Communication (from Latin communicare, meaning “to share”) is the act of conveying meanings from one entity or group to another through the use of mutually understood signs, symbols and semiotic rules (Harper, 2001-2019).
The main steps inherent to all communication are (Shannon, 1948):
- The formation of communicative motivation or reason.
- Message composition (further internal or technical elaboration on what exactly to express).
- Message encoding (for example, into digital data, written text, speech, pictures, gestures and so on).
- Transmission of the encoded message as a sequence of signals using a specific channel or medium.
- Noise sources such as natural forces and in some cases human activity (both intentional and accidental) begin influencing the quality of signals propagating from the sender to one or more receivers.
- Reception of signals and reassembling of the encoded message from a sequence of received signals.
- Decoding of the reassembled encoded message.
- Interpretation and making sense of the presumed original message.
Verbal communication is the spoken or written conveyance of a message. Human language can be defined as a system of symbols (sometimes known as lexemes) and the grammars (rules) by which the symbols are manipulated.
The word “language” also refers to common properties of languages. Language learning normally occurs most intensively during human childhood. Most of the thousands of human languages use patterns of sound or gesture for symbols which enable communication with others around them.
Languages tend to share certain properties, although there are exceptions. There is no defined line between a language and a dialect. Constructed languages such as Esperanto, programming languages, and various mathematical formalism are not necessarily restricted to the properties shared by human languages.
As previously mentioned, language can be characterised as symbolic. Charles Ogden and I.A Richards developed The Triangle of Meaning model to explain the symbol (the relationship between a word), the referent (the thing it describes) and the meaning (the thought associated with the word and the thing).
The properties of language are governed by rules. Language follows phonological rules (sounds that appear in a language), syntactic rules (arrangement of words and punctuation in a sentence), semantic rules (the agreed upon meaning of words), and pragmatic rules (meaning derived upon context).
The meanings that are attached to words can be literal, or otherwise known as denotative; relating to the topic being discussed, or, the meanings take context and relationships into account, otherwise known as connotative; relating to the feelings, history and power dynamics of the communicators (Ferguson et al., 2014).
Contrary to popular belief, signed languages of the world (e.g., American Sign Language) are considered to be verbal communication because their sign vocabulary, grammar and other linguistic structures abide by all the necessary classifications as spoken languages. There are however, non-verbal elements to signed languages, such as the speed, intensity, and size of signs that are made. A signer might sign “yes” in response to a question, or they might sign a sarcastic-large slow yes to convey a different non-verbal meaning. The sign yes is the verbal message while the other movements add non-verbal meaning to the message.
Non-verbal communication describes the processes of conveying a type of information in the form of non-linguistic representations. Examples of non-verbal communication include haptic communication, chronemic communication, gestures, body language, facial expressions, eye contact and how one dresses. Non-verbal communication also relates to the intent of a message. Examples of intent are voluntary, intentional movements like shaking a hand or winking, as well as involuntary, such as sweating (SteNet Services B. V., 2007-2012).
Speech also contains non-verbal elements known as paralanguage, e.g. rhythm, intonation, tempo and stress. It affects communication most at the subconscious level and establishes trust. Likewise, written texts include non-verbal elements such as handwriting style, the spatial arrangement of words and the use of emoticons to convey emotion.
Non-verbal communication demonstrates one of Paul Watzlawick’s laws: you cannot not communicate. Once proximity has formed awareness, living creatures begin interpreting any signals received (Watzlawick, 2018).
Some of the functions of non-verbal communication in humans are to complement and illustrate, to reinforce and emphasise, to replace and substitute, to control and regulate, and to contradict the denovative message.
Non-verbal cues are heavily relied on to express communication and to interpret others’ communication and can replace or substitute verbal messages. However, non-verbal communication is ambiguous. When verbal messages contradict non-verbal messages, observation of non-verbal behaviour is relied on to judge another’s attitudes and feelings, rather than assuming the truth of the verbal message alone.
There are several reasons as to why non-verbal communication plays a vital role in communication:
- “Non-verbal communication is omnipresent.” (Burgoon, Guerrero and Floyd, 2010, p.3). They are included in every single communication act. To have total communication, all non-verbal channels such as the body, face, voice, appearance, touch, distance, timing and other environmental forces must be engaged during face-to-face interaction. Written communication can also have non-verbal attributes. E-mails and web chats allow an individual’s the option to change text font colours, stationary, emoticons and capitalisation in order to capture non-verbal cues into a verbal medium.
- “Non-verbal behaviours are multifunctional.” (Burgoon, Guerrero and Floyd, 2010, p.4) Many different non-verbal channels are engaged at the same time in communication acts and allow the chance for simultaneous messages to be sent and received.
- “Non-verbal behaviours may form a universal language system.” (Burgoon Guerrero and Floyd, 2010, p.4) Smiling, crying, pointing, caressing and glaring are non-verbal behaviours that are used and understood by people regardless of nationality. Such non-verbal signals allow the most basic form of communication when verbal communication is not effective due to language barriers.
Family communication is the study of the communication perspective in a broadly defined family, with intimacy and trusting relationship (Turner and West, 2013).
The main goal of family communication is to understand the interactions of family and the pattern of behaviours of family members in different circumstances. Open and honest communication creates an atmosphere that allows family members to express their differences as well as love and admiration for one another. It also helps to understand the feelings of one another.
Family communication study looks at topics such as family rules, family roles or family dialectics and how those factors could affect the communication between family members. Researchers develop theories to understand communication behaviours.
Family communication study also digs deep into certain time periods of family life such as marriage, parenthood or divorce and how communication stands in those situations. It is important for family members to understand communication as a trusted way which leads to a well constructed family.
In simple terms, interpersonal communication is the communication between one person and another (or others). It is often referred to as face-to-face communication between two (or more) people. Both verbal and non-verbal communication, or body language, play a part in how one person understands another.
In verbal interpersonal communication there are two types of messages being sent: a content message and a relational message. Content messages are messages about the topic at hand and relational messages are messages about the relationship itself (Trenholm and Jensen, 2013).
This means that relational messages come across in how one says something and it demonstrates a person’s feelings, whether positive or negative, towards the individual they are talking to, indicating not only how they feel about the topic at hand, but also how they feel about their relationship with the other individual (Trenholm and Jensen, 2013).
There are many different aspects of interpersonal communication including:
- Audiovisual Perception of Communication Problems (Barkhuysen, Krahmer and Swerts, 2004)
The concept follows the idea that our words change what form they take based on the stress level or urgency of the situation. It also explores the concept that stuttering during speech shows the audience that there is a problem or that the situation is more stressful (Barkhuysen, Krahmer and Swerts, 2004).
- The Attachment Theory (Bretherton, 1992)
This is the combined work of John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth (Ainsworth and Bowlby, 1991) This theory follows the relationships that builds between a mother and child, and the impact it has on their relationships with others.
- Emotional Intelligence and Triggers (Mazza, J., 2009-2018)
Emotional Intelligence focuses on the ability to monitor one’s own emotions as well as those of others. Emotional Triggers focus on events or people that tend to set off intense, emotional reactions within individuals.
- Attribution Theory (Bertram, 2004)
This is the study of how individuals explain what causes different events and behaviours.
- Verbal Communication
Uses the power of words, taking into account the dynamics, tone and use of words.
- Non-verbal Communication
It focuses heavily on the setting that the words are conveyed in, as well as the physical tone of the words.
- Ethics in Personal Relations (Lipthrott, n.d.)
It is about a space of mutual responsibility between two individuals, it’s about giving and receiving in a relationship. This theory is explored by Dawn J. Lipthrott in the article What IS Relationship? What is Ethical Partnership?
- Deception in Communication (Hearn, 2006)
This concept goes into that everyone lies, and how this can impact relationships. This theory is explored by James Hearn in his article Interpersonal Deception Theory: Ten Lessons for Negotiators.
- Conflict in Couples (Lenhart and Duggan, 2014)
This focuses on the impact that social media has on relationships, as well as how to communicate through conflict. This theory is explored by Amanda Lenhart and Maeve Duggan in their paper Couples, the Internet, and Social Media.
Section until end of the module – excerpt from ‘Conquering Parenting Adolescence’:
Communication is simply the act of transferring information from one place to another, and we have been communicating since we were born.
As babies we cried to get our parents attention and as we grew, we developed more sophisticated ways of letting people know what we want, as well as understanding what others want.
Being able to communicate effectively is the most important of all life skills.
But, things can go drastically wrong too, the world is full of people misunderstanding each other and things all the time.
History is witness to many wars that have been fought by nations based on mere miscommunication and misunderstandings.
Communication is a two way street, it starts with one person having a thought they want to transfer to another person, then there is the other person receiving the message and at both ends of the transfer, a break down can take place.
In the game of ‘Chinese whispers’, the chances of break down is simply multiplied as the number of players goes up…
Communication usually breaks down due to a lack of understanding or lack of desire to understand by taking a firm personal position,and failing to listen and try to see the others point/view, which can and does lead to bad things happening.
What Lack of Good Communication Breeds
If we haven’t clearly communicated what we are looking for, we probably won’t receive it and we get frustrated when our expectations are not met.
How can someone expect a friend not to joke about their hair at school if they haven’t clearly communicated it to her and let her know how it really makes them feel?
Lack of understanding:
Understanding is the point of information transfer, and when communication isn’t clear, it will not be understood.
The teacher can only be sure that what she is saying is getting through by testing students to see if they have understood her.
When communication isn’t clear and understood, anxiety rises.
When someone misunderstood the directions to a park where they were playing a football match recently, it caused some anxiety. They were in the wrong place, time was running out and they would soon be late. All of this anxiety due to a simple misunderstanding, which would have been avoided if they had taken a few extra minutes to review the directions clearly and understood where they were going before they left!
When communication breaks down, relationships also break down.
A misunderstanding can be taken as an attack or something done on purpose or out of deceit, leading to relationship breakdowns.
When someone’s friend continues to make fun of their hair at school, it’s easy for them to begin to think that she is doing this on purpose to hurt them. And soon they won’t like to be around her in order to avoid it. And pretty soon there won’t be a relationship left, as relationships and friendships like living things need constant attention and connection to be healthy and flourish.
We can lose and waste a lot of time, any time we have to re-explain or re-communicate or re-anything because we didn’t properly communicate it the first time.
As mammals we herd into tribes to feel safe.
To feel safe, we need to feel connected to and part of the tribe.
To feel connected, we need to be able to communicate effectively.
Poor communication in a relationship is very much like a plant without water – when communication dies, so does the relationship.
Two people can connect only through good communication.
Good communication skills not only make an individual interesting, connecting them with people and building friendships, but help boosts their confidence, self-esteem and social life, which are all universally attractive qualities.
Everything you do in life results from communication, it is the foundation of our relationships that allows trust, productivity and enables deep connections.
Developing your communication skills can help all aspects of your life, from your home life, to school life, to professional life, to social gatherings and everything in between.
It plays a vital role in human life, as not only does it allow the process of sharing information and knowledge, but it also helps people to develop deep and lasting relationships with others.
The ability to communicate information accurately, clearly and as intended, is a vital life skill and something that is never too late to work on, in order to improve your quality of life.
The importance of our ability to effectively communicate with our children as parents cannot be overstressed!
The Importance of Communicating Well
How to communicate well:
To be a good communicator you need to get your ideas and opinions across well and be able to listen to others and take their ideas into consideration.
Effective communication means that everyone is on the same page, all the time.
When you use time to communicate, make it worth your time and the person’s time you are sharing with.
Taking time to communicate clearly is never a waste of time.
The benefits of good communication skills are mind-boggling:
Here are a list of just some life changing benefits that this powerful skill can provide:
- Communication increases your happiness through engagement with, and connection to others.
- Communication makes you one hot chick/dude, as without communication, attraction dies.
- Good communication allows openness in a relationship and adds intimacy.
- Communication increases love, as changing the way you talk and actively listening shows respect and love to people, and giving love is the best way to receive love.
- Communication makes you more popular and helps you make lots of friends, as you develop good conversation skills.
- Communication increases emotional intelligence which helps you understand people’s feelings and desires (in a 2002 study published in the Teaching of Psychology Journal graduates were asked what skill contributed the most to their success and the number one answer was interpersonal skills).
- Communication makes you relaxed by not suffering from stress, which relates to how we assertively manage ourselves with the world.
- Communication makes you satisfied by having your need or desire met, as your negotiation, persuasion and influencing skills improve.
- Communication gives you self-control as it helps you avoid actions that you may regret, through impulsive behaviour.
- Communication helps self-understanding by reflecting on hearing yourself communicating your thoughts, views and feelings.
- Communication helps you understand people by helping you see someone’s emotions, understand their emotions and communicate at the level of emotions to connect the two of you in a deep and meaningful way.
Although there is an abundance of other benefits that effective communication creates, the real empowering benefit of communication is that:
1. Good communication helps us understand human behaviour as it relates to everyone.
2. It helps us understand people we talk to as we explore what really matters to them.
You may be thinking by this stage: “but communicating with my children is not the same as dealing with others”, “teenagers are just impossible to communicate with”…
We shall happily disagree!
Let’s take a closer look at our subject – the teenager:
Do you remember being a teenager?
What was it like? How did it feel being one?
What were your thoughts, feelings, concerns?
What did you dislike, despise and hate about being one?
What did you enjoy about it?
What did you wish for and how did you wish to be treated?
Are teenager’s feelings, desires, wishes and needs any different from ours as adults? Do they not just want to fit in, be accepted, liked and acknowledged? Do we not all want to feel connected, supported and feel at home in our lives?
As humans, and not just teenagers, we all need and depend on our connections, our links to other human beings, our families, friends – our relationships create, reinforce and maintain bonds that will keep us standing tall and firm in turbulent times, just as the wooded forest does so for the trees.
I once read somewhere, “you are here to disprove the illusion of separateness…”
Our connections, links, bonds and relationships all highly rely on vital communication skills.
In our opinion, it is never too late to improve a relationship with a child at any age and if we are to communicate well with our teenagers, we need to begin to look at how we are actually responding to their attempts at communicating with us as parents.
Feelings and emotions:
As parents, we have many concerns about our children, from their new forming attitudes, tendencies, needs, fears, concerns…
When it comes to protecting our teenagers from all the dangers in today’s world or saving them from the inevitable emotional rollercoaster of their adolescence, there are no quick solutions.
However, by creating an atmosphere at home where our teenagers can feel free and comfortable enough to express their thoughts and feelings, we can encourage them to be more open to hearing ours – more willing to consider our grown up perspectives – more able to tolerate and accept our restraints – more likely to be supported and protected by our values.
It is quite natural for us to want to push away painful or upsetting feelings in our children, so, when we observe our children confused, resentful, disappointed, dismayed or discouraged, we can’t bear to see them unhappy. So we jump in, we dismiss their feelings and impose our adult logic, wanting to show them how to feel (can you guess where we picked up this gem of a parenting technique??).
Unfortunately, our teenager at the receiving end of these attempts at making things better will have other ideas of how we make them feel when we do this.
They will feel that their feelings are being dismissed, their thoughts are being ridiculed, their judgements criticised and as if the humiliation is not enough, they’re now expected to accept unsolicited advice from the very person that made them feel as such…
Would you be interested in the views and opinions of someone who makes you feel like that? Would you take their advice seriously? Would you respect their values?
I think you get the picture…
How do we as parents help our children in a way that does not disrespect undermine, hurt or diminish their self-esteem and their sense of autonomy?
How do we pull this off?
The Importance of Listening in Communication
Listening is the greatest tool when it comes to communication.
By listening and accepting their feelings, thoughts and judgements, our children will feel heard, seen and felt – this is the fundamental necessity for us as humans to feel safe within our environment.
Listening and accepting not only gives our children a great comfort but it also helps them in accepting their emotions in a healthy way and enables them to cope with their feelings better.
Listening isn’t the same thing as agreeing.
You can understand and respect another person’s point of view without agreeing with it.
As we have already covered, an essential component of strong, healthy relationships is good communication, and successful communication depends a lot on how you listen.
By using active and effective listening, we can strengthen our communication and improve our relationships with our children.
This is because active listening shows the child that we care and are interested, and that allows us to learn and understand more about what’s going on in the child’s life.
With active listening, the pressure to come up with solutions is off and not only do we not have to say much, allowing our child to talk more which will help their thinking processes and develop more clarity of thought, but this might also lead to actually being asked for our opinion.
Good listening is the best way to show your child that you’re genuinely interested and that you really care. It also helps to avoid conflict caused by misunderstandings.
Actively listening to our children is a skill, and far more than just simply hearing them.
Actively listening is possible by:
- Making sure we get close to our child when she/he is speaking
- Giving the child our full attention in a conversation
- Allowing the child to talk and not interrupting him/her mid flow
- Not asking questions that break the child’s train of thought
- Focusing on what the child is saying rather than thinking about our reply
- Looking into the child’s eyes, so she/he knows they’re being heard and understood
- Showing the child that we’re interested by nodding our head and offering comments such as ‘I see’, ‘really’, ‘Oh, wow’, ‘That sounds hard/great/tricky’…
Improving our active listening skills is not difficult.
We first need to get into the here and now (the moment) – that means really paying attention, and if we notice our mind has wandered, we bring it back to what our child is saying.
When our child is talking to us, it can help to turn off the TV, your mobile phone and other devices, because, when we give the child our undivided interest and attention, it sends the message that he/she is the most important thing to us right now, and states that we’re available and interested in what they’re thinking, feeling and doing.
When we concentrate on what our child is saying rather than thinking about what we’re going to say next, we are making sure that we are not missing his/her point, or what they’re trying to tell us and why…
When we summarise our child’s main points and how we think she/he might be feeling, by repeating what the child has communicated in their own words, we are sending them the message that they/their thoughts/their feeling have been seen, heard and understood.
For example, ‘Let me see if I’ve understood. You’re feeling angry because I didn’t talk to you before making plans for this weekend. I can understand that’.
Keep it clean – avoid making judgments when you summarise what your child has said.
To say: ‘You want to stay out too late’, would be judgmental.
However, to say: ‘You want to stay out until midnight’ is nonjudgmental and factual (if that is what the child has asked for).
When children feel seen and heard, they feel invited/welcome to say more or explain further what they’re thinking.
No matter how much your teenagers dismiss you, put you down, protest against your wishes, rebel and pretend with every molecule in their body that they don’t give a hoot for what you or their mum/dad thinks about anything, the truth is that they do, and in fact, they do a lot!
Don’t expect them to ever admit to it (they are probably unaware of the extent themselves), but knowing that they need to know exactly where you stand, your beliefs and values, as these all have a huge role to play when it comes to them making their own choices in life, is fundamental to everything you do as a parent.
So, it is our job as parents to make it possible for our teenagers to engage with us in such a way that enables us to protect them as best as we can whilst allowing growth in a safe and supportive environment.
By now, we have come to see how important our communication skills are when it comes to parenting, so let’s have a look at a few scenarios as examples where we can apply what we have learned so far.