The Art of Communication

If one is asked the meaning of the word ‘communication’, chances are that most of the answers we get will be somewhat along the lines of words such as a ‘conversation’, ‘conveyance of ideas’ or simply just ‘talking’. However, the meaning of this term is not that simple. There have been various attempts made by sociologists and communication experts to devise a well-structured definition of the term. The simplest of such definitions have been espoused by Everett Rogers and F. Floyd Shoemaker, that communication is a process by which a message is transferred from a source to a receiver. Other definitions that have been proposed, substantiate this one further, by adding that it is a two-way process of sending and receiving messages which establish a common meaning between the sender and the receiver. In more scientific terms, a structured communication process involves three basic elements: a content (the need for which a communication process is initiated), a code (the selection of words or gestures) and a treatment (the way in which the idea or message is conveyed).

Communication is not just limited to a face to face conversation. It encompasses within its purview, the thought process of a single human being (known as intrapersonal communication), group communication, mass communication, exchange of messages on the Internet or even that through gestures, that is without the use of words. Thus, as times have advanced and newer technologies are being invented, the meaning of this term is being expanded with every passing day. Over the years, communication experts devised a number of theories, picturing the process as a uniform structure including elements like sender, receiver, channel (through which the message is transmitted), noise (which disrupts the communication process) and feedback (the process of reverse communication, where the receiver and sender exchange roles).

In fact, communication has been considered as a science by various philosophers, sociologists and experts, who have attempted at describing the process of communication with the help of various theories and diagrammatic models. These attempts at theorising the art of communication can be classified into Western and Eastern theories. Western theories have their origin in Aristotle’s Rhetoric. According to Aristotle, the sole purpose of communication is persuasion, which could be done using Rhetoric, that is using one’s communication skills to influence the people. The Eastern theories, on the other hand, developed out of the writings of a sage known as Bharat Muni, who compiled his work into a book known as the ‘Natya Shastra’, around 5000 years ago. According to him, people communicate in order to reach a common level of knowledge, which he termed as ‘ek-atma’, which translates to ‘one in soul’. Thus, while Western theories aimed at persuasion, Eastern theories perceived communication as a process to reach commonality.

However, the communication process may not always be a smooth and problem-free one. Scholars have also espoused the concept of barriers to communication, which are essentially obstacles which hinder the communication process. They are of various types, and their identification and elimination are a necessity to ensure effective communication. They can be broadly classified into four categories. Physical barriers are those which hinder the communication process due to disturbances in the physical environment of the participants. These include forms of parallel communication which may occur in proximity of the main communication process, such as traffic noise. They also pertain to environmental problems like excessive heat or cold, physical and psychological stress in either of the two participants, or ignorance of the medium of communication; for example, not being acquainted to a mobile phone and thus failure to initiate calls.

Then there are the linguistic and cultural barriers, which manifest themselves all the more in multi-lingual countries like India, where people speak different languages in different regions, due to which communication may not be facilitated. Third, we have mechanical barriers, which arise in the channel of communication and where the message is distracted due to technical faults and disturbances such as poor network in calls, bad quality of printing in books etc.

Last, and the most interesting category, is that of psychological barriers. All people possess their own ‘frames of reference’ through which they perceive the outside world. These frames of reference are shaped and moulded by education, the cultural environment where a person grows up, family and friends and deeper experiences of life, and might change as one gains more insight into the ways of the world. How a message is registered depends completely on these frames of reference, and accordingly, feedback is given, which may be negative or positive.

Thus, needless to say, there is more to communication than what appears on the surface. Communication is indeed an art, whereby one needs to employ the usage of such skills so as to get his message across, and in such a way that a desired feedback is achieved. An effective communicator also needs to identify and remove barriers, to the extent possible. The same message, delivered in different ways can garner different feedback, and it is up to the person to use his communication skills in a manner such that the process is effective.

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