Communication is the parting or exchanging of thoughts, opinions or information by speech, writing or signs.

It can also mean the process of conveying information electronically or manually. Exchanging opinions without understanding does not create communication. For communication to exist, shared meaning must be constructed.

The five principles of communication

If communication is to involve shared meaning, five principles must exist to create variables to the context of communication. These are: transaction; interaction; irreversible and unrepeatable; culture-specific; and content and relationships.

  1. Communication is a transactional process: a transaction is a business or activity that is carried through to settlement. It is a continuous process where elements are constantly changing. Sometimes, it can appear to be going around in circles. During conversation, each party requires a response after talking, and the conversation only exists as long as these transactions take place.
  2. Communication is an interactional process: interaction must occur for communication to exist. Interaction can also include no interaction. If the second party does not respond to the first party’s statement, interaction has still taken place. There may be several meanings to this. The second party may not have heard the first party, or the second party may be deliberately not answering. Further transactions are required to establish the meaning of the initial interaction.
  3. Communication is an irreversible and unrepeatable process: every communication is a unique event. It can be repeated later, but not exactly. Some elements will change, possibly voice tone, volume or expression. An actor might repeat the same lines in a play for many years, but some performances will stand out more than others. In that case, the actor’s attitude and mood on any given night can affect the communication. The performance of the other actors will also be an important element that is constantly changing every time the play is performed.
  4. Communication is a culture-specific process: different cultures interpret the same communication message in different ways. In some cultures, it is considered inappropriate to look into someone’s eyes when speaking with them, whereas in other cultures it is considered to be a sign of openness and honesty. A hand gesture that is a sign of approval in one culture, may be an insult in another culture.
  5. Communication is about content and relationships: messages in communication may have multiple meanings. Both the spoken word and the written word can have hidden meanings. This is sometimes referred to as “reading between the lines”. The relationship between the people communicating can alter the shared meaning. The words “I love you” spoken between two lovers has a different meaning than if spoken between a parent and a child.

The three attributes of communication

There are mental and physical characteristics involved in communication. The five principles of communication denote that the parties in communication see meaning in the event, transmit that meaning to others, and look for recognition of a shared meaning. However, shared meaning also involves other attributes.

Verbal communication refers to the speech that is used, and includes both written and spoken words.

Non-verbal communication refers to the way that the words are used. Paralanguage is about the tone and volume of speech. Body language can alter the meaning of spoken words. Signals can convey different meanings to different people. Artefacts, such as jewellery or clothing, can convey a person’s status in life.

The basic elements of the communication process

The communication process combines the five principles of communication, along with the attributes of verbal, non-verbal and graphic communication. The basic elements of the communication process are:

  1. Information is encoded by the sender, and forwarded to the receiver. In conversation, this is one person deciding what to say.
  2. A receiver channel is established. This could be spoken word, written word, email, SMS, electronic or other channel.
  3. Channel encoding. This is the information being put into a form appropriate for the receiver. In conversation, it is the words being actually spoken by the speaker.
  4. Channel. In conversation, this is the spoken word being transmitted through the air
  5. Decoding and feedback. This is the receiver receiving the encoded information. In conversation, it is the spoken words reaching the ears of the listener, and being identified as separate words.
  6. Effect. This is the result of the encoded information being decoded.

Successful communication

For communication to be successful, the encoding and decoding must have been successful, and must have an effect.

The manner in which information is encoded and decoded directly affects the effect that the communication has.

If encoding and decoding are successful, the communication process will have the desired effect. However, if encoding or decoding are flawed in any way, the communication event may have an unexpected effect.

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