Barriers of Communication

Communication plays a major role in developing a relationship. It can also affect the relationship among the members of a family or management in any institute. Communication influences the effectiveness of instruction, performance evaluation, and the tackling of problems related to discipline. Communication should be always straightforward. There are certain barriers that make it complex, difficult and frustrating. Some barriers of communication are:

  1. Physiological barrier — Physiological barriers to communication are related to the limitations of the human body and the human mind (memory, attention and perception) resulting from individuals’ personal discomfort, due to ill health, poor eye sight or hearing difficulties.
  2. Poor listening skills — Listening to another person id a difficult task. A typical speaker utters about 125 words per minute; a typical listener can receive 400-600 words in a minute. Thus about three fourth of listening time is free time which often side tracks the listener.
  3. Information overload — We are surrounded by a wealth of information. It is essential to stem the flow of information or else it is likely to be misinterpreted or forgotten or overlooked. Consequently, communication may get distorted.
  4. Inattention — At times we do not listen but only hear. For example, if you talk to a person who is absorbed in his work, he will not pay any attention to you; he will only hear you and may not get what you are talking about.
  5. Psychological barrier — Psychological factors such as distrust, unhappy emotions and misconception can jeopardize the process of communication. If a person has personal problems such as worries and stress about a chronic illness, it may impinge on his/her communication with others.
  6. Emotions — The emotional state of a person at a particular point of time affects his/her communication with others as it has an impact on the body language (non-verbal communication). Our emotional state causes physiological changes in our body that may affect the pronunciation, pressure of the speech and tone of the voice of the sender as well as the perception, thinking process and interpretation of information of the receiver during verbal communication.
  7. Poor retention — Human memory cannot function beyond the limit. We cannot always retain all the facts/ information about what is told to us, especially if we are not interested or not attentive.
  8. Physical and environmental distraction — Physical things like the telephone, excessively hot or cold work places, bright lights, glare on computer screens, and loud noises can stand in the way of effective communication.
  9. Social Barriers — Include the social psychological phenomenon of conformity in which the norms, values and behaviour of an individual follow those of the wider group. Social factors such as age, gender, socio economic status and marital status also act as barriers to communication in certain situation.
  10. Cultural barriers — Cultural barriers to communication often arise when individuals in one social group develop different norms, values or behaviour to individuals associated with another group. Cultural difference leads to difference in interests, knowledge, values and tradition. So, these cultural factors are barriers to communication.
  11. Semantic barriers — Language, slang, jargon etc. are some of the semantic barriers.
  12. Linguistic barriers — The use of difficult or inappropriate words in communication can prevent people from understanding the message. Linguistic differences between people can also hinder communication.
  13. Technological failure — Messages not delivered due to technological failure – if the receiver is not in mobile network area and the sender has not activated delivery report in message setting.
  14. Unclear messages — In terms of meaning, grammar and words may act as a barrier to communication.




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.




Aristotle’s Model

            Over 2300 years ago, Aristotle, the famous Greek philosopher, laid the groundwork for modern public communication. He proposed a speaker-centred model of communication called the rhetoric model. It is applicable to the art of public speaking. In this model, the speaker is the centre of the communication process. The message of the speaker is aimed at a large audience. The role of the audience is passive, to be influenced and persuaded to the speaker’s way of thinking. There are five primary elements in this model Speaker > Speech (Message) > Listener (Audience) > Occasion > Effect.

According to Aristotle, good rhetoric is not only persuasive but also ethical. In his view, a public presentation is a balance of three things: — ethos (the ethical), pathos (the emotional) and logos (the logical). The ethos is the speaker and his character as revealed through the communication. The pathos is the audience and the emotions felt by them during the rhetoric. The logos is the actual words used by the speaker. Aristotle’s pathos was a novel idea in his time though it is not so today. Aristotle is the earliest rhetorician to identify the audience and their perception as an important part of public speaking. He believed that a speech was effective only if it stirred the emotions of the audience.

  • Ethos – is the Greek word for ‘character.’ It refers to the trustworthiness or credibility of the speaker or writer. Ethos is often conveyed through the tone and style of the message and through the way the speaker or writer refers to differing views. The speaker’s / writer’s reputation, his / her expertise in the field, and his / her previous record or integrity also affect ethos. The impact of ethos is called the argument’s ‘ethical appeal.’ We tend to be persuaded by people whom we respect and who, we think, have warmth, consideration for others, a good mind and solid learning.
  • Pathos – is the Greek word for ‘suffering’ or ‘experience.’ It is associated with emotional appeal or the appeal to the sympathy and imagination of the audience. Pathos makes an audience respond emotionally and also identify with the speaker’s point of view. The most common way of conveying pathos is through narrative or story which can turn the abstractions of logic into something palpable. The values and beliefs of the writer are implicit in the story and conveyed imaginatively to the reader. Pathos thus refers to the emotional and imaginative impact of the message on the audience.
  • Logos — is the Greek for ‘word.’ It refers to the internal consistency of the message – the clarity of the claim, the logic of its reasons and the effectiveness of its supporting evidence. The impact of logos on an audience is often called the argument’s logical appeal.      

The Shannon-Weaver Model of Communication           

Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver were engineers working for Bell Telephone Company in the United States. They designed the most influential of all early communication models. Their goal was to formulate a theory to find the most efficient way of transmitting electrical signals from one location to another and ensure the maximum efficiency of telephone cables and radio waves. Shannon and Weaver’s work developed during World War II; their main goal was to work out a way in which the channels of communication could be used most effectively. Their work was an invaluable help to communication engineers in dealing with the capacity of various communication channels in ‘bits per second.’ It contributed to computer science. It made ‘information’ ‘measureable’ and gave rise to the mathematical study of ‘information theory.’

The Shannon-Weaver model of communication is called ‘’the mother of all models.’’ It embodies the concepts of information source, message, transmitter, signals, channel, noise, receiver, information destination, encoding and decoding. It is referred to as transmission model of communication. Many everyday forms of communication appear to be less immediate methods of communication than face-to-face interaction; example using the radio, newspapers or the telephone. In these cases, technology is introduced. For instance, when the telephone is used, we speak; the phone turns the sound waves into electrical impulses and they are turned back into sound waves by the phone at the other end of the line.

            The Shannon-Weaver model suggests that all communication includes seven elements — (a) a source: — all human communication has some source (information source), a person or group of persons with a given purpose and a reason for communication. The terms transmitter and communicator also refer to source; (b) an encoder: — when we communicate with people, we have a particular purpose in mind – we want to show that we are friendly, or we want to give them some information or we want to get them to do something or to persuade them to our point of view. We express our purpose in the form of a message which is formulated in some kind of a code by the communication encoder. For instance, when a person talks on the telephone (the transmitter) he/she is the source of the message. The telephone is the encoder which turns his/her sounds into electrical impulses. In person-to-person communication, the encoding process is done by the source-vocal mechanism – the lip and tongue movements, the vocal cords, the lungs face muscles etc.; (c) a message: — whatever is communicated is the message; it is what communication is all about. The Shannon-Weaver model separates the message from the other components of the communication process. It portrays the message as a relatively uncomplicated matter. Meanings are not Shannon’s concern. Meanings are assumed to be within the signs used in the message and the receiver can take them out again. Aspects like the social context in which the message is transmitted, the assumptions made by source and receiver and their past experiences are simply disregarded; (d) channel: — is the medium through which the message is transmitted from one person to another. The channel connects the source with the receiver; (e) a decoder: — retranslates the message sent; (f) a receiver: — the person at the other end of the communication channel, who has the equipment (e.g. a telephone) to receive the message; (g) noise: — the factor that interferes with the transmission of the message.

            Shannon was primarily concerned with physical noise, that is any interference with the message traversing the channel or random error in the transmission of information; e.g. a motorbike roaring down the road when we are talking; mist on the inside of the windscreen of a car; smudges on a printed page or a person standing in front of the TV when we are watching it.  Then the signal received will be different from that sent due to noise. 

            The advantages of Shannon-Weaver model are its simplicity and generality. These advantages made the model attractive to several academic disciplines such as education, psychology, engineering and mathematics. It also drew serious academic attention to human communication and ‘information theory’ leading to further research.

            All the same this transmission model of communication has its weaknesses too. It is not analogous to much of human communication. Only a fraction of the information conveyed in interpersonal encounters can be taken as corresponding to the teletype action of transmitted signals. The model is formal and does not account for content. Shannon and Weaver were concerned only with technical problems relating to the selection and arrangement of information. For them only form matters and not content; hence their model does not apply to semantic dimensions of language. This model has no mechanism to distinguish important ideas from pure nonsense. For example, to Shannon all the following come under information – E=m2; birds fly; I think, therefore I am; don’t make noise; colourless green ideas speak furiously. The Shannon-Weaver model is static and linear. The source is looked upon as the active decision-maker who determines the meaning of the message; the receiver has only the passive secondary role of absorbing information. Communication is not seen as a simultaneous process of sending and receiving. The transmission model is an instrumental model that treats communication as a means to a predetermined end. It assumes that all communication is intentional; in reality people unintentionally communicate a great deal about their attitudes through body language. It does not give importance to context – situational, social, political, cultural, historical and institutional. Meaning cannot be independent of such contexts. The model also ignores the fact that communication is a shared social system and so it treats the participants as isolated individuals.   

Theodore Newcomb’s Model

            Theodore Newcomb formulated a triangular model of communication based on Fritz Heider’s balance theory. Newcomb’s article, ‘’An Approach to the Study of Communicative Act’’ published in the Psychological Review in1953, is the original source of co-orientation theory. In it he stated that communication, in its essence, establishes a common orientation of two or more individuals with respect to each other and simultaneously links them to a shared object of concern.

            Newcomb developed the co orientation model as a helpful tool in relational analysis of dyadic pairs. This simple model consists of two communicators, A and B and their orientation towards some ‘’object of communication,’’ X, which is part of their social environment. The object of communication could be an actual physical object ( a house or a painting ), an event (a birthday or a wedding ), an activity (playing cricket, watching television ) or a belief. Each communicator, A and B, has a simultaneous co-orientation towards his/ her communication partner (usually the level of attraction and feelings towards the partner) and towards the object of communication (the degree of positive or negative attitude about X).

            Newcomb’s ABX model gives due priority to the communicator, the recipient as well as the communication. ABX is a system in which internal relations are interdependent: if A changes, B and X will change as well; or if A changes his / her relationship with X, B will have to change his / her relationship either with X or with A. For example, if A and B are friends and X is something or someone known to both to them, A and B will be under pressure to communicate until they arrive at broadly similar attitudes to X. This model can be said to suggest the interaction between sender and receiver for any common goal or cause.

            Newcomb envisaged four basic components in his model: (1) A’s attitude towards X; (2) A’s attraction to B; (3) B’s attitude towards X and (4) B’s attraction to A. According to this model, both A and B have a natural tendency to strike a balance in their co-orientation towards X. X can be taken as the topic of smoking; if A has a negative attitude towards smoking (X), and a very positive attraction towards B, and B has a positive attitude A and towards smoking (X), then A will experience an imbalance. This will result in the inclination towards a revision of attitudes in order to effect a balance by either A decreasing his liking for B, or A changing his attitude towards X, or A changing B’s attitude to X to align with A’s. A’s actions are dependent on A’s own orientations as well as A’s perceptions of B’s orientation sand vice versa. A and B are able to understand each other’s thoughts and feelings. This model makes it clear that an index of a dyadic relationship comprises two things; (a) each person’s attitude towards the object of communication and attraction to the communication partner and (b) what each person perceives his/ her partner’s orientation to be.

            Newcomb’s ABX model is based on the psychological view of communication. He saw communication as a way in which people orient to their environment and to each other, on the basis of the concept of balance between one’s attitudes and beliefs and those that are important to another individual. If the balance is disturbed, communication is used to restore it. Newcomb’s model was the first model to introduce the role of communication in society or a social relationship to maintain equilibrium within the social system.  



What is communication? Communication is a much-hyped word in today’s world. It is derived from the Latin noun ‘communis’ and the Latin verb ‘communicare’ which mean ‘tomake common’ or ‘to share’ respectively. It is the mechanism which sustains human relations. Communication is the transfer of ideas, emotions, plans, messages, information, knowledge and skills from one person to another or within a group of people by using symbols, words, pictures, figures, graphs or illustrations. Meetings, lectures and conferences are referred to as ‘communication events.’ Newspapers, radio, television, and the computer are ‘communication media,’ while journalists, newsreaders, even camera crew are ‘communication professionals.’ Dreaming, talking, arguing in a discussion, speaking in public, reading a newspaper, watching the television are all different kinds of communication that take place in our everyday life.

The Communication Process          

Communication is a cyclic process that starts when the sender feels that there is a need to communicate with the receiver for a particular purpose. The sender creates a message either in the verbal or non-verbal form. The message is sent to the receiver with the help of channels of communication. The receiver accepts the message and gives the sender a feedback. The sender gets the feedback and determines whether the receiver has received the same message and got the meaning that he had intended to communicate. If the sender feels that the receiver has not received the same message and meaning, he/she again initiates the cycle of communication. The receiver need not be present or be aware of the sender’s intention to communicate at the time of communication. Thus communication can occur across vast distances in time and space. The communicating people should share an area of communicative commonality if the message is to be understood. The communicative process is complete once the receiver has understood the message of the sender.

Sender > Message > Channel Medium (face-to-face, mobile, letter) > Receiver > Feedback

               How are you? I am fine, all is well 

Elements of Communication

There are seven elements of communication

  1. Sender / Communicator / Encoder — is the person who initiates then process of communication and creates the message to be sent. Whenever the sender feels that there is a need to communicate some information to the other person (receiver), he/she starts the process of communication. The sender must be aware of the purpose of communication and the receiver’s ability to understand the message in terms of language, interest etc. The sender can be a politician giving a speech or a parent talking to his child.
  2. Message — is what communication actually produces for transmission. It is created by the sender to convey information, facts or opinion to the receiver; the message is designed to meet the needs of the receiver. For example, if the message is between two friends, the message will take a different form than if a person is communicating with a superior. The message should be clear and simple so that the receiver can understand it in the same way as the sender desires. While drafting it, the sender should take care of the words, the language and the meaning if the message is to be communicated in verbal / written form. He / she should take care of body language and facial expression if the message is to be communicated in non-verbal form.
  3. Encoding — is how the message is transmitted to another person. The message is converted into a suitable form for transmission. The medium of transmission will determine the form of the communication. For example, the form of the message in spoken communication is different from that in written communication.
  4. Channels of communication — can be written, spoken, mass media like radio, television, newspapers, books, mobile phone, e-mail, voice mail, internet, blogs etc. The channel is the medium through which the message is communicated to the receiver. The channel plays a vital role in the process of communication. The channel must be able to transmit the message from person to another without changing the content of the message.
  5. Receiver — is the person who receives the message. The receiver may be a single person or a group of persons. The receiver understands the meaning of the message and sends the feedback to the sender. The receiver should have the same language ability, cultural background and level of comprehension as the sender. Otherwise, it may lead to a wrong interpretation of the message by the receiver.
  6. Decoding — occurs when the receiver attempts to ascertain the meaning of the sender’s message.
  7. Feedback — is the final step in the process of communication and is also the most crucial element of communication. The receiver drafts a suitable reply and sends it to the sender. The feedback is important for the sender in order to confirm whether the receiver has received the message and interpreted its meaning in the desired way. The process of communication cannot be complete without the feedback.

Communication Noise

The occasional obstacle in the communication process is called noise. Noise is an unplanned interference that hinders the transmission of the message. There are different types of noise:

  1. Environmental Noise — is noise that physically disrupts communication. For example, the noise from a construction site next to a classroom makes it difficult for the students to hear what the teacher says; or standing close to loudspeakers at a party prevents people from interacting with each other.
  2. Physiological / Impairment Noise — refers to maladies such as deafness or blindness that prevent effective communication and stand in the way of understanding the meaning of the message.
  3. Syntactical Noise — refers to the grammatical mistakes in a sentence that hinder proper communication. For example, sentences like ‘the girl don’t know English,’ ‘he was returned back from the US last month.’
  4. Semantic Noise — refers to different interpretations of the meaning of words. For example, the word ‘bark’ can be interpreted either as a short loud sound made by dogs or as having the wrong idea about something (barking up the wrong tree)
  5. Psychological Noise — refers to attitudes / state of mind / disorders that make communication difficult. For example, anger or grief and disorders like Autism can severely hamper effective communication.
  6. Organizational Noise — is the unclear, poorly drafted communication that does not help the receiver to comprehend the message; example, vague and badly stated directions. 

Importance of Communication

Communication is important both for an individual and for society. A person’s need for communication is as strong and as basic as the biological needs like eating and sleeping. Communication facilitates the process of sharing information and knowledge. It is the foundation of all human relationships. It helps people to express their thoughts and feelings and to understand those of others. Communication is essential to the existence of society and is also a tool for sharing our experiences through ‘symbol mediated interaction.’ Without communication humanity will be drowned in the abyss of ignorance and loneliness. Isolation is the severest punishment for a human being. Communication is the basic need of grown-ups, children and elderly people and is a fundamental right. Communication thus involves active interaction with our environment physically, socially and biologically.

The Seven C’s of Effective Communication

Communication is an inextricable part of our daily routine. We sit in class and listen to teachers. We read books and magazines. We talk to friends, watch television and communicate over the telephone / mobile phone and also over the internet. The major part of our time is spent in some kind of communication. There are seven C’s of effective communication which are applicable to written as well as oral communication.

  1. Completeness: The communication must be complete. It must convey all the facts required by the receiver / audience. The sender of the message must take into consideration the receiver’s mind set and convey the message accordingly. A complete communication has several distinct features. It develops and enhances understanding. It ensures that no crucial information is missing. A complete communication always gives additional information wherever necessary. It leaves no doubts in the mind of the receiver. It helps in better decision-making by the receivers / readers / audience as they get all the desired and essential information. A complete communication persuades the audience too.
  2. Conciseness — means communicating what the sender wants to convey in a few words without forgoing the other C’s of communication. Conciseness is essential for effective communication. A concise communication is time-saving; it avoids unnecessary and excessive words and highlights the main message that is it gives a short and essential message to the receiver / reader / audience. It is more appealing and comprehensible.
  3. Consideration — implies stepping into the shoes of others that is taking into consideration the receiver’s viewpoints, background, mind-set, level of education etc. Considerate communication ensures that the self-respect of the receiver is maintained and that his emotions are unharmed. It empathizes with the receiver, shows interest in him and thus stimulates a positive reaction from him. It is optimistic and lays stress on positive words such as jovial, thanks, warm, healthy etc.
  4. Clarity — implies emphasizing a specific message at a time rather than trying to achieve too much at once. A clear message can be easily understood because it uses exact, appropriate and concrete words.  Clarity of thought and ideas helps in better understanding the message.
  5. Concreteness — means being particular and clear which boosts confidence. A concrete message is supported by specific facts and figures; it uses words that are lucid and so it is not misinterpreted.
  6. Courtesy — implies that the message should reveal that the sender is well mannered and that he respects the receiver. The sender of the message must be sincerely polite, judicious, reflective and enthusiastic. A courteous message values the views as well as the feelings of the receiver. It is positive, unbiased and focuses on the receiver.
  7. Correctness — means that there should not be any grammatical errors in the communication. A correct message is exact, precise and well-timed. It makes use of appropriate and correct language and also checks the precision and accuracy of the facts and figures used in the message. A correct message boosts the receiver’s morale.

These seven C’s are the essence of effective communication and an awareness of them will no doubt make a person an effective communicator.

Oral Communication

Oral communication refers to spoken verbal communication. It has two forms — (a) face-to-face communication in which the participants are in the same physical context and which makes use of visual aids and non-verbal elements to convey a message. It includes direct conversation, speeches, presentations, discussions and interviews. Since it is a face-to-face communication between the sender and the receiver, body language and choice of tone play a significant role; (b) using mechanical devices like signals, buzzer and telephone. Oral communication has several advantages. It saves time, has a great impact on the audience, offers ample scope for clarification and garners immediate feedback. It is an ideal tool of persuasion and is an effective means of conveying our emotions and feelings. At the same time there are certain disadvantages too. Since it is not documented oral communication has no legal validity. It is unsuitable for lengthy messages. Oral messages cannot be retained for long. Words once uttered cannot be taken back and may lead to misunderstandings.

Written Communication

Written communication is one of the oldest forms of communication. In this type of communication, the sender uses the written mode to transmit his messages which include graphs, charts, bulletins, reports and e-mails. Written communication progressed through three stages called ‘Information Communication Revolution.’ The first stage is the pictograph stage in which written communication first emerged through the use of pictographs. The pictographs were engraved on stones; hence written communication was immobile. During the second stage, writing began to appear on papyrus, paper, clay, wax etc. Common alphabets were introduced and they led to the uniformity of language across large distances. Gutenberg invented the printing press in the 15th century which was a leap in technology. The third stage / post-Gutenberg stage is characterized by the transfer of information through controlled waves and electronic signals. Written communication has several advantages. It creates a permanent record and is a permanent means of communication. It helps us to store information for future reference. All recipients receive the same information. It permits revision and has legal validity. It helps an organization to lay down its policies and rules and is instrumental in its development and smooth functioning. It assists in the proper delegation of responsibilities and provides ready records and references. There are some disadvantages too. The stationery and the man-power needed to write/type/deliver involve huge sums of money. Writing is time consuming and there is no immediate response. Moreover, poor writing skills have a negative impact. Unfortunately writing has become a lost art.