Communication Matters

Typically, communication (from Latin commūnicāre, meaning “to share”) is a purposeful activity of exchanging information and meaning, using various technical or natural means, whichever is available.

The first major model for communication was introduced by Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver for Bell Laboratories in 1949. The original model was designed to mirror the functioning of radio and telephone technologies and makes sense to the average person. Their initial model consisted of three primary parts: sender, channel, and receiver. The sender was the part of a telephone a person spoke into, the channel was the telephone itself, and the receiver was the part of the phone where one could hear the other person. Shannon and Weaver also crucially recognised that often there is static that interferes with one listening to a telephone conversation, which they deemed as ‘noise’. This in my mind gives us the clear basis for learning and development take on ‘’communication skills’.

It gets more interesting however; looking at this back to front: Shannon and Weaver argued that there were three levels of problems for communication within this theory.

The technical problem: how accurately can the message be transmitted?

The semantic problem: how precisely is the meaning ‘conveyed’?

The effectiveness problem: how effectively does the received meaning affect behaviour?

Daniel Chandler critiques the transmission model by stating:’ “It assumes communicators are isolated individuals. There are no allowances for differing purposes. No allowance for differing interpretations. No allowance for unequal power relations. No allowance for situational contexts.’’

In 1960, David Berlo expanded on Shannon and Weaver’s (1949) linear model of communication and created the SMCR Model of Communication. The Sender-Message-Channel-Receiver Model of communication separated the model into clear parts and has been expanded upon by other and the models go on… Wilbur Schram (1954) also indicated that we should also examine the impact that a message has (both desired and undesired) on the target of the message. Between parties, communication includes acts that present knowledge and experiences, give advice and commands, and ask questions. Barnlund (2008) proposed a transactional model of communication.

The basic premise of the transactional model of communication is that individuals are simultaneously engaging in the sending and receiving of messages.

The sender’s personal filters and the receiver’s personal filters may vary depending upon different regional traditions, cultures, or gender; which may alter the intended meaning of message contents. In the presence of “communication noise” on the transmission channel, reception and decoding of content may be faulty, and thus the ‘speech act’ may not achieve the desired effect.

One problem with this encode-transmit-receive-decode model is that the processes of encoding and decoding imply that the sender and receiver each possess something that functions as a codebook, and that these two code books are, at the very least, similar if not identical. Although something like code books is implied by the model, they are nowhere represented in the model, which creates many conceptual difficulties.

In general, communication is a means of connecting people or places.

In business, it is a critical function for success an organization cannot operate without communication between levels, departments and employees. Disturbingly, often seen as an ‘’everyday’’ soft skill module, it sits in the pot of generic soft skills and is often ignored for a long time. It is one of the most critical modules your organization has. I often push L&D managers to shake up this course, and take a fresh perspective. So what ‘’communication training’’ should you be supplying or your organization?

I would be confident in stating, it typically, includes: Dr Mehrabien’s research The Language Channel (the words we use), The Tonal Channel (the way we say them) The Non Verbal Channel (body language) and some listening skills? I am right yes? Naturally, these are great background reminders and let us never forget the power of body language, but just try thinking more deeply about communication when delivering or preparing a course.

In simple text; it is not as straight forward as we would like to think, due to the varying senders and receivers. The People Mix! I am, without doubt, a Jungian supporter, if he could follow me daily; I think he would give me commission, if not, certainly a T-Shirt! So, never forget your ode to Jung! Amongst so many studies and papers, Jung was definately on to the realisation that we respond differently to the same words. Google ‘’Use of the psycho-galvanometer’’ in your coffee break. Its great reading!

Communication is all about the clarity due to the magnificent blend of people concerned. Let me give the clearest example, and a giveaway!

In all my learning’s, where relevant, I use this effectual activity.

I ask a group simply to ‘’Write about an Ice Cream’’

No questions permitted, and within 2 minutes, I push people to write. When revealed, it is with perfect clarity just how different everyone’s written word and description is as there are no guidelines and no clarification of what, exactly I am expecting. Let me show you what the typical variants are:

DELEGATE A.

I love ice-cream, I love ice-cream. Ice cream is divine. I love it best when it is all mine mine mine. When we were young we would always be made to share all the great flavours in our family and sit and eat them on the beach. I loved nuts and syrup it makes the ice-cream shine in the sun, but I wanted it all to myself. Now I’m older, sometimes I buy a whole tub and eat it for myself. One day I will buy a factory.

DELEGATE B.

• Ice-cream needs to be below freezing

• It contains cream, milks and flavours

• There are many brands

• It is popular

• It melts quickly

DELEGATE C.

There was once a young boy who loved ice-cream. His parents couldn’t afford to buy him any, and he always used to watch the other children. One day a new corner shop opened…the little boy used to sit across the road and watch. A regular visitor to the shop was Baba G, a village elder. He noticed the boy one day and bought him an ice-cream.

DELEGATE D.

Ice-cream is a swirl of delight; every spoonful is a burst of flavours like the shooting stars. I love toffee flavour best, it reminds me of going to space and dancing with the stars, it is the best experience in the world. I wish that the world was made of ice-cream and we could eat our way through. But then, the world would melt and it would also be messy, so maybe we need ice-cream cities that were covered in large umbrellas, maybe made of sugar paper.

I don’t believe I need to insult any reader’s intelligence to describe what the learning is here. You can clearly see Jungian traits in the range of responses. (A is Red. B is Blue. C is Green. D is Yellow!)

Simply.. If you ask a group of people to ‘’write about an ice cream’’ expect different results. People decode information suited to their personalities, behavioural types and indeed culture and backgrounds. So unless we are perfectly obvious, we will evoke a mix of understandings.

In a business scenario, the manager that barked; ‘’write about an ice-cream’’ will often be angry and frustrated at the lack of precision they may have been seeking.

I use models such as Mr George T. Doran’s popular structure SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, and Realistic) to embed communication channels.

We cannot merely state ‘’write about an ice-cream’’, we need transparency that fits all personality types and cultures. Delivered in a SMART fashion may look more like this: Please can you write a 500 word document on the varied flavours and popularity of Joe Blogs’ ice-cream brand, so we can analyse our current offerings. Please include some research of the most popular flavours. Please email the document to me by 4pm on Friday of this week.

The last thought I will create frustration with, I know. How does all of this apply if we want empowerment, innovation and creativity? Yipes!

Another day….

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