Communication processes

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Communication is a process of transferring information from one entity to another. Communication processes are sign-mediated interactions between at least two agents which share a repertoire of signs and semiotic rules. Communication is commonly defined as "the imparting or interchange of thoughts, opinions, or information by speech, writing, or signs". Although there is such a thing as one-way communication, communication can be perceived better as a two-way process in which there is an exchange and progression of thoughts, feelings or ideas (energy) towards a mutually accepted goal or direction (information).

Communication is a process whereby information is enclosed in a package and is channeled and imparted by a sender to a receiver via some medium. The receiver then decodes the message and gives the sender a feedback. All forms of communication require a sender, a message, and a receiver. Communication requires that all parties have an area of communicative commonality. There are auditory means, such as speech, song, and tone of voice, and there are nonverbal means, such as body language, sign language, paralanguage, touch, eye contact, and writing.

Over time, technology has progressed and has created new forms of and ideas about communication. These technological advances revolutionized the processes of communication. Researchers have divided how communication was transformed into three revolutionary stages:

In the 1st Information Communication Revolution, the first written communication began, with pictographs. These writings were made on stone, which were too heavy to transfer. During this era, written communication was not mobile, but nonetheless existed.

In the 2nd Information Communication Revolution, writing began to appear on paper, papyrus, clay, wax, etc. Common alphabets were introduced, allowing the uniformity of language across large distances. Much later the Gutenberg printing-press was invented. Gutenberg created the first printed book using his press, and that book was the Bible. The writings were able to be transferred for others across the world to view. Written communication is now storable, and portable.

In the 3rd Information Communication Revolution, information can now be transferred via waves and electronic signals.

Communication is thus a process by which meaning is assigned and conveyed in an attempt to create shared understanding. This process requires a vast repertoire of skills in intrapersonal and interpersonal processing, listening, observing, speaking, questioning, analyzing, and evaluating. It is through communication that collaboration and cooperation occur.

There are also many common barriers to successful communication, two of which are message overload (when a person receives too many messages at the same time), and message complexity. Communication is a continuous process.

There are three major parts in human face to face communication which are body language, voice tonality, and words. According to the research:

  • 55% of impact is determined by body language-postures, gestures, and eye contact,
  • 38% by the tone of voice, and
  • 7% by the content or the words used in the communication process.

Although the exact percentage of influence may differ from variables such as the listener and the speaker, communication as a whole strives for the same goal and thus, in some cases, can be universal. 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 as a language? Animals do not have a written form of a language, but use a language to communicate with each another. In that sense, an animal communication can be considered as a separate language.

Human spoken and written languages can be described as a system of symbols (sometimes known as lexemes) and the grammars (rules) by which the symbols are manipulated. The word "language" is also used to refer to common properties of languages. Language learning is normal in human childhood. Most human languages use patterns of sound or gesture for symbols which enable communication with others around them. There are thousands of human languages, and these seem to share certain properties, even though many shared properties have exceptions.

There is no defined line between a language and a dialect, but the linguist Max Weinreich is credited as saying that "a language is a dialect with an army and a navy". Constructed languages such as Esperanto, programming languages, and various mathematical formalisms are not necessarily restricted to the properties shared by human languages.

Nonverbal communication

Nonverbal communication is the process of communicating through sending and receiving wordless messages. Such messages can be communicated through gesture, body language or posture; facial expression and eye contact, object communication such as clothing, hairstyles or even architecture, or symbols and infographics, as well as through an aggregate of the above, such as behavioral communication. Nonverbal communication plays a key role in every person's day to day life, from employment to romantic engagements.

Speech may also contain nonverbal elements known as paralanguage, including voice quality, emotion and speaking style, as well as prosodic features such as rhythm, intonation and stress. Likewise, written texts have nonverbal elements such as handwriting style, spatial arrangement of words, or the use of emoticons. A portmanteau of the English words emotion (or emote) and icon, an emoticon is a symbol or combination of symbols used to convey emotional content in written or message form.

Other communication channels such as telegraphy fit into this category, whereby signals travel from person to person by an alternative means. These signals can in themselves be representative of words, objects or merely be state projections. Trials ave shown that humans can communicate directly in this way without body language, voice tonality or words.

Categories and Features G. W. Porter divides non-verbal communication into four broad categories:

  • Physical. This is the personal type of communication. It includes facial expressions, tone of voice, sense of touch, sense of smell, and body motions.
  • Aesthetic. This is the type of communication that takes place through creative expressions: playing instrumental music, dancing, painting and sculpturing.
  • Signs. This is the mechanical type of communication, which includes the use of signal flags, the 21-gun salute, horns, and sirens.
  • Symbolic. This is the type of communication that makes use of religious, status, or ego-building symbols.

Static Features

  • Distance. The distance one stands from another frequently conveys a non-verbal message. In some cultures it is a sign of attraction, while in others it may reflect status or the intensity of the exchange.
  • Orientation. People may present themselves in various ways: face-to-face, side-to-side, or even back-to-back. For example, cooperating people are likely to sit side-by-side while competitors frequently face one another.
  • Posture. Obviously one can be lying down, seated, or standing. These are not the elements of posture that convey messages. Are we slouched or erect? Are our legs crossed or our arms folded? Such postures convey a degree of formality and the degree of relaxation in the communication exchange.
  • Physical Contact. Shaking hands, touching, holding, embracing, pushing, or patting on the back all convey messages. They reflect an element of intimacy or a feeling of (or lack of) attraction.

Dynamic Features

  • Facial Expressions. A smile, frown, raised eyebrow, yawn, and sneer all convey information. Facial expressions continually change during interaction and are monitored constantly by the recipient. There is evidence that the meaning of these expressions may be similar across cultures.
  • Gestures. One of the most frequently observed, but least understood, cues is a hand movement. Most people use hand movements regularly when talking. While some gestures (e.g., a clenched fist) have universal meanings, most of the others are individually learned and idiosyncratic.
  • Looking. A major feature of social communication is eye contact. It can convey emotion, signal when to talk or finish, or aversion. The frequency of contact may suggest either interest or boredom.

Visual communication

Visual communication as the name suggests is communication through visual aid. It is the conveyance of ideas and information in forms that can be read or looked upon. Primarily associated with two dimensional images, it includes: signs, typography, drawing, graphic design, illustration, colour and electronic resources. It solely relies on vision. It is form of communication with visual effect. It explores the idea that a visual message with text has a greater power to inform, educate or persuade a person. It is communication by presenting information through visual form.

The evaluation of a good visual design is based on measuring comprehension by the audience, not on aesthetic or artistic preference. There are no universally agreed-upon principles of beauty and ugliness. There exists a variety of ways to present information visually, like gestures, body languages, video and TV. Here, focus is on the presentation of text, pictures, diagrams, photos, et cetera, integrated on a computer display. The term visual presentation is used to refer to the actual presentation of information. Recent research in the field has focused on web design and graphically oriented usability. Graphic designers use methods of visual communication in their professional practice.

Other types of communication

Other more specific types of communication are for example:

  • Mass communication
  • Facilitated communication
  • Graphic communication
  • Nonviolent Communication
  • Oral communication
  • Science communication
  • Strategic Communication
  • Superluminal communication
  • Technical communication
  • Procurement communication

Oral Communication

Oral communication is a process whereby information is transferred from a sender to receiver usually by a verbal means but visual aid can support the process. The receiver could be an individual person, a group of persons or even an audience. There are a few of oral communication types: discussion, speeches, presentations, etc. However, often when you communicate face to face the body language and your voice tonality has a bigger impact than the actual words that you are saying. According to a research:

  • 55% of the impact is determined by the body language. For example: posture, gesture, eye contact, etc.
  • 38% by the tone of your voice
  • 7% by the content of your words in a communication process.

You can notice that the content or the word that you are using is not the determining part of a good communication. The "how you say it" has a major impact on the receiver. You have to capture the attention of the audience and connect with them. For example, two persons saying the same joke, one of them could make the audience die laughing related to his good body language and tone of voice. However, the second person that has the exact same words could make the audience stare at one another.

In an oral communication, it is possible to have visual aid helping you to provide more precise information. Often enough, we use PowerPoint in presentations related to our speech to facilitate or enhance the communication process. Although, we cannot communicate by providing only visual content because we would not be talking about oral communication anymore.

Communication is usually described along a few major dimensions: Content (what type of things are communicated), source / emisor / sender / encoder (by whom), form (in which form), channel (through which medium), destination / receiver / target / decoder (to whom), and the purpose or pragmatic aspect. Between parties, communication includes acts that confer knowledge and experiences, give advice and commands, and ask questions. These acts may take many forms, in one of the various manners of communication. The form depends on the abilities of the group communicating. Together, communication content and form make messages that are sent towards a destination. The target can be oneself, another person or being, another entity (such as a corporation or group of beings).

Communication can be seen as processes of information transmission governed by three levels of semiotic rules:

  • Syntactic (formal properties of signs and symbols),
  • Pragmatic (concerned with the relations between signs/expressions and their users) and
  • Semantic (study of relationships between signs and symbols and what they represent).

Therefore, communication is social interaction where at least two interacting agents share a common set of signs and a common set of semiotic rules. This commonly held rules in some sense ignores autocommunication, including intrapersonal communication via diaries or self-talk, both secondary phenomena that followed the primary acquisition of communicative competences within social interactions.

In a simple model, often referred to as the transmission model or standard view of communication, information or content (e.g. a message in natural language) is sent in some form (as spoken language) from an emisor/ sender/ encoder to a destination/ receiver/ decoder. This common conception of communication simply views communication as a means of sending and receiving information. The strengths of this model are simplicity, generality, and quantifiability. Social scientists Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver structured this model based on the following elements:

  1. An information source, which produces a message.
  2. A transmitter, which encodes the message into signals
  3. A channel, to which signals are adapted for transmission
  4. A receiver, which 'decodes' (reconstructs) the message from the signal.
  5. A destination, where the message arrives.

Shannon and Weaver argued that there were three levels of problems for communication within this theory.

The technical problem: how accurately can the message be transmitted?

The semantic problem: how precisely is the meaning 'conveyed'?

The effectiveness problem: how effectively does the received meaning affect behavior?

Daniel Chandler critiques the transmission model by stating

It assumes communicators are isolated individuals.

  • No allowance for differing purposes.
  • No allowance for differing interpretations.
  • No allowance for unequal power relations.
  • No allowance for situational contexts.

In a slightly more complex form a sender and a receiver are linked reciprocally. This second attitude of communication, referred to as the constitutive model or constructionist view, focuses on how an individual communicates as the determining factor of the way the message will be interpreted. Communication is viewed as a conduit; a passage in which information travels from one individual to another and this information becomes separate from the communication itself. A particular instance of communication is called a speech act. The sender's personal filters and the receiver's personal filters may vary depending upon different regional traditions, cultures, or gender; which may alter the intended meaning of message contents. In the presence of "communication noise" on the transmission channel (air, in this case), reception and decoding of content may be faulty, and thus the speech act may not achieve the desired effect. One problem with this encode-transmit-receive-decode model is that the processes of encoding and decoding imply that the sender and receiver each possess something that functions as a code book, and that these two code books are, at the very least, similar if not identical. Although something like code books is implied by the model, they are nowhere represented in the model, which creates many conceptual difficulties.

Theories of coregulation d escribe communication as a creative and dynamic continuous process, rather than a discrete exchange of information. Canadian media scholar Harold Innis had the theory that people use different types of media to communicate and which one they choose to use will offer different possibilities for the shape and durability of society (Wark, McKenzie 1997). His famous example of this is using ancient Egypt and looking at the ways they built themselves out of media with very different properties stone and papyrus. Papyrus is what he called 'Space Binding'. it made possible the transmission of written orders across space, empires and enables the waging of distant military campaigns and colonial administration. The other is stone and 'Time Binding', through the construction of temples and the pyramids can sustain their authority generation to generation, through this media they can change and shape communication in their society (Wark, McKenzie 1997).

The [Krishi Vigyan Kendra Kannur] under Kerala Agricultural University has pioneered a new branch of agricultural communication called Creative Extension.

Communication in many of its facets is not limited to humans, or even to primates. Every information exchange between living organisms - i.e. transmission of signals involving a living sender and receiver - can be considered a form of communication. Thus, there is the broad field of animal communication, which encompasses most of the issues in ethology. Also very primitive animals such as corals are competent to communicate. On a more basic level, there is cell signaling, cellular communication, and chemical communication between primitive organisms like bacteria, and within the plant and fungal kingdoms. All of these communication processes are sign-mediated interactions with a great variety of distinct coordinations.

Animal communication is any behaviour on the part of one animal that has an effect on the current or future behavior of another animal. Of course, human communication can be subsumed as a highly developed form of animal communication. The study of animal communication, called zoosemiotics' (distinguishable from anthroposemiotics, the study of human communication) has played an important part in the development of ethology, sociobiology, and the study of animal cognition. This is quite evident as humans are able to communicate with animals, especially dolphins and other animals used in circuses. However, these animals have to learn a special means of communication. Animal communication, and indeed the understanding of the animal world in general, is a rapidly growing field, and even in the 21st century so far, many prior understandings related to diverse fields such as personal symbolic name use, animal emotions, animal culture and learning, and even sexual conduct, long thought to be well understood, have been revolutionized.

A significant amount of the communication that goes on between people is non-verbal. Although most people do not realize it, and more cannot pick up on it, people are constantly using their bodies to send signs to each other. These signs can indicate what they are truly feeling at the time or they can be misinterpreted by the other person and misunderstanding can result. Thus, understanding your body language and correctly reading the body language of others can be critical in effective communication.

Definition of Non-Verbal Communication

Non-verbal communication is usually understood as the process of sending and receiving wordless messages. Such messages can be communicated through gesture, body language or posture, facial expression and eye gaze, object communication such as clothing, hairstyles or even architecture, symbols and infographics, features of speech such as intonation and stress and other paralinguistic features of speech such as voice quality, emotion and speaking style.

Non-verbal communication can occur through any sensory channel; i.e., through sight, sound, smell, touch or taste. Non-verbal communication can be conscious and purposeful or unconscious. Also, non-verbal communication comes in many forms at the same time. For example, a person's dress, tone of voice, attitude, and movement all contribute to the communication going on in a certain situation. It can be very helpful in facilitating communication or it can be very derisive.

Types of Non-Verbal Communication

A few of the most common types of non-verbal communication are discussed below. A person can learn how each of these affects his/her interactions with others and can learn to modify their non-verbal communications.

Object communication:

The most common form of object communication is clothing. The types of clothing that people wear are often used to assess, accurately or inaccurately, their personality traits. Social groups often use a common form of clothing to set themselves apart from other, presumably unaligned social groups. Object communication extends beyond clothing to other body adornments, such as wedding rings or bind is to indicate marital status, tattoos, piercing's, and brands. Also included in object communication is anything used as a status symbol.

Haptics (touch):

Haptics is the study of touching as nonverbal communication. Touches that can be defined as communication include handshakes, holding hands, kissing (cheek, lips, hand), back slap, "high-five", shoulder pat, brushing arm, etc. Each of these give off nonverbal messages as to the touching person's intentions/feelings. They also cause feelings in the receiver, whether positive or negative.

Oculesics (eye contact):

Oculesics is the study of the role of eyes in nonverbal communication. This includes the study of eye gaze and pupil dilation. Studies have found that people use their eyes to indicate their interest and with more than the frequently recognized actions of winking and slight movement of the eyebrows. Eye contact is an event when two people look at each other's eyes at the same time. It is a form of nonverbal communication and has a large influence on social behavior. Frequency and interpretation of eye contact vary between cultures and species. Eye aversion is the avoidance of eye contact. Eye contact and facial expressions provide important social and emotional information. People, perhaps without consciously doing so, probe each other's eyes and faces for positive or negative mood signs.

Vocalics (voice):

Vocalics is the study of nonverbal cues of the voice. Things such as tone, pitch, loudness, duration, intonation and tempo, voice quality, speaking style and speech clarity, and accent can all give off nonverbal cues. Significant information is given by a person's voice and voice patterns.

Body language:

Body language is a broad term for forms of communication using body movements or gestures instead of, or in addition to, sounds, verbal language, or other forms of communication. In everyday speech the term is most often applied to body language that is considered involuntary, even though the distinction between voluntary and involuntary body language is often hard to distinguish. Voluntary body language refers to movement, gestures and poses intentionally made by a person (i.e., conscious smiling, hand movements and imitation). It can apply to many types of soundless communication. Generally, movement made with full or partial intention and an understanding of what it communicates can be considered voluntary. Involuntary body language quite often takes the form of facial expression, and has therefore been suggested as a means to identify the emotions of a person with whom one is communicating. Body language is particularly important in group communication, in human courtship, and as a subconscious or subtle method of communication between potential mates, spouses and family members.

Additional Information

As mentioned earlier, with the help of a psychologist or specially trained counselor, a person can learn how each of these affects his/her interactions with others and can learn to modify their non-verbal communications.

The more you understand about non-verbal communication, the more you will effective in communicating with other people. Reaching out for information and assistance can help you live a healthier and more fulfilling life. Help with non-verbal communication is available from a mental health professional such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, or clinical social worker. For more information about non-verbal communication.

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Several years back there was a public service announcement that ran on television. It talked about the importance of good listening skills and the difference between hearing and listening. Hearing is a physical ability while listening is a skill. Listening skills allow one to make sense of and understand what another person is saying. In other words, listening skills allow you to understand what someone is "talking about".

In 1991 the United States Department of Labor Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) identified five competencies and three foundation skills that are essential for those entering the workforce. Listening skills were among the foundation skills SCANS identified.

Good listening skills make workers more productive. The ability to listen carefully will allow you to:

  • better understand assignments and what is expected of you;
  • build rapport with co-workers, bosses, and clients;
  • show support;
  • work better in a team-based environment;
  • resolve problems with customers, co-workers, and bosses;
  • answer questions; and
  • find underlying meanings in what others say.

How to Listen Well

The following tips will help you listen well. Doing these things will also demonstrate to the speaker that you are paying attention. While you may in fact be able to listen while looking down at the floor, doing so may imply that you are not.

  • maintain eye contact;
  • don't interrupt the speaker;
  • sit still;
  • nod your head;
  • lean toward the speaker;
  • repeat instructions and ask appropriate questions when the speaker has finished.

A good listener knows that being attentive to what the speaker doesn't say is as important as being attentive to what he does say. Look for non-verbal cues such as facial expressions and posture to get the full gist of what the speaker is telling you.

Barriers to Listening

Beware of the following things that may get in the way of listening.

  • bias or prejudice;
  • language differences or accents;
  • noise;
  • worry, fear, or anger; and
  • lack of attention span.

Listening Starts Early

If you have children you know what it's like to feel like you're talking to a wall. Kids have an uncanny ability to appear to be listening to you while actually paying no attention at all. While this is something that may pass with age it is important to help children develop good listening skills early. They will do better in school and you will keep your sanity. As the SCANS report points out, good listening skills will prepare children to eventually succeed in the workforce.

  • When you tell your child to do something, ask him to repeat your instructions;
  • Teach your child to maintain eye contact when talking to or listening to someone;
  • Read out loud to your child and then engage her in a conversation about what you have read; and
  • Engage your child in age-appropriate activities that promote good listening skills.

Demeanor involves your manner and your nonverbal emotional tone. You may or may not be conscious of the overall emotional undertone that you are exuding.

Should I smile when I want to look professional?

Smiles can indicate a friendly, approachable, pleasant person. However, if a smile is too big and lasts for too long, when first meeting someone or entering a meeting, it can say that you're feeling nervous (or that you're a little goofy). Or others may also think that you are insincere or worse yet, that you're making fun of them.

Genuine smiles are almost always empowering. Professionalism and an overly serious manner are not one and the same. Nor is professionalism staid and boring. Highly professional people smile appropriately and they command respect. If you have trouble smiling or appearing approachable in a professional setting, try keeping your mouth open, just a little - not gaping - just lips slightly parted. This expression communicates that you have an open mind. Pursed, tight lips communicate a closed mind just as arms crossed do. And a tightly closed mouth signals an angry or self-righteous individual.

Professional demeanor. What a catch-all phrase. It means something different to almost everyone using it. Interestingly, we can talk about professional demeanor in terms of what it is and also in terms of what it is not.

What it is:

Presenting a professional demeanor begins with clean nails, clothing appropriate to the workplace, and cordial phone mannerisms. Some people consider these to be the only requirements of professional demeanor. Certainly these help present a professional image, but true professionals do not stop there.

Beyond the superficial appearance and cordial telephone mannerisms lies a person. The measure of each person converts quite readily to the measure of their professional demeanor. Someone striving to be a better person is helpful, kind, and considerate in the workplace. They understand, maybe are even empathetic, of flaws others demonstrate. They are supportive and encouraging when intervention or assistance is needed. They take the high road with their feet firmly planted on the ground.

What it isn't:

Professional demeanor does not include behavior that creates tension or discord. Nice clothing and clean nails do not mask a troublesome personality for long. Teamwork is needed for an organization to stay competitive. There is no place in most organizations for narrow minds or meddlesome workers.


True professionals strive to be a little better every day at something. Improvement on any given day may be small, but small improvements become substantial change over time. Just as there are multiple versions of the phrase "professional demeanor," there are multiple versions of the Golden Rule. Take the high road and the high version of the Golden Rule; treat others as you would like to be treated.