The most basic form of communication is a process in which two or more persons attempt to consciously or unconsciously influence each other through the use of symbols or words to satisfy their respective needs. The communication process is dynamic, continuous, irreversible, and contextual. It is not possible to participate in any element of the communication process without acknowledging the existence and functioning of the other elements. The communication process goes through several phases. Here is a description of those phases.
1. The Sender has an Idea
Difficult to think of someone “trying to make common,” to communicate, if that person has nothing to share. Yet, thinking of the sender as needing to have an idea in order to start the communication process is misleading since everything people do and everything people are communicates something to others. The intent of this phase is to start the process at a time when a sender intentionally decide to send a message to someone else. So, the sender has an idea.
2. The Sender Encodes the Idea
Human beings are not a telepathic breed. They do not transmit pure ideas from one’s brain to another. Human beings have learned to transmit symbols, representations of their ideas. These symbols are varied. Throughout the world, humans use a multitude of symbols to represent their ideas. Some symbols are linguistic (verbal or written) code developed into complex languages. Languages are many: the Morse code, the Braille language, the American Sign Language, and all the spoken and dead languages of the world. Other symbols are also in use to communicate: mathematical formulas, paintings, pictographs, hieroglyphs, traffic signals, zip codes, baseball gestures signalling instructions from managers to players.
The word TREE written on a blackboard is not a tree, nor is a drawing of a tree a tree. Both are agreed upon representation of some reality. The responsibility of the sender to choose a code that will best carry the message is obvious. When encoding one’s idea, one has to pick the code that will fit the message and that will allow the receiver to understand. So, the sender encodes the message.
3. The Sender Transmits the Message
In order for the sender to transmit the encoded message, the sender has to choose a channel, a medium through which to send the message. Senders can send information verbally or nonverbally. In nonverbal communication, messages are sent through gestures, tone of voice, use of space, etc. In verbal communication, messages are sent through speeches or through documents. In all case, messages are sent through a variety of media such a telephones, computers, papers, faxes, radios, videocassettes, DVDs, CDs, etc. Some channels are better suited for some messages than others. A five-page memo is a poor choice for an invitation to lunch. The characteristics of each medium somewhat dictates its ability to serve a given purpose. These characteristics describe the richness of a medium.
A rich medium is one that (1) can convey a message using more than one type of clue (visual and verbal and vocal), (2) can facilitate feedback, and (3) can establish personal focus. The richest medium is a face-to-face conversation. Face-to-face conversations allow the receiver to get the sender’s message verbally, through the words spoken, nonverbally, through the facial expressions or the gestures, and vocally, through the tone of voice or the pace of the speech. Face-to-face conversations allow for immediate feedback from the receiver and allow the sender to control some of the environmental noises. Face-to-face conversations can be personalized by the sender to each receiver involved. The leaner medium is a mass mailing or any kind of unaddressed documents. Junk mails send the message only in a written format, without possibility of feedback, without control of noises, without personal touches.
In addition to its richness, the medium chosen should be analyzed for its other characteristics. The speed of the medium may be a criteria for its choice. How quick is a message prepared on a given medium (memo versus formal letter) or delivered (email versus snail mail) may be the reason to choose that medium. The ability of the medium to be permanently kept may be a criteria for its choice. Whether a record of the message can be kept on a given medium (3M note versus email) may be the reason to choose that medium. Other criteria include the medium’s feedback capacity (telephone conversation versus letter), the medium’s capacity to convey the intensity or the complexity of a message (casual conversation versus formal written report), and the medium’s level of formality (email versus formal letter) or level of confidentiality (sealed hand-delivered letter versus fax). The sender is responsible for choosing the medium that will convey the message efficiently and effectively. When choosing a media, one has to choose one that will convey the message properly to the intended audience. So, the sender transmits the message.
4. The Receiver Gets the Message
Unless he or she has a hearing problem or he or she is affected by noises distorting the reception of the message, the receiver receives the signal sent by the sender.
5. The Receiver Decodes the Message
The receiver always decodes the message using his or her knowledge of the code used to encode the message. A receiver with a poor knowledge of the language used will likely decode the message poorly. A receiver trying to decode contradictory verbal and nonverbal messages will likely decode the intended message incorrectly. The receiver chooses the code he or she will use to decode the message. Choosing the wrong code is like using the wrong key, the message will not yield its secret if the wrong code is used. The receiver will choose a code based on his or her background and his or her environment. The receiver has the responsibility of choosing the right code to decode the message. More fundamentally, the receiver also has the responsibility of listening to the sender. So, the receiver decodes the message.
6. The Receiver Send Feedback to the Sender
Using the same phases as the sender, the receiver send a message back to the sender providing information on his or her level of comprehension of the message.
Noises or Barriers to Communication Process
Throughout the communication process, unintentional interference’s occur, distorting or interrupting the process. These interference’s are called noises. Noises can be real noises, auditory stimuli, like phones ringing, people talking, or street workers jack hammering. Noises are also distractions like a streaker running across a stage during a commencement address. Noises are distortions as well: static over a phone, solar flares altering a television’s reception, or psychological illnesses modifying how people perceive the world. Communication without noises has yet to happen. Therefore, recognizing the sources of noise and attempting to minimize its effect is essential to improving the efficiency of one’s communication.
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