Section A, Part 9

What is Communication?

What are the elements of communication? Communication can be defined as an exchange between people, as an exchange of information, or as a process involving the organizing and sending of symbols. It can be verbal or nonverbal, written or spoken, one-way or two-way. No matter how communication is defined, though, it includes:

  • The sender is the person or group that originates the message to be transmitted.
  • The message is the information that is transmitted. Ideally, a message is simple, clear, and concise.
  • The medium is the form in which the message is transmitted: human voice, written word, nonverbal actions, telephone, newspaper, poster, etc.
  • The receiver is the person or group that hears or takes in the message. Although the elements of communication can be defined as communicator, receiver, medium, and message, the process of communication is really much more complex because many factors influence how we communicate and perceive. There are opportunities for misunderstandings or misinterpretations on both sides of the process.

The sender of a message may not accurately or effectively communicate what he or she intends, and the listener or receiver may attach meanings that were not intended! Thus, we have communication problems or gaps. But we can begin to understand some of the influences that make communicating a challenging process.

Nonverbal Communication

People communicate both verbally and nonverbally, and while we listen to verbal communication, we are also strongly affected by nonverbal messages.

Nonverbal communication includes all the ways of communicating without speaking:

  • Gestures
  • Postures
  • Touch
  • Use of space

Nonverbal messages are a very important part of communication and may have a greater effect on how we perceive what someone has said to us than verbal messages because we process nonverbal messages on an unconscious level. If you’re nervous you put out signals that say so. You avert your eyes, make more hand movements, and perhaps laugh at inappropriate times. You may speak inappropriately loudly or quietly, quickly or slowly. When you’re feeling confident, you also give out signals. Your stance is usually more solid. Your voice is unwavering. Your eye contact is direct. Your speech is paced and controlled.

Nonverbal messages may confirm verbal messages, change the content and meaning of the message being relayed, or even contradict it. See if you can tell what is meant by the following phrases:

“Yeah, right.”
“I’m really excited about that idea.”

It’s difficult to tell what is really meant by these phrases without evaluating the nonverbal component of the message. The nonverbal communication you offer during a conversation often says more about your intended meaning than the words you use. “Yeah, right,” she said cynically. “Sure,” he gleamed in response to her wedding proposal. “I’m really excited about that idea,” mumbled the principal while staring out the window during your meeting.

Become aware of what others may be expressing to you nonverbally. For instance, if a teacher has had a particularly bad day and you come in to discuss a new idea or to argue a cause, he or she may not be as receptive as at another time. Nonverbal language, such as looking away, focusing on papers on the desk, fiddling with a pencil, or frowning, may show you that now is not the time to approach him or her.

Influences on Communication

Whether you are the sender of a message or the receiver, you speak and hear according to your own unique needs and feelings. What this means in terms of communications, is that often when you think you are being clear you aren’t and others can’t understand you. They want to understand, but they see or hear things from their own perspectives, not yours.


Perception is a process whereby you select, organize, and interpret information from your environment, usually from your sensory impressions. In other words, you take what you hear, see, smell, touch, or feel and internalize the information so that it has meaning for you.

Perception differs from the thinking process in that reasoning has no part; perception happens instantly. A study of perceptions begins by recognizing that each individual lives in a private world of experiences. Our perceptions come from us, not from the environment around us.

The four steps in perception are:

  1. The individual selects the information to process. He or she may select all or part of the message being sent.
  2. The individual organizes the information, pulling it together in a way that makes sense to him or her.
  3. The individual makes sense of the message by linking it to something with which he or she is familiar.
  4. The individual interprets the information so that it has meaning for him or her.

Many factors influence our perceptions. The following are a few examples.

Past Experience: We tend to perceive a given situation in terms of what is familiar. We perceive what we see, hear, smell, etc., based on our past experiences with family members, teachers, friends, and other important figures in our lives. Someone who is 50 years old has had very different past experiences, and, therefore, will often perceive situations very differently from someone who is 15 years old.

Social Influence: We may adjust our perceptions according to peer or social pressure.

Cultural Influence: The cultural group of which you are a member influences your perceptions. This includes ethnic backgrounds and the cultural influence of a church, a school, or other group.

Self-Concept: We tend to identify with those things that are consistent with our self-concepts, our mental image or picture of who we are.

Physical Needs/Psychological Needs: How we feel physically affects how we perceive our immediate environment. If we are hungry, tired, have a bad day, hear some upsetting news, or see some unpleasant sight, we may perceive things differently than usual.

Our Interests: What we care about has a way of capturing our attention and shaping our perceptions. Some people are interested in sports, others in music or government.

Time: The time of day influences our perceptions. For instance, if you are a “morning person” you may hear or respond differently to a situation in the morning than you would at night.

Values: What we value influences our perceptions and what we value we perceive as important. A value is something that is chosen and prized.

Our differences in perceptions can make communication more difficult. When dealing with others who have different perceptions than yours, try to understand and respect the differences when you communicate with them.

Interpersonal Communication

(Adapted from Myron R. Charier, “Five Components Contributing to Effective Personal Communication”)

Real understanding of another person happens only when the receiver’s impression matches closely what the sender intended in his or her expression. There are five components that contribute to effective interpersonal communication:’

  1. Self-Concept
    As we mentioned earlier, the most important single factor affecting your communication with others is your self-concept—how you see yourself and your situation. (Refer to the Self-Awareness chapter for ideas on improving self-concept).
  2.  Listening
    Everyone needs information that can only be acquired by listening. Listening is much more than just hearing with your ears; it is an intellectual and emotional process that searches for meaning and understanding. Effective listening means both hearing and understanding the sender’s message.
  3. Clarity
    Many of us find it difficult to say what we mean or to express what we feel. We assume that other people understand what we mean.To communicate your meaning effectively, you must have a clear picture in your mind of what you are trying to express and be able to clarify and elaborate on it. It also helps to be receptive to feedback (how people respond to your message) and use it to further guide your communication efforts.
  4. Coping with Anger
    Inability to deal with anger frequently results in breakdown of communication. Some people handle their anger by suppressing it, fearing that others will respond in kind.Expression of emotions is important to building good relationships with others—individually or in your groups. Learn to express your feelings in such a manner that they influence and reshape themselves and others.
  5. Self-Disclosure
    The ability to talk truthfully about yourself is basic to effective communication. You cannot really communicate with another person or group, or get to know them, unless there is self-disclosure on both sides. An effective communicator can create a climate of trust that encourages self-disclosure.

Blocks to Communication

In addition to recognizing the factors that can influence communication, it is important that student leaders be able to identify common blocks to communication and how to deal with them.

These common blocks include:

  • Status. Honest communication can break down because of the way individuals perceive persons in power.
  • First Impression. Also called the halo effect, this is the problem created when we gauge what we expect from a person by the impression we first formed of him or her.
  • Stereotyping. This is guilt by association. We group people into classes and roles we create and then find it difficult to adjust our thinking even when the facts prove us wrong.
  • Projection. Sometimes people see their own inadequacies and paranoia in someone else (whether they exist for that person or not), instead of in themselves.
  • Scapegoating. This means blaming another person or group.
  • Semantics. Choosing positively or negatively charged words to convey your feelings in a seemingly objective manner can lead to misunderstandings. A “disagreement” could be a matter of “opinion differences,” an “argument,” a “debate,” or a “fight.”
  • Preoccupation. If your mind wanders to another topic and you only half listen before responding effective communication is blocked.
  • Hostility. Anger stemming from a previous situation or from one particular subject can color your thinking.
  • Charisma. The charm of the sender affects how the message is received.
  • Past Experiences. We prejudge situations according to what has happened to us in the past.
  • Hidden Agenda. A person with a special interest only hears messages advancing that idea and rejects everything else without evaluation.
  • Verbal Skill. You may dismiss the sender’s message due to inarticulateness, not content.
  • Environment. Physical conditions may hamper communication.
  • Defensiveness. Insecurities may cause the receiver to distort questions into accusations, blocking the ability to really “hear.”
  • Time Pressures: Watching a clock is a distraction.
  • Distortions. The receiver may misunderstand ideas in the message and/or the sender may not recognize feedback.
  • Killer Phrases: Killer phrases are negative statements that tend to shut people down and make them reluctant to voice future ideas or participate in the group. They squelch good ideas, retard progress, and inhibit innovation.

The true leader will try to avoid using these killer phrases like the ones listed below:

A swell idea, but …
We’ve never done it that way.
It won’t work.
We haven’t the time.
Let’s not step on their toes.
Somebody would have suggested it before if it were any good.
Too modern
It’s not in the budget.
Too expensive
We’ve tried that before.
Not ready for it yet.
Good idea, but our school is different.
All right in theory, but can you put it in practice?
Too academic
Too hard to administer
Too much paperwork
Too early
Who do you think you are?
You haven’t considered…
It needs more study.
Too old fashioned.
Let’s discuss it at some other time.
You don’t understand our problem.
Why start anything now?

A good leader will instead use igniter phrases:

I agree!
I looked at this last night and really liked it!
That’s good!
That’s really neat!
Good job!
I made a mistake! I’m sorry.
You’re doing better!
I like the way you…
That’s interesting.
That would be interesting to try.
Things are beginning to pop!
I couldn’t do that well myself.
That’s a great idea.
There’s been some good thinking.
I’m glad you brought that up.
That’s an interesting idea.
Good work!
You’re on the right track.
That’s fine!
That’s the way!
That’s a winner.
You may put yours on the bulletin board.
That’s the first time I’ve had anyone think of that.
You’re big enough.
I have faith in you.
I appreciate what you have done.
See, you can do it!

Speaking and Listening

When you hear the word “communication,” what comes to mind? You probably think about people talking with each other. Speaking and listening are the two most basic elements of our communication patterns. Together they make communication “active,” a two-way process.

Neither speaking nor listening are activities to which we give much thought. We assume we know how to do both and seldom realize we could make ourselves better communicators by putting some thought into how we speak and how we listen.

10 Guidelines to Being a Better Speaker

  1. Be sure you understand what you want to say.
    What is the real purpose of the message?
    What do you expect the listener to do?
  1. Clarify your ideas before you attempt to communicate them.
    Can you accurately say what you want to say?
    Are you being interesting and/or meaningful?
    How many ideas should you try to include (how many do you have to include)?
  1. State your message as simply as possible.
    Do you really need technical language, or will ordinary English get the job done better?
    Will the words you use mean the same thing to the listener that they do to you?
    Are you being as brief as possible or desirable?
  1. Consider the entire environment affecting your communication.
    What impression does the form of your message convey?
    How will “when” and “where” the message is received affect the listener’s interpretation of it?
  1. Be aware of your receiver.
    Can you make the most of the person’s or group’s known needs or interests to ensure your message is heard and understood?
    Are you telling the person or group all the necessary information?
  1. Consider the overtones of your message as well as your intended meaning.
    Does the “tone” of your message say more than the basic content?
    Can other interpretations of your meaning cause your message to be misunderstood?
  1. Provide for and encourage feedback.
    Can the receiver tell you what he or she understood easily?
    Can the listener ask for more information?
    How can the person or group report feelings or actions that result from your message?
    Follow up on your communication.
    When you finished your message was it complete?
    How will you know when it is complete or what further steps you’ll need to take?
  1. Be sure your actions support your message.
    Do you expect people to do as you say, not as you do?
  1. Try not only to be understood, but also to understand!
    Do you listen and look for feedback?
    Do you understand what others say to you?

12 Guidelines to Being a Better Listener

  1. Really want to listen.
    Almost all listening problems can be overcome by deciding to really hear and be interested in people.
  1. Act like a good listener
    Be alert, sit straight, lean forward if appropriate, and let your face show interest.
  1. Listen to understand.
    Don’t just listen to be listening; try to really understand what is being said.
  1. React!
    Be generous with applause, nods, comments, questions, and encouragement as appropriate.
  1. Stop talking.
    You can’t listen while you are talking. In a conversation, let the other person finish and hear what he or she is saying before you go on.
  1. Empathize with the speaker
    Put yourself in the speaker’s place and try to clearly see that point of view.
  1. Ask questions.
    When you don’t understand, when you need further clarification, when you want to show you are listening, ask questions. However, don’t ask questions that will embarrass or put down the other person.
  1. Concentrate on what the other person is saying.
    Focus on the words, the ideas, the feelings being expressed, and the body language.
  1. Look at the other person.
    Facial expressions and body language will all help the other person communicate with you.
  1. React to ideas, not to the person.
    Don’t allow your personal attitudes to influence your interpretation of words. Good ideas can come from anyone.
  1. Don’t argue mentally.
    If you are trying to understand the other person, arguments will set up barriers between you.
  1. Avoid hasty judgments.
    Wait until all the facts are submitted before you make a judgment about the speaker’s message.

10 Best Listening Habits

  1. Tuning in to see if there is anything you can use.
  2. Getting the speaker’s message is more important than his or her appearance.
  3. Hearing the speaker out before judging the message.
  4. Listening for main ideas, principles, and concepts.
  5. Listening for two or three minutes before taking notes.
  6. Concentrating. Good listening is not relaxed.
  7. Getting up and correcting distractions—shutting doors or windows, requesting the speaker to talk louder, etc.
  8. Learning to listen and take in difficult material.
  9. Identifying and overlooking word barriers.
  10. Making the most of the difference in rate. You can think three times as fast as anyone can talk, so use this rate difference to stay on track. Think back over what the speaker has said and predict where the communication is going.

10 Worst Listening Habits

  1. Calling the subject uninteresting.
  2. Criticizing the speaker’s delivery, appearance, etc.
  3. Mentally preparing a rebuttal.
  4. Listening only for specific facts.
  5. Trying to make an outline of everything you hear.
  6. Faking attention to the speaker.
  7. Tolerating distractions in meeting.
  8. Evading difficult material.
  9. Letting emotion-laden words affect your listening.
  10. Wasting the differential time between speech speed and thought speed.

Public Relations Programs

A student organization can establish its credibility with a good public relations program. Your group deals with the “publics” of the group membership, the student body, faculty and administration, and the local community. Public relations is a continual process, and it goes on whether it is planned or unplanned. Everything you do reflects on your group and creates your “public relations.” It is worth the time and effort to be sure that the public receives a good impression.

There is a special link between communication and public relations, because it is through communication that public relations occurs. That special way that your organization goes about informing, involving, developing, and creating goodwill among and throughout the school and community it serves is part of public relations. In student activities, public relations is building friendly goodwill with students, faculty, administration, and the community. Therefore, it is obvious that with so many publics to please, everyone has a lot of work to do in the public relations department.

Suggestions for a Public Relations Program

  1. The key to effective public relations is a good organization with good objectives and a good program.
  2. Decide whom you are trying to reach.
  3. Select the most effective method of reaching them.
  4. Time the campaign in light of known dates, facilities, and obstacles.
  5. Encourage the membership to make suggestions and get involved.
  6. Be sure to thank everyone involved. If they feel good about what they’ve done you can probably count on their support next time.
  7. Select a publicity/public relations chairperson who is interested, talented, organized, and willing to devote time to the job. It’s helpful that he/she has some knowledge of journalism, or at least has good writing skills.

Publicity Techniques

Part of communicating effectively, especially for a group, is letting people know what you’re doing. No matter what method you use to keep them informed, only when they know what’s happening can people participate in your activities, join your group, support your efforts, or help you meet your goals.

Internal Publicity is designed to keep the membership and student body informed and united. Some types of internal publicity and tips on using them are:

  • Posters—Make them simple, attractive, and eye-catching. Take them down promptly.
  • Bulletin boards—Keep students up-to-date on current activities. Put this in a place where many students gather, perhaps the cafeteria. Post minutes of meetings here.
  • Newsletters—Send a monthly newsletter to members that includes messages from officers and advisers, personality features, articles to stimulate thought on organizational issues, etc.
  • Webpage—Post current information, activity forms, photos, etc.
  • Scrapbook—Have a historian keep a scrapbook with photographs, programs, newspaper clippings, etc. Donate it to the school library as a historical record at the end of the year.
  • Chalkboards—Write in the upper corner of classrooms (with teacher permission) about upcoming events.
  • Telephone campaigns—Assign people to call students to publicize meetings or other events.
  • Personal contact—This one is very important. Students will support what their friends are excited about. Spread the word about your programs and activities and get people talking.
  • Reports to homerooms are a good way to keep a large number of students informed. Be sure the reports are well planned and to the point or your audience will become bored, and teachers will resent the “wasted” time.
  • Suggestion box listings and reactions—Regularly post suggestions that have been turned in and what response has been made.
  • Assemblies can be used to inform, entertain, and involve members of the student body.
  • Questionnaires and surveys are good ways to keep informed of what the student body is interested in.
  • Public address and video announcements can be effective in getting the word out.

External Publicity is intended to influence the “outside world.” Examples include:

  • Local newspaper articles—Be sure to keep reporters informed about happenings. Invite them to come to activities. Make people available to them for interviews. Send press releases about upcoming events.
  • Posters in the community to advertise events will increase parental involvement. Churches and grocery stores are good places to reach large numbers of parents.
  • Radio or TV ads—These frequently can be obtained free of charge through public service announcements. Local cable companies often provide a “community billboard” channel with free airings sponsored by schools and nonprofits.
  • Speak at local service group meetings and encourage them to publicly support worthwhile activities, especially service projects.
  • Billboards—See if you can get local billboard space donated for big events or service projects.
  • Internet—Create a student council website or webpage to advertise your events, use social media, post video promotions on a YouTube-type website and include links to it on the school website or electronic newsletter.

Tips for Writing News Releases

  • Good news stories tell the five W’s and H, that is, who, what, when, where, why, and how. Editors want all the facts and necessary details, including full names and addresses of local people involved and any titles they may have.
  • Consider the deadlines of the local press when planning and writing your story. Get the story in as far in advance as possible. If it is old news, it loses its value.
  • Keep your sentences short and to the point! Don’t ramble.
  • Get quotes! Stories are much more interesting to read if people involved are saying things. Quoting the people directly involved gives more credence to the story, too.
  • People like to see their names in print. Editors know that mentioning local folks will help build readership and sell more papers. Use lots of names in your stories, where appropriate.
  • Keep it short. Avoid writing glowing tributes and just give the essential information. If you must editorialize, find someone with a similar viewpoint, interview them on the topic, then quote them. Editors will cut out parts that are too editorial, for the sake of objectivity, but quotes are often left in.
  • When editors cut a story because of space limits, they begin at the bottom of your story. Put the most important information at the beginning of the story, working in the inverted pyramid format down to the least important information.
  • Submit photographs whenever possible. When you do, be sure to identify every person in the photograph, from left to right. Usually the caption very briefly tells what the photo is all about.
  • If there is more than one newspaper in your community, be sure to supply all of them with information. Don’t play favorites!
  • Send the news to your local reporter, by name. Get to know the editor and you will be able to get better coverage. Introduce yourself to him or her, telling what organization you represent and that you will be giving him/her information from time to time. Leave your phone number if he/she needs additional information.
  • If you don’t see your story published when you expect it, ONE follow-up call to the reporter is acceptable. Find out why it didn’t run. You may learn something that will help you next time.

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