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Shared Meaning and Communication: Five Principles

Communication is the parting or exchanging of thoughts, opinions or information by speech, writing or signs. It can also mean the process of conveying information electronically or manually.

Exchanging opinions without understanding does not create communication. For communication to exist, shared meaning must be constructed.

If communication is to involve shared meaning, five principles must exist to create variables to the context of communication. These are: transaction; interaction; irreversible and unrepeatable; culture-specific; and content and relationships.

Communication is a transactional process

A transaction is a business or activity that is carried through to settlement.  It is a continuous process where elements are constantly changing. Sometimes, it can appear to be going around in circles. During conversation, each party requires a response after talking, and the conversation only exists as long as these transactions take place.

Communication is an interactional process

Interaction must occur for communication to exist. Interaction can also include no interaction. If the second party does not respond to the first party’s statement, interaction has still taken place. There may be several meanings to this. The second party may not have heard the first party, or the second party may be deliberately not answering. Further transactions are required to establish the meaning of the initial interaction.

Communication is an irreversible and unrepeatable process

Every communication is a unique event.  It can be repeated later, but not exactly. Some elements will change, possibly voice tone, volume or expression. An actor might repeat the same lines in a play for many years, but some performances will stand out more than others. In that case, the actor’s attitude and mood on any given night can affect the communication. The performance of the other actors will also be an important element that is constantly changing every time the play is performed.

Communication is a culture-specific process

Different cultures interpret the same communication message in different ways. In some cultures, it is considered inappropriate to look into someone’s eyes when speaking with them, whereas in other cultures it is considered to be a sign of openness and honesty. A hand gesture that is a sign of approval in one culture, may be an insult in another culture.

Communication is about content and relationships

Messages in communication may have multiple meanings. Both the spoken word and the written word can have hidden meanings. This is sometimes referred to as “reading between the lines”. The relationship between the people communicating can alter the shared meaning. The words “I love you” spoken between two lovers has a different meaning than if spoken between a parent and a child.

About Craig Hill

Teacher and Writer. Writing has been cited in New York Times, BBC, Fox News, Aljazeera, Philippines Star, South China Morning Post, National Interest, news.com.au, Wikipedia and others.


3 thoughts on “Shared Meaning and Communication: Five Principles

  1. This is so good I am going to share it on facebook (WHERE WE REALLY NEED IT). Maybe instead of poking each other we can try to really communicate. Thanks Craig.

    Posted by Waldo "Wally" Tomosky | March 12, 2012, 10:56
  2. Good article.

    Posted by mulrickillion | March 12, 2012, 12:21
  3. Yes, let us talk … ! Look at the school kids … they go home and then talk to each over internet … or mobiles. We are going to be a very lonely society – we will communicate, but not face to face. Scary!!!!

    Posted by viveka | March 13, 2012, 08:53

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