A lot of the time, when I see two people talking, it does not seem like they are communicating very much. Communication is coordination. It means that when you tell someone something, the 'something' you are telling them, is something they are truly trying to understand. Hence, when you are listening to someone in hopes of communicating with them, you can never assume to know what they are saying.
Communication means the coordination of our mental states.
This means, if I am thinking about a particular aspect of Los Angeles and I wish to communicate to you what I am thinking about Los Angeles, you cannot assume you know what I mean the second I say 'I was thinking about LA'. Just because you know where and what LA is, does not mean you know what I mean when I say it.
True communication is like a dance, and as I am sure you have heard that it takes two to tango.
When talking about communication, the persons involved are senders (who send information they wish to communicate) and receivers (who receive that very information). For Godfray-Smith, a linguistic theorist, a way to distinguish if communication efforts are coordinated is considering whether the sender is sending a cue or a signal/sign to their intended receiver.
A cue is something that guides behavior. Whereas a signal or sign is an act or state that both effects and have evolved to affect people because they too have evolved.
For example, consider mosquito bites. The reason why mosquitos are able to locate human beings and so bite them is that humans naturally give off CO2 in which mosquitoes are attracted to. When mosquitoes sense CO2 they are guided to bite. Our bodies naturally releasing CO2 is a cue for mosquitoes to bite us. Yet, by no means do we signal this. Therefore, we do not communicate with mosquitoes.
How often do we mistake our social cues for true instances of communication?
It happens a lot, and it should not be too hard to imagine how. Think about the various social-walls humans have. We say things we do not mean all the time. We incentivize saying manipulative-loaded things for the purpose of guiding the behaviorisms and thoughts of others. We even say misleading things for the very purpose of getting someone to think the very opposite of the thing that is in our mental state. At times, it almost seems like we aim to achieve something more like misalignment, rather than coordination. Thus, communication, insofar as it is assumed to be the coordination of our mental states, is not something we humans either always achieve or seek to achieve.
For example, I see this happen readily with my girlfriends when they are dating. The way the story usually goes is that the guy one of them has been seeing for some time maybe forgets to call them on a night they expected a call, or maybe messes up on their dinner order, and as a result, they become extremely upset.
I wish I was kidding. Yet, I am serious, and when these scenarios arise, instead of communicating what is wrong in accordance with a social sign. A lot of the times, my friends rely on social cues such as silence to get their point across. Or, sometimes when they are asked what is wrong they will even claim that it is, ‘nothing.’
The ways in which human beings utilize social-cues as opposed to signs can be explained in a variety of other ways. Yet, I truly believe that for something to be communication it must be coordinated. Cues are not enough.