Understanding the Nature of Oral Communication:
The word communication is derived from the Latin terms cum munis [to make common] and communicare [to share]. Hence, communication is defined as the exchange of information, thoughts, ideas, feeling and the like. Because of its complexity, scholars and experts cast various definitions of communication. Griffin (2006) says that there are around more than 120 definitions as applied in operationalizing the concept of communication.
Communication is any process in which people share information, ideas, and feelings to construct meaning, establish relations and build understanding. It is a meaningful exchange that involves not only the spoken and written word, but also body language, personal mannerisms and style, the physical environment – anything that adds meaning to a message (Hybels & Weaver, 1998). This process takes place through the exchange of verbal and nonverbal messages (Brooks & Heath, 1993).
Communication is nature to humans. We communicate because it is nature to our ability as feeling, thinking and socializing creatures. In our daily lives we always engage in various forms of communication. Our very existence and our relationships depend heavily on how we are able to communicate what we feel and think, yet we often overlook the importance of understanding communication because it is too common to us.
Looking at Communication as a Process
Communication takes place, everywhere at anytime. It changes in various situations and affects change among participants as the process takes place. Process implies dynamics and change. It implies parts interacting and influencing each other so as to function as a whole. Brooks and Heath posit that when we accept the concept of process, we view communication events and relationships as dynamic, systematic, transactional, adaptive, and continuous:
Communication is dynamic – it is not static. It is not fixed but always changing. As it deals with change of behavior it changes constantly.
Communication is systematic – a simple speech communication occurs within a larger system. It is a system itself composed of interrelated and interdependent elements working together to achieve a desired outcome.
Communication is transactional – the essence of the term transaction is relationship. Included in the transactional characteristic of communication is the fact that each communication event is unique combination of people, messages, and situation that operate to achieve some definite purpose.
Communication is adaptive – communication takes place with an intention to achieve some outcome. In this process it must adapt to change. Thus, communication must pay attention to the other person, to the topic, to the physical surroundings, to motives and needs, and to other elements that we will study in this text. The ability to adjust and adapt to changing situation is a characteristic of effective communication.
Communication is continuous – it has no beginning and no end. We can consider communication as a product of a previous communication event that proceeds to another communication situation.
The study of oral communication considers the process as essential to facilitate understanding between the speaker and the audience. Thus, communication is viewed as the process of understanding and sharing meaning consists of activities of exchange and sets of behavior that applies in the perception, interpretation, and comprehension of meaning of the verbal and non-verbal behavior of individuals (Pearson & Nelson, 2000). Therefore, oral communication is understood as that dynamic and systematic process of sharing meaning and understanding meaning through verbal and non-verbal exchange between individuals in interaction within a given context.
Elements of the Communication Process
Various elements work together to achieve a desired outcome as communication takes place. The basic components or parts of the communication system are: the communicators (sender and receiver), message channel, feedback, noise, situation, and the interdependence of all the elements in the process. By that they are interrelated and work systematically.
The source of the communication transaction is the originator of the message. Also known as the sender of information, the source initiates the communication process. In speech communication, we can identify the source to be the speaker, the one delivering the message. In daily life situations we are all sources of information as we relate to others and speak our ideas to them. We are both a source of message, consciously and unconsciously.
In the simplest sense, a message may be thought of as an idea, concept, emotion, desire, or feeling that a person desires to share with another human being. A message may be in verbal or non-verbal codes. The purpose of a message is to evoke meaning in another person. Some messages are intentional some are not.
A channel is the means by which a message moves from a person to another. The channel is the medium or vehicle by which we are able to transmit the message to the recipient. The means we use to communicate is the channel. The country’s president to deliver his message to his fellowmen may speak face to face with an audience, via the broadcast media or via print. Language is the basic medium of communication available to man.
The receiver gets the message channeled by the source of information. In a one way communication process, he is in the other end. But in a dynamic communication process the receiver may start to share his ideas and hence become also a source of information for the originator of the message. Listeners and audience are receivers of information. In a classroom situation, the students spend a lot of time as receivers of information.
Feedback is that integral part of the human communication process that allows the speaker to monitor the process and to evaluate the success of an attempt to get the desired response from the receiver. Also called “return signals,” it has a regulatory effect upon the speaker since the speaker must adjust to the feedback responses in order to be successful. In a public communication situation, the response of acceptance of the audience with their applause may be considered a feedback.
Noise may occur anywhere along the communication line, and it may be physical, physiological, or psychological in nature. Noise is any interference in the communication process. Annoying vocal habits of the speaker may interfere in the transmission of his verbal signals. Noise as a barrier may originate from the source or the receiver, from the channel used in sending the message, or outside of the source and receiver’s control. The poor listening of the audience and their unnecessary actions may also interfere in the communication process.
Communication does not take place in a vacuum. Between communicators, the process takes place in a particular communication situation where the identifiable elements of the process work in a dynamic interrelation. This situation is referred to as the context – the when and where of a communication event. Communication contexts vary depending on the need, purpose, number of communicators and the ways exchange is taking place. Communication can be intrapersonal, interpersonal, group, organizational, cultural, public or mediated.
Knowing the elements of communication leads to a more meaningful understanding of the processes that make it work. We communicate and we know it is important for us. To communicate effectively, we need to have an understanding of how these elements work together in a process.
Brooks, W.D. & Heath, R.W. (1993). Speech communication. Madison, WI: Brown & Benchmark.
Griffin, E. (2006). A first look at communication theory, 6th ed. New York: McGraw Hill Higer Education.
Hybels, S. & Weaver, R. (1998). Communicating effectively: A definition of Commuinication. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Pearson, J.C. & Nelson, P.E. (2000). An introduction to human communication, understanding and sharing, 8th ed. Boston, MA: McGraw Hill Higher Education.