Monday, 4 October 2010

Forms & Context of Communication

Speaking & Writing (MODULE 3)

There are TWO (2) major forms of communication – verbal and non-verbal communication.

I. Verbal Communication
This form of communication is characterized by the use of oral and written language. In this form of communication words are used to bring across a certain message. There are two main ways in which human beings communicate verbally, that is, through speech and writing. Reading, writing, speaking and listening are the four ways in which we use this verbal communication. Each of these is a skill, and effective use of each is necessary for communication to take place.

Your notes, for instance, are in a written format. However until it is read and interpreted by an audience/ receiver (you, the student) no communication has taken place. In addition to this, the entire process is incomplete unless some feedback, in the form of presentations/periodic tests/assignments, is provided.

For communication to take place, both writing and reading skills must be employed. Similarly, speech communication does not end with speaking. For communication to effectively take place, the receiver/audience must employ listening skills.

It is important, then, for us to be able to not only write and speak effectively, but also to read and listen effectively.

II. Non-Verbal Communication
This form of communication relies on elements other than speech and writing. Non-verbal communication is equal in importance to verbal communication. According to Leathers (1992), non-verbal communication is the use of interacting sets of visual, vocal, and invisible communications systems to convey and interpret meaning.
Non-verbal actions often tell a different story from the one we are telling with words. For example, if you are making an apology to someone for a wrong done with a smirk on your face, the person may not believe that you are serious and genuinely apologetic. Some major categories that fall under non-verbal communication are paralanguage/vocalic, Space/proxemics, objects/artifacts, posture & movement, time and the senses. These basic elements of non-verbal communication may be used to enhance communicative behaviours and can have a significant impact on your total message.

The use of volume, tone, rate, pitch, and quality of voice to give dimension and meaning to words. This is also referred to as paralanguage as the voice ‘surrounds’ the words. For example you raise your pitch at the end of a sentence to indicate that you have completed a thought.

This is the use of space to communicate. For example if someone comes to sit next to you in the library when the whole table is empty it can communicate a range of things about relations/interests/personality types.

Artifacts are those items, such as jewelry, clothing or a vehicle that may communicate something about the type of person you are. If a male wears extremely tight pants or shaves his eyebrows, it may communicate something about him to others.

This includes posture, gestures, facial expressions and eye contact. Waving, smiling, gazing at someone, or slumping at your desk, are all instances of movement. Movement communicates messages.

The way you use time, or chronemics, can communicate attitude or status. For instance, one may show/communicate respect by being early for an appointment or job interview. Conversely, lack of respect may be communicated by turning up half-an-hour late for a class.

Finally, messages can be sent through the five senses – taste, touch, smell etcetera.

Functions of non-verbal communication
There are also six (6) functions of non-verbal communication. That is, we use non-verbal communication for six main reasons:

i. Substituting is where we use non-verbal communication to replace verbal communication. Waving goodbye instead of saying it out loud is one example of this.

ii. Reinforcement. We also use non-verbal communication to reinforce or complement our verbal communication. Pounding your hand onto a table when arguing may reinforce whatever point you’re making.

iii. Regulating. The regulating function of non-verbal communication is used mostly in conversation to control the flow of messages. Raising your hand to answer or ask a question in class helps to regulate the communication going on in the room.

iv. Contradiction. Sometimes we use non-verbal communication to contradict our verbal communication. The most common example of this is using vocalic sarcasm – when you say one thing, but your tone of voice says the opposite.

v. Manage Impressions. We often manage impressions through the use of non-verbal communication. The way we dress, for example, often coincides with the impression we want others to have of us.

vi. Establish Relationships. Finally, we use non-verbal communication to establish relationships. The wearing of a wedding band is a non-verbal indication that the person is married.

The Context of Communication
As stated earlier, the context of communication is its environment. Context is particularly important in choosing the types of verbal and non-verbal communication we use every day. A doctor does not wear short pants and slippers at the clinic; this would be inappropriate. A lawyer may choose to speak in simple language to a client while using more complex language to a colleague. A hip-hop star covers himself in “bling” and speaks a version of English that is not standard when addressing his fans. All of these are examples of how communication context influences form of communication.
When deciding on which form of communication to use, always ask yourself these questions:
* Who am I communicating with?
* What is the attitude of my audience?
* Where is this communication act taking place?

Usually, communication contexts occur along a scale from formal to informal. Formal contexts require certain types of communication and communicative behaviours; informal contexts require others. A conversation between employer and employee, for example, is not the same as one between friends, even if the subject matter under discussion is the same.

Basically, a formal situation is one where behaviour is dictated by social norms and patterns, and an informal situation is one where there are no constraints on behaviour and communication.

Communication Settings

  1. Intrapersonal
This means communicating within yourself. When you think, daydream and solve problems that is seen as intrapersonal communication. Hunger, pain and pleasure are said to be physical feedback mechanisms.

  1. Interpersonal
This form of communication refers to the interactions of two or more people. All communication involving other people and oneself is seen as interpersonal. It is characterized by oneself being in direct contact with one other person or a few other people. Interviews, conversations and intimate communication are all examples of this type of communication.

  1. Small Group
This form of communication is characterized by leadership, a somewhat equal sharing of ideas, peer pressure, roles and norms, and focus on a common goal, usually in face-to-face interaction. The small group is one of the most important communication settings. Examples of small groups include the family, interview teams, roommates, workgroups, legislative subcommittees and military and business groups.

  1. Public Communication
This occurs where one person talks to several others and is the dominant focus of the communication in a public setting. It is characterized by having a speaker and an audience. Here, the speaker is the primary sender of messages, while others function primarily as receivers of those messages.  The number of the audience is not important here.

  1. Mass Communication
This occurs where a message needs help to get from point A to point B – from its source/sender to its destination/receiver. Some form of mechanism is needed to connect the sender to the receivers.  These include print (newspapers or magazines), electrical (radio, television or video), or electronic (computer modems).  There is usually some delay in sending and receiving. There is also some delay in the feedback, if any, that the sender gets from the receiver.

  1. Organizational Communication
This is a very specialized area that focuses on interpersonal, small-group, public and mass communication as they interact in a complex, multi-group setting. It is especially important to business, government, and educational institutions. It accounts for what happens to messages as they travel up, down and around a large collection of individuals.

  1. Intercultural Communication
Otherwise known as cross-cultural communication, it describes what happens when the sender of a message is from a different cultural background than the intended receiver. It may be found in any other context of communication whenever one individual speaks to another individual from another country. It is important to take into consideration the differences in cultures in order to ensure successful cross-cultural communication.