Functional Meaning of Communication

Communication could be defined based on its perceived functions. Severin and Tankard (1980) highlight some of the basic differences in the way communication has been perceived. They grouped these into three major areas:
i. Definitions that stress sharing
ii. Definitions that stress intentional influence and
iii. Definitions that include any kind of influence or response (with or without intent)
1. Definitions that Stress Sharing
A number of scholars defined communication in relation to its etymology hence, communication is seen as a concept of sharing or making common. One of such definitions is Cheryl et al (1982) which says that it is “the process of sharing thoughts, ideas and feelings with each other in commonly understandable ways”. Similarly, Bennett (1976) refers to communication as the process of sharing meaning through the use of symbols.
2. Definitions that Stress Intentional Influence
Another school of thought suggests that communication is mainly dependent on persuasion. Horne et al (1965) lend credence to this when they stated that “communication is the process through which a person motivates and influences others to control and modifying their behaviours”. Keegan (1980) refers to communication as “all forms of information transfer and persuasion concerning a product”.
3. Definition that include any kind of influence or response (with or without intent)
These definitions could also be referred to as “all inclusive” definitions. As Lederman (1977) puts it: Communication is a word used to refer to multitude of activities in which people engage such as talking, touching, writing, looking etc”. Luthans (1985) opines that “communication means the flow of material information, perception and understanding between various parts and members of an organization”.
A second look at the aforementioned functional definitions would show that each of them serves some useful purposes despite their inherent weaknesses. For instance, the belief that the essence of communication is based on persuasion may be true in some cases but definitely not in every situation. When a piece of public service announcement is made in the broadcast media or print media, the goal may not necessarily be to persuade the public into believing the message but simply to inform them. However, this does not mean that, we don’t have occasions when communication is designed mainly to persuade the listeners or reading public. This is true of advertisement and public relations activities.