The Communication Process

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1 The Communication Process Since success in most aspects of living today is directly related to communicative effectiveness, an understanding of the communication process is a valid concern. Communicating in itself is complex. Communicating as instructors is even more so because of the variations and complexities in the teaching-learning process: however, an analysis of the four basic elements in the communication process sender, message, receiver, and feedback should lead to a better understanding of the communication process. Improvement in communication, therefore, rests, in large measure, on an understanding of the communication process. Basic Elements In its broadest sense, communication results when reaction to stimuli occurs. More specifically, communication takes place when there is a meeting of meaning between the person sending the message and the person receiving it. Effectiveness of communication is determined by the similarity of the meaning intended by the sender and the meaning attached by the receiver. The process of communication consists of four essential elements: the sender, the message, the receiver, and feedback from the receiver to the sender. These elements are dynamically interrelated, and that which affects one influences the other. If a listener has difficulty in understanding a speaker's message and if he shows his confusion, the speaker may become uncertain and lose selective control of his own meaning. Thus, communication effectiveness is diminished. On the other hand, when a listener reacts favorably, a speaker is encouraged, and force is added to communication. The relationship between the communicative elements is not only vital and dynamic, but also reciprocal. Communication is a complicated, two-way process. Sender The communicator's effectiveness is related to at least three basic factors. First, the facility that he has developed in selecting and using language will, in large measure, determine his ability to select symbols that are meaningful to his listeners or readers. Second, the communicator, as a person, consciously or unconsciously reveals attitudes toward himself as a communicator, toward the ideas that he is trying to transmit, and toward his receivers. These attitudes must be positive for him to communicate effectively. He must be confident. He must indicate a belief that his listeners have a vital need to know his ideas. Third, a successful communicator speaks or writes from a broad background of accurate, up-to-date stimulating ideas. Far too often, speakers and visitors with highly technical backgrounds use words and terms that are meaningful only to people with similar backgrounds. Reliance on technical language to convey ideas to any receiver often impedes effective communication. complexities: elaborate interrelationships, intricacies dynamic: energetic, vigorous, forceful, tending toward change and productive activity

2 Message At its basic level, communication can be achieved through the use of simple oral and visual codes. The letters of our alphabet constitute a basic code when they are combined into words. Common gestures and facial expressions form another. Words and gestures are seldom projected in isolation. Ideas are communicated only when symbols are combined in meaningful wholes and complete messages. Each part of the whole then becomes important for effective communication. The speaker must select messages carefully in order to convey ideas to which receivers can react and which they can understand. The ideas must be analyzed to determine which are most suited to starting and concluding the communication and which can clarify, emphasize, define, limit and explain. These elements form the basis for effective transmission of meaning from source to receiver. Finally, the development of messages from simple symbols culminates in a determination of the medium best suited for their transmission. Most frequently, communicators select the channels of hearing and seeing. Occasionally, the channel of feeling actually touching or manipulating objects can be used effectively. The most successful communicator, however, probably uses a variety of channels to communicate his ideas. culminate: to reach the highest point Receiver The effective communicator always remembers a basic rule of thumb: communication succeeds only in relation to the reaction of the receiver. When the receiver interprets the symbols to mean what the sender intends, then, and only then, has true communication taken place. For effective communication, the sender must understand at least three characteristics of receivers: they have abilities, attitudes, and experiences. First, they exercise their abilities to question and comprehend the ideas that have been transmitted. The communicator can capitalize on these abilities by providing an atmosphere that encourages questioning. Readers do read; listeners do listen. Understanding receivers' abilities is necessary and vital in the process of communication. Second, the receivers' attitudes may be those of resistance, willingness, or passive neutrality. Whatever the attitude, the source must first gain his receivers' attention and then retain it. Probably, the more he varies his approach, the more successful will be the communication. Third, the receivers' background, experience, and education frame the target at which the communicator must aim. The latter assumes an obligation to assess his receivers' knowledge and to use it as his fundamental guide for the selection and transmittal of ideas. He must first reach his receivers before he can obtain their reaction.

3 Feedback Feedback from the receiver to the sender is the fourth and final element of the communication cycle. Only through the interpretation of receiver reactions can the sender know what he has communicated to his readers or listeners. Feedback can vary from formal written replies concerning written messages to nonverbal reactions in face-toface communication. Feedback for the speaker begins as soon as he faces his audience, and it continues throughout his speech, providing him a chance to alter and adjust his speech to meet the needs of his particular audience. Barriers to Effective Communication The nature of language and the ways that it is used often lead to misunderstandings. These misunderstandings stem primarily from three barriers to effective communication: the lack of a common core of experiences, confusion between the symbol and the thing symbolized, and the overuse of abstractions. Lack of a Common Core of Experience Probably the greatest barrier to effective communication is the lack of a core of experience common to a communicator and a receiver. Communication can be effective only to the extent that the experiences (physical, mental, or emotional) of the people concerned are similar. Many people believe that words transport meanings from speaker to listener in the same way that a truck carries bricks from one location to another. But words do not function in this fashion because they do not carry meaning from the mind of the communicator to that of the receiver. Both spoken and written words are mere stimuli that the communicator sets forth. As stimuli, they arouse a response of some kind in the receiver's nervous system. The receiver's past experiences with the words and the things to which they refer determine the nature of this response. These experiences give the words their meaning meaning in the receiver's mind and not m the words themselves. Since a common core of experience is basic to effective communication, a communicator's words cannot communicate meaning to listeners or readers unless they have had some experience with the objects or concepts to which these words refer. Confusion between the Symbol and the Thing Symbolized Words are simply representations. They represent, or correspond to, anything that exists, that is experienced, or that people discuss. At best, language serves as a map. Just as a useful map accurately represents some specified territory, language should correspond to the objects or concepts that it represents. Like a map that contains errors,

4 a statement that contains inaccuracies implies a relationship that does not exist. Nothing in the nature of language prevents words form being used as the speaker wishes to use them. Communicators, however, must realize the danger in confusing symbols with the things that they symbolize. Effective speakers and writers should carefully differentiate between symbols and the things that they represent. Overuse of Abstractions Concrete words refer to objects that human beings can experience directly. Abstract words, on the other hand, stand for ideas that cannot be experienced directly, for things that do not call forth mental images in the minds of receivers. Suppose that a certain space shuttle is named Atlantis. The space shuttle Atlantis is concrete. It can be touched, seen, and heard. Since it is concrete, its name represents a concrete reality. The name immediately brings a particular image to mind. If, however, a communicator who has seen the Atlantis says, "I saw a space shuttle," his listeners do not form a mental image of the Atlantis because there are space shuttles of many different names. If the communicator says, "I saw a space vehicle," he is using a phrase so abstract that his listeners are likely to form mental images that etc not resemble the Atlantis in any way. Abstract words are necessary and useful. Their purpose is not to bring forth specific items of experience in the minds of receptors but to serve as shorthand symbols that sum up vast areas of experience. The abstraction of "Air Force Management." for example, cannot be directly experienced, but the term causes the receiver to think of certain related Air Force activities. For the sake of convenience, the catchall label "Air Force Management" is applied 10 these related activities. If communicators were forced to use only concrete words, they would soon bog down in details. Although abstractions are convenient and useful, they can lead to misunderstanding. The danger in using them is that they will not evoke in a listener's mind the specific items of experience that communicators intend. The receiver has no way of knowing what experiences the speaker or writer intends an abstraction to conjure. A common practice in the military is to use such abstract terms as "proper measures" and "corrective action." These terms alone fail to convey the communicator's intent. When abstractions are used in communication, they should be linked with specific experiences through examples and illustrations. Even better, the level of abstraction should be reduced by using concrete and specific words as much as possible. By using concrete words, the communicator narrows, and gains better control of, the image produced in me minds of listeners and readers. catchall: something that covers a variety of situations bog down: to sink and become stuck in, as in a mire

5 The Communication Gap The communication process begins with some meaning that the sender wishes to communicate to one or more receivers. The meaning is "private" to the sender because only he knows exactly what he is trying to communicate. He puts the meaning into messages that are interpreted by the receiver. The interpretation of the message is "private" to the receiver because he, and only he, knows the meaning that he attaches to the symbols. The difference between the intended meaning of the sender and the interpreted meaning of the receiver is known as the communication gap. As the barriers to communication increase in number or intensity, the communication gap widens. Feedback occurs in communication when the receiver, through verbal or nonverbal means, indicates his interpretation of the original message. Through careful attention to feedback, the sender can best estimate the communication yap that exists between him and his receiver. Effective communication requires that both the sender and the receiver work to reduce the barriers to communication as much as possible, and the receiver must provide feedback to the sender. In this sense, effective communication is a circular process; that is, as a result of feedback, the sender revises his message as many times as necessary to achieve a meeting of meaning between himself and the receiver. Summary An understanding of the communicative process is essential if a person wishes to become a more effective communicator. Recognition of the four basic elements in the process the sender, the message, the receiver, and feedback is the beginning of understanding. Recognizing the characteristics of each element and using this recognition as a basis for increased understanding can help a communicator to overcome inherent barriers in transmitting ideas and feelings. Military instructors need to be effective communicators if they expect to teach well and if their students are to learn. Source: "Individual and Group Communications," from Air University Staff Communications Course (AU - l, Vol. 1). Reprinted by permission.

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