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Understanding the Communication Process - The Key to Organisational Success

The process by which one person or a group of persons receive an increment of information which has some value for either sender or receiver either by way of knowledge addition or entertainment or acquisition of energy to act or persuasion to buy or act as required by the sender is the process of communication.

The Process of Communication

The critical part of communication is the information, which is being transferred. Information may be in any form- ranging from hand signals to public speech, from email to detailed contract, from one word greeting to a lengthy letter, from a message on a notice board of a school to a full page advertisement on a daily, from a hint with raised eyebrows to five-minute hug, from a memo from a superior or subordinate to a HR manual and so on. For the transfer of the information or the message, certain vehicle or medium is employed, which loads itself with it and passes it on to the intended receivers. Paper, phone, one-to-one meeting, public meeting, conversation, hoarding, newspaper, words written or spoken, body gestures, smile, books etc are the vehicles or media. The way the vehicles take and transport the information in such a way that the receiver understands it as it should be is the communication process. The medium or the sender or the receiver characteristically distorts the information, which in one way or other contributes fully or partly to the failure of the communication in accomplishing the purpose intended.

Two important stages of communication are a) encoding and b) decoding. The process involved in these two stages is a potential source of communication failure. Encoding is translation or conversion of the idea or intention or message into words or signals so that receiver would reconvert the same as intended by the sender. Decoding is what the receiver does to reconvert the received words or signals into the idea or intention or message as originally intended by the sender. The problems associated with encoding or decoding are due to the fact that words or signals have multiple meanings and thus there is a possibility of either use of wrong words or wrong signals or understanding them in a way different from what is originally intended.

Understanding of the process of communication would facilitate transactions. Else, the there would be no action at all or delayed action if at all there is some action or wrong action or relationships turning bad and so on. For instance, a boss tells his secretary that a meeting with contractors is urgent. But he finds to his surprise that a meeting has been convened quickly the next day morning, but it clashed with another program, which the secretary is not aware. The boss, in this case, while being busy with office routine overlooked the process involved in passing messages and the attendant chances of communication going wrong in many of the stages. He failed to specify the time. But the secretary understood it as next day morning. This illustrates how the process involved in encoding and decoding goes wrong and thus it springs surprises.

All the elements involved in communication which constitute the communication process are a) sender b) receiver c) message c) encoding d) decoding e) channel f) noise g) feedback.

The following brief discussion explains the process of communication.

Sender: The point from where the message originated, here the boss, is the sender. The action intended to happen out of this message is convening of a meeting urgently, but definitely not the next day morning.

Message: Message is the essential content of communication or information intended to be passed. The request for convening of meeting is the message.

Receiver: The person who has to take delivery of message is the receiver. Here the secretary is the receiver whose job is to understand exactly and act on it as intended by the sender.

Encoding: The idea of convening a meeting, in this instance, has been converted into words, probably with facial expressions signaling the urgency of meeting. Such process of converting an idea is words or expressions is encoding.

Channel: The encoded message needs a vehicle or a medium to be transported from sender to receiver. The vehicle may be a paper or a telephone or Internet or meeting or conversation. In the present example, oral communication made by the boss to secretary is the channel.

Decoding: The process of understanding by receiver of the message given by the sender. In this example, the secretary while decoding understood the message given by the sender.

Noise: Noise is the causative factor for the message being miscommunicated or misunderstood due to the problem either in the medium chosen or encoding or decoding or in some stages of the process. In this instance, the message was not properly constructed and hence the secretary did not understand it as intended by the sender. The noise in communication is analogous to the external noise generated by cable or transmission equipment of land line telecommunication while the subscribers talk on land line phones and hence they don't listen or understand the words exchanged.

Feedback: The sender would be communicating back to the sender his or her evaluation or how he or she understood about each part of the message or word before the sender goes further in acting on the message. Here in the present example the secretary did not give her feedback about what she understood and thus the intended message failed.

While what was described in the preceding paragraphs is a general understanding of the concept of communication process, a brief study of various theories propounded till date would facilitate a fairly in-depth understanding of the communication process. The same has been attempted in the following paragraphs.

Aristotle Theory of One Way Communication: Aristotle proposed that communication has three components- sender, receiver and message. It is a simple and basic model, which, nevertheless, laid base for the rest of the theories to come up. Aristotle, at such an early period of evolution of social science, posited that communication is a one way process. It connotes that sender is responsible for good persuasive communication to happen. Neither the concept of noise nor the necessity of feedback in communication crossed his mind.

Lasswell Model of Communication: Lasswell extended the communication theory of Aristotle to include another element, channel. Three important elements or components in this theory are a) Sender b) Message c) Channel. His theory posits that it is the responsibility of the sender to see that receiver understands the message, by choosing a proper channel. It is also a one-way direction of communication as that of Aristotle.

Shannon-Weaver Model: CE Shannon and W Weaver, the engineers' duo, proposed this theory in 1949. This theory was based on a mechanistic view of communication. This is the first theory, which recognizes that the message received is not the same as the message sent. This distortion is due to the noise present in the system.

They introduced feedback as a corrective measure for noise. But, they did not integrate the feedback into the model. They proposed that feedback would start another cycle of communication process. The theory essentially posits that real communication takes place only when the message received and message sent are one and the same without any difference, which may be true for an engineering model. But the communication that takes place between individuals, which mostly happens without any machines, cannot be as perfect as assumed in the theory, since the filters in the individuals operate while both listening and sending. Filters are the attitudes, perceptions, experiences and evaluations that operate much before the actual communication starts. The action that takes place as intended is the proof of success of communication.

The elements in this model are a) Information source b) Encoding c) Channel d) Decoding e) Destination f) Noise g) Feedback.

Schramm Model of Communication: Wilburn Schramm proposed this model in 1955, which was considered to be the best of all the theories since it is evolved and comprehensive. It was proposed in three stages with some improvement in each successive stage over the previous one. These stages are also referred to as three distinct models.

In the first stage, it emphasized on encoding process and source like that of Aristotle without any recognition for noise. It too was a one-way direction of communication flow.

In the second stage, the emphasis shifted to the shared domain of experience of sender and receiver. The sender has to take into consideration, according to this theory, the needs and abilities of the receiver, which he must be aware of due to shared experience, and thus the selects the right channel and at the same time encodes the message in the way that can be understood by the receiver. Here the communication process is understood to be a two-way flow.