Unit 1.1 – Fundamentals of Communication

The meaning of communication, features, importance, patterns, techniques of communication- formal/informal.


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)

Communication is important both for an individual and for society. A person’s need for communication is as strong and as basic as the need to eat, sleep and love. Communication is the requirement of social existence and a resource in order to engage in the sharing of experiences, through ‘symbol mediated interaction’. Isolation is in fact the severest punishment for human beings.

Grown-ups, children, and old people all need to communicate. Society punishes criminals by locking them up in solitary cells, thus starving them of the basic need and the fundamental right to communicate. Communication thus involves active interaction with our environments-physical, biological, and social. Deprived of this interaction, we would not be aware of whether we are safe or in danger, whether hated or loved, or satisfied or hungry. However, most of us take this interaction and this relationship for granted, unless we experience some deprivation of it. When that happens, we adapt ourselves to the environment so that we don’t lose touch, in both the literal and figurative senses. Therefore, to lose touch is to suffer isolation.

The basic human need for communication can perhaps be traced to the process of mankind’s evolution from lower species. Animals, for instance, have to be in sensory communication with their physical and biological surroundings to find food, protect themselves and reproduce their species. A loss of sensation-the inability to hear a predator, for instance, can mean loss of life.

Thus, it is understood that the biology of human beings and other living organisms is such that they have to depend upon each other. This dependence gives rise to a situation where it is the biological necessity for human beings to live in groups. Society is therefore, the outcome of the evolution of the human race, and man is a social animal not by option but by compulsion.

Communication is easily overlooked, but the ability to communicate effectively is necessary to carry out the thoughts and visions of an organization to the people. The importance of speech and words whether through a paper or a voice is a communication medium to convey directions and provide synchronization. Without communication, there is no way to express thoughts, ideas, and feelings.

There are many ways to provide communication from the organization to the people of your community. Whether through a phone, fax, email, letter, website, instant message software, social networking websites (Facebook, Twitter, Myspace) and so on, you are able to communicate your organization to the world. Things can be expressed, ideas can be shared, and thoughts can be joined.

The ability and the importance of communication become much more crucial when you are on a mission or need to fulfill a goal. Without a means to communicate, your organization will become isolated. The ability to effectively communicate is very important when it is usually underestimated and overlooked. Communication is a necessity as we use it to network, spread ideas, and promote. Communicate effectively through well known mediums and convey it simply and precisely. Effective communication is crucial to the success of your organization because you need to reach out in order to fulfill your mission.

If a manager is able to communicate their ideas clearly, so that employees definitely know what is asked of them, the subordinates will, consequently, perform their jobs correspondingly. In contrast, an aggressive way of managing reports results in employees’ getting more and more frustrated, often questioning what their real faults were. A good style of management, as well as a positive approach to communication, ensures that an employee and a supervisor understand each other, and are more effective at the workplace.

Effective communication in the workplace provides employees with a clear understanding of what is demanded from them, with knowledge of what to do and what to expect. For organizations, such a communication style creates effective performance of the staff, and, consequently, increases customer loyalty and profit.

A manager should make sure one’s communication style is both positive and effective. The employees, if they understand the situation correctly, should communicate the problem to the supervisor, or to the higher management in order for the company to take certain measures for solving the problem. Any problems can and should be communicated both among the employees and up to the supervisors. The atmosphere inside the company should be encouraging for effective communication so that employees, thanks to their management, clearly realize how important communication is for each staff member personally, and to the company in general.

It is very important for communication to be ‘two ways’, as Business Performance outlines, – employees should not only listen, but also always have a chance, and be encouraged to ask questions, discuss, and express own ideas. Feedback mechanisms and sharing best practices internally should be an integral part of organizational performance, and performance management system in particular.

Essentially, the primary function of communication is to inform, educate, entertain and persuade people.

Following are the Basic Functions of Communication:

Education and Instruction – This function of education starts early in life, at home and in school and continues throughout life. Communication provides knowledge, expertise and skills for smooth functioning by people in society. It creates awareness and gives opportunity to people to actively participate in public life.

Information – Quality of our life will be poor without information. The more informed we are the more powerful we become. Communication provides information about our surroundings. Information regarding wars, danger, crisis, famine, etc. is important for the safety and well being of our life.

Entertainment – To break the routine life and divert our attention from the stressful life we lead today, entertainment is an essential part of everybody’s life. Communication provides endless entertainment to people through films, television, radio, drama, music, literature, comedy, games, etc.

Discussion – Debates and discussions clarify different viewpoints on issues of interest to the people. Through communication, we find out reasons for varying viewpoints and impart new ideas to others.

Persuasion – It helps people reach a decision on public policy so that it is helpful to govern the people. However, it is also possible that one can resort to persuasion for a bad motive. Thus, the receiver must be careful about the source of persuasion.

Cultural promotion – Communication provides an opportunity for the promotion and preservation of culture and traditions. It helps people fulfill their creative urges.

Integration – It is through communication that many people across countries come to know about each other’s traditions and appreciate each other’s ways of life. It develops integration and tolerance towards each other.

Scope, in this context, refers to the sphere of operation (or influence) of the communication. There are two aspects to this: ‘audience scope’ and ‘subject scope’.

Audience scope

First and foremost, it is essential for the communicator to clearly identify the target audience of the communication. This will allow the recipient to decide “Is this communication intended for me?” It will also allow the communicator to tailor the communication (especially the language used) to the particular needs of the audience.

Most technical communications are not aimed at specific people, but at groups of people, or more likely, at job functions or users of particular products. It may also be the case that the communication is targeted at ‘the general public’. In each case, the communicator must ensure that the target audience is clearly identified.

Quite often the definition of the audience is left to the distribution list, but this is not sufficient. Communications may be forwarded, or copied without the distribution list, at which point the target audience definition is lost. Additionally, it is not always wise to assume that the target audience is implicit in the location of the communication.

For some communications, it is not possible for the audience to be identified within the communication itself. A good example is a factory siren, or a flashing light on a shop floor. In these cases, the audience is defined by informing the target audience in advance that when, for example, a siren sounds, they have to take a particular action.

Subject scope

In order to allow readers to further determine whether a communication has information that they need to know, or that they may be looking for, a communication should always clearly identify the subject scope of the communication. The subject scope is to specify the information covered by the communication. For example, if a document provides instructions for changing a printer cartridge, it would be wise to specify the models to which the instructions apply.

In some circumstances, it may be more useful to specify the scope in terms of what is not covered by the communication. For example, in a general information manual for a network router, it may be worthwhile stating that the manual does not include information on installing or configuring a network. (Ideally, in these cases, the communication should then go on to specify where the reader can find the information that is not in the scope of this communication.)

Obviously, any specification of the scope of a communication should appear as near to the start of the communication as possible. The whole point in specifying the scope is to allow the reader to decide whether the communication is relevant to them – forcing them to read half the document before telling them, rather negates this point!

Communication will always have a purpose. A good technical communication will always have a purpose for the reader (some communications seem to be purely for the benefit of the communicator’s ego). For most technical communications, the purpose of the communication must be clear to the recipient of the communication.

The following list highlights a number of different purposes for a communication, and describes the way in which the communication might need to differ based on this purpose.

  1. To inform
  2. To convey
  3. To persuade
  4. To request
  5. To warn
  6. To reassure

Key points (from the user’s perspective):

  1. Is the message for me?
  2. Is it important?
  3. Why has it been sent?

The communication of a message takes place through spoken or written words, pictures, and in many other forms. In oral communication, the transmitter is the ‘voice box’ of the speaker. The receiver of the message may be the human ear, which converts sound waves into a comprehensible form, which can be recognized by the human brain; a television receiver decodes the electromagnetic waves into a recognizable visual representation. In the same manner, the reader, who can recognize and understand that particular language, can understand the printed message.

The process of communication consists of only a few steps. The information source decides to communicate and encodes a message, transmits it through a channel to the receiver, which is then decoded and acted upon. There are also noises or distortions throughout the entire process. The main functions of communication are information, education, entertainment, enlightenment and persuasion. Therefore, the communication process should be designed as such as to gain the attention of the receiver, use the signals, symbols, or codes that are easily understood by the receiver and it must arouse needs in the receiver and suggest some ways out to satisfy these needs. Only then can it create the desired response.

However, communication should not be confused with mass communication. While communication is the activity of sharing, giving, imparting, receiving information, mass communication ‘is a process in which professional communicators use communication media to disseminate messages widely, rapidly, simultaneously and continuously to arouse intended meanings in large and diverse audiences in an attempt to influence them in a variety of ways’.

Communication is a required skill at every level of organizational functioning. The effectiveness, with which a person will be able to perform in almost any organization, whether social, governmental, or commercial, will depend in large measure upon the ability to communicate effectively.

The communication of a message takes place through spoken or written words, pictures, and in many other forms. In oral communication, the transmitter is the ‘voice box’ of the speaker. The receiver of the message may be the human ear, which converts sound waves into a comprehensible form, which can be recognized by the human brain; a television receiver decodes the electromagnetic waves into a recognizable visual representation. In the same manner, the reader, who can recognize and understand that particular language, can understand the printed message.

The process of communication consists of only a few steps. The information source decides to communicate and encodes a message, transmits it through a channel to the receiver, which is then decoded and acted upon. There are also noises or distortions throughout the entire process. The main functions of communication are information, education, entertainment, enlightenment and persuasion. Therefore, the communication process should be designed as such as to gain the attention of the receiver, use the signals, symbols, or codes that are easily understood by the receiver and it must arouse needs in the receiver and suggest some ways out to satisfy these needs. Only then can it create the desired response.

However, communication should not be confused with mass communication. While communication is the activity of sharing, giving, imparting, receiving information, mass communication ‘is a process in which professional communicators use communication media to disseminate messages widely, rapidly, simultaneously and continuously to arouse intended meanings in large and diverse audiences in an attempt to influence them in a variety of ways’.

Communication is a required skill at every level of organizational functioning. The effectiveness, with which a person will be able to perform in almost any organization, whether social, governmental, or commercial, will depend in large measure upon the ability to communicate effectively.

Communication through Arbitrary Symbols

The civilization is reflected in three priceless possessions of mankind. The first is the human ability to think, the other is his innate capacity to communicate and the third is his species’ specific competence to acquire and use the arbitrary symbols system of language. The gifts of civilization and all the branches of human knowledge have their origin from this ability to think in abstract and to communicate these thoughts through symbols of the language. Above all the other media of communication, language is the most significant because the human knowledge and relationships are gathered, stored and imparted through it. The process of communication permits us to use and reuse the experiences and knowledge from the past into the present and make it ready for use in future with the help of the symbols of communication, which stand for some abstract idea.

Human Interactions through Communication

Communication is the means by which people relate to one another. Society in general or an organization of any type cannot exist without relations that are built and strengthened by communication. Throughout our lives, we are involved in communication situations. When we talk and work with our colleagues, friends, subordinates, superiors, experts, teachers, students, family members and with the people in all walks of life, when we read and /or write the books, pamphlets, periodicals, special journals, reports, letters, memos, newspaper, etc. when we listen to or deliver speeches, when we listen to the radio or watch the TV and films, when we buy or sell the products or services, when we manage our business and when we are involved in any other activity, we are invariably involved in communication situation.

Communication Technology and Media

Human Behavior is dominated by communication in all aspects of life to such an extent that we can aptly call him a communicating creature. He has applied advanced science and technology to the tremendous development of communication system. With the help of dramatic inventions like printing press, telephone, telegraph, radar, telephoto, radio, television and many others deceive; we have made our modern communication instantaneous and effective. The advanced technology of mass and telecommunication has attracted the attention of the experts and specialists in many fields. The artists, poets, writers, artisans, architects, etc. are exposed to different subjects of interest by this technology and it helps them to conceive new creative thoughts and ideas. The technology, skills of using media and some concepts of communication are useful to psychologists in order to investigate certain problems of human behavior and therapy.

Effective Communication plays one of the crucial roles of ensuring a company can achieve its goal and objectives. Just for a moment, imagine that due to bad ineffective communication, many of the staff members do not understand what the management is trying to convey to them! It will be disastrous. Communication is indeed one of the very important management and managerial behaviors that we should try to understand in order to be a better manager.

In an organization, there are basically two ways of communication namely: Formal and Informal communication

Formal Communication: Communication takes place through the formal channels of the organization structure along the lines of authority established by the management. Such communications are generally in writing and may take any of the following forms; policy; manuals: procedures and rule books; memoranda; official meetings; reports, etc.

Advantages & Disadvantages of Formal Communication: The advantages of formal communication are: They help in the fixation of responsibility and maintaining of the authority relationship in an organization. The disadvantages of formal communication are: Generally time consuming, cumbersome and leads to a good deal of distortion at times.

Informal Communication: Communication arising out of all those channels of communication that fall outside the formal channels is known as informal communication.

Built around the social relationships of members of the organization, informal communication does not flow lines of authority, as is the case of formal communication. It arises due to the personal needs of the members of an organization.

At times, in informal communication, it is difficult to fix responsibility about the accuracy of information. Such communication is usually oral and may be covered even by simple glance, gesture or smile or silence.

This differentiation of communication is mainly on the basis of situations. In situations like public speaking, mass communication, official communication, etc. formal communication is used. Here, language is used more precisely, and more attention is paid to grammar. Also, we pay attention to our dress, posture, etc. therefore formal communication occurs in the context of status differences. Informal communication takes place in case of informal and personal situations. Less attention is paid to structure of language and grammar. Also, less attention is paid to nonverbal behavior like clothing, gait, posture, etc.

To communicate effectively in your workplace, you need to be able to identify and use both formal and informal communication channels. The channels of communication are the formal and informal ways of communicating with other people.

Formal communication channels relate to the structure of the organization. They include:

  1. Reporting relationships and policies
  2. Committee meetings
  3. Bulletin boards
  4. Participation in group events
  5. Internal newsletters

The benefits of reporting relationships: Reporting relationships help to address issues quickly and clearly, and to spread the communication workload. For instance, in most organizations, your supervisor or manager will be your first point of contact rather than the managing director or the head of another department.

This is useful because your manager may meet with the other departments regularly and be able to answer the query. If you have a query, the answer may be helpful for your colleagues too, and your manager can make sure it is passed on to everybody. If most people in your department have the same question, it is better that another department only has to answer the query once.