Characteristics of Communication

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Lesson 1 - Language and Communication

Characteristics of Communication

As we all know, communication is a process through which we transmit and interchange our ideas, facts, feelings and courses of action. This is two-way, cumulative, creative and functional. The parties - the sender and the receiver - keep changing their roles, and the entire process takes place within a context or their communication environment.

  • Communication is two-way, in that there are always two parties communicating with each other, that is, the sender and the receiver. Without either or involvement of either, communication is rendered meaningless

Communication is inherently creative, as expression of the message by one person is a lot different from how another person would express it. Creativity becomes most essential when the sender has to try out different approaches to make the receiver understand.

  • Communication is not always complete with just one exchange between the sender and receiver. Rather, it is a continuous process. This is more because communication is cumulative and facts cannot be exchanged all at once. Hence, communication is not always momentary.

  • As there is always a specific purpose with which the sender sends the message, communication is always functional.

Example: The above characteristics of communication will become clearer with an example. Consider this e-classroom. When you choose from the alternatives provided on the main menu of the website for this course, the computer, the sender, immediately displays it on the screen. Hence, two-way communication is established.

Process of communication

Communication is a process, the main components of which are:

  1. Sender

  2. Message

  3. Channel

  4. Receiver

  5. Response

The figure shows these components and their relationships.

Salient Features:

1. In every communication situation, there are two parties, a sender and a receiver, who interact within a common frame of reference. Without this common background, purpose and interest, there can be no effective communication.

2. While communicating, if the person being spoken to is totally in his thoughts or if one cannot understand the language being used, there will be a failure in transmission. To encode a message, relevant symbols are selected and arranged into a pattern to convey meaning. These symbols are from a common medium and they stand for certain ideas, feelings and notions.

3. The choice of channel and type of symbols used is determined by the situation. For instance, a scientist addressing a conference of research workers would use technical jargon, whereas at home, he would simply communicate in layman language. 4. A sender, after he transmits a message, expects a response. This may be immediate or deferred, favorable or unfavorable, for example: rejection of an application for leave; intimation of university results.

5. The sender is naturally interested in knowing how his/her message has been received. The observation of the receiver's response is called feedback. Immediate feedback is possible in direct/oral/face-to-face communication.

6. However, all communication situations are not ideal. In many cases, the message fails to produce the desired response because of a semantic gap between the sender and the receiver. This failure occurs because the sender is not clear about his objective or he uses ineffective language. It also occurs if the receiver is not able to understand and interpret the message properly. Therefore, a great deal of importance is attached to training and skill in the art of communication in all spheres of life
Flow of Communication

There are essentially three directions in which communication is carried out:

  • Vertical

  • Horizontal

  • Radial

All of the above will be explained with reference to the submission of reports in a company.


Downward flow: This kind of communication is from a person at a level higher than that of the receiver. The reports in this kind of flow are informational, as they increase their readers' general know-how about the organization & the work of the company, e.g. information about a company's employee benefits. This kind of communication is informational & is of transitory value. Policies, procedures & orders are transmitted to the staff in this way.

Upward flow: This kind of communication is carried out by a subordinate when he is informing his superiors about a particular issue. Many reports in this mode of communication contain financial statements or statistics to show the present condition of the business & to be made a part of its permanent records. Records explaining work done, anticipated problems, progress, increases & decreases & periods or distances over which they operated all fall under the same category. Horizontal:

Interchange of reports between departments or among men at the same level represents a horizontal flow of communication. This kind of communication is aimed to coordinate the work of various departments or divisions. Such reports are vital to large companies with many divisions & high degree of decentralization.

Radial: Reports distributed throughout the company to reach everyone & frequently also sent outside the company.

On the basis of mode, the above classification of communication holds good.

Verbal communication refers to the use of words.
Non-verbal communication refers to the use of signs, symbols & body language.

In this segment, we shall focus on the classification of verbal & non-verbal communication.

^ Verbal communication: Immediate feedback can be obtained by the sender in face-to-face interaction or oral communication. Such communication has one distinct advantage, in that the sender can promptly adjust the tenor of his communication, in order to convey his message to the receiver properly.

  • However, oral communication by its very nature, is of limited use.

  • Written communication gives time, both to the sender & the receiver, to properly encode their messages & send it.

Non-verbal communication:

  • Non-verbal communication has an importance of its own.

  • When we meet a stranger with whom we have to interact, we form our first impressions about him/her by observing his/her physical characteristics, his/her body movements, his/her facial expressions & the way he/she is dressed. Though these first impressions may not be accurate, they are important, as they influence our understanding of what he/she says, & thus affects our reaction to it.

  • However, non-verbal communication is no substitute for verbal communication : it merely supplements & reinforces oral communication.

On the basis of purpose:

  • General communication is the use of effective language to express a message to achieve a pre-determined purpose.

  • Technical communication is the use of formal, specified language to express a commercial, industrial or scientific message.

  • The two kinds of communication in this mode are dealt with in detail in the following section


Differences between General Purpose and Technical communication

The parameters applied to distinguish between general purpose & technical communication are:

  • Nature

  • Structure

  • Content

  • Style

  • Audience

Differences between General Purpose and Technical communication

^ General purpose communication

Technical communication

1. This kind of communication may be subjective & not always objective - in many cases, the personality of the sender is revealed.

This kind of communication is highly objective in nature. It is always conducted with a specific purpose.

2. The reports generated need not necessarily have a conventional structure.

The reports generated are highly conventional in nature - they stick to the rule book & must contain the requisite 19 elements, such as Abstract, Introduction, Summary & so on.

3. The message being conveyed can be general in nature.

Communication of this kind is very objective-oriented, with no flowery language to spice it up. It is of commercial, technical or industrial nature.

4. The message conveyed can be personal & need not obey any rules & regulations.

Technical communication is highly impersonal & follows certain complex techniques, making it highly concise, clear & direct. Jargons, clichés & other deviations from conventional English are not permitted.

5. General purpose communication need not have a specific audience.

Technical communication always has a specific target audience. It is this audience which decides the tone, style & the amount of information to be conveyed.


Role and Importance

Technical communication is a specialized branch in the field of communication. Technical communication:

  • deals with various scientific and technical subjects

  • is characterized by certain formal elements such as scientific and technical vocabulary, the use of graphic and audio-visual aid and conventional forms

  • maintains an attitude of impartiality and objectivity

  • has a comparatively high concentration of certain complex and important writing techniques, processes and procedures.

While general communication is the use of effective language to express a message with a pre-determined purpose, technical communication is: "The use of effective language to express a commercial, industrial or scientific message to achieve a pre-determined purpose". As it can be seen, technical communication is more than transmitting ideas. It is a controlled use of language to convey ideas for a certain purpose. Technical communication, like any other type of communication, has three main elements:

  1. Language

  2. Message

  3. Predetermined Purpose

As a technical writer, one should be able to translate oral thought into written language.

Importance of Communication

  • Lifeline of business.

  • Serves as a measure of growth and progress of an organization.

  • Means of presenting the findings of a committee or commission.

  • Progress of organization depends on the quality and quantity of information flow through its personnel's.

  • Establish and sustain business relationships.

  • Bridges the gap between various sections of the organization.

  • Enables the communicator acquire skills of the organization, judgment, discrimination and communication.

So, if you want your organization to prosper follow this mantra:

"Communicate, Communicate and Communicate"

Lesson 2 - Barriers to Communication


Communication is as much a necessity as food & water for us. Even a new-born baby opens its mouth, maybe to communicate, though it is widely believed that it does so for inhaling oxygen. Of course, just as we feel the importance of a person during his absence, we realize the importance of communication only when it fails or breaks down. Whenever we feel that communication is ineffective we should realize that the fault could be with the sender or the receiver or with the external factors too! These factors could be classified as:

  • Cultural and Linguistic

  • Psycho-Physical

  • Organization barriers

  • Confused Presentations

ultural and Linguistic Barriers

Differences in culture are likely to affect the communication environment, message and their perception because in this context culture is nothing but the habits, customs or social institutions of a particular society or any individual organization.

  • The working cultures of two companies differ a lot in terms of apparel, communication patterns, the way of addressing each other, the relationship between a senior officer and a subordinate and so on.

  • The way of addressing each other in company 'A' could be by first name while in company 'B', it could be by surname.

These differences not only occur in business enterprises but also during social intercourse and they become a matter of serious concern in the international context. To avoid communication gaps due to cultural differences, we have to familiarize ourselves with the prevalent habits and customs of the environment within which we wish to communicate

Language is nothing but expression of thoughts and experiences of people in terms of their cultural environment. It is ambiguous in nature. Words are merely symbols understood differently by different people.

Even though all three words in each group mean the same, because of the difference in nomenclature, miscommunications are likely to occur if we do not use them appropriately in their respective cultural contexts. This is true not only with words but also idioms which are peculiar to a language. Such a usage may lead to communication failures. For example, for the Americans, to table a proposal is to postpone it, whereas for the English it is to act on it. The only way to avoid miscommunication due to inappropriate use of words, phrases or idioms, is by making sure that the intended meaning has been received by the recipient. The receiver should also ask questions to determine the sender's intended meaning and be clear with the message before acting on it.

^ Psycho-physical Factors

The psychology of the sender or the receiver may, at times, interfere with the message to be encoded or decoded. The sender and the receiver, if affected by intense emotions, whether positive (joy, excitement, surprise, etc.) or negative (anger, frustration, jealousy, etc.) are likely to fault in the process of encoding or decoding. However, it is said that positive emotions interfere less with the message than negative emotions. This is because when the receiver of the message is threatened by a real or imagined danger, he becomes defensive or hostile. In such a situation, he is likely to misinterpret, ignore or overact to messages. The clue to this barrier is a significant change in vocal modulation. Sometimes, the communication effectiveness is also influenced by the attitudes, values and opinions that the communicators have in their mental filters. Similarly, the receiver's views of the information presented will affect his response which could be what the sender desires or just the opposite. Certain people hold rigid views on certain subjects - they are the category of "KNOW-IT All's". It is not possible to communicate with such close-minded people. This might lead to the receiver being selective in receiving the message or sometimes might develop a negative attitude towards the message or the sender.

^ Organizational barriers

The administrative hierarchy of an organization also indicates the route of flow of horizontal and vertical communication. The system of having too many transfer stations also distorts and delays the message. The processing of information by several hands before it reaches the destination certainly causes loss of meaning and impairs the original message. To solve this problem, some organizations have modified this communication network to permit direct access from bottom to top and vice versa on the ladder of communication. In this traditional system of communication, especially in a large organization, sometimes employees feel lost and frustrated and turn to an informal system {the grapevine} for information. This channel often becomes a vehicle for rumors and inaccurate information.

Other Factors

The other factors which may act as barriers could be:

  • Distracters from the external environment, like noise, failure in acoustics or other electronic systems

  • Lack of a common frame of reference

  • Wrong timing of message

Lesson 3 - Non Verbal Communication


Earlier, we had seen the various classifications of communication, one of the main classification being that of verbal and 'Non-Verbal' communication. What is Non-verbal communication? Non-verbal communication refers to all external stimuli other than spoken or written words and including body motion, characteristics of appearance, characteristics of voice and use of space and distancing

Though verbal and non-verbal communication are closely interlinked, certain studies have tried to separate their relative importance in terms of the impact of the message. According to statistics, it is believed that 35% of a message is carried out verbally, while 65% of the message is conveyed non-verbally. It is also believed that the impact of the message is as follows:

7%verbal, 38%vocal and 55% non-verbal

An attempt has been made to make a systematic study of the elements of body language that define non-verbal communication. These are also termed as visible codes, as they are visually perceived and play an important role in effective communication. These various codes can be categorized as follows:

Body Language:

  • Personal Appearance

  • Posture

  • Gestures

  • Facial Expressions

  • Eye contact

  • Space Distancing

Body Language:

In a face-to-face communication, a person does not communicate only through words but his whole personality, or in other words, his body language is involved in the process. It is believed that a charming person who is neatly dressed and wears a pleasant expression, a dynamic person with a vibrant voice or a confident person with an assured voice is able to secure the attention of the audience much more than an ordinarily-dressed and diffident person. With this, more than half of the battle is won. We shall now look at each of the code in detail.


Posture also conveys a wealth of meaning in an economical way. It is an important part of the body language and generally refers to the way one stands, sits and walks. The movement of the body, the position of hands and legs and other parts of the body reveal an individual's personality as to whether he is vibrant, alive and dynamic, or nervous and jittery, confident and self-assured etc. A good speaker stands tall, walks sprightly and stands at ease. Standing in this posture before a group is in fact one of the essentials for success in speaking. The ability to walk across the dais with ease and grace contributes to a great deal of impression the speaker makes upon the audience. The walking posture may convey whether the speaker is confident, energetic and vital or withdrawn, diffident and nervous. Even while speaking, naturally there would be shifts in posture. Even these have to cultivated. One must learn where to place one's hands and how to shift the weight of the body on the legs while speaking.

The following clip illustrates the basic qualities of an appealing speaker:

1) Immaculate Dressing

2) Upright Stance

3) Confidence Exuding Smile


Gestures too play a significant role in making communication effective. A well-timed gesture can drive home a point just as effectively as a hundred words. A few gestures like playing with a ring, twisting a key-chain or clasping one's hand tightly rob a speaker of the effectiveness of his communication. All oral communication is accompanied by gestures such as shrugging of the shoulders, flourish of hands, movement of the head, etc. As a matter of fact, it would be quite difficult to speak without these gestures. All these gestures enhance the value of what is being said besides exercising a more powerful impact upon the listener.

A few gestures have been shown below:

^ Facial Expressions

Of all parts of the body, the face is the most expressive. A smile (friendliness), a frown (discontent), raising the eyebrows (disbelief), or tightening the jaw muscles (antagonism) can add to the meaning being conveyed through verbal means. Exuding zeal when one is making a point or smiling while explaining an intricate problem makes the job of the speaker easy.

However, a wooden expression on the face, biting the lip, raising the eyebrows at regular intervals may prejudice the listener and may mar the smooth flow of communication.

In the picture below, a number of facial expressions have been illustrated to enable a better understanding of this topic

^ Eye Contact

Eye contact is one of the most immediate and effective means of establishing a rapport with the audience. No wonder, then, that it is said that the eye is an extension of the brain and a window of the soul. Stress is laid on continuous eye contact between the speaker and the listener because it tells the listener whether the speaker is sincere and also whether the listener is interested. Eye contact is also a means of obtaining feedback.

A good speaker should always maintain eye contact with all sections of the audience. To look at the ceiling or outside the room through the window or just at one section of the audience will be considered to be sign of rudeness

^ Space Distancing

Each communicator maintains a personal territory around himself. He normally does not allow it to be invaded at the time of communication. This distance that is maintained between the speaker and the listener is called space distancing. This term also includes standing-seated position. The person who is in a superior or a commanding position usually stands while the others remain seated.

In formal situations, the distance that is to be maintained is 4-1/2 feet, while in public gatherings, it varies from 12-30 feet.

n example of how a speaker can exploit the above said visible codes to make communication most effective is very evident from the picture below...The speaker's facial expression, posture and gestures are to be noted.

Lesson 4 - Regulating Speech

Pitch and Volume of Speech

Regulation of speech forms a part of oral communication. Just like body language the regulation of speech also plays a very important role in communication.

The three most mobile speech organs are the lips, jaws and the tongue. Like other parts of the body, speech organs need exercise. Lazy lip movements cause unintelligibility, a rigid jaw muffles the voice and an inactive tongue chokes it. The elements that constitute the regulation of speech, called "Vocal elements" are :

  • Pitch

  • Volume

  • Rate

  • Quality

A good voice is a gift of nature, but quality can be improved with proper training. Pitch: Pitch is the tone of sounds depending upon the rate of vibration of vocal chords. When one speaks, there is a continual variation in the levels at which the voice is pitched. The variation ranges from the soprano level to the bass level. The pitch of the voice should be able to match the thought, idea or feeling to be conveyed. Volume: Volume refers to the power of the sound. It ranges from very loud to soft. One should speak very loudly so that he is very audible to the audience.

Rate of Speech

  • Rate is the degree of speed at which the speaker speaks. Fast delivery betrays a lack of confidence.

  • A good speaker should speak at the rate at which his/her audience can understand. The average speed or rate is 125 -150 words per minute.

  • A well-prepared presentation can be lost if it is delivered in a monotone, that is, when one uses a constant pitch, volume and rate.

  • Variation in pitch and tempo of the voice is essential to convey your message. A fast speech delivered in a monotone will only bore and send the audience to sleep.

Quality of Speech

  • The characteristic tone of the voice is termed as quality. Sometimes, it is termed as jarring or creaking to the ears or it may be labeled as pleasant.

  • The liveliness of speech is known as animation. A lively speech with jokes, appropriate quotations, analogies with personal incidents as examples can capture the audience's attention. Lack of animation can cause a communication breakdown.

  • Proper pronunciations with pauses at the right places enhances the quality of a speech. Pause refers to the junctures in speech.

  • Frequent and slight pauses help the speaker divide his idea into small units and give the listeners necessary time-gaps to absorb one idea before moving onto another.

  • Words should be pronounced properly, putting stresses at the right places.

  • Nasalization and vocalized pauses such as 'er', 'ah', 'unh', 'um', etc. should be avoided. Phrases like 'You see...', 'I mean...', 'What I mean...', 'Do you understand...', 'Is it clear...' should not be repeated very often.

  • To clear doubts in pronunciations, it is best to refer to a dictionary.

Hence, to become an effective speaker, one should be able to use his voice properly, exploiting the potential of his vocal elements. For self-improvement, one should tape-record his speech and critically analyze it. In his subsequent efforts, he should amend his delivery in the light of his self analysis. Through systematic and persistent efforts, one can certainly become a good speaker.

Lesson 5 - Audio Visual Aids

Introduction to AV Aids

Audio-visual aids also supplement oral communication. There are many occasions when one has to make an oral presentation. The use of audio-visual aids can greatly enhance its value. The term '^ Audio-Visual aids' refers to the equipment available to us for amplifying or supplementing our message. An aid thus makes the communication lucid, vivid, stimulating and interesting. It helps the speaker arrest the attention of the audience and enables him to enliven even a dull topic. With the technology of communication becoming more advanced and sophisticated, the speaker must exploit it to his advantage. However, we will be dealing only with the following audio-visual aids here :

  • Blackboard

  • Overhead projector

  • Filmstrip

  • Slide projector

  • Movie film projector

  • Video tape recorder

  • Audio tape recorder

  • Models

Even graphic aids like graphs, charts, diagrams, maps, etc are referred to as visual aids. These are discussed in later part of the course as these constitute a significant part of written communication. Guidelines in the use of A-V aids:

  • The content to be supported with the A-V aids should be decided upon.

  • The appropriate A-V aid is then selected.

  • The aid is then integrated with the presentation.

  • A suitable place for the equipment to be kept is decided upon, for it should be visible or audible to all audience.

  • The basic technical knowledge of the equipment is obtained and the speaker should become familiar with the equipment.

  • The material for the A-V aid is to be prepared with great care, emphasizing on aspects which are considered to be significant or important. The aspects of clear presentation, like underlining, colour, arrows, heavy lettering, etc. should be taken into consideration when preparing the material.
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