One of the characteristics that distinguish inanimate objects from animate objects is the ability to, and the tendency to communicate. Communication is the process by which a message or messages are exchanged between two or more parties (Components of Communication Process, 2008.) This process can take an endless array of forms, both verbal and nonverbal. Two people exchanging words over the telephone; an artist creating an image on canvas; a chef preparing a meal for foreign visitors: all of these situations involve communicating a message. This paper will discuss a variety of elements pertaining to communication, including distinctions between forms of communication, barriers to communication and methods to overcome such barriers.
Context is a significant aspect of communication. The circumstance in which a message is delivered is vital to the understanding of that message. For example, in some cultures, calling an adult by his or her first name would be considered disrespectful whereas in other cultures, the same practice would be experienced as a way to connect with that person in an informal, friendly way. Another aspect of communication is that there is a person or entity that sends a message, either verbally or nonverbally. The main point that is intended to be communicated is the message, which can be verbal or nonverbal. The manner in which the message is expressed is known as the medium; the sender must decide what will be the most effective way to convey the message to the intended recipients. For example, a large corporation might utilize sending memos to communicate important policy changes to its employees; a smaller company might simply hold a staff meeting to discuss the same sort of information.
Messages are designed to be received by a single recipient or a group of people. The type of message that is sent needs to be tailored to the receivers, taking into account variables such as their knowledge base, their responsiveness to the message, and the dependence of the sender on the receiver (Components of Communication Process, 2008.) Finally, another major component of communication is feedback, since it allows the person who sends the message to understand whether or not the message has been effective. Feedback can take many forms, such as verbal, nonverbal, or written.
Often, people confuse two crucial aspects of communication: hearing and listening. It is a mistake to considering these two terms as synonymous. Hearing is a passive act, occurring when sound is perceived by the ear. It requires no effort on the part of the sound receiver; it simply occurs. Listening is a more active process, utilizing concentration so that the brain can determine the meaning of the words or sentences that it is taking in. The result of listening is frequently learning (Hearing Versus Listening, 2011.)
Within the criminal justice system, there are both formal and informal modes of communication. The formal channels of communication follow the hierarchy of the system; the chain of command determines methods of communication within each level, with the directors establishing means of communication and determining to who each subordinate is to report (Sinclair, 2011.) These standards are developed through written policies and procedures. Informal methods of communication within the system are sometimes called “the grapevine.” Examples of such exchange of information would be talking at the water cooler, going out for drinks after work to talk about matters on the job, and talking by phone to one’s colleagues.
Communication can be impacted by certain barriers that may occur. One of these involves perceptual and language differences. Every individual experiences his or her environment in a different way that is unique to that person. If the message is received which contradicts that person’s values, that message may be rejected. Likewise, language differences may result in misunderstandings between people. For example, a person may describe another person as “big” when referring to their height, while the person who hears that adjective may understand it to mean that the person is overweight. Another obstacle to communication may be inattention, when someone simply isn’t listening to what is being said but may be preoccupied with other things.
Distractions and noise can also be a barrier to effective communication; for example, if the environment contains factors that are not comfortable such as poor lighting, uncomfortable seating, or an unclean environment, either the speaker or the receiver of the message may be distracted (Communication Barriers– Reasons for Communication Breakdown, 2008.) The emotional tone in the conversation may also have an effect on what is transmitted; if one of the parties involves is upset or hostile, that person may experience the information being sent as very negative. For example, if a parent receives news that is distressing or upsetting, he or she may speak to their child in a tone that reflects that emotion, resulting in the child feeling that the parent is angry with him or her.
There are many ways to avoid barriers in communication, such as minimizing or eliminating perceptual distinctions, using easy to understand language, minimizing noise or distractions, being an attentive listener, being aware of nonverbal signals one is emitting such as body language, and giving constructive feedback. Utilizing such methods when engaging in communication with others can significantly reduce the chances that there will be a breakdown in communication.