What is Communication?

As a wide-eyed, eager beaver entering the Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication (CARIMAC) a decade ago, one of the very first topics on our course notes was the definition for the term Communication. Having been exposed to several such definitions, one has particularly stood out to me, been tested and found solid over all these years-that coined by the late great, Professor Aggrey Brown.  As one of the revered lecturers at the region’s premier media and Communication Institute, I expected no less from the man who has etched his mark on the region’s communication landscape.

Amazingly, if you ask any CARIMAC graduate to define Communication, naturally Prof Brown’s definition will likely be quoted word for word and it reads thus:

“Communication is the the interactive transference of shared meanings between intelligences”

In true prof Brown fashion, he later broke out the key terms as follows:

  • Interactive : Interactive indicates that the Communication process is not one dimensional, static or one sided. It notes that it requires a process of sending and receiving and opportunities for feedback.
  • Transference: Transference refers to how a message is sent and taps into the medium and effectiveness of those media.
  • Shared meanings: Shared meanings denotes that both sides of the communication process have some ‘common ground’ be it a shared language, shared colloquial terms, shared understanding of cultural context and non verbal cues.
  • between Intelligences: The term between begs to be noticed as it further reinforces the point of communication not being a one sided process. Intelligences as well ties into the shared meaning breakout as outlined above.  It suggests that there needs to be some capacity to acquire and apply knowledge as well as the capacity for interaction.

Well ahead of its time, Prof’s Brown’s definition for Communication sought out to remind us all that for communication to be successful it had to include both sender and receiver, utilizing a medium/ mediums with shared cues or codes which would improve the likelihood of the message being received and understood.

At the broader level, other definitions of communication include:

  1. Two-way process of reaching mutual understanding, in which participants not only exchange (encode-decode) information, news, ideas and feelings but also create and share meaningBusiness Dictionary
  2. A process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior- Miriam Webster

Notably, there is a huge difference between Communication and Communication(S) Simply, CommunicationS is a system for transmitting or exchanging information – such as computers, telephones, radio and television while Communication involves individuals exchanging information or messages through shared symbols, behaviours or signs.  The CommunicationS Practitioner is therefore more likely to be your cable guy or your telephone technician while the Communication Practitioner is more likely to be your Public Relations, Public Education, Advocacy or Knowledge Management Professional.

To better understand Communication, several practitioners illustrate same as a 8 step process as outlined below

Image via Yana Zelenskaya on LinkedIn

BusinessCommunication.Com also provides a noteworthy breakout in a post titled Steps of Communication Process.

I’ve often gone through the rounds of doing this breakout for varied groupings and the very next question is always “So What does a Communication Professional do?” As this is asked so frequently, I’ll may just do a post in short order highlighting this area.

Know of other meaningful definitions for Communication? Share them with us below.



Shanoy Coombs is a Development Communication Consultant in the Latin America and Caribbean region.  Are you Social? Connect with Shanoy  on twitter via @InspiraShan and learn more about her work via the projects page.

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