute or distort the messages that they send and receive.

Nevertheless, we can conclude that communicators have been managing to do this fairly well, for the most part, if what is happening in the world is any indication of this.

This basic introduction to communication continues here. Be sure to check out these posts.

Remember:

As we experience life, our minds never stop working. We think about our experiences. These thoughts that we have stir emotional and/cognitive responses as we either consciously or unconsciously process them. We process our experiences by critically or uncritically thinking about them. After we think about our experiences, we share them, if we choose, with others. In sharing our experiences we communicate.

Browse this book, Investing In Our Success, in which I share stories about of the Jamaican people and culture.

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Posted by Janette B. Fuller

Janette B. Fuller is an educator and author. Here at Writing Wisdom Tree, she shares education stories and writing tips with educators and students. In addition, she offers editing services to students in colleges and universities, as well as any individual or business that needs editing services. Browse the blog. You'll learn more about her as you click through its pages.

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