In this article, we are highlighting the meaning and general characteristics of communication. These general characteristics consist of the common and practical forms of communication, the modes of communication, the purposes of communication, qualities of effective communication and the barriers to effective communication. It is important that you understand these general forms, so that it will be possible for you to understand the specific character of business communication as presented in this course.
You need about three hours for studying the unit. Make sure that you understand every aspect of it thoroughly. Consult also the publications listed as references and for further reading and, if necessary, other publications in hard copies or on-line. You must also conscientiously attempt the Self-assessment Exercise and answer the Tutor-marked Assessment Questions and submit your answers to the latter, as you have been directed, for evaluation by your tutor. It is my hope that you will find the unit interesting and exciting.
One writer, Breth (1869:5) defines communication in industry as “a method by which the feelings of specific groups of people towards management are established, maintained or improved”. “Industry” here, of course, can represent many groups of people who share a common interest, such as a school of various levels from the nursery or kindergarten school to the university, a bank, a government ministry, and so on. On the other hand, “management” refers to the persons who hold senior positions among these groups of people (or organisations).
We know that, in any organisation, there are different groups of people. In the school, for example, we have pupils or students; we have teachers in different ranks; we have the Principal, the Provost, the Rector or the Vice-Chancellor; there are also non-academic staff members at various levels of seniority, and so on. In the bank, we have cleaners and messengers (or office assistants); there are tellers, supervisors, managers at various levels, and so on. We find this kind of grouping in every organisation. So, Breth’s definition means that communication refers to the ways in which these different groups of people make their feelings
(and, of course, thoughts) about many issues in the organisation – working conditions, salaries, fringe benefits, and so on – known to the management. Of course, management also makes its own feelings about many issues relating to the organisation known to the different groups of people in the organisation. That process of making its own feelings known to the different groups of workers also forms part of communication.
However, Breth goes further in the source of our first quotation (this time on page 2) to define communication as “the methods or media by which human relationships are established. Also, Desmond W. Evans (1984:24) defines what he interestingly calls “business communication” as the “overcoming [of] the problems of human interaction in the world of work”. These two additional definitions give communication its real and fullest meaning of denoting all forms of interaction between or among human beings. Thus, in general, communication takes place between two people or among more people when the contents of one person’s mind (or of the minds of one group of people) – contents which could be made up of thoughts, ideas or feelings – are transferred to the mind of the other person or to the minds of the other people. So, whenever we converse with or gesticulate or signify something to other people, we are engaged in communication. Thus, human beings are constantly engaged in communication.
The medium or agency of the transfer of the contents of one person’s mind to that of the other could be (as already implied) a gesture of some kind (such as a wave of the hand, a nod of the head or a twitching or blinking of the eye) or a sound of some sort made without the use of words (such as the sounds made by the animal world).
This course is concerned with communication in the business world. However, we have gone to a great length to explain what communication means in totality so that we can have the fullest understanding of what the concept denotes. Henceforth, we shall concentrate on communication in the business world.
Kinds of Communication
We shall discuss kinds of communication under two notions, i.e., 1) General Kinds, and 2) Common Forms of Practical Communication.
General Kinds of Communication
We have referred to communication carried out without the use of words. All these forms of communication carried out without the use of words are called non-articulate or non-verbal communication. On the
other hand, communication made by the use of words is called articulate communication.
Human beings do make use of non-articulate communication, but, of all creation, they exclusively use articulate communication (i.e., communication conducted by the use of words). Indeed, as already stated, articulate communication is a preserve of the human species of creation, and it is believed that it is on account of man’s possession of articulate communication that man acquires culture – that complex of man’s social (i.e., group, gregarious and interactional) life which dictates man’s mode of manifesting every aspect of his life and differentiates one society from another. Articulate communication is, of course, vastly more powerful and effective than non-articulate communication.
We also use the expression, mode of articulate communication, to refer to the two modes of oral and written use of words in communication.