The Nature and Process of Communication
“For communication to be effective, there has to be both information and meaning. And meaning requires communication.”
—Peter F. Drucker
COMMUNICATION AT WORK
Mr Dutta’s supervisor assigned him the task of meeting two of the company’s most important clients on a given day. One of the meetings was more urgent, so Mr Dutta decided to see that client first. However, the meeting took much longer than expected and, as a result, he was quite late for his meeting with the second client.
As soon as the meeting with the first client ended, Mr Dutta had tried to contact the second client, but was not able to speak with him or leave a message. In the meanwhile, Mr Dutta’s supervisor had spoken with the second client and was informed that Mr Dutta had not reached there.
At the end of the day, when Mr Dutta reported back to the office, his supervisor was furious with him. He tried his best to explain why he had been delayed, but the supervisor refused to listen. Mr Dutta thus failed to convince him that it was not his fault at all. He felt frustrated by the close-mindedness of his supervisor. He realized that one of the most difficult aspects of communication is to explain and convince, especially if the other person is already conditioned by some negative or contradictory communication from another source.
Upon completion of this chapter, you should be able to:
Know the principal concepts of communication.
Understand the communication process and its elements.
Know why communication succeeds or fails.
Recognize the techniques that help in communicating a message accurately.
Understand the universal elements in communication.
The skills of effective communication do not come automatically to most people. As a result, human beings are often poor communicators. Many people rarely realize that failure to achieve one’s objectives in relationships, negotiations, or decision-making processes, is, to quite a large extent, owing to a failure in communicating one’s purpose and ideas accurately to others. This may be a failure to communicate the content of the message, the form of the message, or both. Instances of such failures in communication are common in personal and organizational communications. It is common to hear colleagues or friends say something like, “Sorry, I did not realize that you wanted me to…”, “I would have changed the arrangement, but nobody told me…”, or even, “Well, I did not know you were to leave so soon…” and “But what was the point of this discussion?” Each of these remarks indicates the regret and disappointment felt by the speaker for having failed to live up to what was expected of him or her. Such remarks indicate a failure in communication. And when communication fails, the intended result is adversely affected. For instance, consider a situation in which the vice-president of a company asks his secretary to call an urgent meeting of all the managers, but, to his surprise, learns that the meeting has been scheduled for the next morning instead of the same day as he had expected. The secretary thought the “urgent” meant “serious” and not “immediate”. In this instance, the receiver missed the purpose of communication because the vice-president did not clearly and precisely specify the time of the meeting. The secretary must have regretted that the vice-president’s intended purpose was not accomplished because of this miscommunication. Sometimes, the failure to communicate successfully can be very disappointing, as can be seen in Communication Snapshot 1.1.
Ritushree is a regional sales manager with Titan in Chennai. She reads about an upcoming B2B international trade conference in Mumbai. She is interested in attending it and immediately writes to the national sales manager, Sumit Chakraborti, at the head office in Bangalore, describing the conference and its relevance to their work. Her note is given in Exhibit 1.1.
National Sales Manager
Titan India Limited
Dear Mr Chakraborti,
An international conference on B2B trade, which would be of great importance for us, is being held in Mumbai. The enclosed brochure shows that the business information to be shared at the conference would be of great value in expanding our corporate sales business. The registration fee is only Rs. 5,000, and the cost of travel and stay is about Rs. 8,000. Hence, Rs. 13,000 will be required per person. I am informing you about the conference now so that you can take a decision in time for me to make the necessary arrangements for train/flight bookings and hotel accommodations.
The national sales manager was thrilled to receive the memo and wrote back immediately to Ritushree. His response is given in Exhibit 1.2.
Thanks for informing me about the B2B conference in Mumbai. I will certainly attend it. Please make all the necessary arrangements for me as suggested in your memo.
This response left Ritushree feeling quite frustrated. She was perplexed about her supervisor’s decision to exclude her and instead attend the conference himself. Unfortunately, she did not realize that her message to him was not precise and clear. It was ambiguously worded, using phrases such as “importance for us” and “expanding our business”. She was looking for permission to attend the conference herself, but she had failed to clearly say so in her memo. She started her communication by praising the conference, but instead, she should have begun by directly asking for permission to attend the conference.
The word communication is derived from the Latin communis, which means “common”. It refers to a natural activity of all humans, which is to convey opinions, feelings, information, and ideas to others through words (written or spoken), body language, or signs. George Vardman defines effective communication as “purposive symbolic interchange resulting in workable understanding and agreement between the sender and the receiver”.1 This interchange of information, ideas, and thoughts may occur via different modes: words (oral and written), signs, and gestures.
The word communication is derived from the Latin communis, meaning “common”. It refers to a natural activity of all humans, which is to convey opinions, feelings, information, and ideas to others through words (written or spoken), body language, or signs.
Emphasizing the processes of telling, listening, and understanding involved in the act of communicating with other people, Keith Davis2 says that communication is “the transfer of information and understanding from one person to another person. It is a way of reaching others with facts, ideas, thoughts and values. It is a bridge of meaning among people so that they can share what they feel and know. By using this bridge, a person can cross safely the river of misunderstanding that sometimes separates people.”
One way to classify communication is according to the number of persons who receive the message.
Know the principal concepts of communication.
- Intrapersonal communication is talking to oneself in one’s own mind. Examples are soliloquies or asides in dramatic works.
- Interpersonal communication is the exchange of messages between two people. Examples are conversations, dialogues, or interviews in which two persons interact (others may also be present as audience). An author communicates interpersonally with his or her reader, who is always present as a silent audience in the author’s mind while writing. A letter is also an example of interpersonal communication between the writer and the person to whom it is addressed.
- Group communication can be among small or large groups, such as an organization, club, or classroom, in which all individuals retain their individual identities.
- Mass communication is when a message is sent to large groups of people, for example by newspaper, radio, or television. In this process, each receiver is a faceless individual with almost no opportunity for response or feedback.
Communication can also be classified on the basis of the medium employed.
- Verbal communication means communicating with words, written or spoken. Verbal communication consists of speaking, listening, writing, reading, and thinking.
Non-verbal communication includes the use of pictures, signs, gestures, and facial expressions for exchanging information between persons. It is done through sign language, action language, or object language.
Non-verbal communication accompanies the acts of speaking and writing. It is a wordless message conveyed through gestures (signs), movements (action language), and pictures/clothes (object language). Further, non-verbal communication is characterized by personal space (proxemics), body language (kinesics), touch (haptics), eyes (oculesics), sense of smell (olfactics), and time (chronemics).
All these aspects of non-verbal communication need to be understood as they affect and, at times, contradict verbal communication. We shall discuss them in detail in Chapter 7.
- Meta-communication is when the speaker’s choice of words unintentionally communicates something more than what the words themselves state. For example, the remark, “I've never seen you so smartly dressed” could be a compliment, but could also mean that the regular attire of the listener needs improvement.
Any communication that involves the use of words—whether it consists of speaking, listening, writing, reading, or thinking—can be classified as verbal communication.
Non-verbal communication includes the use of sign language, action language, or object language. It is present in all acts of speaking and writing.
Broadly speaking, in business, we communicate to: (a) inform and (b) persuade. These two goals are usually present in the mind of the person initiating the communication, as is seen in sales letters and advertisements. However, he or she may at times seek only to inform—as scientific writings do. Conversely, the person initiating the communication may aim more to persuade the reader, as journalistic writings and opinion editorials do.
Communication to inform (expository communication) is directed by the desire to expose, develop, and explain the subject. Its focus is the subject of the communication. For example, consider these short, expository pieces of writing:
- Farming provides most of the food we eat. Our chief food crops are cereals or grains. Cereals include maize, rice, and wheat. We also grow barley and gram.
- Flies are our deadly enemies because they feed on dirt and rubbish. When they crawl over meat, sweetmeats, and cakes with their dirty legs, they leave all kinds of germs behind and, thus, poison our food.
Clearly, in these two passages, the focus is on the subjects “our food” and “flies, our deadly enemy”. The logical presentation of facts informs us about the topics being discussed, and the danger associated with flies in the second passage is clearly conveyed.
A communicator may seek primarily to persuade the reader ore receiver of the message. In such a form of communication, the focus is on the receiver. Essentially, all communication is a deliberate and intentional act of persuasion. A persuasive communicator wants the reader to understand the message and to be influenced by it.
Consider HDFC’s “Savings/Current Account” advertisement in Exhibit 1.3, which says: “Now opening a Savings/Current Account with HDFC Bank is extremely rewarding.” This handbill is reader-centric. The purpose of the message is not just to inform readers about a new savings and current account, but to persuade them to open such an account with HDFC Bank. Note how different adverbs and adjectives are chosen to draw the reader’s attention. The adverb “now” is placed at the head (beginning) of the advertisement. This is the most important position in the structure of the sentence or paragraph. In the subject position, the adverb “now” seeks to persuade readers that until now no bank offered the convenience, benefit, and satisfaction of HDFC Bank’s savings/current account. Similarly, the phrase, “extremely rewarding” aims at impressing the reader with the extraordinary operational convenience, monetary benefit, and personal satisfaction HDFC Bank offered its savings and current account holders.
Essentially, all communication is a deliberate and intentional act of persuasion. A persuasive communicator wants the reader or receiver to understand the message and to be influenced by it.
As one can gather from the HDFC advertisement, business communication often needs to be persuasive. Exhibit 1.4 analyses an example of a persuasive business letter.
The process of communication begins with a person’s desire to share or exchange an idea, thought, or feeling with another person or persons. It basically involves a sender, a message, a medium, and a receiver.
The earliest conceptualization of communication by Harold Lasswell involved the following five basic questions:
- Says what?
- To whom?
- In which channel?
- With what effect?
Communication was considered a one-way process marked by the flow of information from a sender to a receiver.
Early ideas of communication considered it a one-way (linear) process marked by the flow of information from a sender to a receiver (see Exhibit 1.5).
According to this linear view, the receiver passively receives the message and acts as directed or desired by the sender. Communication is intended to control/manipulate the receiver. It is assumed that the message, while passing through the medium chosen by the sender, reaches the receiver without any distortion or change.
C. E. Shannon and W. Weaver3 were the first to point out that in actual practice, messages can be changed or blocked. Shannon’s model of communication was first published in the Bell System Technical Journal. It was based on the mathematical or mechanistic view of the communication process, in which the basic problem is that the message received is not the same as the message sent. He attributed the loss to noise. The Shannon model, co-authored with Weaver, was brought out later in The Mathematical Theory of Communication in 1949. Weaver introduced the idea of feedback as a corrective counter to noise. However, in the Shannon–Weaver model, feedback was not considered to be an integral component because the model conceived the communication process as a linear act and feedback as a new act of communication. This is why in the Shannon–Weaver model shown in Exhibit 1.6, feedback is represented by dotted lines.
Source: Based on C. Shannon and W. Weaver, The Mathematical Theory of Communication (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1949), 5.
Understand the communication process and its elements.
The model is based on the idea that communication occurs only when the message has been received and that it should be received unchanged, as far as possible. This is, of course, a theoretical concept of perfect communication. In real life, filters in the minds of both the sender and the receiver affect the content of the message. To an extent, feedback corrects the distortions and helps complete the cycle of communication (see Exhibit 1.7).
The Shannon–Weaver model comprises the following basic elements:
- Information source (ideation): The communication process begins with the information source. The sender has some raw information in the form of outside experience. His or her intent changes that information into a message to be communicated. The source of a message, therefore, is the information source of the communication process.
- Encoding (transmitter): After having thought about the message, the sender puts it into words (verbal symbols or any other symbolic form of expression). This process is called encoding.
- Channel (transmission): An appropriate medium—oral, written, or electronic, in code, or a signalling system—chosen to send the message is known as the channel.
- Receiver (decoding): The receiver gets the message through decoding—by receiving, understanding, and interpreting the message.
- Acting: The communication process ends with the receiver putting the interpreted message into action, as intended by the sender.
The communication process begins with the information source.
We see that communication completes a full circle, bringing together the sender and the receiver to become two aspects of a single purpose. It is this unifying process and role of communication that has made modern management organizations consider communication as an essential skill for successful managers. According to Davis4, “The only way that management can be achieved in an organization is through the process of communication.”
A group of people are involved in completing the cycle of communication, in which the receiver also acts as the sender of the feedback to the transmitter (sender).
- Noise: The process of communication is, however, open to “noise”, which prevents or distorts communication. Noise may be described as any distortion or hindrance that prevents the transmission of the message from the (mind of) the sender to the (mind of) the receiver.
For some communication theorists, noise basically refers to any external disturbance in the physical environment surrounding the act of communication, or noise in the machine used for communicating the message, such as telephone disturbances, poor print, or bad handwriting.
Communication distortions caused by subjective factors, such as the mindset of the sender or the receiver, are attributed to filters.
- Filters: Filters are mental in nature. They include attitudes, beliefs, experiences, consciousness of personal status, and the ability to think clearly. Misunderstandings and different problems may arise as the message is transmitted through the filters of both parties, such as low interest or involvement in the message or distraction and fatigue causing loss of concentration.
More recent conceptualizations of the communication process look at communication as a two-way process. A group of people are involved in completing the cycle of communication, in which the receiver also acts as the sender of feedback to the original transmitter (sender). Thus, both the sender and receiver play reciprocal and reversible roles, as in telemarketing or call-centre communications. Consider the two-way flow of communication illustrated in Exhibit 1.8.
The two-way concept of communication is more contemporary. It considers communication essentially to be a reciprocal process and a mutual exchange of messages. It makes no sharp distinction between the roles of the sender (source) and the receiver, because the same person plays both roles, often simultaneously.
The two-way concept of communication is more contemporary. It considers communication essentially to be a reciprocal process and a mutual exchange of messages.
The earlier linear view treated the sender as the determiner of the message and its meaning. The two-way concept involves the receiver as an active agent in constructing the meaning of the message. The meaning of the message is perceived in the context of the receiver’s experiences, beliefs, and feelings. The intended and received meanings may result in common interpretations of situations, ideas, schemes, and events to the extent that people live and work together and develop common attitudes and viewpoints with regards to their organization or society. The two-way communication process is also known as transactional communication, which has been explained in Exhibit 1.9.
|Communication source||An organization’s news bulletin containing a policy to be circulated among all employees|
|Encoder||The editor/person who writes the policy|
|Message||The content (policy details) and the words/pictures used to convey the policy to employees|
|Channel||The medium—in this case the news bulletin|
|Decoder/receiver||The audience of the message—those for whom the policy is intended and who read the bulletin|
|Feedback||Impact/effectiveness of the communication in achieving its objectives|
The two-way communication process is also known as transactional communication.
Communication is purposive in nature. It achieves success by manipulating the target audience through information and persuasion to effect the intended action.
The various elements of communication are briefly described to explain the process of communication.
- Message: The message is the information, written or spoken, which is to be sent from one person to another. Here, the word person represents the two ends of a system and may represent an individual, a group of individuals, or even electronic machines.
The most important characteristic of a message as an element of communication is that it is organized, structured, shaped, and selective—a product of the pre-writing or pre-speaking stage. It exists in the mind of the sender (communicator).
- Sender: The person who transmits, spreads, or communicates a message or operates an electronic device is the one who conceives and initiates the message with the purpose of informing, persuading, influencing, or changing the attitude, opinion, or behaviour of the receiver (audience/listener). He or she decides the communication symbols, the channel, and the time for sending the message after carefully considering the total context in which communication takes place.
- Encoding: Encoding is the process of changing the message (from its mental form) into symbols, that is, patterns of words, gestures, or pictorial forms or signs. In short, it means putting ideas, facts, feelings, and opinions into symbols, which can be words, actions, signs, and pictures. The communication symbols are selected by the sender keeping in mind the receiver’s ability to understand and interpret them correctly.
- Channel: This is the vehicle or medium that facilitates the sending of the message to the receiver. The medium of communication can be written, oral, audio-visual, or live. Again, the written medium can be in the form of letters, memos, reports, manuals, notices, circulars, questionnaires, minutes of meetings, and so on. Similarly, the oral medium can be in the form of a dialogue, a face-to-face interview, a telephone conversation, a conference recording, and so on. The channel (medium) can also be visual, such as hoardings, posters, slides, documentary films, television programmes, and advertisements.
- Receiver: A receiver is the targeted audience of the message. The receiver understands, interprets, and tries to perceive the total meaning of the message as transmitted by the sender.
- Decoding: This is the act of translating symbols into their ordinary meanings. However, the total meaning lies in the meanings of the words (symbols) together with the tone and attitude of the sender as reflected by the structure of the message and the choice of words used by him or her (the sender).
- Acting: Communication manipulates the receiver to act in a desired manner. A receiver’s response action shows that he or she has understood the message. Finally, the receiver completes the chain of communication by responding to the message.
- Feedback: This is the loop that connects the receiver with the sender, who, in turn, acts as a feedback receiver and, thus, learns that communication has been accomplished. Feedback plays an important role in communication. It helps the communicator know if there are any corrections or changes to be made in the proposed action. It also ensures that the receiver has received the message and understood it as intended by the sender.
The written medium can be in the form of letters, memos, reports, manuals, notices, circulars, questionnaires, minutes of meetings, and so on.
The channel (medium) can also be visual, such as hoardings, posters, slides, documentary films, television programmes, and advertisements.
In management, the decision-making process is greatly helped by receiving feedback from those who are directly concerned with the changes proposed in the communication.
In management, the decision-making process is greatly helped by receiving feedback from those who are directly concerned with the changes proposed in the communication. The process of feedback assures the initiator of the action of its correctness and impact.
The following are the main difficulties usually experienced by communicators:
- Ensuring that the interpreted meaning affects behaviour in the desired way
- Achieving accuracy in communicating the message
- Ensuring that the message conveys the desired meaning
The purpose of two-way communication is to establish understanding and rapport between the sender (speaker) and receiver (audience). However, the communicators (sender/receiver) generally experience the following difficulties:
- No perceived benefit to the audience: The receiver (listener) finds the message of no relevance or interest and, therefore, remains unresponsive.
- Noise, outside disturbance: To receive the message correctly, the receiver needs to remain attentive without being disturbed by any kind of physical, environmental, or psychological disturbance.
- Variations in listening skills: The ability to listen with comprehension is not equally developed in all persons. Some individuals, therefore, respond to communication by missing parts of the complete message.
- Cultural differences: The word culture refers to the entire system of an individual’s beliefs, social customs, and personal values. It includes the individual’s educational background and family nurturing. The problem of proper understanding arises in situations of intercultural communication because of the differences in cultures across the world.
- Complexity of subject matter/message: A difficult and involved message acts as a barrier to a smooth understanding of the message.
- Time restraints, real or perceived: Both the sender and receiver lose organized exposition and reception of the message if they are pressured by a lack of time.
- Personal biases or hostility: Prejudice and resentment towards the speaker condition the understanding of the message.
- Difficult questions: Questions regarding personal behaviour and management policies and practices may not be easy to answer. They are to be responded to with carefully considered honesty and frankness if the questioner is to be satisfied with the answer.
- Sensitive issues: A situation or subject that involves the other person’s feelings and problems needs to be dealt with sensitively and carefully, because the matter may upset people. However, it may sometimes be difficult to avoid such sensitive issues entirely.
In communication, a psycho-semantic process, the word barrier implies, mainly, something non-physical that keeps people apart or prevents activity, movement, and so on; examples are social, ethnic, and language barriers or lack of confidence. These negative forces may affect the effectiveness of communication by acting upon any or all of the basic elements of the communication process and the sender/receiver/channel. The more commonly experienced communication barriers are lack of planning, incorrect assumptions, semantic difficulties, and cultural differences. Some other barriers of communication are:
- Socio-psychological barriers
- Selective perception
- Information overload
- Loss by transmission
- Poor retention
- Goal conflicts
- Offensive style
In communication, a psycho-semantic process, the word barrier implies, mainly, something non-physical that keeps people apart or prevents activity, movement, and so on.
Broadly speaking, some of these barriers can be attributed to the sender and some to the receiver. Barriers attributable to the sender are:
- Lack of planning
- Vagueness about the purpose of communication and objectives to be achieved
- Poor choice of words, resulting in a badly encoded message
- Unshared or incorrect assumptions
- Different perceptions of reality
- Wrong choice of channel
A common barrier for the sender and the receiver can be created by the absence of a common frame of reference affecting the smooth interpretation of thoughts, feelings, and attitudes from the sender to the receiver in a specific social situation.
Barriers attributable to the receiver are:
- Poor listening skills
- Lack of interest
- Premature evaluation
- Semantic difficulties
- Different perceptions of reality
- Lack of trust
- Attitudinal clash with the sender
- Unfit physical state
A common barrier for the sender and the receiver can be created by the absence of a common frame of reference affecting the smooth interpretation of thoughts, feelings, and attitudes from the sender to the receiver in a specific social situation.
The most important aspect of human communication is the fact that it takes place in the world of reality that surrounds us.
Identification of a well-defined social context in which communication takes place helps both the sender and the receiver perceive the content of the communication in a similar way, with similar implications and meaning.
The physical noise and other faults in the surroundings and the instruments of transmission of the message relate mainly to the channel, but they may not necessarily distort the overall meaning of the total message.
Many of the barriers listed here are easy to understand. But a few of them may still need further explanation.
All communications from one person to another are made under some assumptions, which are not necessarily communicated to the other party. They may turn out to be incorrect and thus result in communication failure. For instance, we often assume that others:
- see the situation as we do.
- should feel about the situation as we do.
- think about the matter as we do.
- understand the message as we understand it.
All such assumptions may be incorrect; therefore, one should try to verify them whenever possible. That would help the communication to be more effective.
There can be many types of psychosocial barriers to communication. The key barriers are discussed here.
Consciousness of one’s status affects the two-way flow of communication. It gives rise to personal barriers caused by the superior–subordinate relationship.
Consciousness of one’s status affects the two-way flow of communication. It gives rise to personal barriers caused by the superior–subordinate relationship. A two-way vertical channel is present in most organizations, yet few subordinates choose to communicate with their superiors.
Similarly, superiors may be unwilling to directly listen or write to their subordinates and seldom accept hearing that they are wrong. Though organizations are culturally changing and adopting flat structures, the psychological distance between superiors and subordinates persists.
Perception and Reality
The most important aspect of human communication is the fact that it takes place in the world of reality that surrounds us. This world acts as our sensory environment. While we are engaged in the process of communicating, our sense organs remain stimulated by the different sensations of smell, taste, sound, forms and colours around us. All these sense perceptions received by our brain through our senses recreate within each one of us the world that exists within our mind as its content. Thus, there are two aspects of the same reality—one that actually surrounds the communicator from outside and another that is its mental representation (in his or her mind) as he or she sees it.
Know why communication succeeds or fails.
The objects that excite our five sense organs/perceptions—eyes, ears, nose, tongue (taste), flesh (touch)—are called signs. Our senses respond to these signs and we receive sensations that pass into the brain through a network of sensory nerves. Our perceptions—the mental images of the external world—are stored in our brains and form our viewpoints, experiences, knowledge, feelings, and emotions. They constitute what we really are, how we think of something, or how we feel or respond to something. These stored perceptions colour and modify whatever our brain receives from any signs, data, thoughts, or messages. That is why these conditioning perceptions existing in the brain are called filters. The mind filters the message received from the signs and gives it meaning, according to individual perception.
The objects that excite our five sense organs/ perceptions—eyes, ears, nose, tongue (taste), flesh (touch)—are called signs.
It is obvious that each individual’s filter would be unique. No two individuals have the same or similar experiences, emotional make-up, knowledge, or ways of thinking. Because filters differ, different individuals respond to signs with different understandings. The sign may be a word, gesture, or any other object of nature; each individual will respond to it in his or her own way and assign the total meaning to that sign according to his or her filter.
The presence of a unique filter in each sender and receiver of a communication causes a communication gap (distortion) in the message.
In face-to-face communication, this gap can be more easily removed. In most cases, the speaker does realize that he or she has not been correctly understood through the listener’s facial expressions, gestures, or other forms of body language. Alternatively, the listener might say, “Sorry, I didn't get you”. Of course, much depends on how formally/informally the two are related to each other in the office, workplace, or life.
But in situations in which the audience is invisible, as in written communications—letters, memos, notices, proposals, reports, and so on—the semantic gap between the intended meaning and the interpreted meaning remains unknown to the communicator and also to the unsuspecting receiver who misses the total meaning in terms of the tone, feelings, and seriousness of purpose of the sender. The feedback does help the sender, but it may be too late.
Our perceptions—the mental images of the external world—are stored in our brains and form our viewpoints, experiences, knowledge, feelings, and emotions.
Essentially, to communicate is to share information in its widest sense with others, in an intelligible, participative form through the medium of words (spoken or written), gestures, or other signs.
Two basic things stand out here. One, the message is to be both “known” and “understood” by others. Two, communication is a symbolic act, whether it is verbal or non-verbal. These two aspects—the purpose and nature of communication—act as the two determining influences in the practice of communication in all contexts of speaking or writing.
No two individuals have the same or similar experiences, emotional make-up, or ways of thinking.
Herein lies the crucial difference between effective and ineffective communication. If something is communicated and is not fully understood by the receiver, then communication has been ineffective, not fully serving the condition of being understood. If the message has been understood, the response of the receiver—the feedback—indicates this.
Keith Davis5 lays down the Rule of Five to guide the receiver to be an effective element of the communication process. “In the communication process, the role of the receiver is, I believe, as important as that of the sender. There are five receiver steps in the process of communication—receive, understand, accept, use, and give feedback. Without these steps being followed by the receiver, no communication process would be complete and successful.”
Thus, communication can be considered successful when:
- the message is properly understood.
- the purpose of the sender is fulfilled.
- the sender and the receiver of the message remain linked through feedback (see Exhibit 1.10).
Francis J. Bergin6 advocates that there are seven C’s to remember in verbal communication. These are also applicable to written communication. They are:
Recognize the techniques that help in communicating a message accurately.
- Candidness: In all business transactions, one’s view of a matter should be honest and sincere and should reject prejudice or bias. The guiding principle should be fairness to self and to others involved in the situation. Phrases that qualify observations with the words “my honest opinion” or “frankly speaking” indicate an attempt to be candid, open-hearted, and sincere. Honesty implies consideration of the other person’s (listener’s) interest and his or her (the listener’s) need to know objective facts. Thus, sharing of thoughts should be characterized by the “you” attitude.
Candid talk also exhibits the speaker’s self-confidence. In oral communication, confidence is a key element in creating an impact. When something is said without hesitation, it expresses a confident manner.
In everyday life and in business, we may see persons in power doing things such as appointing relatives to important positions, neglecting merit in assigning jobs/functions, or becoming inappropriately close to an individual or a group of individuals. Such actions are bound to emotionally alienate others from that person. Out of consideration and concern for that person’s long-term image and relationships in the organization, it is important to communicate one’s view of such administrative unfairness in an unbiased manner.
- Clarity: The principle of clarity is most important in all communications, especially in face-to-face interactions. It is not always easy to verbalize ideas accurately on the spot during conversations, presentations, or other oral forms of interaction.
Clarity requires the use of accurate and familiar words with proper intonation, stresses, and pauses. Spoken language should consist of simple words and short sentences. Thoughts should be clear and well-organized. The speaker should know what to say and why. It is a clear mind that can talk clearly and effectively.
However, in case of doubt or uncertainty due to lack of clarity of thought or expression, the listener can, in a one-to-one oral communication, seek immediate clarification from the speaker.
It is not always easy to verbalize ideas accurately on the spot during conversations, presentations, or other oral forms of interaction.
- Completeness: Clarity is ensured also by completeness of message. In conversations or oral presentations, one can easily miss some parts of the communication. It is, therefore, essential that oral presentations, discussions, or dialogues should be, as far as possible, planned and structured. Therefore, when the speaker begins the presentation, dialogue, or address, he or she should ensure that all the necessary information that listeners need or expect has been provided.
The principle of completeness requires that speakers communicate whatever is necessary, provide answers to all possible questions that could be raised, and add additional information, if necessary, as footnotes. For example, in an interview, if an interviewee fails to answer a question completely, it could imply that he or she is deliberately sidestepping a particular issue. It could also raise doubts in the audience that there is something to hide regarding that matter. In a situation where the interviewee has no information or answer or is unwilling to discuss a particular question, he or she should frankly express their inability to answer.
- Conciseness: In business and professional communication, brevity is important. One should avoid being repetitive. It is a common but erroneous assumption that repeating whatever has been said in multiple ways adds emphasis to the message.
The examples in Exhibit 1.11 are show that spoken language tends to become wordy. Fewer words should not mean less meaning. Rather, it is possible to achieve intensity and concentration without sacrificing essential meaning.
Superfluous Statements Concise Statements At this point of time … Now…, or at present… As regards the fact that… Considering … Because of the fact that… As…, or because… Are in need of … Need … In due course of time … Soon… Not very far from here … Nearby…, or close by …
- Concreteness: Concreteness means being specific and definite in describing events and things. Avoid using vague words that don't mean much. In oral communication, one cannot draw figures, tables, or diagrams to illustrate one’s point. But one can choose precise words and speak with proper modulation and force to make sounds reflect the meaning. For example, in oral communication passive voice is avoided because active voice reflects force and action. It also sounds more natural and direct. For example, no one says, “you are requested by me to visit us”. A more vivid way to express the same sentiment is, “I request you to visit us”.
- Correctness: In the spoken form of communication, grammatical errors are not uncommon. The speaker can forget the number and person of the subject of the verb if the sentence is too long. Sometimes even the sequence of tenses is incorrect. And most frequently, the use of the pronoun is incorrect, especially in indirect narration or reported speech (see Exhibit 1.12).
Incorrect Statement Correct Statement He said to me that I will surely go there. He told me that he would surely go there. Kindly explain to me this poem of Keats. Kindly explain this poem of Keats to me. I consider her as my sister. I consider her my sister. She shut the TV and then opened the taps for her bath. She turned off the TV and then turned on the taps for her bath. The stars walkas if the whole world belongs to them. The stars walkas if the whole world belonged to them. Shahzad has also claimed that a Bihar-based former junior minister and prominent Mumbai politician helped him evade arrest. Shahzad has also claimed that a Bihar-based former junior minister and a prominent Mumbai politician helped him evade arrest. The dealer agreed to either exchange the shirt or to refund the money. The dealer agreed either to exchange the shirt or to refund the money. How long has it been since you had your last promotion? How long is it since you had your last promotion? The crowd cheered him making double century. The crowd cheered his making a double century. Being an experienced manager, we are sure you can resolve the conflict. As you are an experienced manager, we are sure you can resolve the conflict. Sohan and her are equally brilliant. Sohan and she are equally brilliant. His wife is taller than him. His wife is taller than he (is tall). She is looking for who? Whom is she looking for?
- Courtesy: In conversational situations, meetings, and group discussions, an effective speaker maintains the proper decorum of speaking. One should say things assertively, but without being rude. Courtesy demands not using words that are insulting or hurtful to the listener.
In a situation where the interviewee has no information or answer or is unwilling to discuss a particular question, they should frankly express their inability to answer.
Courtesy demands not using words that are insulting or hurtful to the listener.
In business discussions, it is necessary to respect the other person by listening to him or her patiently and without interruption.
The speaker’s tone should reflect respect for their listener or audience. The pitch and tone should be level and measured rather than aggressive; they should not suggest that the speaker is talking at the listener.
There are some universal elements in all human communication:
Understand the universal elements in communication.
- The communication environment: All communicators act within the sensory environment around them, from which their senses receive competing stimuli impinging upon the content of communication.
- Use of symbols: All communicators use verbal symbols and signs such as words, body movements, facial expressions, and so on, to encode (and to decode) messages.
- The mental filter: All communicators/receivers of a message have to register, organize, transmit, receive, and interpret through their uniquely structured minds that have varying “filters”, which consist of their experiences, thoughts, and feelings.
To understand communication better, we should know the following basic facts regarding its process:
- Perfect communication is impossible: Human communication is essentially imperfect. All our communication encoding and decoding acts are conditioned by the fact that a common mental filter is not possible. Meanings differ because filters differ. Therefore, no two persons involved in an interaction will perceive the exact same meaning from a message. What they tend to have is a “workable understanding”, as Vardman puts it in his definition of communication discussed earlier.
Besides the filters, the fact that the symbols used for communicating are imprecise in their associative meanings further contributes to the imperfection of communication. Choosing correct symbols to encode an idea, thought, or feeling is not an easy task. We tend to often pick up imprecise symbols for encoding. This tendency increases the chances of misinterpretation or miscommunication between the sender and the receiver (see Exhibit 1.13).
Even the same symbols put in a different order or sequence may change the overall meaning of the message (see Communication Snapshot 1.2). Therefore, both parties, the sender and the receiver, should possess the same ability to interpret the meaning of symbols (words) and their structure (the order in which they are used).
Mr Balakrishnan, a heart patient, was considering two medical procedures: bypass surgery and angioplasty. His surgeon had told him that the angioplasty would cost slightly more than the bypass surgery. The bypass cost Rs 2.5 lakh. Mr Balakrishnan did not mind spending slightly more for the angioplasty, so he opted for it. But he was shocked to later get a bill for Rs 6.5 lakh. He was left wondering what exactly his surgeon’s “slightly more” meant.
Consider the following sentences:
The letter has been dispatched by me.
I have dispatched the letter.
The police chased the crowd.
The crowd was chased by the police.
What are you doing here?
Here, what are you doing?
The dog wagging the tail.
The tail wagging the dog.
Only you have to be there.
You have only to be there.
You have to be only there.
Also, Abhinav is going to Paris.
Abhinav is going to Paris also.
Manisha too is tired.
Manisha is too tired.
The first sentence answers the question “Has the letter been dispatched?”, whereas the second is an answer to “Who has dispatched the letter?”. There is a change in the emphasis: the first sentences emphasizes the act (of dispatching), while the second emphasizes the doer of the act (the dispatcher). To understand this subtle shift in the overall meaning of the statement, equal levels of linguistic competence are required by both the questioner and the respondent.
Similarly, in the third sentence, we are talking about the police, whereas if we change the sequence of the symbols, as we have done in the fourth sentence, the crowd becomes the subject of communication.
This can further be understood by considering the fifth and the sixth sentences. Though these sentences sound alike, they convey different meanings. The fifth sentence communicates the speaker’s surprise about a person’s presence, whereas the sixth is about the place where the person is present.
The seventh sentence indicates that the person is quiet, docile, and easily controlled. As opposed to this, the eighth sentence says that an unimportant thing/person is wrongly controlling a situation.
The ninth, tenth, and eleventh sentences show how meaning changes by changing the position of the word only. In the ninth sentence, the speaker talks about the person (you) who alone is required—meaning nobody else is required. In the tenth sentence, the speaker says that the person (you) would “do nothing” but simply be present; and, finally, in the eleventh sentence, the speaker wants the person (you) to be “there” only and nowhere else. The shift in significance relates to who, what, and where. (It may be noted that only modifies the word that immediately follows it.)
Similarly, the word also modifies the word that follows it or is placed next to it. In sentence 12, also is used to indicate that in addition to some other persons going to Paris, Abhinav too will go to Paris. In sentence 13, the change in position of also changes the meaning of the sentence. Here, also is used to indicate that Abhinav is going to Paris in addition to other places. In sentence 12, it signifies “in addition to the other persons”; in sentence 13, it means “in addition to other places”.
In sentences 14 and 15, the shift in the position of the word too changes the meaning completely. Sentence 14 implies that Manisha is tired, like other people. But, sentence 15 implies that Manisha is overtired, or that she is so tired that she cannot do any work now.
Try to imagine real-life situations in which you would communicate a feeling of surprise or delight on unexpectedly meeting a friend when you did not expect to see them.
- Meaning is not out there: By now, it must be obvious that the meaning of a sentence or paragraph is in the mind and not in the symbols. Symbols (except onomatopoeic words) are arbitrary. They have no intrinsic meaning. They stand for things, but are not the things themselves. Their meaning is conventional, commonly shared by the people belonging to a linguistic community. But the literal meaning is something that is printed in the pages of a dictionary.
The fact that the symbols used for communicating are imprecise in their associative meanings further contributes to the imperfection of communication.
Communication is a living act, performed in specific contexts, in particular situations, and with a definite goal. Thus, an effective communicator creates new meanings of symbols (words) by structuring them in strings of images of his or her mind or mental landscape.
Understanding this fundamental aspect of communication can help all receivers look for the meaning of the words (the message) that the sender thought of when choosing them. A receiver should not be satisfied with, “I think it means …”. Instead, he or she should search for what the words must have meant to the sender.
- Personality communicates: Walt Whitman7, in his famous Song of Myself, poetically brings out the dimension of communication. Of his poetic process, which is an act of communication, he says,
I celebrate myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
An effective communicator creates new meanings of symbols (words) by structuring them in strings of images of his or her mind or mental landscape.
In fact, communication in its final analysis can be seen as a projection of “myself”—how I think, feel, believe, perceive, and respond to reality. If communication is anything, it is indeed a mental representation of reality. The symbols of communication represent the perceptions of the communicator.
In this regard, the complexity of communication further arises from a truth so aptly projected by O. W. Holmes8 in his collection of essays, The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table:
There are three Johns:
- The real John; known only to his Maker.
- John’s ideal John; never the real one and often very unlike him.
- Thomas’s ideal John; never the real John, nor John’s John, but often very unlike either.
The real problem in communication is caused by Thomas’s ideal John.
In fact, it is difficult for people to communicate effectively unless they have a correct knowledge of themselves. Understanding how we see ourselves is the first step in improving our ability to communicate; we can improve this understanding by closely examining our own self-concept.
According to psychologists, there are three aspects of self-concept:
- The me that I know.
- The me that I wish I were.
- The me that I want others to see.
Some people are so perfect in projecting images of themselves to others that the real person is never displayed. This art can be advantageous to a manager and his or her personal communication skills, but if practised to the extreme can prevent effective communication and understanding.
Some people are so perfect in projecting images of themselves to others that the real person is never displayed.
To be effective as the audience (receiver), one should follow Whitman’s wisdom and practise “what I assume you shall assume”. This process is also known as “empathy”—the power or the state of imagining oneself to be another person and sharing his or her ideas and feelings. Empathy is needed for listening and is also a necessary state of mind while encoding. It allows the communicator to realize the audience’s (receiver’s) expectations, fears, emotions, needs, level of learning/knowledge, and, above all, state of mind. It is only through reciprocal empathy that people can communicate effectively in different contexts of life and business.
The electronic media have made communication instantaneous and immediate across the world. The use of telephones, voice mail, phone conferencing, video conferencing, cell phones, and e-mail as preferred modes (channels) of communication has greatly accelerated the decision-making process at all levels. Their use connects the sender and receiver in a timeless and spaceless web of communication. In a way, the online message and its immediate feedback give distant communication the force and advantages of face-to-face communication.
In business, all these electronic modes of communication are used according to the need and purpose of the communicators. E-mail, however, is the most commonly used global medium of interaction today. Even within the same organization, managers and executives prefer to communicate via e-mail instead of phone calls. These modes of communication will be discussed in detail in Chapter 9.
Social media, according to Dave Evans9, “involves a natural, genuine conversation between people about something of mutual interest, a conversation built on the thoughts and experience of the participants. It is about sharing and arriving at a collective point, often for the purpose of making a better or informed choice.” These emerging online social media, according to Susan Bratton, richly reward10 “our innate desire to connect with each other at a human level.”
Internet forums, weblogs, Twitter, message boards, Wikis, podcasts, picture-sharing sites, and other online media connect and share information in a collaborative manner. Examples of social media applications are Google (reference, social networking), Wikipedia (reference), MySpace (social networking), Facebook (social networking), Last.fm (music), YouTube (video sharing), Second Life (virtual reality), and Flickr (photo sharing).
As a social web participant, the channels one is likely to use today are SMS (texting), blogs and microblogs, video sharing, photo sharing, personal social networks, event services, e-mail, white label social networks, Wikis, podcasts (audio) and collaborative tools.
Social media are popular because they allow collaboration and creativity. The audience of social media can participate by adding comments or changing the stories themselves. The empowerment and freedom of the audience to add or create new content makes social media a process and not a static medium. Unlike direct mail or television advertising, social media are “a collaborative process through which information is created, shared, altered, and destroyed.”11 In business, politics, and personal life, social media act as a “feedback loop”. As the audience, we listen to it, learn from it, and follow it. For example, in the purchase funnel of “awareness—consideration—purchase”, social media influence the customer’s consideration to quite an extent by offering the experiences of other customers of that product. Participants believe the social message because it is based on natural, genuine conversation informed by the experience and wisdom of the multitude.
- This chapter deals with the key elements of the nature and process of communication.
- Human beings are poor communicators but our communicative competence can be improved by learning and practising effective communication skills.
- Communication has a symbolic nature and is an act of sharing one’s ideas, emotions, attitudes, or perceptions with another person or group of persons through words (written or spoken), gestures, signals, signs, or other modes of transmitting images. The transmission of ideas always encounters barriers that reduce its effectiveness.
- The essential elements of the process of communication are the message, the sender, encoding, the channel, the receiver, decoding, acting on the message, the feedback, and the communication environment.
- Both the sender and the receiver play a role in making communication effective. The sender should encode the message accurately after considering the level, expectations, and needs of the target audience (receiver); the receiver should listen or read carefully to try to understand the intended meaning of the sender.
- The universal, common elements of communication are the communication environment, the use of symbols, and the presence of mental filters.
- Some basic facts about communication are that perfect communication is impossible; the meaning of a message is in the mind/perception of the receiver; and personality affects the effectiveness of communication.
- To communicate effectively, one should develop not only skills, but also a sense of empathy with others.
Mr and Mrs Basu went to Woodland’s apparel section to buy a pullover. Mr Basu did not read the price tag on the piece he had selected. While making the payment, he asked for the price at the counter. The answer was “Rs 950”.
Meanwhile, Mrs Basu, who was still shopping, came back and joined her husband. She was glad that he had selected a nice black pullover for himself. She pointed out that there was a 25 per cent discount on that item. The person at the billing counter nodded in agreement. Mr Basu was thrilled to hear that. “That means the price of this pullover is just Rs 645. That’s fantastic,” said Mr Basu. He decided to buy another pullover in green.
In no time, he returned with the second pullover and asked the salesperson to pack both. When he received the cash memo for payment, he was astonished to find that he had to pay Rs 1,900 and not Rs 1,290 as he had expected.
Mr Basu could hardly reconcile himself to the fact that the salesperson had first quoted the discounted price, that is Rs 950. But the original price printed on the price tag was Rs 1,225.
Questions to Answer
- Identify the three sources of Mr Basu’s information about the price of the pullover.
- Discuss the main filter involved in this case.
- What should Mr Basu have done to avoid the misunderstanding?
- Who is to blame for this communication gap? Why?
- Why is communication important for good relationships and effective management?
- Why do we communicate?
- Discuss communication as a two-way process of exchange of information.
- Indicate the critical difference between successful and ineffective communication.
- Discuss the important barriers in the communication process.
- What is empathy? How does it contribute to the effectiveness of communication?
- What is noise? Elaborate the elements of noise encountered by the receiver. How can they be minimized?
- Do you agree that, in its final form, communication is a manifestation of the personalities of both the sender and the receiver? Discuss.
- How does group communication differ from mass communication? Does this difference between these two forms of communication demand greater care on the part of the communicator (sender)? Discuss.
- Do you accept that perfect communication is just an assumption and not a practical possibility? Give reasons for your argument.
- Why have communication skills become an essential requirement for a successful career in any profession? Discuss with examples.
- How does an interview/discussion conducted on television become an act of communication? Explain.
- Show how feedback acts as an essential element in the communication process.
- “The principle of completeness in communication requires that we answer all questions that may be put to us.” Elaborate.
- “All communication is manipulative in nature.” Discuss.
Analyse the communication situation given here and compose a letter on behalf of the Ministry of Defence in such a way that the message causes no disappointment to the family of the late Prem Kumar.
Shopkeeper Gives Life to Save People, No Medal in Sight 22 September 2010, NewsLine
Prem Kumar—a shopkeeper in Gaffar Market—lost his life while trying to save the lives of fellow shopkeepers and shoppers who were trapped in a fire. Almost a year after the incident, he has been awarded the prestigious Shaurya Chakra. His family was informed about the award through a letter from the Ministry of Defence.
Prem Kumar’s family, however, claims it has not received any further information about the award and all efforts to contact the government have proved futile. His aging mother recollects the family’s sense of joy and pride when they received the letter. However, there was no more news following the letter, she laments. She adds that the family has been trying to contact the government at the phone numbers provided in the letter, but the call keeps getting transferred from one person to another all the time. In the end, they assumed that her son’s name would be announced during the Republic Day parade. Much to their disappointment, they watched the entire programme on television, only to realize that Prem Kumar’s name was not mentioned during the event. Prem Kumar’s family is still holding on to the letter, wondering what their next step should be.
An official from the Defence Ministry later clarified that only Ashok Chakra awardees are called to the R-day parade. All recipients of the Shaurya Chakra will be intimated about the investiture ceremony to be held at Rashtrapati Bhawan. A medal and scroll will be handed over to the family, along with the compensation, if any, during that event.
From the given options please choose the most appropriate answer:*
- In general, human beings are:
- perfect communicators
- poor communicators
- indifferent communicators
- good communicators
- The word communication is derived from communis (Latin) which means:
- oral speech
- Meta-communication relates to the speaker’s:
- intentional choice of dress
- intentional choice of words
- unintentional choice of words
- unintentional choice of both words and dress
- Generally speaking, in business we communicate:
- only to persuade
- only to inform
- only to entertain
- to both persuade and inform
- Effective communication is essentially a:
- three-way process
- one-way process
- two-way process
- both a one-way and a two-way process
- Filters that affect the content of a message are in:
- the medium of communication
- the mind of the speaker
- the mind of the listener
- the minds of both the speaker and the listener
- Speakers usually experience difficulty in ensuring that the message is:
- conveyed precisely
- understood correctly
- acted upon promptly and as desired
- all of the above
- As a process of sharing thoughts and ideas, communication suffers mainly from:
- physical barriers
- non-physical barriers
- gender differences
- both physical and non-physical barriers
- ____ is not one of the 7 C’s of communication:
- Human communication is essentially: