What is communication?
Communication is like a double-acting hinge, swinging outward to release your own ideas and swinging inward to receive the worthy thoughts of others. – Stacey Huish
According to the website AskDefine:
Communication is the the process of transferring information from a sender to a receiver with the use of a medium in which the communicated information is understood by both sender and receiver. It is a process that allows organisms to exchange information by several methods.
In its simplest form communication is the use of words to describe and convey a message or give information to another person. We communicate using language as a code to share information, ideas and feelings.
The following diagram was developed by Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver (1949 The mathematical theory of communication) to explain how communication works:
When one person sends a message to another, as the diagram shows, the person sending the message (represented as the circle on the left) has to encode their thoughts and feelings. They have to find some words or actions that will be a code for their meaning. The person receiving the message (represented as the circle on the right) can’t read the sender’s mind; they have to decode the words or actions to understand what the sender meant.
There are two main types of communication, verbal and non-verbal, which we will look at in more detail below:
Verbal communication occurs when a person puts across their message by speaking. The person sending the message is expected to be able to convey a message which clearly expresses all of their feelings, needs, wants, dreams, hopes, messages, values, beliefs and thoughts using the English language that we have available to us. The receiver has to be able to listen to the information, understand all that that was communicated to them, and, if need be, act upon any part of the message.
If the receiver misunderstands the message, the sender can get upset and feel like they are not being listened to. This can cause friction, tension, conflict, even anger. To avoid misunderstandings, the receiver of the message needs to be skilled enough to know how to understand the sender of the message. This is when reflective listening can be of great assistance.
What can also make a huge difference are the tonal qualities of your voice. The tone, pitch, volume, timbre and speed of your voice has a significant impact on how the message you are trying to get across to someone is actually received by them.
Did you know only one third of a message that is sent in a person-to-person exchange is in words alone, the other two thirds of the message is made up of non-verbal communication? Therefore, non-verbal communication is very important.
There are different types of non-verbal communication which include but are not restricted to:
• Body language
• Physical characteristics and appearance
• Personal space
Body language is the way that we communicate most, if not all, our non-verbal communication. One of the main parts of our body used for non-verbal communication is our face which is very expressive and can communicate many different emotions without the use of words (eg. happiness, sadness, anger, shock). Other parts of the body, such as our arms, legs, hands, fingers, can also be used to communicate (e.g. hugging, pointing, giving directions). Sometimes it is how we choose to use our body that lets others know how we are feeling. For example, if we hit, kick, punch, or pinch someone then we are definitely conveying a very strong message to that person. Our non-verbal communication can either encourage or discourage open channels of communication.
The unfortunate reality is that a lot of people judge us by our physical appearance. Our body shape and size, hair, clothing, hygiene, how we hold ourself and our persona all communicate something about us. These factors will all influence how people communicate with us. Think about it for a moment - how might you talk to someone who is homeless and living on the streets in ragged clothes? Compare that with how you might talk to someone who wears a business suit and drives a Porsche? How do you talk to your friends, those people who are very similar to you, and you hang out with a lot? Our physical appearance really does communicate a lot about us and can influence how others communicate with us.
Personal space refers to the distance that you put between yourself and another person when you are talking to them.. Generally one of two messages are being sent, either ‘I want you to be close to me’ or ‘I want you to keep your distance.’ There are four settings where personal space can influence the communication that can take place.
• public - distance in a public meeting.
• social - distance when speaking to strangers including work colleagues.
• personal - distance when speaking to someone of equal status.
• intimate - distance when allowing personal contact and closeness.
Here I am referring to the spaces we live, learn or work in or use on a daily basis for sport or other activities. The environment can really affect the way communication is taken or understood. The way a room is organised, the colour, temperature, ventilation and smells all affect communication. The environment can have both a positive and negative effect on you.
Think about your home for a moment. Does it make you feel good or bad? It is neat, tidy and clean or full of empty cans and pizza boxes? What about your work space? How do you feel when you enter the building and sit at your desk? Imagine if you walked into work one day and found rubbish all over the floor, how would you feel about your work environment then?
At any of these stages, misunderstandings can occur. These can easily lead to hurt, anger or confusion. If our feelings don't fit with the words, it tends to be the non-verbal communication that gets heard and believed. Try saying ‘I love you’ to your partner in a flat, bored tone of voice without looking at him or her, and see what reaction you get! The good news is that with a little knowhow, these misunderstandings can be easily corrected.
The message you send is not necessarily the one the other person will receive and respond to. There are three ways we can guard against this sort of distortion. If you are sending a message:
1. Be aware of what you want to say. Especially be aware of what you are feeling about your partner or the situation.
2. Use I messages. That is, say what you want or feel, rather than make a statement about your partner. That way, your partner is more likely to listen to you without feeling attacked.
3. Use reflective listening to clarify any misunderstandings, and to check to see if you have the correct meaning of the other person’s message that they are trying to send to you.