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Communication ( Latin communicatio 'message' ) is the exchange or transmission of information that can take place in different ways ( verbal , nonverbal and paraverbal ) and in different ways ( speaking , writing ).

" Information " in this context is a summary term for knowledge , insight , experience or empathy . “Exchange” means a mutual give and take; “Transfer” is the description that distances can be overcome, or it is meant an idea that thoughts , ideas , opinions and other things “leave” one individual and “enter” another. This is a certain point of view and metaphorical description for everyday life - with more detailed descriptions of the phenomenonCommunication , however, is becoming increasingly difficult to use this metaphor.

(For more information on the subject of "Scientific and theoretical attempts to explain communication" see article Communication model .)

In addition to its original meaning as a social act, the word “communication” is also used for other processes in different contexts. The increasing use of communication technology , for example, meant that technical aspects were also included in the communication concept . Under communication and "thus data transmission ", "mutual control " and in simple cases, " connection " of equipment understood; in other situations communication is related to institutions or companies and their target groups. Then no longer living beings, but instead organized units (or " systems ") are viewed as communicators (producers and recipients ). This applies, for example, when communication is mentioned in connection with journalism, journalism or marketing (see especially communicator (media) in this regard ).

Communication is everyday and seems to take place for granted, so that it does not appear to be problematic. This is sufficient for most situations; it would be too time-consuming to constantly question your own communication. Communication becomes problematic only in the event of misunderstandings and failures that can be associated with communication. In the scientific treatment of communication (see related link above) the question is asked how communication can be explained; under what conditions it expires; what criteria are for successful communication; and how reliable models can be created from which predictions and instructions for action can be derived.


Communication comes from the Latin verb communicare , which means “share”, “communicate”, “let participate”; "Do together", "unite". In this original meaning a social act is meant in which several people (more generally: living beings) are involved. Essential aspects of this social act are, on the one hand, “stimulating and carrying out sign processes” and, on the other hand, “participation”, in which something “emerges as something common” (Latin communio : “community”, communis : “together”). The communication scientist Klaus Merten made 177 different meanings of the term "communication" known as early as 1977.

Different ways of access

With regard to the description of communication, a number of different approaches can be distinguished, which are characterized by specific basic assumptions. The main differences in the modes of access are firstly what the communicators are conceptually understood as: as humans, as living beings (including humans and animals), as machines, as behaving bodies, as acting beings. Second, there are different ways of accessing whether communication is viewed as something fundamentally social or as the sum of individual things (individual events, individual actions). Third, differences arise in which parts are particularly emphasized (the side of production or reception).

The different approaches lead to different communication terms, communication models and communication theories. Some of these are highlighted below.

Access through personal experience

Access to the description of communication between people is determined by the fact that a distance to the phenomenon is not possible, because each and every one necessarily has their own experiences and prejudices about communication. Someone who observes communication cannot avoid being involved in the process as a participant through his own interpretation, reasoning and understanding. This also applies if the observed communication takes place in an unknown language; It also applies if the observer does not intervene in the process by speaking. Likewise, when communication is talked about or written, communication is carried out. This makes it difficult or impossible to gain a distance.

Your own prejudices and experiences will inevitably be included in the observation and description of communication. This can lead to the observation and description of communication being taken very lightly, which means that a deeper insight into the complexity of the phenomenon and into the difficulties of creating precise concepts is not achieved.

Access via basic assumptions of action theory

“Action theory approach” means that those communicating are seen as agents. Elements such as thoughts, awareness, planning and goal setting are included in the description of communication. Under communication a social will then act understood by the communication targets and communication purposes is determined. Understanding is seen as the communication goal. The purposes of communication are the conditions to be achieved in the respective situation - conditions that can (mostly) only be achieved jointly.

As a social act, communication is seen as something that only happens in relation to one another. This means, for example, that speaking in a communication situation proceeds in relation to hearing and hearing in relation to speaking. In this perspective, communication does not arise through actions of isolated individuals. Another characteristic of the social act of communication is creativity: in communicative social acts, new thoughts, ideas and solutions to problems arise that would not arise on their own.

The communication theory that goes back to H. Paul Grice also arose originally in the context of action theory . In 1957, in his essay Meaning , Grice tried to find conditions for being able to correctly say that an action (or an action product, cf. Twardowski 1999) “meant” something. The approach was further developed by Strawson, Searle and Schiffer and taken up by Meggle (1997) using intensional logic. On this basis, Roland Posner developed a drawing concept (Posner 1993). According to this understanding, communication is basically linked to not only showing something, but also showing that one is showing something (the recognition of intention condition, cf. Schiffer). Accordingly, not every act of drawing is communication. Communication would rather be an action only if something is 'meant' by it, that is: it is openly indicated that something is to be given to be understood.

Access through basic problem-theoretical assumptions

In the problem-theoretical approach, those communicating are described as solving problems. A problem is understood to be a range of differences that are observed and determined (problem definition) and can be overcome (problem solving). This approach is compatible with the action theory approach.

One of the most important problem solutions that can be achieved through communication is the development and stabilization of one's own identity, which always takes place in relation to others. This is done, for example, by telling one's own experiences and listening to other people's experiences. "Gossip" and "gossip" play an essential role.

Access via basic signal theory assumptions

In an approach based on signal theory, communication is understood as the transmission of signals through space. The signals are then considered to be the trigger for certain processes (e.g. for a telephone to ring or for letters to be shown on a display). Communication is then viewed as a connection between devices that is maintained via signals and which leads to the fact that the states of the devices mutually change as a result of this connection. Living beings, social aspects, consciousness, planning and action play no role in this approach. As a result, no statements or instructions for interpersonal communication can be derived from this approach.

A prime example is the mathematical theory of communication by Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver . Mathematical models with which the probability of the occurrence of signals and signal combinations are dealt with and which, among other things, are used to calculate line capacities, are referred to as communication theory. The reception of the theory led to the fact that until today the signal-theoretical and the action-theoretical approaches are not always exactly separated from each other.

Access through basic scientific and biological assumptions

When building theories of living beings in the natural sciences, thoughts, consciousness, planning and goal setting are completely ignored. In the biological approach, processes down to the molecular level are described as communication under certain conditions.

In the scientific approach, communication can also be seen as a factor in evolution . The description of communication under scientific conditions can be used in medicine and pharmacy to explain the origin of diseases.

Access through basic psychological assumptions

In communication psychology, those who are communicating are considered in relation to “internal”, “mental” processes and using the theories that explain these processes. Communicators are primarily viewed as individuals (Latin: individuus "indivisible"). Based on the psychological description of the individual, reference is made to social processes. In this approach, communication models and communication theories emerge, which can be used for therapeutic purposes, for example. However, these theories are also frequently referred to in training courses on the subject of communication.

A description of communication based on experience with therapy has been presented by psychologists Paul Watzlawick , Don D. Jackson, and Janet H. Beavin. In 1967 you treated the role of communication in interpersonal relationships from a therapeutic point of view. The German translation of the work led to an occupation with the phenomenon of communication in the 1970s. The widespread notion “You cannot not communicate” also comes from this work. Following Watzlawick, Friedemann Schulz von Thun developed a four-sided model (“ communication square ”) in which communication is described as a four-sided process.

Access via basic behavioral assumptions

Basic behavioral assumptions are based on an 'external' observation of living beings, in which the terms effect , stimulus and reaction are in the foreground. In this approach, communication is viewed as a process of mutual interaction. Basic assumptions of action theory, according to which living beings plan, develop ideas, form goals and pose problems, are not used. The focus is on the observation of living beings as bodies that are subject to external influences and react to them.

The effects can be related to individual living beings (by being accepted 'within' the living being), to processes between living beings and their material environment, and to processes between several living beings. The effects of the simplest living beings can be described on the basis of very simple stimulus-response patterns. The observation and description of people as behaving bodies becomes very complex due to an extraordinarily diverse range of influences and intervention options.

The behavioral approach was widespread from the end of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th century. Today it no longer plays a role in communication and media studies, because no answers to current questions in the communication and media area can be derived from it (see the section on stimulus-response models in the article Communication models ).

Access through basic system theory assumptions

In the 1970s and 1980s, Niklas Luhmann's sociological systems theory emerged . This approach is characterized above all by a high level of abstraction and the demand for universality. From this point of view, communication is not human action, but a product of social systems, that is, an autopoietic operation that leads to the differentiation and maintenance of the same.

In this system-theoretical approach, basic assumptions of action theory are also disregarded. Acting people do not appear in it because they are controlled by consciousness and emphasize their individuality as psychic systems, whereas social systems operate through communication. The specialty of this approach lies in the fact that a social theory is not based exclusively on action theory. In relation to communication, this is shown in Luhmann's dictum “Man cannot communicate; only communication can communicate. ”This means that communication can only be followed by further communication, so that social systems are autopoietically preserved through communication. In contexts of structures and functions of social systems, psychic systems can either functionally assert themselves by connecting to processive communication through topic-related contributions or dysfunctionally by using the selective communicative components of information and the form of communicating this information not with understanding, but with React to misunderstandings and disrupt ongoing communication. Communication disorders can be dealt with using meta-communication methods. The background to this is the distinction between the “autopoiesis of social systems and the autopoiesis of psychic systems” (N. Luhmann 1987, p. 355). This distinction is then the subject of meta-communication, where the self-reference of individual consciousnesses (psychic systems) is confronted with the self-reference of communication (social systems) and through mediation, instructive information, further training or the like. can be edited.

Access through the interdisciplinary perspective

The interdisciplinary perspective takes into account a. Findings from disciplines such as biology, neurobiology, cybernetics, systems theory, semiotics, etc. Kinesics. The foundations were laid in particular by Humberto Maturana and Ernst von Glasersfeld . At Maturana, the understanding of language as coordinated behavioral coordination results almost inevitably from his autopoiesis concept. In addition to natural language, all sign processes (including those not of a linguistic nature), as they are described in their entirety, in particular through semiotics , are considered. Von Glasersfeld's perspective is compatible with Maturana's point of view, but he emphasizes natural language in his explanations.

The special feature of the interdisciplinary perspective is that it consistently illuminates the functioning of linguistic interaction behavior and does not remain at the level of generating theories to explain the appearance. This approach can also be clearly distinguished from Luhmann's approach, who greatly modified the concept of autopoiesis, originally coined by Maturana, and placed it in the service of his systems theory.

Follow the methods of access for the description

Understanding via communication is made more difficult if the basic assumptions of the respective access method are not clarified and the access methods are not adequately separated from one another. Then it is not exactly clear what is being talked about when communication is being talked about. This would be the case if communicating living beings are first described as bodies interacting with one another, but then it is said that communication leads to understanding. This is a change from the basic assumption 'view living beings as behaving bodies' to the basic assumption 'view living beings as agents'. A lack of clarity in the basic assumptions would also be the case if communicating parties are referred to as “sender and receiver”. “Sending” and “receiving” can in the original basic assumption refer to letters as a communication medium, or in the technological basic assumption to devices and processes of signal transmission. In everyday descriptions, however, no signal transmission between technical devices is generally meant.

Different communication models

The different approaches described above mean that communication is also modeled differently. This means that communication is presented differently and that different procedures and processes are described and placed in the foreground. Such models are also used in everyday life to explain one's own communication and to be able to derive strategies. A main, often not consciously made, distinction in everyday modeling is whether the side of production (speaking, writing, generally: "expression side") or the side of reception (hearing, reading, generally: "impression side") is emphasized (see the section on everyday theoretical communication models in the article on communication models).

The transmitter-receiver model, in which interpersonal communication is also described using the terms from signal transmission, has also found widespread use. Therefore, no actions and strategies for communication in everyday life and in professional life can be derived from this model (see the section on message transmission models in the article on communication models ).

Communication problems

Communication problems break down into two areas of problem definitions and problem solutions. The first area concerns communicative action, the second area the consequences of communicative action. In everyday reality, both areas are linked. A distinction between communicative reality in problem levels is done for analytical purposes. This shows that communication must primarily be viewed as problematic and not, as is often assumed, works naturally.

Reasons and Effects

Communication problems arise, among other things, from cultural differences. These differences exist as differences in the way we interpret reality and judge other people. An example often cited is the perception of head movements as approval or disapproval, which is different in different cultures (shaking the head can mean approval). An example of cultural differences in the economic field is the different assessment of what z. B. Is considered polite or rude, appropriate or inappropriate at a business lunch. In particular, intercultural communication problems can be traced back to differences in socialization, educational level or individual world theory. Intercultural differences also exist within members of a language community.

Communication problems can have serious economic implications. This is particularly evident in connection with globalization. It is difficult to provide more precise information about the economic damage that is partly caused by communication problems. The professional fields that deal with problems of communication from different subject approaches, such as coaching , communication training , organizational planning , quality management , advice , mediation, psychology, etc. a. m. and to recognize their content-related responsibility for specific problems is often a challenge for "help seekers".

Communication problems on the level of understanding and the level of overriding problems

With regard to human communication, two levels (perspectives) of problem definition and problem solving can be distinguished, which are described as communication goal and communication purpose. It is assumed that problem solving and problem solving are not negative in themselves, but are an essential part of lifestyle. In this perspective, communicative problem-solving also takes place at a party, namely: not being alone, finding partners, having fun. However, this perspective also means that the topic of communication problems is about a further perspective and a multiple use of the term problem: It is about the perspective of problems that in turn hinder the processes of problem-solving through communication.

The communication goal is understanding. First of all, it must be understood what a communication process is about. Communicating means creating a sufficient compatibility of experiences on a topic in the situation. This process, in turn, is seen as solving the problem. Communication purposes can only be achieved on the basis of mutual understanding, that is, overriding problems can be solved. Examples of overarching communication purposes are: doing work together, organizing an event, but also complex social problems such as changing convictions, stabilizing one's own personality, lying, influencing actions, exercising power.

The assessment of a communication process as successful or not (the attribution of communication success) affects both levels.

Level of understanding (communication goal)

Problems of communication at the level of understanding are obstacles that hinder the use and interpretation of signs and thus the creation of compatibility (compatibility, matching) of experiences. In addition to general language barriers, this also includes physical conditions such as intentionality, perception, attention, ability to concentrate, the focus on the other, the willingness to submit one's thoughts to the other (being able to listen), the classification of what has been understood in one's own understanding of the world (the individual world theory). These problems are the subject of interdisciplinary research in communication studies. It is assumed that every communicator has a knowledge of these obstacles that he applies situation-related, flexible and to a high degree unconsciously.

On closer consideration it can be assumed that understanding becomes problematic in many communication situations. Many communication processes are control dialogues, which means that they serve to check understanding and to resolve misunderstandings if they have been discovered. Military communication is an extreme example of how communication is restricted in order to avoid catastrophic misunderstandings. Schools, universities, seminars and training courses are another example of the fact that communication on a complex topic does not work at the beginning because, for example, there is no common definition of terms.

One way to prevent misunderstandings is called paraphrasing . To paraphrase something means to say what you mean in different formulations and in this way to narrow it down more precisely.

Level of the overriding problems (communication purpose)

If overarching communication purposes (e.g. persuading and convincing, changing beliefs, working together in a team) are not achieved, this is often attributed to communication. A distinction must be made here as to the extent to which the overriding problems came about through misunderstanding or other overriding factors. If there are failures at these higher levels, factors play a role that cannot all be traced back to communication processes. In this context, it is often a question of whether or not communication takes place at all; that is, a communication problem can be that there is no communication at all about a particular topic or situation.

Lies and problems of communication

A lie can be considered an intentional deception. The purpose of communication with a lie is that the other believes something that the lying knows is not true. To do this, the communication partner must understand the formulations of the lying. He must first understand what he is supposed to believe in terms of the construction of meaning. The prerequisite for achieving the communication purpose of the lie (the deliberate deception of the other) means in this view, to act successfully communicatively on the level of understanding (the communication goal). In these explanations, understanding is seen independently of a truth problem.

With lies, overriding problems can be created and reinforced, but they can also be avoided or solved. This can also apply to those who are being lied to or want to be lied to. The subject is also dealt with in the literature.

See also

Scientific disciplines and theories

Different perspectives on communication

other topics


General; Interpersonal communication

Scientific introductions

  • Klaus Beck: Communication Science. UVK, Konstanz 2007, ISBN 978-3-8252-2964-1 .
  • Roland Burkart : Communication Science. 2002, ISBN 3-205-98185-5 .
  • Dieter Krallmann, Andreas Ziemann: Basic course in communication science. With a hypertext in-depth program on the Internet. Fink, Munich 2001, ISBN 3-8252-2249-7 , pp. 257-280.
  • Gerhard Maletzke: An overview of communication science. Basics, problems, perspectives. Opladen, Wiesbaden 1998.
  • Klaus Merten: Introduction to Communication Science. Lit, Münster / Hamburg / London 1999.
  • Tsvasman Leon (ed.): The great lexicon media and communication. Compendium of interdisciplinary concepts. Ergon, Würzburg 2006, ISBN 3-89913-515-6 .
  • Harald Rau: Invitation to Communication Studies. UTB / Nomos, Stuttgart 2013, ISBN 978-3-8252-3915-2 .

Mass communication

Media theory and practice

  • Walter Hoffmann: Describing successfully - the practice of the technical editor, organization, text design, editing. ISBN 3-8007-1652-6 .
  • Dirk Michael Becker: Botho Strauss: Dissipation. The dissolution of word and object. Bielefeld 2004. ISBN 3-89942-232-5 .
  • Matthias Schweizer: The communication processes of employee newspapers in medium-sized companies. ISBN 3-631-53139-7 .

Communication psychology

  • Hanko Bommert, Karl-W. Weich, Christel Dirksmeier: Recipient personality and media effect . 2nd Edition. LIT, Münster 2000, ISBN 3-8258-2109-9 .
  • Hanko Bommert, Christel Dirksmeier, Ralf Kleyböcker: Differential media reception. LIT, Münster 2000, ISBN 3-8258-4897-3 .
  • Frank Görgen: Communication Psychology in Business Practice. Oldenbourg 2005, ISBN 3-486-57700-X .
  • Norbert Groeben: Reader Psychology. Text comprehension - text comprehensibility. ISBN 3-402-04298-3 .
  • Christiane Sautter: Ways out of the dilemma - understanding and resolving double binds. 2005, ISBN 3-9809936-1-2 .
  • Friedemann Schulz von Thun : Talking to each other 1. Disturbances and clarifications. General psychology of communication . Rowohlt, Reinbek 1981, ISBN 3-499-17489-8 .
  • Friedemann Schulz von Thun: Talking to each other 2. Styles, values ​​and personal development. Differential Psychology of Communication. Rowohlt, Reinbek 1989, ISBN 3-499-18496-6 .
  • Friedemann Schulz von Thun: Talking to each other 3. The 'inner team' and communication appropriate to the situation. Rowohlt, Reinbek 1998, ISBN 3-499-60545-7 .
  • Caja Thimm: Age - Language - Gender. Linguistic and communication studies perspectives on old age. Campus, Frankfurt / New York 1998, ISBN 3-531-13036-6 .
  • Paul Watzlawick : Human Communication. Forms, disorders, paradoxes. ISBN 3-456-82825-X .

Communication sociology

  • Niklas Luhmann : Social Systems. Outline of a general theory. Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1987.
  • Helmut Willke: Systems Theory I: Basics. An introduction to the basic problems of social systems theory. 6., revised. Edition with 6 illustrations and a glossary. Lucius & Lucius, Stuttgart 2000.
  • Helmut Willke: Systems Theory II: Intervention Theory. Outlines of a theory of intervention in complex systems. 3. Edition. Lucius & Lucius, Stuttgart 1999.
  • Helmut Willke: System Theory III: Basics of a theory of the control of complex systems. 3. Edition. Lucius & Lucius, Stuttgart 2001.

Communication history

  • Wolfgang Wüst (Ed.): Franconia's cities and territories as a cultural hub. Communication in the middle of Germany. Interdisciplinary conference from September 29th to 30th, 2006 in Weißenburg i. Bavaria. (= Middle Franconian Studies . 19). Ansbach 2008, ISBN 978-3-87707-713-9 .


  • Dale Carnegie : Better to talk to each other, the right word at the right time - the art of being convincing; a guide to communication in everyday life and at work (original title: The quick and easy way to effective speaking. The only authorized translation by Evamarie Hild and Ruth Müller), Fischer Taschenbuch, Frankfurt am Main 2011, ISBN 978-3-596-19055-3 .
  • Reneé Hansen, Stephanie Schmidt: Conceptual Practice - An introduction for budding PR and communication professionals with illuminating considerations about the garden gnome. 3. Edition. FAZ Institute for Management, Market and Media Information, Frankfurt am Main 2006, ISBN 3-89981-125-9 .
  • Doris Märtin : Smart Talk. Say it right Campus, Frankfurt am Main 2006, ISBN 3-593-37919-8 .
  • Miriam Meckel : The happiness of being inaccessible. Ways out of the communication trap. Murmann, Hamburg 2007, ISBN 978-3-86774-002-9 .

Technical communication

Machine communication

Business perspective

Scientific perspective

Linguistic perspective

Media studies

  • Andrea Kleinebenne: Language and graphism - nature, history and meaning of analog and digital human forms of communication 1986, DNB 870623850 (dissertation University of Münster (Westphalia) 1986, V, 253 pages).

Web links

Wiktionary: Communication  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: communicative  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: communicate  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations


  1. An up-to-date overview of what is summarized under the heading “communication” can be obtained from the article Social Bookmarks .
  2. Klaus Merten: Introduction to Communication Science , Vol. 1: Basics of Communication Science , Münster et al. 1999, pp. 76–79.
  3. This thesis goes back to Gerold Ungeheuer in German-speaking countries .
  4. The original title is The Mathematical Theory of Communication . The German designation as information theory is based on the reception of the work.
  5. This is the subject of the philosopher Peter Janich ; see the article on methodological culturalism .
  6. Guenther Witzany: Biocommunication and Natural Genome Editing. Springer, Dordrecht 2010.
  7. ^ Paul Watzlawick : Human communication. Forms, disorders, paradoxes. Bern 1969, ISBN 3-456-82825-X , p. 17. In the foreword to the German edition, Watzlawick describes the term communication as "unfamiliar in German".
  8. ^ Paul Watzlawick: Human communication. Forms, disorders, paradoxes. Bern 1969, ISBN 3-456-82825-X , pp. 50-53.
  9. Konrad Lorenz , The back of the mirror - attempt at a natural history of human knowledge. 4th edition. dtv, 1980, pp. 17 ff, 39, 65 ff.
  10. Konrad Lorenz: The back of the mirror - attempt at a natural history of human knowledge. 4th edition. dtv, 1980, p. 76 f.
  11. Jakob Johann von Uexküll : Forays through the environments of animals and people. 1958, p. 49.
  12. Niklas Luhmann: Social Systems. Outline of a general theory. Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1987.
  13. N. Luhmann: The individuality of psychic systems. In: Ders .: Social Systems. ... 1987, pp. 346-376.
  14. ^ Niklas Luhmann: The science of society. (= Suhrkamp Taschenbuch Wissenschaft. 1001). Frankfurt am Main 1992, p. 31.
  15. For a detailed overview see André Knoth: General Theory of Intercultural Communication. Der Andere Verlag, Tönning 2012, p. 11 ff.
  16. Cf. Humberto R. Maturana: What is knowing? - The world is created in the eye of the beholder. Munich 1996, p. 104 f.
  17. See Umberto Eco: Introduction to Semiotics. 7th, unchanged edition. Munich 1991, p. 20 ff.
  18. See Ernst von Glasersfeld: Radical Constructivism - Ideas, Results, Problems. 1st edition. Frankfurt am Main 1996, p. 211 ff.
  19. These explanations are based on Gerold Ungeheuer , and they describe a view that contradicts Jürgen Habermas' theory on these points.
  20. See for example the play The Wild Duck by Henrik Ibsen .