Communication: A Brief History and 21st Century Business Importance

What is communication? Why is it important? In business, there is nothing quite as essential. Read on to find out why something as simple as communication can make or break your business.

If you are looking just for the Communication definition: the exchange of information.

This may include news, ideas or emotions. It isn’t easy, but developing good skills is necessary. It has become essential in the modern world. Here is a brief history of communication, and then how that all applies to you and your business.

Communication: Importance in the 21st Century

When Homo erectus crawled out of the caves, much of their communication consisted of grunts and expressions. As vocabularies developed, so did effective communication. People also developed non-violent language. Had that not evolved, the capacity for poetry and art would not have been possible.

Another form of sending messages is the “talking drums” of West Africa. These villages use drums to pass information from one village to the next. This is a way to share information over great distances.

Image CC by 3.0, by talk, via Wikimedia Commons

Writing begins

The next major development was the written language. According to the Ancient History Encyclopedia, interpreting words into symbols was a major shift in human development.

Historians believe that the first written language took the form of cave paintings in Mesopotamia, which is estimated to have started around 3,500 to 3,000 BC. It was about the same time as agriculture began. People were settled. Prior to that, they had being hunter-gathers.

One historical form of relaying information was to put a note on a pigeon. Another option was to chip orders on stone tablets. Books were hand-copied. Consequently, they were treasured as works of art. Generally, they were stored in the libraries of churches. The written word was only accessible to an educated few.

The next major advancement was the invention of the printing press. In the 15th century, Gutenberg’s press meant that books could be printed.

Letters started to be popular. As people became literate, they corresponded for business and personal reasons. This led to a postal system being established. It could take a year for a letter to get from Europe to North America. Transportation became much faster with airmail.

More communication devices became available. These included the telegraph, the telephone, the radio, and the television.

The importance of effective communication cannot be underestimated. The story is that the Civil War in the United States may have been lost due to a verbal message. The instructions were to charge “at the sound of bugles.” But the messenger changed it to “charge to the sound of bugles.”

The Confederates got out their instruments and rushed onto the battlefield. They were slaughtered.

Non-verbal language

As well as spoken and written language, non-verbal actions relay strong messages. Another term is body language.

Gestures, facial expression, and posture are often more important than the words we speak. According to Dr. Albert Mehrabian, only seven percent of information is received orally. Then the vocal elements of tone, pitch, and volume combine, which brings it up to 38 percent. The final 55 percent is attributed to body language.

The Communication Revolution


The Industrial Revolution changed the world. It started in England around the middle of the 18th century. Using fossil fuels led to mass production and the building of factories. Laborers moved from the country to the city.

It pales in comparison to the Technological Revolution of the late 20th and early 21th centuries.

This age started in 1957 when the Russians launched the first satellite. It was during the Cold War. The United States responded by setting up NASA.

The Internet was the work of many people. They include scientists, engineers, designers, and programmers. By 1990 it had reached a recognizable form. However, it took a while for it to catch on. Perhaps it was because the technology was so revolutionary. People couldn’t quite fathom how it would work.

A question to ask is this: “What year did you get your first email address?”

For most people, it was 1995 or later.

From there it skyrocketed. The types of laptops, smartphones, and video conferencing that are now available are overwhelming. Even in the developing world, many poorer people have a smartphone. They can take pictures with the cameras. It is the only way they can connect to the Internet.

Image CC by 0 via Pxhere

Another question to ponder: “Yes, but are people communicating better?”

Go to a restaurant and watch four people sharing a table. All of them are staring at their phones. Is Instagram more important than friends and family?

Some restaurants have started a “We do not have wi-fi, talk to each other” movement.

Social media

LinkedIn, Instagram, SnapChat, Facebook. These are just some of the growing number of social media sites. These options have made communication fast and easy. The quality of the information is open to question. There are those who do not want to know what everyone in their social circle had for lunch.


Verbal skills range from saying “hello” to doing a webinar for thousands. While practice may not seem important here, any time you plan to present something verbally, you should rehearse it in front of a mirror.

The main skills of verbal communication are to speak slowly and clearly. And, to present information in an understandable and clearly structured way. A problem worldwide is that many people talk too quickly. They also use a lot of jargon and slang expressions. Anyone who doesn’t understand the “dialect” will have difficulty understanding them. No communication there.

Related: Corporate Communications

Written communication

No matter which language you speak, in business, others judge you by the English you write. As it is now the global language, people have to learn to listen, speak, read, and write it. And, it is changing fast.

Learning to write is one of the hardest communication skill to master. Children learn to listen and repeat. As their vocabularies develop, they are better able to express themselves. When they go to school reading and writing are the next steps.

Some people can get away with sloppy speaking. Others do not necessarily pay attention to what you say, but writing, on the other hand, is more difficult to fake. And there is nothing like glaring errors in an application letter to not get an interview. Or, incomplete or confusing instructions to your crew to make any project a spectacularly mediocre endeavor.

Historically, editors used a red pencil to correct errors. With the advent of technology, there are more options. Apps such as Grammarly, Google Translate, and a plethora of other offerings help correct mistakes.

The question is: “Are writers getting better?” And the answer seems to be that those who really concentrate on communicating clearly, can.

Getting the Message Across Clearly

No matter if it is a conversation, a text, or a webinar it is important for speakers and writers to think before they communicate. And, therein, lies the problem.

People are often so busy that they don’t consider the information they want to convey. We are generating more information and our listening skills are no longer what they used to be.

The skill of active listening needs to be cultivated. Making a point to hear what the person is saying is good manners. Nodding and asking questions indicates understanding.

Sending a text while someone is talking is bad manners. It is a sure indication the person is not paying attention. Likely, they will remember nothing about the conversation.

Cross-Cultural Factors

The world is shrinking. With multinational companies, migrants, and international travel people have exposure to other cultures.

Yes, English is one of the most common languages, however, getting off the beaten trail is an adventure. Then again, with the language translation apps for smartphones, it becomes easier.

There are also the factors of body language and customs. With the Cree in Canada, a younger person is never to look an older one in the eye, as this is rude in their culture.

In West Africa among the Hausa, women do not shake hands with men.

What is the Answer to Better Communication?

It is quite simple: slow down and think. The KISS phrase – keep it short and simple – also goes a long way to making communication more effective. And, without effective communication, your business will suffer.

What steps will you be taking to improve communication in your professional life? Let us know down in the comments.


Featured image: CC by 2.0, by GE1013, via Flickr



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