What is Communication?
More than you think it is!

"What is communication"is a question with many answers

The common answer to the question “What is communication?” defines communication as the process of sending and receiving messages or transferring information or data between a sender and a receiver.

The information transmitted is an idea, an image, or a feeling which the sender has encoded into symbols and assumes or hopes the receiver can understand, such as words, images, or gestures.

The encoded information is the message.

What is Communication: Channels

The message is sent to the receiver through a channel which the sender believes will be effective. The channel could be one or more of several choices. The sender may transmit the message

  • personally, in a face-to-face conversation
  • through visual media (television, photographs)
  • through printed materials (mail, newspapers, handouts)
  • through electronic social media (email, Facebook, Twitter)
  • over the telephone or radio or a loudspeaker
  • through touch, sound, or silence
  • with gestures

Once the message is received, the receiver decodes the symbols into ideas, images or feelings that he or she understands. If the receiver decodes the message accurately and understands it the way the sender intended it to be understood, communication is said to have taken place. But has it?

What is Communication: Feedback

Until the receiver of a message sends a response to the original sender indicating that the message has been received, the sender doesn’t know if the receiver got the message, or how he or she interpreted it.

Most messages are sent for a reason. The sender wants the receiver to do something with the information so the sender can get on with doing something else. Without a response from the receiver, that can't happen. You can't prepare for a meeting or for a party if you don't know if anyone is coming to it.

The return message is feedback. Feedback is also a message which is encoded, transmitted, and decoded.

What is Communication: Breakdowns

Breakdowns in communication occur because of any number of things that can happen within the sender, in the encoding process, in the selected channel of transmission, in the decoding process, and within the receiver.

For example,

  • the sender’s idea or thoughts may not be accurate or complete.
  • The symbols selected for encoding the idea may not be ones which the receiver will understand.
  • The channel selected for transmission may not be immediately available or working properly at the time.
  • The sender may be emotionally upset while encoding the message.

There may also be problems at the receiving end of the message. The receiver may

  • incorrectly decode the message
  • not understand the message in the way the sender intended
  • not be as interested in the message as the sender had hoped
  • hold beliefs or opinions that inhibit his or her ability to accurately decode the message.

Finally, the receiver may not respond to the message as quickly or as enthusiastically as the sender had hoped. The lack of motivation could be due to an absence of urgency in the message or to the casual attitude of the receiver.

In addition, there may be all kinds of things outside of the process that may interfere with the sending or receiving of the message.

  • There may be an electrical power failure.
  • Outside noise may make it difficult for the receiver to hear the message.
  • The sender or receiver may be distracted by something in the place in which they are working while encoding or decoding the message.

What is Communication: Summary

Taking into account all of the elements involved in the sending and receiving of information, communication can be defined as follows: communication is the process someone undertakes of

  • encoding ideas, images, or feelings into symbols which he or she believes someone else will be able to decode and understand;
  • transmitting those symbols through a channel which the sender believes best fits the situation; and
  • waiting for a reply that will allow the sender to make a decision which will protect something he or she values.

See how you can use the power of language to communicate effectively.

Or, consult a coach to help you develop or repair important relationships at home, at the office, or in the workplace.

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