What is Communication? Elements, Purposes & Stages of Communication

Communication is an integral part of human existence. Noman can exist without interaction. Interaction cab hardly take place without communication. All living things communicate but human communication differs because of its ability to ascribe meaning and interpret messages. This chapter is an overview of communication. It focuses on definition of communication, process of communication, Elements of communication, Stages of communication and purposes of communication.

Definition of Communication

There is a plethora of definitions of communication. We shall examine some of these definitions. Peter Little (1977) defines communication as “the process by which information is passed, between individuals and/or organizations by previously agreed symbols”. Frank Ugboajah (1985) defines communication as “all acts of transmitting messages through channels which link people to the languages and symbols or codes which are used to transmit messages. It is the means by which messages are received and stored, and the rules, customs and conventions which define and regulate human relationships and events are expressed”. According to Yalokwu (2002), ‘communication is the effective transmission of common understanding from one person to another through speaking, writing and other methods’. He added that unless a common understanding results from the transmission of verbal or non-verbal symbols, there is no communication. Lievrouw (2006) defines it as the process of sharing ideas, information and messages with others in a particular time and place. It is a purposive, goal-directed behavior that can have instrumental or consummator ends.

Furthermore, David (2009) defines communication as the process of exchanging information and transmitting meaning between two people or a small group of people’. To him, it is the process by which managers systematically give information and transmit meaning to a large number of people within and outside the organization. Information here means the whole spectrum of messages conveyed through a medium of communication which affect the people as well as organizations. It involves a process by which meaning is assigned and conveyed in an attempt to create shared understanding. Oyewo (2000) captures communication as. “the process of transmitting, receiving and acting upon messages/ information thoughts, ideas, attitudes and feelings through mutually agreed/determined codes or symbols.”

From the above definitions, it becomes obvious that:

  • Communication is a process of sharing information, ideas, feeling, thought etc.
  • Communication is a process of sending and receiving information
  • Communication requires the use of mutually agreed understandable symbols and codes
  • Communication requires a medium/channel
  • Communication is interactional and transactional

One can therefore conclude that communication is the totality of messages and information shared by individuals, groups, organisations and nations with the use of mutually understandable codes/symbols for interactional and transactional purposes’. Communication requires that all parties have an area of communicative commonality for it to take place.

The Process of Communication

Many communication theorists have argued that communication is a process. This means that communication process involves a series of systematic and interrelated actions designed to produce an effect. According to Soola (1998), communication is a dynamic, recursive, ongoing, continuous and cyclical process. It is a two way interactive process between the sender on one end, and the receiver at the other end. It is a cyclical and continuous process because the receiver of the message also reacts to the received message through a feedback. Communication process therefore involves the elements of communication and the stages of communication.

Elements of Communication

The elements of communication are stimulus, source, message medium, channel, receiver, effects, feedback and noise. These shall be considered in turn.


The communication process is triggered off by a stimulus. This is the idea or intention which motivates the exchange. The idea is conceived by the speaker and the need to initiate the communication process arises.


The source is the originator or the initiator of the message. This is the first human element in process of communication. The message may be sent by an individual, a group of people, an organization or institution. The source conceives the idea, information or feelings and wants to share or pass to others. The source is also the encoder.


The message is the stimulus sent during communication. This is the idea, information, view, opinion, warning or command that is to be shared with others. Messages can manifest as behaviour, event, objects, word charts, diagrams. letters or any element that carries meanings.


This represents the form in which the message is delivered. We can identify three media: oral, written, and non-verbal. When the speaker decides to speak using his vocal apparatus, he has chosen the oral medium. If he puts the message into writing, he has chosen the written medium, and if he makes use of gestures, he has chosen the non-verbal medium.


Channels are the vehicles through which a message is conveyed from the encoder to the decoder. Anything that carries the message from the source to the receiver is referred to as a channel. In face-to-face verbal communication, the channel is usually made up of sound waves picked up by the auditory sense organs, which are the ears. In non-verbal communication, the visual organs, the eyes constitute the channel. In writing, the channels include, letters, reports etc. other electronic channels include radio television telephone, etc.

The channel employed by the sender of a message depends on such factors as preferences of the sender, urgency, security, cost implication, privacy, coverage area, etc.


This is the party to whom the message is sent. The receiver, like the source, may be an individual, a group an organization o institution that receives the message. The receiver is the decoder who interprets the meaning embedded in the message in communication process.


These are the changes that occur in the receiver’s behavior as a result of the message received. It is the stimulus generated by the message in the receiver. The receiver interprets the meaning embedded in the message according to his previous knowledge. experiences, values etc. These factors will serve as determinants of the response provided by the receiver.


A communication process is incomplete without a feedback. It is the reaction to the message by the receiver. The feedback can be expressed or exhibited, positive or negative, spontaneous or delayed. It helps the sender to test the impact of the message on the receiver and also ascertain whether the intended meaning is rightly decoded by the receiver or not.


Noise is technical term for all forms of barriers, obstacles, and disruptions that affect the quality of communication. It refers to any stimuli which impinge on or infiltrate into the process of sharing information and thereby constitute a major barrier to effective communication. Noise disturbs the ability to correctly interpret, understand and respond to the encoded message. Noise could be physical, psychological or linguistic.

Physical Noise: This is equally regarded as environmental noise. It affects our auditory and visual senses. They are sounds or noise emanating from a market place, radio and television sets, blaring sounds of motor-cycles, automobile and road side disk jockey, etc.

Psychological Noise: This occurs when there is an intrusion into the mind of the interlocutors (encoder and decoder) in such as way that it affects the appropriate interpretation of the message.

Psychological noise is associated with poor mental attitude such as depression, fatigue, mental disabilities, etc.

Linguistic Noise: This deals with one’s ability to use language

properly for effective communication. If one or both interlocutors lack the required language skills for communication, it generates linguistic noise. Linguistic noise may be at the level of grammar, phonology or semantics. Grammatical noise occurs when there is a wrong arrangement of words in a sentence, spelling errors, faulty use of punctuation marks, and any form of violation of grammatical rules. Phonological noise can occur as a result of poor articulation of sounds (consonants and vowels), faulty pronunciation, wrong placement of stress and violation of intonation rules. Semantics is the scientific study of meaning. In other words, semantic noise occurs when there is misinterpretation of words as related to their meanings.

In communication process therefore, the source sends a message through a channel/medium to the receiver who responds through a feedback. The following diagram shows how the elements interact in the process of communication.

Stages Of Communication

There are six stages in communication process. They are as follows:

1. Conception/Ideational stage

2. Encoding stage

3. Selection/Choosing of channel or medium stage

4. Decoding stage

5. Interpreting stage

6. Feedback stage

The process of communication begins from the first stage when one person conceives an idea and wants to share it with another person. At this stage, the message is an idea, a thought, a feeling etc. in the mind.

At the second stage, the message is expressed. This may be spoken, written, represented through a physical object, a drawing or symbols. At this stage, the message may be verbalized or not.

The third stage is concerned with how the message is expressed or passed across. This could be by oral means or a letter, telephone, radio, television, telegraph etc.

The fourth stage is when the message is received and decoded by the receiver. The message must be clear enough so as not to give room for ambiguity and misinterpretations.

The fifth stage is when the decoded message is interpreted by the receiver. The interpretation given to the message must be the same with the one intended by the sender.

The sixth stage is when a reply, a response or reaction is given to the message through a feedback. This reassures the sender that the message has been received. It also allows the sender to confirm if the message was understood or misunderstood.

It is imperative to note that the first three stages complete the first part of a two way communication process. These first three stages fall within the domain of the sender. The other three stages form the second part of the communication process. They fall within the domain of the receiver.

Also, the process of communication is effective only when the message passed by the sender reflects in the mind of the receiver a true image and intention of the sender.

Purposes Of Communication

1. Communication is used for the purpose of information. Individuals and organisations communicate to disseminate information, be it general or specific ones. This shows that communication performs an informative function.

2. Communication is also a means of imparting knowledge in a formal education. Teachers and lecturers must communicate with students while students must also respond by communicating back.

3. Communication can be used to persuade or to convince. This is usually used in politics and religion. It is also used by marketers, public relations practitioners etc, to persuade people to embrace an idea or a product. 4. Communication can also be used to exercise control. This is

seen in the ability of an individual to exert control or influence on other person(s). The boss exercises control by giving directives. order, warning or query to a subordinate. 5. Communication serves as a means of entertainment. People

sometimes communicate with the purpose of entertaining. Examples abound in comedy and poetry. 6. Communication is sometimes used for interactional purpose.

It is used to establish friendship, relationship, affiliation etc. This

is concerned with how feelings are communicated.

7. Communication provides the opportunity for the purgation of pent up emotions which may lead to frustration, insanity or even death. It provides an avenue to share ones anger, shock, sorrow etc. Here, it serves as antidote to problems and provides an avenue for advice that may serve as solution to a problem.

8. Communication can also be used to resolve conflicts between or among individuals, groups and nations. Where people fail to talk, then they may be at war. During dialogue, opposing parties table their grievances and ultimately arrive at a solution.