Different types of communication happen together or simultaneously. For example, you may read a memo (written) to a person in a meeting (interpersonal) while you are sitting in a chair, grimacing (nonverbal). However, by recognizing the modes in which you are communicating, you are better able to choose strategies to communicate more effectively. For instance, let’s take the scenario that I just described. Perhaps I am unhappy about the memo, but I do not want the others in the meeting to realize that I am not pleased. By paying attention to my nonverbal communication, I can adjust my unwanted nonverbal communication and more effectively send my message to the others in the room.
Those who study the communication process identify five key components of communication:
1. STIMULUS — some event or action that creates a need to communicate. For example, you’ve just been promoted — you need to tell someone! Or, you witness a crime — the police want as much information as you can provide.
2. FILTER — each person’s unique impression of reality. We all bring a set of filters and biases to each situation; they determine how we “see” things and how we react to them. Since no two of us have had _exactly_ the same life experiences, we each bring a different perspective to things. Language is comprised of hundreds of words that can mean different things to different people. Some common filters include: age, gender, education level, status or authority levels, past experience, level of knowledge about the subject matter.
3. MESSAGE — composed of verbal and non-verbal symbols, this is the information you’re trying to transmit. Words alone are often not enough — we use body language, volume of voice, pace, tone, color, formatting tools and a host of other techniques to help insure that our message is understood.
4. MEDIUM — the form the message takes — oral or written; verbal or non-verbal.
5. DESTINATION — as our message enters the sensory environment of the receiver, control passes from the sender to receiver.
All communication requires a Sender and a Receiver. Problems with the communication process can originate with either person. There are two basic forms of communication: one-way and two-way. An example of one-way is this lecture — I type, you read — right now there’s nothing else happening. Two-way communication begins to happen when you respond to my message, when you provide feedback that helps me know whether or not my message was understood as I intended. Without that feedback, the chance for comments, questions and discussion, the sender is left in the dark, not knowing if the message was “heard” and how it was interpreted. Good communication should be a two-way exchange of information.
Communication = Sender + Message + Receiver
but the sender must always consider the receiver, and how he/she may interpret the message. Consider all possible filters, biases and distractions that may prevent the receiver from accurately getting the message.
Ideally, each time you communicate you begin the process by doing an “audience analysis” of the receiver, so that your message can be sent in a way that facilitates understanding.
It is important to understand that these components we’ve noted are interdependent, or do not happen individually. Rather, they work together to form a communication chain. Next time you have a miscommunication, try to pick out what element is not working. Is there too much noise in the room? Perhaps the message was unclear? Being able to decipher where the problem lies in the chain can help you to fix that link.