What are the Different Levels of Communication?

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Kasza

Amy has a master's of library and information science and a master's of arts in history.

How can you be sure that what you say is understood by those around you? In this lesson, learn how to use different levels of communication to increase understanding in everyday interactions. After the lesson, test your understanding with a quiz. Updated: 12/10/2020

Many Communication Theories

Understanding the different types or levels of communication begins with understanding what communication is. With rare exception, everyone communicates with other people every day. Often we communicate by talking or writing, in which case our communication is said to be verbal. Just as often, we communicate by nonverbal means, such as through body language, gestures, and demeanor. We also communicate through our behavior. For example, not doing something we have promised to do communicates something about our attitude and reliability.

While we take communicating for granted as an ordinary, everyday activity, specialists in the field have studied the process of communication to the extent of creating complex mathematical equations that represent how messages are sent and received between individuals. Thankfully, understanding the different levels of communication does not require advanced math skills. What is important to know, however, is that whatever method one uses to communicate, the way in which something is communicated affects whether the receiver actually receives the meaning intended by the sender.

Different fields of study and different types of organizations classify levels of communication in ways that suit their purposes. As communication happens in innumerable ways among billions of people in unique situations every day, these classifications are always going to be somewhat arbitrary, because no one theory can explain every instance of communication.

In general terms, however, the classical theory of communication involves four distinct levels: intrapersonal, interpersonal, group, and cultural. Often the best way to learn about these four levels is to consider examples of each one.

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  • 0:01 Many Communication Theories
  • 1:43 Intrapersonal Communication
  • 2:10 Interpersonal Communication
  • 3:20 Group Communication
  • 4:01 Cultural Communication
  • 5:04 Lesson Summary
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Intrapersonal Communication

You may be surprised to learn that thinking, writing notes to remind yourself of things you need to do, and talking to yourself are all forms of intrapersonal communication. In this level of communication, you are both the person 'sending' and 'receiving' the message. Because you play this dual role, the chances of misinterpretation or miscommunication are essentially non-existent. After all, most people do not have barriers to clear communication with themselves!

Thinking is the most common form of intrapersonal communication.

Interpersonal Communication

Talking with another individual, exchanging text messages or emails, video conferencing, even nonverbal like a shrug of the shoulders or a meaningful glance, are all examples of interpersonal communication. In order for interpersonal communication to be considered successful, the person receiving the message has to receive and comprehend the message that the sender intended to send.

Let's take Scott and Sarah as an example. They work together on the same marketing project team. They often conduct meetings with the rest of their marketing team, as well as representatives from the IT, human resources, and public relations teams who are contributing to the project. As can occur with cross-departmental teams, participants from secondary teams have strong opinions about how something should be accomplished. To keep their meetings proceeding according to the agenda without distraction from the IT representative who wants things done a certain way, Scott and Sarah have to be in sync. They have to be able to communicate clearly and quickly with one another, sometimes with no more than eye contact or a raised eyebrow, when the discussion starts to wander off track. They have learned to use effective interpersonal communication techniques.

This diagram represents the communication dynamic between the sender and receiver of a message.

Group Communication

Thinking again about the example of Scott, Sarah, and their work team, the activity they are engaging in every time they have a team meeting is an exercise in group communication. For group communication to be successful, every member of the group needs to be present, aware, and alert to the messages being sent and received. Groups of this type often rely on documentation, such as meeting notes, agendas, presentations, and other written materials to help ensure everyone is 'on the same page.' Group communication requires a completely different set of skills than interpersonal communication, because one sender is responsible for effectively delivering his message to many different receivers.

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