Communication is “the transition of information and meaning from one individual or group to another“ (Guffey, Almonte & Karka 2011). The linear (mathematical) model of communication suggests that communication moves only in one direction. That is, the process of communication includes the sender who encodes the idea into a message and uses a certain channel (medium) to send it to a receiver who decodes the message (Wood 2009). Anything that interferes with, or changes, the original encoded meaning is labeled as a noise.
However, communication is a far more complex process. Thus, a person can send and receive verbal and nonverbal signals at the same time, therefore he or she acts both as a sender and a receiver. The transitional model acknowledges that a sender and a receiver can be encoding and decoding messages simultaneously and, accordingly, defines them as communicators (Wood 2009). It also recognizes that communicators create and interpret messages within personal fields of experience, internal context. Hence, a new component is introduced to the communication process.
Key Components of Communication Process
The process of communication generally involves six key components: context, sender (encoder), message, medium, receiver (decoder), and feedback (Wood 2009; Mortensen 2009).
Context refers to an external stimulus (a meeting, letter, telephone call, etc.) which motivates a sender to respond and internal stimuli (opinion, attitude, likes, emotions, experience, etc.) which define how well the message is communicated and perceived.
A sender (an encoder) is the person who has an idea and uses a combination of symbols, words, gestures, etc. to best encode it into a message. Depending on the medium used, it can be either speaker or writer.
Message is the information that is either intentionally or unintentionally exchanged between a sender and a receiver.
Medium is the communication channel used to communicates the message. For instance, air is the medium for oral messages, while paper or a computer screen is the medium for written messages.
A receiver (decoder) is the person who perceives and interprets the message based on context. It can be either listener of a reader.
A feedback is the most important component of communication which signals the effectiveness of communication.
Encoding versus Decoding
The sender initiates communication by encoding his idea or thought into a form of sounds, words, symbols, movements, etc. The encoded message is affected by the four conditions, namely the sender’s communicative skills, attitudes, knowledge, and socio-cultural status (Guffey, Almonte & Karka 2011).
Once the message has been encoded and transmitted through the message channel, the intended receiver must decode the message. The decoding processinvolves translating of what has been communicated into an understandable for the receiver form. Like encoding, the decoding process is influenced by the receiver’s background. Effective communication takes place only if the encoding process is correct and the decoding process is correct, that is when the intended meaning was transferred from the sender to the receiver.
The Role of Nonverbal Communication
Nonverbal communications is usually understood as sending and receiving wordless messages through a number of channels. People can communicate wordless messages through personal space, posture, gestures, eye contact, touch, adornment, physiologic responses, position, facial expression, clothing, hairstyle, paralanguage, locomotion, context, and time. Either conscious or unconscious, nonverbal messages communicate a rich variety of meanings. However, they cannot be read alone, rather, the situation and the verbal message determine the appraisal (Wood 2009).
Words seldom tell the whole story. Nonverbal cues, linked with spoken language, add a lot to the literal meaning of the message. They aid communication process by presenting a world of nuances, including the sender’s feelings and attitudes. Additionally nonverbal cues help to understand the message when the verbal and nonverbal cues contradict. While some messages are conscious and can be mimicked, most of them are carried out at a subconscious or at least a low-awareness level. Accordingly, they convey the genuine idea of the message. In contradictory situations receivers tend to pay more faith in nonverbal cues. Therefore, it is often said that actions speak louder than words in a contradictory situation.
Silence as a Type of Nonverbal Communication
Indeed, some messages can be sent without a single word been pronounced. Silence serves as a type of nonverbal communication. It is often defined as “an absence of speech or noise” and can be interpreted as inaction (Robbins 2002). However, silence can be a powerful communication tool. Like other nonverbal cues, it helps to understand the attitude, feelings, emotions, mood, and position of communicators. Therefore, the real meaning of the message is often said to be buried in silence.
Silence can convey a variety of meanings which should be interpreted based on context. Communicators can use it as a means of refusing to engage in communication. Likewise, it can be used to regulate the flow of conversation. Additionally, silence can mean someone is thinking, is anxious and fearful of speaking, and it can signal disagreement, dissent, frustration, or anger (Wood 2009, p. 137). The combination of verbal and nonverbal messages can help to recognize the role of silence in a particular context.
Advantages of Formal Small-group Networks
Communication in within an organization can be either formal or informal. Formal networks follow the authority chain, and are limited to task-related communication. Communication in formal networks is typically vertical. In other words, information flows from the top management to the middle level managers, operational management, and finally, to the staff. There are three common types of formal small-group networks are: the chain, wheel, and circle (Robbins 2002; Vanita 2003).
Communication in the chain network rigidly follows the formal chain of command (Vanita 2003). Therefore, it is characterized by high accuracy.
Similarly, the wheel network is provides high accuracy. Like the chain network, the wheel relies on the leader, who is the central element of the group’s communication. Another advantage of this type of network is that it facilitates the emergence of a leader (Robbins 2002).
The circle type is the best of network in terms of member satisfaction (Vanita 2003). It permits all group members to actively communicate with each other. It is also effective if the management is concerned with the speed of information flow.
Informal Networks and Rumors
The informal oral communication network is often referred to as a grapevine. It is an important part of any organization’s communication network while it helps employees learn more about what is happening in the organization and how they, in turn, might be affected by it. Often grapevine is more effective than the formal line in passing information, obtaining feedback, solving problems, and revising procedure.
Informal communication network is characterized by the free flow of information, skipping authority levels, and extensive use of rumors. Rumors act as both a filter and a feedback mechanism. Rumors respond to confusing issues that people find important and anxiety-provoking (Robbins 2002). Rumor is a type of information is conveyed informally from one person to another, and the truthfulness of it cannot be verified. Typically, rumors arise as a result of inefficient formal communication within an organization or a lack of a reliable source of information.
Electronic messages have speed up the pace of communication by reducing the time spent on writing, editing, and saving the messages and increasing the speed of information transfer as compared to traditional channels of communication. Similarly, instant messaging allows instantaneous exchange of information. Emails have also reduced the number of memos, letters, and phone calls used to communicate. Another benefit of electronic messages is that they can be easily distributed and save the cost otherwise might be spent on printed communication. Lastly, email enables both the sender and receiver to keep a record of the communication.
However, excessive amount of electronic messages can cause information overload. In addition, both emails and instant messaging cannot be used to convey sensitive information (layoffs, plant closings, and financial data) (Robbins 2002). Finally, electronic communication lacks nonverbal cues which are crucial for understanding of the message.
Challenges in Managing Information
There are some barriers to effective communication. The key challenges in managing information can be attributed to filtering, selective perception, information overload, emotions, language and culture differences, and gender styles (Robbins 2002).
Filtering occurs when a sender purposely manipulates information so that the receiver can perceive it easily and favorably. Selective perception refers to the way the communicators use their needs, motivation, experience, and other personal characteristics to encode and decode a meaning or an idea. Another challenge in information management evolves as a result of information overload. Thus, when the amount of information exceeds an individuals’ finite capacity for processing data, they tend to select, ignore, or pass over information. Problems may also arise as a result of differences in the role which men and women attribute to communication. The way the receiver feels can also influence how he or she interprets information. For example, extreme emotions are likely to hinder effective communication.
Language Difficulties in Cross-cultural Communication
Cross-cultural differences create the potential for emergence of communication barriers. Firstly, communication problems may arise as a result of interpretation of the semantic meaning by the receiver and the senders (Mortensen 2009). Thus, one language might have a word to denote some concept, while another one might lack it. Therefore, some words are untranslatable across languages due to differences in semantics. Secondly, differences in word meaning may pose barriers to cross-cultural communication. Thirdly, communication is affected by tone differences which change depending on the context. Finally, languages differences imply that speakers view the world differently. Accordingly, perception determines how and what an individual takes from environment (Adler 1997). In other words, culture designates what we pay attention to and what we ignore. In such a way, Japanese and German, for instance, will not only communicate in different ways but also experience a situation differently.
High-context versus Low-context Cultures
Communication difficulties may arise as a result of different communication styles. Depending on the importance to which context influences meaning, high and low context cultures are generally distinguished. Differences in communication styles determine how much of the meaning people encode into actual words. Thus, people from high context cultures (China, Vietnam, and Saudi Arabia) tend to be indirect and formal communicators (Robbins 2002). They combine both verbal and nonverbal messages to convey the entire meaning. However, the verbal message carries less information and the receiver often has to read between the lines.
On the contrary, in low-context cultures (Europe and North America), people translate a large part of the meaning into an explicit code (Robbins2002). They prefer direct and informal communication patterns. Communicators from low-context cultures rely heavily on the literal and precise meaning of the words. Additionally, they commonly use written communication.
Communication is an integral part of human life. This very complex, multilayered and dynamic process is highly dependent on the perception, interpretation and evaluation of verbal and non-verbal as well as consciously versus unconsciously sent messages. While the senders and receiver have different backgrounds, the encoded message never corresponds to the decoded one received. Misperceptions, misinterpretation, and misevaluation of the message resulting from differences in context can hinder communication process. Therefore, enhanced communication skills are needed to ensure effective transfer of ideas.
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