Understanding Human Communication

A Brief Tutorial On Understanding Human Communication

The basics of understanding human communication are just that, quite basic. There are just a few concepts you need to take into account to get an idea of what human communication entails, and it's essentially an expanded definition of communication, expanded to take humans into account.

If you want to take a real hard look at understanding human communications, read the essay by the British philosopher John Locke. Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding consists of 4 volumes, in which he upset prevalent theories on the subject, and in doing so, upset a number of other philosophers. What Locke had to say, in a nutshell, is when we first are born our mind is a blank slate. We are not preprogrammed to do much but eat, cry, and poop. Over time, based on experience, we begin to identify objects, build ideas, and gain from past experiences. Eventually we put together complex sets of feelings and ideas, and learn how to communicate them.

We do all this of course without much in the way of formal education as to how to communicate. We quickly learn that by screaming long enough we get attention. Later on we learn that by screaming long enough we get into trouble. No text book involved, just parents. When we get to college, we take courses on why we act the way we do, and move from the act of human communication to understanding human communication. If you read Locke's essay word for word, you'll realize how complicated we really are, and may wonder how you came to be able to communicate anything at all in the first place.

Human communication can be thought of as consisting of three elements, the sender, the receiver, and the medium. We say it takes two to tango, but in this case it takes three, at least technically. If we are two of the elements, and we are communicating, the third element, the medium, would be sound waves if we are standing talking to one another. Or the network if we're communicating by e-mail. The medium can also be visible light, if we are communicating not by sound, but by gestures or sign language. We usually use words to communicate something about an object or an idea. We can use words or gestures to communicate a feeling.

You've heard the age old argument as to whether a tree makes a sound when falling in the forest if there is no one there to hear it. In terms of understanding human communication, there must be someone there to hear a sound and acknowledge it or communication cannot be said to have occurred. If I am trying to communicate with you, by sounds or gestures, three things must be in place. Number one, I must make the sounds or gestures in the first place. Number two, the proper medium must be there so that you can either hear or see what I am saying or doing. And number three, you need to in some way acknowledge my sound or gestures. If you don't, I won't know whether or not you received the information I sent and, from a human perspective, communication has not taken place. You don't have to answer me, just give some indication that you heard or saw what I said or did.

There are times when our attempts to communicate are thwarted or otherwise interfered with. Technically this is referred to as noise in the medium. We may be in the same room trying to carry on a conversation but it's very noisy in that room and it's difficult to hear one another. The noise might be on a phone line, or an interruption in sending a text message. If we are communicating from some distance via hand signals, approaching darkness could be considered as a form of noise. Noise isn't restricted to the medium. If you or I have poor grammar, that can be a form of noise. If you are speaking German and I only understand English, that is another type of noise.

There you have it. On the one hand there are essays, theories, and dissertations concerning understanding human communication. On the other hand, there's you and I and the medium, hopefully noise free, and a desire to exchange a thought or idea, and that's the essence of the subject.