Communication refers to the process of a human being responding to the symbolic behavior of other persons (Adler & Rodman, 1997, p.3 [1]). It is the process of conveying information from a sender to a receiver with the use of a medium in which the communicated information is understood the same way by both sender and receiver (Rubin, 1988 [19]).

Theoretical frame

Definitions of communication range widely, depending upon the source, some definitions appear more communicator-centered, others more message-centered, and still others more medium-centered. For instance, McLuhan (1964 [17]) offered the view that the medium is the message. Consequently meaning is in the medium. This view differs from that of Watzlawick, Beavin and Jackson’s (1967 [26]), who sustain that meanings are in people’s interpretation of the content and relationship dimension of the message. Furthermore, both viewpoints differ from Verderber’s (1978 [25]) stance that meaning exists in the source that picks the words to create the message that is then decoded by the receiver.

Scholars tend to see human phenomena from their own perspectives. Therefore, reaching a common definition for communication can be challenging. Thus, in order to understand the concept, a set of key terms in communication can be summarized as follows:

  • Communication is a process

Communication is a process that it is continuous and ongoing. Communication is dynamic, complex and continually changing. Frank Dance (1967 [8]) believes that communication experiences are cumulative and are influenced by the past, which means present experiences inevitably influence a person’s future. Therefore, communication can be considered as a process that changes over time and among interactants.

  • Communication is social

When interpreting communication as a social process, it involves people who come to an interaction with various intentions, motivations and abilities (West and Turner, 2007, p. 5 [27]). This necessarily includes two people, a sender and a receiver. Both play an integral role in the communication process.

  • Communication is symbol

A symbol is an arbitrary label or representation of phenomena. Labels may be ambiguous, may be both verbal and nonverbal, and may occur in face-to-face and mediated communication (Adler & Rodman, 1997, p.5 [1]).

  • Communication is meaning

Meaning is what people extract from a message. In the communication process, messages can have more than one meaning and even multiple layers of meaning. Without sharing the same meaning, communicators would have a challenging time getting their messages across to one another (Cragan & Shields, 1998, p.5 [6]).

  • Communication is environment

Environment is the situation or context in which communication occurs. The environment includes time, place, historical period, relationship and speaker’s and listener’s cultural background. The environment can also be mediated, which means that communication can take place with technological assistance. The mediated environment is an important term in communication, which influences the communication process directly and indirectly (West and Turner, 2007, pp. 7-9 [27]).

Communication Modeling

A model is a simplified representation of complex interrelationship among elements of communications processes that allow people to visually understand a sometimes complex process.

The Linear Model (Shannon & Weaver, 1949 [26]).

(Image embedded from SHKaminski, 2008 [21])

Shannon and Weaver described communication as a linear process in 1949 (Adler & Rodman, 1997, pp.11-12 [1]). They were concerned with radio and telephone technology and wanted to develop a model that could explain how information passed through channels. This approach to human communication comprises several key elements, as the figure demonstrates. A source, or a transmitter of a message, sends a message to a receiver, the recipient of the message. The receiver is the person who makes sense out of the message. All of this communication takes place in a channel, which is a pathway to communication.

The linear model also introduces the concept of noise – which is anything not intended by the informational source.

There are four types of noise:
- Semantic noise – linguistic influences on reception of message;
- Physical (external) noise – bodily influences on reception of message;
- Psychological noise – cognitive influences on reception of message;
- Physiological noise – biological influences on reception of message.

Although this view of communication process was highly respected many years ago, the approach is very limited for several reasons. Firstly, the model presumes that there is only one message in the communication process. Secondly, the model presumes that communication has a definable beginning and ending. Thirdly, the model suggests that communication is simply one person speaking to another, a feature that oversimplifies the complex communication process (Anderson & Ross, 2001 [2]). Further, a more obvious problem of the linear model is its suggestion that communication flows in one direction only: from sender to receiver.

The Interactional Model (Schramm, 1954)

(Image embedded from Davis Foulger, 2004 [10])

Wilbur Schramm (see, for example, Schramm & Roberts, 1972 [23]) proposed the interactional model of communication which emphasizes the two-way communication process between communicators. It represents that communication goes in two directions: from sender to receiver and from receiver to sender. This circular process suggests that communication is an ongoing process.

The interactional view illustrates that a person can perform the role of either sender or receiver during an interaction, but not both roles simultaneously (West & Turner, 2007, pp.12-13 [27]).

One essential element to the interactional model is feedback, which is the response to a message. Feedback may be verbal or nonverbal, intentional or unintentional. It helps communicators to know whether or not their message is received and the extent to which meaning is achieved (Senge, 1990, p. 424 [24]).

A final feature of the interactional model is a person’s field of experience, it refers to how a person’s culture, experiences and heredity influence his/her ability to communicate with another person.

The interactional view assumes two people speaking and listening, but not at the same time. It was this criticism that inspired development of a third model of communication.

The Transactional Model (Barnlund, 1970a [3])

(Image embedded from SHKaminski, 2008 [21])

Barnlund’s (1970b [4]) transactional model of communication reflects the fact that we usually send and receive messages simultaneously (DeVito, 1986, pp. 84-86 [11])//. It suggests that the communication process is fluid and relational. The sender and receiver are mutually responsible for the effect and the effectiveness of communication.

In the transactional model, personnal fields of experience still exist but they overlap with each other (West & Turner, 2007, p. 14 [27]). This is an important addition to the understanding of the communication process because it demonstrates the existence of an active process. In the linear model, meaning is sent from one person to another. In the interactional model, meaning is achieved through a feedback mechanism. The transactional model takes the meaning-making process one step further: it assumes that people build shared meaning in their communication.

Contexts of Communication

Within the domain of human interaction, there are different types of communication. Each of them occurs in a different context. Contexts are environments in which communication takes place (Adler & Rodman, 1997, p.5 [1]). Despite the features all share, each has its own characteristics.

  • Intrapersonal Communication

Intrapersonal communication means communicating with oneself (Lasch, 1995 [16]). It is an internal dialogue and may take place even in the presence of another individual.

Intrapersonal communication has focused on the role of the self in the communication process that individuals communicate with themselves. The process may be either intentional or unintentional.

  • Interpersonal Communication

Interpersonal communication refers to face-to-face communication between people (Dainton & Stafford, 2000 [7]). Interpersonal communication is the most common communication setting.

  • Small Group Communication

Small groups are commonly composed of a number of people who work together to achieve some common purposes. In a small group context, many more people have the potential to contribute to the group’s goals (Schultz, 1997 [22]). For example, in problem-solving groups, the multiple perspectives provided by the different members may prove advantageous.

  • Organizational Communication

Organizational communication pertains to communication within and among large, extended environments. This communication is extremely diverse in that organizational communication necessarily entails interpersonal encounters, public speaking opportunities, small group situations, and mediated experiences. Organizations, then, comprise groups that are goal directed (Daniels, Spiker & Papa, 1997, p. 45 [9]).

  • Public Communication

Public communication occurs when a group becomes too large for all members to contribute. Hart (2005 [15]) comments of a major characteristic of public communication: the unequal amount of speaking, as one person or several people deliver remarks to the remaining members. This leads to a second characteristic of public settings: limited verbal feedback.

  • Mass Communication

Mass communication consists of messages that are transmitted to large audiences via broadcast and print media, such as newspaper, radio television and so on.

Mass communication differs from interpersonal, small group, and public varieties in several ways (Adler & Rodman, 1997, p.7 [1]):
- Messages are aimed at a large audience without any personal contact between sender and receiver;
- Most of the messages sent via mass communication channels are developed by large organizations;
- Mass communication is almost always controlled by many gatekeepers, who control the message.

  • Intercultural Communication

Intercultural communication refers to the process of exchanging meaningful and unambiguous information across cultural boundaries, in a way that preserves mutual respect and minimize antagonism (Gonzalez, Houston & Chen, 2004, p. 5 [14]). For this purposes, culture is a shared system of symbols, beliefs, attitudes, values, expectations and norms of behaviors. It refers to coherent group of people whether resident wholly or partly within state territories, or existing without residence in any particular territory.

Functions of Communication

A rhetorical approach (Hart, 2005 [15]) outlines that the functions of communication as follows:

  • Information
  • Education
  • Persuasion
  • Entertainment

Adler and Rodman (1997[1]) summarize another function of communication that focuses more on needs:

  • Physical
  • Identity
  • Social
  • Practical

An outline of the interpersonal functions of communication (Pearson/Allyn & Bacon Higher Education, 1999 [18]) asserts the following:

  • Gaining Information (which often requires disclosing information; self-disclosure)
  • Building a Context of Understanding (via relationship messages that are a subtext of many “content” messages).
  • Asserting identify (by adopting “roles” and creating and maintaining “face”).
  • Social needs, including inclusion, control, and affection.

According to Del Hymes Ethnography of Communication (California State University, 2008 [5]), communication serves:

  • an expressive function when message creators focus on themselves
  • a directive function when message creators focus on message consumers
  • a phatic (contact) function when message channels are concerned with message channels
  • a metalinguistic when codes are focused on codes
  • a contextual when settings are focused on settings
  • a poetic when message-forms are focused on forms
  • a referential when topics are focused on topics
  • a metacommunicative when events are focused on an event

Supporting evidence

Communication in Aviation

Communication in aviation is considered as one of the critical elements as contact between pilots and air traffic controllers is an essential part of flying. There has been a large number of accidents reported as a result of miscommunication or loss of communication. A study conducted by Gibb and Olson (2008 [13]) analysed 124 U.S. Air Force aviation accidents occured between 1992 to 2005. It was found that 56 mishaps were a result of miscommunication, loss of communication, or communication error. Twenty of them were 'controlled flight into terrian' accidents. This suggests that the communication medium was available, however, miscommunication resulted them into desaster.

Similarly, in another research carried out by De Voogt and Van Doorn (2006 [12]) found that communication between tower and pilots is a dominant factor in mid-air collisions. The study analysed 46 mid-air collisions occured 2000-2004. The results showed that in 14 cases there was no communication (loss of communication) between aircraft and ground or another aircraft. 19 cases were identified as having communication medium, however, failed to properly communicate with tower. Mid-air collisions are considered as worse accidents in aivation.

Refuting evidence

Way forward (to do list)

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2. ANDERSON Rob & Veronica ROSS (2001). Questions of communication: a practical introduction to theory (3rd ed.). Martin’s Press (New York, USA), 2001. ISBN: 0312250800.
3. BARNLUND DC (1970a). A transactional model of communication. In KK SERENO & CD MORTENSEN (ed.). Foundations of communication theory, pp. 83-102. Harper & Row (New York, USA), 1970.
4. BARNNLUND DC (1970b). Communication: the context of change. In CE LARSON & FE DANCE (ed.). Perspectives on communication: colloquium proceedings. Speech Communication Center (Milwaukee, USA), 1988, pp. 24-40.
5. CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY (2008). Functions of communication. Retrieved from, on 12 October, 2008.
6. CRAGAN John F & Donald C SHIELDS (1998). Understanding communication theory: the communicative forces for human action. Allyn &Bacon (Boston, USA), 1998. ISBN: 0-2-5-19687-3.
7. DAINTON M & L STAFFORD (2000). Predicting maintenance behaviors: a comparison of relationship type, partner similarity, and sex differences. Communication Research Reports 2000, 17, pp. 171-180. ISSN: 1746-4099 (electronic).
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9. DANIELS Tom D, Barry D SPIKER & Michael J PAPA (1997). Perspectives on organizational communication. McGraw-Hill (Boston, USA), 1997. ISBN: 069728896X.
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11. DEVITO Joseph A (1986). The communication handbook: a dictionary. Harper & Row (New York, USA), 1986. ISBN: 0060416386.
12. De Voogt, A. J. & Van Doorn, R. R. (2006). Midair collision in U.S. civil aviation 2000-2004: The roles of radio communication and altitude. Aviation Space and Environmental Medicine, 77, 12, 1252-1255.
13. Gibb, R. W. & Olson, W. (2008). Classification of Air Force Aviation accidents: Mishap Trends and prevention. International Journla of Aviation Psychology, 18, 4, 305-325.
14. GONZALEZ Alberto, Marsha HOUSTON & Victoria CHEN (2004). Introduction. In Alberto GONZALEZ, Marsha HOUSTON & Victoria CHEN (ed.). Our voices: essays in culture, ethnicity and communication (4th ed.), pp.1-13. Roxbury (Los Angeles, USA), 2004. ISBN: 1-931719-21-7.
15. HART Roderick P (2005). Modern rhetorical criticism. Allyn & Bacon (Boston, USA), 2005. ISBN: 0205377998.
16. LASCH Christopher (1995). Journalism, publicity and the lost art of argument. In Everette E DENNIS & Robert W SNYDER (ed.). Media & public life. Transaction Publishers (New Jersey, USA), 1997. ISBN: 1560008741.
17. MCLUHAN Marshall (1964). Understanding media: the extensions of man. McGraw-Hill (New York, USA), 1964.
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24. SENGE Peter M (1990). The fifth discipline: the art and practice of the learning organization. Doubleday (New York, USA), 1990. ISBN-10: 0-385-260-946.
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27. WEST Richard & Lynn H TURNER (2007). Introducing communication theory: analysis and application 3rd ed.. McGraw-Hill (New York, USA), 2007. ISBN-10: 0-07-313561-5.

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