Communication. Frame of Reference.

Frame of reference can be defined basically as the perception or point of view of an individual that functions as a lens through which he or she may analyze and interpret media/information/message. Life experiences have shown to contribute greatly to frame of inference. These life experiences according to Samovar and Porter, (2005) are: “gender, family background, socioeconomic status, education level, political leanings, career, regional/geographic affiliation, and religious affiliation”.

In frame of reference, messages are distinguished in three steps: data selection, organizing information in important ways and decoding of information. Any problem or factors that interfere with these three steps automatically leads to distortion of the message hence unintended meaning. In order for effective communication to take place, framing for comprehending and comprehending other’s frame is absolutely necessary.

In addition, effective communication requires passing of information or messages effectively, efficiently and unambiguously using closely aligned frames of reference. This helps one to avoid the need to offer extensive preliminary explanations. In this context, nonverbal communication can also be interpreted well or misinterpreted and this varies according to cultural, ethnic and gender orientation. One can improve his/her communication skills using the concept of frame of reference in three ways. First, through proper and correct selection of data/messages sent/sources of information.

Secondly is through organizing information in a meaningful and proper way to ensure that no mixing or misinterpretation occurs. Organizing of information creates a systematic way in which the recipient is able to internalize information appropriately and accurately. The third and last one is through proper and accurate interpretation of all information received. This enables one to have an accurate and the true meaning and intention of the sent information.

Non-Verbal Communication

Non verbal communication is the passing of information from one source to another through use of facial expression, eye movements, body movements, posture, gestures, and proxemics (the use of space). This form of communication is also known as body language. Whereas words direct the content of a message, emotions accentuate and clarify the meaning of the words. Often the emotional component of a message is communicated indirectly through the body language, particularly facial expression.

The vast majority of person to person communication is picked up by monitoring subtle non verbal communication (Cooper, 2001). Generally, non verbal manifestations of communication are considered useful for expressive and social communication (Harrison, 1989) and may be more reliable than their verbal counterparts. Development of non verbal communication is very important as it can be used to pass messages that cannot be communicated using words.

Non verbal behaviors may be seen as a one time or occasional occurrence or as part of a generalized pattern of behavior in communication. For example, in a clinical set up, knowing a client’s usual nonverbal pattern of communication is important in assessing the nature and meaning of changes in behavior. Ambiguous nonverbal cues can lead to total misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the intended message. The message may also be meaningless in that one may fail to know or understand the meaning of the message. This can be demonstrated in a situation where by an accounts clerk smiles as he/she tells his manager that his/her assignment is more than he can handle, this negates the seriousness of the message.

Inter-cultural communication

Samovar and Porter (2005) defined intercultural communication (IC) as a communication in which the sender of an intended message is a member of one culture and the receiver of the message is from a different culture. Different languages create and express different personal realities. Many communication experts note that language has four ;primary functions which include to direct actions, to interpret the meaning of events and situations, to connect past experiences with the present through imagination, and to establish and maintain relationships with people. These functions are woven into the fabric of every culture.

IC is very important as it creates bonding and understanding between two different cultures hence peaceful coexistence. It also promotes cross cultural diversity and helps in reinforcing socially acceptable and adaptive behaviors. IC has also been shown to promote intercultural relationship where by people from different cultures are able to communicate freely and interact as they are able to learn and understand the intentions of others and are better able to make their intentions known to others of the different cultures. Intercultural communication is associated with certain problems such as language barrier in that one may not understand the language of the other culture.

There are also situations in which nonverbal signs as used in one culture have different meaning in another culture hence causing misinterpretation of the intention of communication. Customary ways of thinking and categorizing situations affect how a person experiences and responds to situations. Cultural differences in language affect every aspect of the behavior and relationships that occur between people and can function as a major barrier to mutual understanding (Geissler, 1991).

Ethnocentrism and Cultural Pluralism

Ethnocentrism is making false assumptions about other people’s ways based on our narrow knowledge. Generally, it is the act of believing that my own culture, race or ethnic group is the most important and that every aspect of it such as beliefs, practices, norms and customs are superior to those of other groups. This means that an individual will use his/her own ethnicity, culture and or race as the marking scheme against which other groups are marked.

On the other hand, cultural pluralism is the direct opposite of ethnocentrism. It originates when two or more culture groups live in a particular geographical area, take part in common activity/activities, borrow and exchange elements of their cultures but at the end of the day, they maintain their cultural autonomy. It can also be said to be a system where different cultural groups’ co-exist. No one views the others culture as being less important than his or his being superior than that of others; this is the major difference between ethnocentrism and cultural pluralism.

Facts and Inference

A fact is defined as knowledge based on scientific evidence. For example, features of an object such as shape, color, and size can not be disputed. Inference is a conclusion drawn from the facts. An inference does not need to be “correct”. Facts are basically information that can be verified, can either be true or false, and normally involve numbers, natural phenomena, dates and are made after observation/experience and can be agreed on by every person. E.g. Barrack Obama is the first black American president. Inference consists of a fact that needs to prove another unknown proposition.

Nonverbal Communication

This can be defined as passing of information/message from one source to another using one’s body. This includes stance, gestures, eye movement, hand/or arm placement, facial expression, hand shakes, waving, and any other body language that can be interpreted as a message. Non verbal cues can be ambiguous more so when misinterpreted or misunderstood. Nonverbal communications needs to have the same meaning to both the sender and the recipient of the message sent. In cases where the sender and the recipient have two different meanings for the same body language then the nonverbal communication becomes ambiguous. Another case of ambiguity is when the recipient can make a meaning or sense out of the sent message. Ambiguity in nonverbal communication is one of the major barriers in this form of communication.

Intensional orientation and Extensional orientation

Intensional orientation occurs when one views people, objects and or events in the way they are labeled. It can also be explained as a way of communication that is based on individual’s internal factors such as biases and experiences. This is based on subjective particulars in that one expresses what he or she feels and thinks about another person in the process of communication. For example, “she is very boring..”

On the contrary extensional orientation gives attention or credit to individual person but not to their labels. In semantics theory, it explained as the process of foreseeing the consequences of communication and becoming accustomed to it in advance before engaging in actual information. It is normally based on objective particulars of phenomenon and not subjective particulars.


Samovar, L., and Porter, R. (2005). Approaching intercultural communication. In Samovar, L, Porter, R. (eds), Intercultural communication: Reader, 10th Edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Geissler, E. M. (1991). Nursing diagnoses of culturally diverse patients. International Nursing Review, 38(5): 150-152.

Cooper, M. G. (2001). I saw what you said: nonverbal communications and the EAP. Employee Assistance Quarterly, 5(4): 1-12.

Harrison, R. P. (1989). Nonverbal communication. In king, S. (ed), Human communication as a field of study. Albany, State University of New York Press.