Levels of Communication

            Human communication takes place at various levels: (a) extra personal, (b) intrapersonal, (c) interpersonal, and (d) organizational.

  1. Extra personal communication refers to the communication between human beings and non-human entities. For example, when our pet dog wags its tail when it sees us, it is extra personal communication.
  2. Intrapersonal communication does not come under the purview of communication studies but under that of psychology as it does not involve two or more people. It is a conversation that one has in his mind with himself. Without such internal dialogues an individual cannot proceed to the interpersonal and organizational levels. In fact, while a person communicates with another person or persons, internal dialogue — planning, weighing and processing information — continues concurrently.
  3. Interpersonal communication is sharing of information between individuals or a group of individuals. It is direct, written or oral communication between one person and another, one group and another, one person and one group or one group and one person. Interpersonal communication can be:
  4. Dyadic communication — It involves two people and is the most common type of communication; e.g. conversation between two friends, between mother and child, between teacher and student etc.
  5. Small group communication refers to the interaction among three or more people connected through a common purpose, mutual influence and shares identity.  It involves a situation when each member actively communicates with the other group members. It is an important communication unit in civic or personal or academic or professional context. Small groups often possess the following characteristics; (a) group members can form coalitions to defend positions and other members of the group (b) small groups do not pose the threat of de-individuation (c) opinions of all group members are heard; e.g. groups of friends, small circles of colleagues.
  6. Public communication — Individuals interact in the public sphere to deliver a message to a specific audience. It occurs when a group becomes too large for all members to contribute. Public communication is characterized by unequal amount of speaking by one or two individuals and limited verbal feedback from listeners; e.g. classroom lectures, political speeches, church sermons etc.
  7. Mass communication conveys messages to an entire populace. Mass media informs, educates, and entertains. It can be categorised under three heads – a) Print Media (for e.g. books, newspapers, magazines); b) Electronic Media (for e.g. audio – radio, audio-visual – films, TV, Internet; c) Speeches given by a prophet or political reader. Mass communication differs from other forms of communication in the following ways: (1) messages are aimed at and carefully tailored to specific demographic audiences; (2) there is no direct contact between sender and receiver; (3) the sender has total control over the message sent; (4) the sender has no way of clarifying miscommunications immediately; (5) mass communication is generally sponsored by large organizations. 

Interpersonal communication can be formal or informal. For example, a student’s interaction with his classmate is different from his interaction with his teacher.

  • Organizational communication – communication in an organization takes place at different hierarchical levels. It is essential for the sustenance of an organization. Organizational communication can be further divided into: (a) internal-operational which refers to communication that takes place within an organization; (b) external-operational which refers to the work related communication that an organization makes with people outside the organization; (c) personal communication that occurs without any business purpose.

Channels of Communication

            A communication channel is a medium through which a message is transmitted to its intended audience; that is, a channel is a physical transmission medium such as a wire or a logical connection over a multiple medium such as a radio channel. It is used to convey an information signal from one or several senders (transmitters) to one or several receivers. A channel has a certain capacity for transmitting information. It is often measured by band width in H2 or data rate in bits per second. Examples of communications based on different channels are given below:

            Print Media                             Electronic Media

            Bulletins                                  E- mail messages

            Brochures                                Video messages

            Letters                                     Instant messages

Reports                                    Television broadcasts

            Newspapers                             Radio broadcasts

Press Releases                         Tele-conferences

            Articles                                    Telephone conversations

            Books                                      Wi-fi or internet networks

            Handbooks                              Blogs, web-sites

            Advertisements in papers        Social networking sites (FB, Twitter)


            Company Manuals

Types of Communication

Communication is essential for the internal functioning of any organization. The interaction between the different individuals working in an organization or company takes place through formal, informal and unofficial channels.

Formal Communication – flows through official channels and refers to the formal methods of communication that are followed in a management. It goes through a hierarchy and is associated with the particular positions of the communicator and the recipient in the organization. Internal-operational and external-operational communication can be considered formal. Policy or procedural changes, orders, instructions, confidential reports, promotion letters etc. come under formal communication. Written communications like company manuals, handbooks, magazines, bulletins and reports that are designed to meet the specific needs of the organization are also formal communications.

            Formal communication has certaindistinct features. It is used in a professional setting and has official recognition. It is always planned, dictated and guided. It is mostly in written form using long sentences and full words without any contractions and abbreviations. It is also complex and thorough.

Informal Communication – occurs within informal groups, friends and family. It lacks official recognition and is mostly a word-of-mouth communication. Informal communication includes tea time gossip, casual gatherings, lunch time meetings etc. It is based on the informal relationships that are built up in an organization and may be conveyed by a nod, a glance, a gesture, a smile and even silence.

            Formal communication is generally more articulate (clearly expressed), direct and has got official backing. On the other hand, informal communication is more indirect, less explicit and is spontaneous and flexible. It serves the social needs of the individuals in the organization and acts as a safety valve for pent-up emotions. Nevertheless, it can also contain distorted information and may even degenerate into negative outlets of expression like rumour.

            In an organization, information flows through formal and informal channels of communication.

Unofficial Communication

Grapevine — It is an informal, unofficial and personal communication channel that takes place within an organisation. It cuts across formal channels of communication. The origin and direction of the flow of the informally conveyed message cannot be traced. Like the grapevine it is impossible to find the origin of information and spreads where it can. It has certain features. It is oral, mostly undocumented and open to change. It spreads very fast. Moreover, there is inaccurate deletion of crucial details and exaggeration of the most dramatic details. It does not have any definite pattern/direction; it can be horizontal, vertical or diagonal. There are four types of grapevine:

Single strand chain – involves the passing of information through a line of persons

E.g.: A>B>C>D>E>F

Gossip chain – one person seeks and conveys the information to everyone

E.g.: C<B<A>D>E

Probability chain – a random process

One person transmits the information to others in accordance with the laws of probability

Cluster chain – a person conveys the information to selected persons he/she trusts. They pass it on to other selected persons. It is the dominant grapevine in an organization.

Grapevine has some advantages. It carries information rapidly and obtains feedback quickly. It also serves as an emotional support. At the same time there are disadvantages too. Much of the information is not verified, not trustworthy, and hampers the goodwill of the organization. It also leads to hostility.

Formal Channels of Communication

            Formal communication channels are the official pathways to send information inside and outside the organization. E-mails, newsletters, memos, circulars, notices etc. are formal channels of communication. On the basis of the direction of the flow, formal communication can be classified into four types:

  1. Downward communication – refers to communication from the higher level in the hierarchy to the lower levels. Its main function is to provide direction and control. A communication from the general manager of a company to the branch managers and that from the Principal of a college to the heads of departments are examples of downward communication. Annual confidential reports, official instructions, notices, memos, telephone conversations, voice mails, e-mails, face-to-face conversations are forms of downward communication. Downward communication is essential for the functioning of an organization as it transfers information, instruction, advice and ideas to subordinate staff.
  2. Upward communication – refers to communication from subordinates to superiors. Upward communication fosters friendly relations and provides feedback on several areas of organizational functioning. A business report from the branch manager of a company to the Managing Director and a report from the head of a department to the Principal, business proposals and grievance committees are examples of upward communication. Upward communication promotes better working relationships within an organization by giving the subordinate staff opportunities to share their views and ideas with their superiors.
  3. Lateral / Horizontal communication – takes place among peer groups (people of equal position and grade ; e.g. the HOD of English and the HOD of Politics ) or hierarchically equivalent people / people working on the same level of hierarchy. Horizontal communication develops team work and promotes group co- ordination within an organization / institution. It is necessary to facilitate co-ordination, save time and bridge the communication gap among various departments. Horizontal communication is carried out through informal discussions, telephone calls, tele-conferencing, video conferencing, routine meetings etc.
  4. Diagonal / Cross-wise communication – flows in all directions and cuts across functions and levels in an organization / institution; example a sales manager who communicates directly with the Vice-President who is in a different division as well as at a higher level in the organization or an Assistant Professor who communicates directly with the Vice Chancellor of the University. Diagonal communication is the product of modern changes in information technology and management. It is basically a response to market needs that demand speed and efficiency. The increased use of e-mail encourages diagonal communication.
Downward Upward Horizontal Diagonal
from the
decision makers to workers.
Communication from employees to management Communication among workers at the same level Communication flows in all
Seniors to
employees to
Seniors to
Employees to
No protocol

Communication Network – is a pattern or flow of messages that traces the communication from start to finish. Networks of communication are ways to organize communications, each with different advantages.

Types of Communication Networks

There are five common networks that come into play in formal communication in an organization.

(a) Chain network – represents a vertical communication channel in which communication can flow only upward or downward. The chain network has a leader A who decides which messages should be passed on and how. This network is used to convey messages that are legally correct.

(b)   Y-network – is a multi- level hierarchy where two subordinates report to one senior with two levels of authority above him.

c)   Wheel network – where several subordinates report to a superior. Though the subordinates are of equal rank, all of them report to one superior, without any interaction among themselves.

(d) Circle network — allows employees to interact with adjacent members and no further.

(e)   All- channel network – is least structured; it enables employees to communicate freely with the others. There are no restrictions on who should communicate with whom. No employee assumes a leading role formally or informally. Hence, everybody’s views are equally and openly shared.

Verbal / Non-verbal Communication

Communication can mainly be categorized into verbal communication and non-verbal communication.

Verbal Communication – refers to the use of language to communicate. There are two main types of verbal communication possible. They are intrapersonal communication and interpersonal communication.

Non-verbal Communication – is the process of sending and receiving wordless messages. Non-verbal communication supplements verbal communication. Its purpose is to express the feelings behind a message. Our daily interaction is 35% verbal and 65% non- verbal communication. The several categories of non-verbal communication are:

  1. Body Language — all the expressions that we share by means of our body movements. Kinesics is the study of how we use body movement and facial expressions. The elements of body language are: (a) Personal Appearance — A person’s personal appearance is important. He/she should wear a dress neatly washed and ironed. (b) Posture — the way we sit, stand and carry ourselves. E.g.: drooping shoulders indicate depression, raised chin and stiff shoulders indicate defiance, sitting on the edge of the chair in an interview is a sign of tension; (c) Gestures — the physical movement of arms, legs, hands torso & head.  Gesturing is a natural part of speech and thinking and is culture specific. It offloads some of the mental effort of verbal communication. For example, the palms spread outwards indicate perplexity. Interlocking and rubbing palms together indicate tension. A locked arm posture indicates defiance. Waving hands means saying hello/goodbye. Thumbs up indicate agreement or appreciation; (d) Facial expressions. The face is the index of the mind. Facial expressions and movement that show joy, disapproval, anger etc. ; e.g. frown — disapproval;  clenched teeth and moving jaw – suppression of anger;  raised eyebrow – surprise / sarcasm;  lopsided smile – disbelief / sarcasm; narrowing one’s eyebrows —  lack of trust in others; (e) Eye contact. Eyes are the windows to the soul. They truthfully convey our emotions & feelings. Looking into a person’s eyes is the best way to understand his/her attitude or reaction. Eyes play a significant role in human communication. Avoiding eye contact indicates evasion, fear, doubt.       
  2. Proxemics – Space matters a lot to us. We are reluctant to board a crowded train/bus. All of us want our own territory and space to feel relaxed and enjoy a comfort that is lost if we are surrounded by people/things. While communicating we must respect the territories of others. All of us have a psychologically defined territory. Not many are welcomed beyond a point. These psychological territories are divided into four zones. Intimate zone – no stranger is welcome here. It is shared by lovers, spouses, children, parents, & very close relatives & friends. Anyone who tries to enter is an intruder. Personal zone – shared by close friends, colleagues and associates. Social zone – the most official/formal interactions take place here; also interaction with occasional visitors like gardeners, plumbers, electricians etc. Public zone – public speaking & presentations come in this zone. 
  3. Haptics – refers to touch. Touch is the most common type of non-verbal communication. We use touch to share feelings and reveal relationships; e.g. handshakes, hugs, holding hands. The meaning conveyed by touch is dependent on the situation, the relationship between the communicators and the manner of touch. It is culture-centric. 
  4. Chronemics – refers to the perception of time in communication. It includes punctuality, willingness to wait. Time can be used differently by individuals and in cultures.
  5. Chromatic – the use of colour to communicate. E.g.: white > peace; purple > royalty; red > danger. 
  6. Para language / Vocalics — the term used to describe the different aspects of our voice. It includes pitch, volume, tone, rate, pause, articulation, pronunciation. This type of non-verbal communication is vocal and enhances verbal communication by giving it a special nuance.  Pitch is the rise & fall in the human voice and it plays a crucial role in communication. It expresses all the emotions that are to be conveyed. Volume refers to the loudness/softness of the voice. It is not just what you say but how you say it. E.g.: whispering = you want to hide something; speaking aloud = you want to be heard by all. While addressing an audience if you are not loud enough it suggests lack of confidence. Speaking loud over the phone = lack of good manners. The linguist George L. Trager developed a classification system which consists of voice set, voice quality and vocalization. Voice set refers to the context in which the speaker is speaking. This can include gender, mood, age, culture etc. Voice quality includes volume, pitch, tempo, rhythm, resonance, nasality, accent etc. Vocalization consists of characterizers, qualifiers and segregates. Characterizers are emotions expressed while speaking such as laughing, yawning, crying etc. Qualifiers refer to the style of delivering a message; e.g. shouting, whispering. Vocal segregates such as ‘uh-huh’ tell the speaker that the listener is actually listening. Tone reveals the attitude of the speaker —   friendly, critical, sarcastic etc. Rate refers to the no of words you speak per minute. The normal rate is 120-150 words per minute. Pause is a short silence flanked by words and lets the listener reflect on the message and digest it. Pause indicates the speaker’s uncertainty, tension, hesitation etc. Articulation is the clarity of your voice. A clearly articulated message is a sign of competence. The speaker should speak in such a way that all the words are understood by the listener. Pronunciation has an important role. We have to use the accepted form of pronunciation. In the case of English, it is RP.
  7. Silence – People communicate through silence too. It is an often neglected but powerful tool. Silence can effectively communicate responses like sorrow, anger, disapproval etc. It allows us to think, breathe, listen & hold the attention of the listener and heightens the expectation of others. It allows others to process what you have said and consider their response. Silence can be a cold sort of punishment; e.g.: the silent treatment when you go home late. In an interview silence can encourage the other person to ‘open up’. It can also be use intentionally to create anxiety & discomfort in the other person.

Differences between verbal and non-verbal communication

  • When we communicate verbally we use a single channel (words). But in non-verbal communication we use multiple channels such as gestures, facial expressions, pitch of the voice and body language. As verbal language is arbitrary and ambiguous, it is not very easy to decode. When verbal communication is accompanied by non-verbal communication decoding becomes easy.
  • Verbal communication is linear that is, messages have a beginning and an end. But non-verbal communication is continuous that is, we can get non-verbal cues even after the verbal message has ended.
  • Verbal communication is conscious that is, we think and formulate the words in our mind before we communicate. Non-verbal communication is unconscious and spontaneous. Our emotions and responses are naturally displayed in our facial expressions and body language.
  • Verbal communication is language specific that is, the receiver can understand the sender’s message only if he knows the linguistic codes the sender uses. For example, an English language communication won’t be understood by a person who knows only the linguistic codes of Malayalam. Non-verbal communication is of a universal nature as smiles, frowns, body language etc. mean the same thing the world over.

Sign language

A sign language is a language which uses manual communication and body language to convey meaning instead of sound patterns. It involves simultaneously combining hand shapes, and movement of the hands, arms or body and facial expressions to express a speaker’s thoughts. Sign language is used not only by the deaf, but also by people who can hear but cannot speak. Sign languages are independent of oral languages and follow their own paths of development. For example, British Sign Language and American Sign Language are quite different and mutually intelligible even though the people of Britain and America who can hear and speak share the same oral language, English. The grammars of sign languages do not resemble that of spoken languages used in the same geographical area. Sign languages exploit tactile features and also the features of the visual medium. Oral language is by and large linear; only one sound can be made or received at a time. Sign language, on the other hand, is visual and so can use simultaneous expression.

Functions of non-verbal communication     

Non-verbal communication is used to duplicate verbal communication; e.g. head nod duplicating yes / no; expanding arms indicating something large. It replaces verbal communication; e.g. answering yes/no question with just a head nod/head shake. It complements verbal communication; e.g. if a friend informs you that he/she has come first in a competition, you not only verbally congratulate him/her but also shake his/her hand or pat him/her on the back. Non-verbal communication accents or strengthens verbal communication; e.g. we can raise the volume of our voice on certain words to accent communication – I am VERY angry with you and expresses emotions; e.g. smile – joy, tears – sorrow, frown – anger/irritation. It regulates verbal communication; e.g. if we want to talk to a person, we might make eye contact, move closer, face the person directly etc. During communication we can use vocal segregates like ‘um’, ‘uh-huh’ to keep the communication flowing from the sender. It contradicts verbal communication; e.g. to your question ‘how are you’, your friend might say ‘I am fine’ but from the facial expression you know that all is not well. Non-verbal communication indicates relational standing; e.g. romantic partners stand close to one another and touch frequently but mere acquaintances maintain a certain distance. It demonstrates and maintains cultural norms; e.g. shaking hands, hugging, greeting with hands folded reveal the respective cultures of nations.

Circumstantial Speech – is a communication disorder in which the focus of a conversation drifts. In circumstantiality, unnecessary details and irrelevant remarks cause a delay in getting to the point. But in circumstantial speech, the speaker eventually does come back to the point as opposed to tangential speech in which the speaker never returns to the point after the drift. A person afflicted by circumstantiality has slowed thinking and it is often difficult to elicit information from such persons because of circumstantiality.

Sender-centric communication – is communication which prioritizes the sender. The sender has an idea and wants to communicate it to one or more persons. The aim of the sender is to convince or persuade the listeners to accept his views. There is neither room norm scope for response from the listeners. The rhetoric model of communication popularized by Aristotle is a perfect example of sender-centric communication. Any ‘telling’ can be considered as sender-centric communication; e.g. church sermons, religious discourses and political speeches.

Receiver-centric communication – is participatory communication. Though theoretically or conceptually, all communication is receiver-centric as it presupposes a receiver, not all communication allows for the active participation of the receiver. Every interactive communication can be said to be receiver-centric; e.g. chats, discussions, debates etc. In the modern definition receiver-centric communication allows enough space for the receiver to choose what he wants to hear/see/read. For example, www offers plenty of information sites to a person who browses the internet; but the one who browses chooses what he wants to read. The remote control is one device that has given great impetus to receiver-centric communication.

Organizational communication

An organization is defined as a social unit of people systematically structured and managed to pursue collective goals on a continuing basis. In an organization there is a management structure that determines relationships between functions and positions, responsibilities and authority. Every organization has a hierarchy but communication flows in various directions (upward communication, downward communication, horizontal) within the organization. Such communication follows logic and empirical evidence and is different from day to day communication. Organizational communication is the process whereby verbal, non-verbal and mediated messages are used to communicate matters of interest for the benefit of the organization. Organizational communication is usually arranged in networks such as chain, wheel, circular etc. It is important because it motivates the members by informing and clarifying them about the task to be done and about improving their performance. It helps in decision making by setting all the relevant information to the decision makers. It alters individuals’ attitudes to make them perform for the organization and for the betterment of the self. It assists in the ‘controlling process’ thus helping the organization functionally.

Socio-cultural aspects of communication We cannot ascertain a speaker’s intent unless we are aware of the sociocultural aspects that shape the content, form and language of a message. Thus, status, role, social identities and social relationships become communicative symbols signalled in the act of speaking. In order to interpret a message in a particular context, one must have knowledge of the social values associated with the speaker, his culture, community, ethnicity etc. For example, some communities place great value on verbal abilities, others on silence. In a community which values silence, a talkative person is viewed as abnormal and his messages are not taken seriously. Similarly, in a community which values verbal ability, mono-syllabic communication may be interpreted as arrogance, indifference etc. Several factors contribute to the meaning of a piece of communication; — (1) who the senders and receivers are (2) what is the channel used (written, printed, body language, para language) (3) what is the situation in which communication takes place (4) what the form of the message is – a word, a sentence, a letter, a poem, a sermon or sales talk. (4) what the belief system of the community is where communication happens.


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