Philosophy of Communication Nicole Ellis COM 480 Spring Arbor University November 26, 2012



According to A First Look at Communication Theory, trying to define the term “communication” is nearly impossible. Over 50 years ago, there were more than 120 established definitions for “communication” (with many more now), and yet, not one of these definitions has become the standard definition of the communication field (Griffin, 2009). Apparently, the reason for this is because no definition can adequately explain the communication experience; communication pervades all human interaction, not only in obvious ways, but in ways we aren’t even aware of. It is impossible to try to define something that doesn’t have specific boundaries. However, Griffin offers up this general definition: “Communication is the relational process of creating and interpreting messages that elicit a response” (2009). In this definition, Griffin attempts to shed light on the five different features of communication that are essential to the overall study of communication theory. He points out that messages are at the very core of communication and can be studied, regardless of the medium (Griffin, 2009). The creation of messages generally involves the communicator making a conscious decision about what message they want to communicate and how; however, there are times when we communicate unconsciously or in “programmed responses.” The interpretation of messages occurs through the meaning that both the creator and receiver assign to it; messages are often open to multiple interpretations. According to Griffin, communication is also a relational process, not because it takes place between two or more people, but because it ultimately affects the nature of connections between those people (2009). Finally, communication involves messages that elicit a

PHILOSOPHY OF COMMUNICATION response; if a message fails to provoke any type of response, can it truly be considered communication? Another way of looking at the communication process is through Jakobson’s model, the six factors of language: addresser, message, addressee, context, contact, and code. This model demonstrates how any form of communication, whether written or verbal, requires a message that proceeds from a sender (addresser) to a receiver (addressee); this is considered the most obvious aspect of communication. However, successful communication depends upon other, less obvious factors; for example, all messages must be delivered through a contact, which is either a


physical channel or a psychological connection, framed in a code, and must refer to a context (Berger, 2006). The code is the frame by which the sender encodes a message and the receiver decodes it; in order to understand the context of the message, it’s important that the code is understood by both the sender and receiver. It is also important to remember that many times, the codes of the sender may vary greatly from the codes of the receiver and this may cause communication barriers. Cheryl Hamilton, in Communicating for Results, defines communication as, “the process of people sharing thoughts, ideas, and feelings with each other in commonly understandable ways” (2011). In her textbook, she outlines a useful model in understanding where miscommunication occurs within the communication process. The elements of this model includes: person A/person B, stimulation and motivation, encoding and decoding, frames of reference, code, channel, feedback, environment, and noise. Person A/person B is classified as the sender and receiver; they will both send and receive messages simultaneously.

PHILOSOPHY OF COMMUNICATION However, first the sender must be stimulated (an internal or external stimulus that triggers a thought and desire to communicate), and sufficiently


motivated to engage in communication. Encoding and decoding determines how the message will be communicated and understood; our frame of reference, or life experiences/background, shapes how we encode and decode messages. Often, inaccurate encoding/decoding is the result of most miscommunication (Hamilton, 2011). The code of the message refers the symbols used to communicate: language (verbal code), paralanguage (vocal code), and nonverbal cues (visual code). The channel is the medium that carries the message and often determines the success of our communication. Feedback is the verbal or visual response to a message, and is useful in determining whether or not the message was received correctly. Finally, the environment determines whether or not communication is successful; it seeks to limit noise, or anything that interferes with communication by blocking the message. These various models have been extremely helpful for understanding the complex process of communication; there are so many factors one must consider and control when attempting to communicate in the most effective ways. When miscommunication arises, it is important to be able to understand at what point the message got lost, or what step of the communication process might have been overlooked or not fully explored. I also have appreciated these models because they encourage me to understand how different people communicate in unique ways as a result of their frame of reference, code, and context. It’s critical to be aware of these differences and to be gracious to those who communicate in ways we might not

PHILOSOPHY OF COMMUNICATION normally communicate; by seeking to understand another person’s methods and viewpoints, we can help to build bridges between communication gaps. As I have studied the communication process, I’ve come across several theories that have proven to be very effective tools in my life. One of my favorite theories is the Social Penetration Theory, developed by Irwin Altman and Dalmas Taylor (Griffin, 2009). This theory deals with how relationships grow between individuals. Altman and Taylor liken the personality to a multilayered onion—by


peeling away the outer “layers,” the public self that contains superficial information, you’ll eventually reach the inner “core,” the private domain consisting of a person’s values, self-concept, and deeply held fears/fantasies (Griffin, 2009). According to this theory, closeness between people can only be achieved through self-disclosures. There are four principles of self-disclosure: superficial items are exchanged more quickly and frequently; self-disclosure is reciprocal; the deeper the reciprocation, the slower the exchange; and once reciprocation stops, de-penetration begins. This theory is not only useful for building new relationships, but it is critical for maintaining current ones. Two other theories that I have found useful in my life are the Expectations Management Theory and the Forgiveness/Forgetfulness Spiral. These theories were expounded upon in a communication theory class and have been tools that I have continued to use in navigating relationships. The Expectations Management Theory states that, “unmet expectations create disappointment; disappointment, unresolved over time creates resentment; resentment, unresolved over time creates contempt” (Patton, 2011). According to Professor Patton, three situations create

PHILOSOPHY OF COMMUNICATION these “unmet expectations” including: when expectations are unshared, when expectations are extravagant, and when expectations are known, but disregarded. After learning about this theory, I was instantly able to recognize cases of “unmet” expectations in my own life—in my personal and professional relationships. This theory has helped me to become better aware of situations where I create unmet expectations, as well as unmet expectations that I might have of others;


communication is needed to prevent disappointment from leading to resentment or contempt. I think the Forgiveness/Forgetfulness Spiral is also very useful when approaching an encounter with “unmet expectations.” Conflict is a natural byproduct of “unmet expectations” and forgiveness/forgetfulness is often needed to heal broken communication. However, on a greater scale, acts of disloyalty and betrayal require the sutchering of forgiveness (Patton, 2001). The spiral includes the event, asking for forgiveness, the act of forgiveness, bearing fruit of repentance, and functional forgetting. When forgiving, you must commit to three things: to not bring up the betrayal in public, to not bring up the betrayal in an argument, and if you find yourself becoming obsessed by the betrayal, think about your own betrayals instead. I have found this spiral to be extremely useful for even small-scale conflict; it is helpful for me to understand the forgiveness/forgetfulness process while working through conflict and reestablishing trust in broken relationships. These theories are the ones that I have found myself thinking about the most and sharing with others; it is interesting to me that they are all very relationally driven. I have a deep concern for my relationships with other people, and I realize

PHILOSOPHY OF COMMUNICATION that communication is absolutely essential in establishing and maintaining healthy


relationships, both in a personal and professional setting. All three of these theories fit in very well with Griffin’s definition of communication that I cited earlier; that communication is a relational process. These types of theories are the ones that I want to inform my approach to communication and shape how I approach relationship building. When considering how to approach communication from a Christian perspective, I find myself relating to the mission statement of Spring Arbor University’s Department of Communication and Mass Media. One of the things this statement emphasizes is “recognizing that communication is a gift by which one shares the image of God.” I think that this is such a powerful statement and it is one that I want to incorporate into every aspect of communication in my life. When we communicate with others, we are sending various messages; as a Christian, those messages should ultimately communicate God’s love and truth, no matter what the context is. This should not only be true in a personal/relational setting, but also in a professional setting. As a Visual Communication major, communication will be a major aspect of my profession; what I communicate, and the way I communicate, should fall in line with these principles. I will have to set high ethical and Biblical standards to live by and shape the way I approach communication in my field. Some verse that I can hold onto are Ephesians 4:1-3, “I, therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the

PHILOSOPHY OF COMMUNICATION unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Although this may not specifically relate to communication, I believe that living my life in a manner that is pleasing to the Lord will ultimately shape my communication with others.


PHILOSOPHY OF COMMUNICATION REFERENCES Berger, A. A. (2006). 50 ways to understand communication: A guided tour of key ideas and theorists in communication, media, and culture. Oxford, UK: Rowman & Littlefield.


Griffin, E. (2009). Communication: A first look at communication theory. (7th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill. Hamilton, C. (2011). Communicating for results: A guide for business and the professions. (9th ed.). Boston, MA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning. Mission statement. (2011). Department of Communication and Mass Media, Spring Arbor University, Spring Arbor, MI, Retrieved from Paul, P. (2011). [Class Notes]. COM 200, Communication theory & research, Spring Arbor University. (2002). The holy bible: English standard version. Wheaton, IL: Good News Publishers.

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