Recently, I was asked to read an article about what communication is and the methods of communication. As a Business Analyst, which involves a great deal of communication throughout my work day, the definition of communication has importance to me. The author of the article wrote: “Communication is the art and the process of creating and sharing ideas.”
Consider that statement for a moment. When one creates an idea, has communication occurred? That is an arguable statement; if the originator of an idea does not share that idea with anyone else, no communication has occurred. Similarly, if an individual did not create an idea, but, having been given access to the idea, if that person shares it, has communication occurred? I would argue that yes, communication has occurred. Communication therefore does not necessarily require that the individual has personally created the idea; it merely that the individual has somehow shared (or attempted to share) the idea.
Is it only “ideas” that can be communicated? Moods can be communicated. Facts can be communicated. Orders can be communicated too; when a superior orders a subordinate to perform a task or action (such as to mop a floor), communication has occurred, but I would hesitate to argue that mopping the floor constitutes an “idea”.
A larger, more encompassing definition of communication might read:
Communication is the sharing of information and/or ideas, by one or more individuals, to one or more other individuals.
In this definition, the activity of creating an idea is not necessarily part of communicating the idea, nor is it excluded. The focus is on moving information from one being to one or more other beings. There is no focus on the mechanism(s) used to distribute or share the information; the focus is that a sharing occurred. The information is shared and received; the degree of understanding of the intended meaning will depend on how effective the communication actually was.
Forms (Mechanisms) of Communication
Communication is constantly occurring all around us, both in traditional languages and in other forms as well. We have at our command a multitude of mechanisms with which to communicate. We text, send email, write articles, compose poetry, create photographs, and use special languages to communicate with computers. Braille exists for the visually impaired; sign language exists for those with auditory impairments.
Artists create works of art, such as paintings, sculptures and musical compositions, all as a form of expression, a sharing of an idea, concept or information. Sending a resume to a potential employer communicates an interest in working for that employer. We send flowers as a form of expression; red roses for love and black roses for death. Briefly beeping the car horn might communicate to a driver in front of us to realize that the light has changed green, while persistent beeping might communicate anger at having been cut off.
Even the wail of a baby’s cry is a form of communication; babies typically cry to indicate a need of some sort. While the cry itself might not have a precise meaning, as a form of communication, it serves the purpose to draw a parent’s attention to the baby. It’s up to the parent to decipher why the baby is crying, of course.
How one chooses to present one’s appearance also can be used as a form of communication. A football fanatic might choose to attend a game with his body covered in a chosen team’s colors, signaling his respect of the team for all to see; but to appear the same way in a different venue, such as a wedding or funeral, often would be considered disrespectful.
Before alphabets and writing were developed, ancient man communicated pictorially, painting on cave walls and carving stone images. Some cultures used signals, such as flashes of light from sun-lit mirrors or smoke from fires, to communicate across distances. Scouts marked trails, such as by placing stones in specific patterns or by slashing marks into the bark of trees.
Even before that, we communicated solely based on body language and actions, even as animals do. Even an act as simple as handing a beggar some spare change has meaning; for most, it is an expression of compassion. Staring at another’s eyes might be viewed as a challenge, or as an attempt to seek understanding, depending on the body language and facial expression of the individuals. Turning away from one who is speaking to you communicates rudeness and disinterest in the speaker. Crossing one’s arms in front of the body often signals defensiveness.
Communication is not solely owned by humans. When a dog owner touches the leash hanging on the wall, the owner is communicating to the dog that they may be going out. Confronted with an intruder in the home, a dog may stare and growl to warn the intruder to leave. Yet, in conjunction with body language, a dog may communicate happiness even while growling, as might occur during a game of tug.
Humans do not even have to be involved for communication to occur. When a dog with a bone is approached by another dog, the dog with the bone may growl to communicate “Stay away! Mine!”. Once, I saw a dog corner a cat, intent on expressing “pack status” by attempting to “hump” the cat, only to be interrupted by a second cat that came running straight at the dog. This second cat hit the dog in the face not once, but several times, allowing the first cat to escape. No words were spoken and no human involvement occurred, but certainly there was a lot of communication going on in that event, through body language, actions, and sound. Even excrement is used by some species as a form of communication, to signal such things as gender, mood, territory and mating status.
Thankfully, most humans use the more advanced forms of communication such as writing and music, along with body language and actions, as mentioned earlier.