Communication is the essence of everything we do in our lives.
In business and relationships, the number one concern with people is communication; however, when pressed, we can’t seem to define the word, communication. It’s like the words prejudice or beauty, “I can’t describe it; but, I know when I see it."
Our bosses think they are great communicators; however, we think they are terrible. Our significant others think they are great communicators too; however, we tend to think differently.
What is communication?
My answer to the question sounds flippant but, it is fun to say:
Communication is the process of Human Beings responding to the symbolic behavior of other persons according to Communication Scholar Ron Adler.
This sounds simple; however, It is very complex. We have three important words in this definition to consider here: Human, Process, and Symbolic.
Human: we will narrow the scope of communication for this article to be between or among humans only.
Process: communication is a process which means it is ongoing. If we agree that it is a process and a process is ongoing, then we can conclude that we are always communicating. While we are talking to someone we notice the following: hair, clothes, looks, body type, tattoos, piercings, body language, etc. Often times we don’t even listen to them because we are noticing all these things and forming judgments based on our past experiences.
Symbolic: communication involves verbal and nonverbal symbols. What are symbols? Anything we use to communicate—language (written and spoken), signs, gestures, expressions, time, smell, touch, sight, ceremonies, traditions, attitude, etc. The most important thing to take from the notion that communication is symbolic is the following:
The meaning of Words and Symbols lie in people depending on context, situation, and relationship. Therefore, the meanings of words and symbols are different for everybody. That is why we so often miscommunicate. We are interpreting words and symbols differently therefore we behave differently and when we behave differently than others think we should based on their meanings, we have miscommunication.
The way each of us interprets words and symbols become barriers to effective communication. Barriers to communication are all around us and impede the spirit of effective communication. Barriers often cause miscommunication and result in different meanings than the source intends. Barriers are numerous and we can list thousands of them. The following are a short list of the most common barriers:
If we create a picture of communication it becomes very complicated and we can see that communication is complex.
People who can communicate what they mean have the following abilities: Possess a wide range of behavior, have the ability to choose and perform the most appropriate behavior, have the capacity to empathize with others, have a cognitive complexity, and can self monitor one’s own behavior.
There is no ideal way to communicate as we all have different backgrounds, personalities, and interpret experiences differently. We have different abilities to relate to others and how we communicate depends on the situations we are in.
Have you ever seen someone go up to the boss and say something outlandish and you just cringe because if you said it, the boss would be mad at you; however, in this case the boss laughs with that person. It is how we relate to others and the situation at the time. That is why communication is also situational and relational.
However communication, even though it permeates everything we do is not a panacea of a perfect life. It will not solve all our problems, it is not always a good thing, it does not require complete understanding, more communication is not always better, meanings of words are not the same to everyone, and it is not an easy process.
Often times, I wonder how we communicate at all.