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1.3: Communication Principles

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    The Nature of Communication

    As we develop our understanding of not only communication as a whole, but more specifically interpersonal communication, there are some basic principles of communication that will lay the groundwork for our exploration in the chapters ahead. In this section we will discuss how communication is learned and then we will focus on the continuous, unrepeatable, irreversible nature of communication.

    Communication Is Learned

    While we are born with the capacity to communicate, communication is not innate to humans, rather it is learned. We have already talked about how communication is symbolic and dependent on the culture and context in which it takes place. How we make meaning from the symbols that we use is learned both formally and informally. When babies move from being vocal to verbal they begin the process of connecting symbols to items and ideas. This happens both formally when parents and caregivers teach children specific words and phrases, and informally as they observe what is happening around them and incorporate that knowledge. For example, one of the first things we taught our son when he was learning to use some simple words was the difference between “all done” and “more” so that he could express his desire when playing, eating, etc. There is nothing inherent about the letters m-o-r-e that means "I would like to continue." Instead, this shared understanding of the word is learned when we are given additional helpings of food or allowed to extend our play time.

    In addition to formal teaching, communication is also learned informally through observation and engagement with the world around us. Once a child is in school they are learning communication not just in the classroom but from their peers. This communication is no less valid than what they learn from their teachers. Both illustrate the fundamental principle that communication is learned.

    Communication Is Continuous

    In addition to being learned, communication is also continuous. We are always communicating. In fact, we cannot not communicate. While much of our communication is intentional, a lot of communication is unintentional. Whether or not communication has occurred is not always up to the person doing the communicating. When a student is sitting in our classroom and they yawn, they are probably not sending us a specific message. But if we see the yawn and start to think that they are bored and uninterested in what we am talking about, communication has occurred. In fact, our very existence communicates. What we wear, how we style our hair, our posture, where we are in the environment—all of these things are communicating to those around us. This shows us how communication is always happening, whether we intend to or not. Communication is continuous.

    Man yawning
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Yawn, Miikka Luotio, Unsplash

    Communication Is Unrepeatable

    Communication is also unrepeatable. When we say that communication is unrepeatable, what we mean is that we can never reproduce the same exact communication twice. Even if we deliver the same message, other aspects—such as our tone, the environment we are in, or the context in which we are speaking—will be different, so the communication will be different. Heraclitus, an ancient Greek philosopher, said that no man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man. Communication is the same way, because we are always communicating—and the context, our emotional state, even internal factors like hunger or fatigue are contending with our words. These various aspects of communication are constantly flowing like the river, so even if we wanted to repeat a communication event we could not, just like we could not step in the same river twice. There will always be variation in our communication.

    Communication Is Irreversible

    Finally, in addition to being continuous and unrepeatable, communication is also irreversible. If you have ever watched Law and Order or another similar show you may have heard a judge say, “the jury will disregard.” In non-lawyer terms what the judge is doing is telling the jury to forget about the evidence they just heard because it is inadmissible. we don’t know about you, but this has always struck me as odd. Obviously the jury doesn’t just forget what they heard. Now that they know it, there is no way for them to "unknow" it. Once we communicate, we cannot undo it; what was communicated is permanently out in the world. This principle is particularly important when it comes to self-disclosure, or the sharing of personal or private information with another person that includes expression of your observations, thoughts, feelings, and needs in relationships. Once you share information about yourself you cannot take it back. If you tell a friend that you have romantic feelings for them and they don’t reciprocate those feelings, you can’t just go back to the way things were before you share that information. The communication is permanent, and in this case it has altered your relationship in an irreversible way. This permanence has taken on even more importance with the growth of communication technology. When we send a text, direct message (DM), or email, not only is the communication irreversible in the sense that we can’t take it back, but it is also literally permanent because there are saved copies of it. That communication can be shared over and over again beyond our initial communication; even if we delete the original, it is never completely gone. This isn’t meant to scare you, but to help you understand the impact that language can have. To fully understand interpersonal communication and its impact on our lives, we will start by discussing communication models.

    This page titled 1.3: Communication Principles is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Multiple Authors (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative (OERI)) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.