Canadian Institute of Mass Communication

Communication is not just an act. It is a process. The process of communication includes transmission of information, ideas, emotions, skills and knowledge by using symbols, words, pictures, figures, graphs or illustrations. The act of communication is referred to as ‘transmission’. It is the process of transmission that is generally termed as “communication”.

Communication is defined as, “sending, giving, or exchanging information and ideas,” that are often expressed non-verbally and verbally. Non-verbal communication is the act of saying what’s on your mind without speaking words. Examples of this include facial gestures (smiling, frowning), body language (arms crossed, legs shaking resembling nervousness, sitting upright giving someone their full attention), and the impression you give to others with your appearance (dress, body image, body odor). Also, the tone of your voice can be expressed non-verbally. For instance, if you are saying one thing, but your tone of voice is saying another, then that reflects how you are truly feeling without having to say a word about it.

Verbal communication is the act of saying what’s on your mind with words. This form of communication often occurs accidentally, when you say regretful things and open your mouth before thinking about what you are saying. Words can hurt or they can heal. So, it’s very important to become aware of what words you choose to use when communicating to others as well as to yourself.

Communication regulates and shapes all human behavior. Therefore, it is important to have a clear understanding of the concepts of communication. What is communication? Why is it important to us? How does it work? What are the elements in the process of communication? What are the different types of communication that we are engaged in? These are the questions that come to our mind when we study this subject.

The English word ‘communication’ is derived from the Latin noun ‘communis’ and the Latin verb ‘communicare’ that means ‘to make common’. Communication is a much-hyped word in the contemporary world. It encompasses a multitude of experiences, actions and events, as well as a whole variety of happenings and meanings, and technologies too. Meetings, conferences or even a procession thus can be a communication event. Newspapers, radio, video and television are all forms of ‘communication media’ and journalists, newsreaders; advertisers, public relation persons and even camera crew are considered to be ‘communication professionals’.

Communication in its simplest sense involve two or more persons who come together to share, to dialogue and to commune, or just to be together for a festival or family gathering. Dreaming, talking with someone, arguing in a discussion, speaking in public, reading a newspaper, watching TV etc. are all different kinds of communication that we engaged in every day. Communication is thus not so much an act or even a process but rather social and cultural ‘togetherness’. Communication can be with oneself, God, and nature as well as with the people in our environment. Interaction, interchange, transaction, dialogue, sharing, communion and commonness are ideas that crop up in any attempt to define the term communication.

According to Denis McQuail, communication is a process, which increases, commonality – but also requires elements of commonality for it to occur at all. A common language, for instance, does not necessarily bring people together. There are other factors too at play such as a shared culture and a common interest, which bring about a sense of commonality and more significantly, a sense of community. Denis McQuail coined the term ‘human communication’ in linear terms as the sending of meaningful messages from one person to another. These messages could be oral or written, visual, or olfactory. He also takes such things as laws, customs, practices, and ways of dressing, gestures, buildings, gardens, military parades, and flags to be forms of communication.

Thus, ‘communication’ can be defined as ‘the exchange of thoughts or ideas’.

Again, ‘communication’ is viewed as a transmission of information, consisting of discriminative stimuli, from a source to recipient’. In everyday life, communication is a system through which the messages are sent, and feedback received. It is, therefore, the process of transferring particular information or message from an information source to desired, definite, or a particular destination. One of the main elements of communication messages is perception. The effectiveness of communication is limited by the receiver’s range of perception because people perceive only what they expect and understand. Lastly, communication makes a demand on the recipient, in terms of his emotional preference or rejection. Thus, communication is not to be confused with information. While information is logical, formal and impersonal, communication is perception.

Communication is more than a mere transferring or transmission of ideas or thoughts. It is not a static act as some of the earlier definitions suggest but it is a dynamic process of action and interaction towards a desired goal, as suggested by later definitions. Communication is, therefore, a process of sharing or exchange of ideas, information, knowledge, attitude or feeling among two, or more persons through certain signs and symbols.

What do we find in the above definition? It says that two or more persons are involved in the act, the one who gives information (sender) and the one who receives it (receiver). What is being shared? An idea or information, or an attitude (message) is being shared. And through what means? The information is shared or exchanged through certain signs or symbols; it could be language, oral, or written. While sharing and exchanging ideas or information with others, we are actually interacting with people and establishing a kind of relationship that helps us to achieve the task set before us.

Some other functional definitions of Communication are:

  • “The transfer or conveying of meaning.” (Oxford Dictionary)
  • “One mind affecting another.” (Claude Shannon)
  • “Transmission of stimuli.” (Colin Cherry)
  • “One system influences another.” (Charles E. Osgood)
  • “The mechanism through which human relations exist and develop.” (Wilbur Schramm)
  • “Communication is the process of transmitting feelings, attitudes, facts, beliefs and ideas between living beings.” (Birvenu)
  • “Communication is the exchange of meanings between individuals through a common system of symbols.” (I.A. Richards)
  • “Communication is the sum of all the things one person does when he wants to create understanding in the mind of another. It is a bridge of meaning. It involves a systematic and continuous process of telling, listening and understanding.” (Louis Allen)