The essentials of communication

Communication is central to human existence, and it deserves some guidelines for the purpose of a peaceful society. Miscommunications have resulted in malice, misunderstandings, and even wars. This piece will discuss what communication is, how to achieve effective communication, the components and the types of communication, and barriers to effective communication.

Communication is the transmission of information from one end to another. According to I.A. Richards, ‘Communication takes place when one mind so acts upon its environment that another mind is influenced, and in that other mind an experience occurs which is like the experience in the first mind and is caused in part by that experience’. This definition emphasises communication as an influence. Communication has not taken place until one person influences one or more other persons to share a thought, take an action or go in a direction.

Achieving effective communication is, however, dependent on some basic knowledge that should not be trivialised. First, you need a background check of the sender and/or receiver of the message. Many communicative processes have gone wrong because participants are not mindful of the positions, interests, values, and ideologies of other people. Such knowledge of the participants determines the choice of language and other features of writing.

Communicators also have to pay attention to the appropriate media for given discussions. While it will be inappropriate for a person to walk into an office to seek a job without having an application, it might also be inadequate for a student to chat with a lecturer to seek clarification on the former’s grade. Communicators must carefully select the appropriate media to pass their messages. Again, attention must be given to the primary aim of communication, as this will guide the whole communication process. Is the communication aimed at giving orders, making enquiries, obtaining information, or making requests?

Likewise, it is essential to mention the components of communication, otherwise called the communication chain. The first component is the sender or encoder who is the initiator of the communication process. The sender does three major things: formulating a thought, encoding it in sounds or letters, and transmitting the thought as a message. The thought must, therefore, be carefully processed and well worded to achieve effective transmission.

The next in the chain is the message. The message could be thoughts, ideas, feelings, information, or opinions. The medium or channel is the next component of communication, and it is the intermediary between the encoder and the decoder. The different means of transmitting information could be face-to-face conversations, telephone calls, chats, memoranda, notice boards, and so on. The receiver or decoder is the next in the chain. S/he interprets the message and draws inferences from it.

Depending on such inferences drawn by the receiver, the message may be stored, acted upon, or ignored. The last item on the chain is feedback. Feedback is the response or reaction of the receiver to the message. Feedback could be positive or negative. Also, it could be immediate or delayed. It is important to give room for feedback in any kind of communication – interpersonal or organisational. Feedback in organisations could be in the form of notes in suggestion boxes, customers’ meetings, focus group discussions, or annual general meetings. They help to get both internal and external feedback.

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Moving on, the different types of communication include oral and written communication, verbal and non-verbal communication, and upward and downward communication. The differences between oral and written communication are enormous and will, someday, be the focus of a treatise in my column. The next piece will also detail the types and uses of non-verbal communication. Upward communication is the transmission of information from the base to the top.

It can be used in both family and organisational structures. In families, it could be a message from a child to his/her parents and, in organisations, it is usually from subordinates to senior officers. It may be in the form of complaints, compliments, or comments about the policies and plans in an organisation. An organisation that wishes to grow must encourage upward communication. The subordinates are often closer to the public and can ascertain people’s perceptions about the establishment.

They, therefore, should be given the freedom to express themselves. Downward communication is when information flows from the top to the bottom. It could be parents to children, elders to younger ones, or superiors to their subordinates. This communication flow usually embodies directives, targets to be met, queries, and suchlike. While this communication type is in the form of orders, it is essential for superiors to make their subordinates buy into their vision and see reasons for their decisions.

Finally, a number of things serve as barriers to effective communication. First, we have information overload. This is when a person or a group receives more information than they can manage at a given time. Information senders must be mindful of what the receiver can comprehend or act on. Linguistic problems such as ungrammatical and ambiguous sentences, wrong use of punctuation, and faulty sentence formations also affect effective communication. Education and status differences should also be considered. A person’s intellectual level which will determine his/her assimilation should be considered in communication. Also, psychological factors that warrant thoughts such as, ‘Why should he talk to me like that?’ must be factored into consideration.

Communication could appear spontaneous to many users of the language. Nonetheless, the readership should acquaint themselves with the important disclosures highlighted herein.