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Unit 1 Defining Communication

I. Notes

Deciding What Communication Is

A definition is a useful and logical place to start the exploration of communication. Definitions clarify concepts by indicating their boundaries. A good definition of communication tells us which behaviors count as communication and which do not. It also describes the essential char­acteristics of communication.

Unfortunately, no single definition of communication does this to every­one’s satisfaction. In fact, in the early 1970s, Frank Dance identified 126 pub­lished definitions.

Table 1 shows a number of definitions of communication that differ on several dimensions: breadth, intentionality, role of senders and receivers, and the im­portance of symbols.

Table 1 – Definitions of Communication

1. Communication is a process of acting on information.

2. Communication is the discriminatory response of an organism to a stimulus.

3. Communication... is an ‘effort after meaning,’ a creative act initiated by man in which he seeks to discriminate and organize cues so as to orient himself in his environment and satisfy his changing needs.

4. Speech communication is a human process through which we make sense out of the world and share that sense with others.

5. In the main, communication has as its central interest those behavioral situations in which a source transmits a message to a receiver(s) with conscious intent to affect the latter’s behaviors.

6. Communication is a process whereby people assign meanings to stimuli in order to make sense of the world.

7. Communication is the transmission of information, ideas, emotions, skills, etc., by the use of symbols – words, pictures, figures, graphs, etc.

8. Spoken symbolic interaction is the process by which people use words and other symbols to create meaning and to affect one another.

9. Nonverbal interaction is the unspoken, often unintentional behavior that accompanies verbal communication and helps us fully interpret its meaning.

How Broad Is Communication?

One of the first questions to ask is how broad or narrow we want communica­tion to be; this is the issue of breadth. What kinds of behaviors do you call communication? No doubt you include people talking to one another; that’s easy. But what do you make of a situation in which one person draws conclu­sions about another person without the second person’s knowledge? Do you call that communication? And how do you class the bond between a pet and its owner, or the signals that animals send to one another? What about someone “communing” with nature; is he or she communicating? Is it possible for people to communicate with computers or for computers to communicate with one another?

If we wish the concept of communication to include all of the activities mentioned above, we need a very broad definition.

Whereas some people prefer a broad definition, others want one that focuses more directly on human behavior. Arguing that there are essential differ­ences between humans, animals, and machines, these people define communication as a uniquely human process setting different boundaries for communication.

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