Understanding Communication

Defining Communication

Communication is conveying messages by exchanging thoughts and information.

Learning Objectives

Outline the inherent dimensions and semiotic rules relevant to basic business communication

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Communication is conveying of messages by exchanging thoughts or information via speech, visuals, signals, writing, or behavior.
  • Business communication is the transmission and exchange of information between people in an organization to facilitate business activities.
  • Communication requires a sender, a message, a form and channel, and a recipient.
  • Communication can be described as information transmission governed by three levels of semiotic rules.

Key Terms

  • communication: The concept or state of information exchange.
  • semiotic: Of or relating to semantics (words).

Communication is the conveying of messages by exchanging thoughts or information via speech, visuals, signals, writing, or behavior. Communication requires a sender, a message, and a recipient, although the receiver may not be present or aware of the sender’s intent to communicate at the time of communication. Communication requires that the communicating parties share some area of commonality. The communication process is complete once the receiver has understood the message of the sender.

Perhaps the most time-honored form of communication is storytelling. People have told each other stories for ages to help make sense of the world, anticipate the future, and certainly to entertain. The art of storytelling draws on your understanding of yourself, your message, and how you communicate it to an audience that is simultaneously communicating back to you. Your anticipation, reaction, and adaptation to the process determine how successfully you are able to communicate.

Communication involves actions that confer knowledge and experience, give advice and commands, and ask questions. These actions may take many forms depending on the abilities and resources of the individual communicators. Together, content and form make messages that are sent towards a destination. The destination can be oneself, another person, or another entity (such as a corporation or group of people).

Business Communication Basics

Business communication is the transmission and exchange of information between people in an organization to facilitate business activities. Business communication encompasses marketing, brand management, customer relations, consumer behavior, advertising, public relations, corporate communication, community engagement, reputation management, interpersonal communication, employee engagement, and event management. It is closely related to the fields of professional and technical communication.

Business communication takes place within an organization and across organizational boundaries. Many organizations have a communications director who oversees internal communications and crafts messages sent to employees. It is vital that these internal communications are clear and managed in a timely way. Poorly crafted or managed communications could misdirect employee effort, cause confusion, and even foster distrust or hostility.

Dimensions of Communication

Communication has four primary components:

  • Message (the content being communicated)
  • Source (who the message comes from)
  • Form and channel (through which medium)
  • Destination/receiver/target (to whom)

Wilbur Schram, an authority on mass communications, argued that it is important to examine both the desired and the unintentional impact a message may have on its target.

Levels of Semiotic Rules

Communication can be described as information transmission governed by three levels of semiotic rules for making meaning:

  • Syntactic (formal properties of signs and symbols such as letters or numbers)
  • Pragmatic (concerned with the relations between signs/expressions and their users)
  • Semantic (relationships between signs and symbols and what their meaning)

Communication is social interaction that requires at least two people who share a common set of signs and semiotic rules. Note that this does not apply to intrapersonal communication such as diaries or self-talk that occurs without interactions with others.

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People communicating: Business communication takes place in marketing, brand management, customer relations, consumer behavior, advertising, and public relations.

Example

Perhaps the most time-honored form of communication is storytelling. People have told each other stories for ages to help make sense of the world, anticipate the future, and certainly to entertain. The art of storytelling draws on your understanding of yourself, your message, and how you communicate it to an audience that is simultaneously communicating back to you. Your anticipation, reaction, and adaptation to the process determine how successfully you are able to communicate.

The Nature of Effective Communication

Effective communication avoids distorting messages during the communication processes.

Learning Objectives

Define effective communication in the context of organizational challenges and barriers

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Effective communication generates, maintains, and increases a desired effect.
  • Barriers to effective communication distort, obscure, or misrepresent the message and fail to achieve the desired effect.
  • Barriers to effective communication can be physical, system or process related, attitudinal, and caused by ambiguity.

Key Terms

  • effective: Having the power to produce a required effect or effects.
  • Barriers: A structure that bars passage; an obstacle or impediment; a boundary or limit.

Effective communication takes place when information is shared accurately between two or more people or groups of people and provokes the desired response. Effective communication should generate and maintain the desired effect, and offer the potential to increase the effect of the message. The goal of communication is usually to generate action, inform, create understanding, or communicate a certain idea or point of view.

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Communication: Carefully considering word choice, mode of message, and the intended audience can eliminate many barriers to communication.

Barriers to Effective Communication

Barriers to effective communication distort, obscure, or misrepresent the message and and fail to achieve the desired effect. Barriers to successful communication include message overload (when a person receives too many messages at the same time) and message complexity. Another barrier is “knowledge-appropriate” communication–using ambiguous legal words or medical jargon with another person who doesn’t understand them. Effective communication only happens when the words and symbols used create a common level of understanding for both parties.

Other common barriers to effective communication include the following:

  • Physical barriers like distance, inferior technology, or staff shortages that reduce information processing capacity.
  • System design faults like ambiguous definition of roles that can lead to confusion about message targets; lack of oral and written communication skills; and poor information technology infrastructure, including networks and applications.
  • Attitudinal barriers presented by individuals. One person may want information compressed to bullet points, another may demand granular detail. Personality conflicts can lead people to delay or refuse to communicate, and dissatisfaction with the style of a message can result in its being ignored or misinterpreted.
  • Ambiguous words/phrases that sound the same but have different meanings. Here the communicator must ensure that the receiver receives the intended meaning through careful word choice that avoids the possibility of multiple interpretations.
  • Individual linguistic ability is important to consider: will intended targets understand industry-specific jargon, complex words, or colloquialisms? Using words that recipients can’t understand is inappropriate and counter-productive, resulting in confusion and alienation.
  • Physiological barriers like ill health, poor eyesight, or hearing difficulties. Even a common cold can impact someone’s ability to compose or understand a message.
  • The format and delivery of information is important. Communications have to take the potential barriers of an audience into account and tailor the message to reach them.

The Nature of Efficient Communication

Efficient communication achieves its desired effect with the least amount of effort and resources.

Learning Objectives

Analyze the key considerations one should keep in mind in the business world to optimize their communicative capacity

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • A clear communication strategy and process can make developing and transmitting messages more efficient.
  • There are two approaches to structuring an argument: direct and indirect.
  • Visual elements like pictures, charts, and tables can help recipients more easily understand the main ideas being communicated.

Key Terms

  • jargon: A technical terminology unique to a particular subject.
  • indirect: Roundabout; deceiving; setting a trap; confusing.
  • direct: Straight, constant, without interruption.

Efficient communication conveys a message and achieves a desired effect using the least possible effort and resources. A key element of effective communication is having a clear process for developing and disseminating information. To create effective oral and written communication one should consider the audience, the format and content, and the channel or mode of transmission. A communication strategy speaks to each of these elements and guides how messages and information are developed and shared.

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Clocks: A good communicator does not waste time.

Communication Strategy

Good communicators begin by analyzing a given situation to develop a strategy for delivering their message. They consider the target audience and its level of knowledge and awareness. Does the audience have the background information it needs to understand the message? Which delivery mode is best suited to their understanding (i.e., a visual presentation or a written report)? These are all important points to consider when crafting a communication strategy.

Next they consider the purpose of their communication. Are they supposed to inform, persuade, or ask the audience to do something? The purpose informs choices of style and tone such as whether or not to use technical language or industry jargon. An authoritative tone denotes credibility and is more persuasive than tentative language.

There are two approaches to structuring a message: direct and indirect. Direct arguments are easier to follow because they present a main point and then offer supporting evidence. Indirect arguments provide the evidence first and then the main point. Both approaches summarize key points and use headers or other types of formatting to make it easier to understand the communication’s purpose and content.

Visual aids complement strategy and structure in oral or witten communications. Visual aids can clarify difficult points, draw attention to important ideas, and help the audience absorb information faster and more fully. Visual elements like pictures, charts, and tables can make communication more efficient.

The Nature of Persuasive Communications

Persuasion presents arguments that move, motivate, or change an audience.

Learning Objectives

Assess the value and appropriate uses of persuasive communication tactics in an organizational framework

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Persuasion attempts to influence people’s beliefs, attitudes, intentions, motivations, or behaviors in relation to an event, idea, object, or other person(s).
  • Persuasive communication achieves five things: stimulation, convincing, call to action, increasing consideration, and tolerance for alternative perspectives.
  • Different types of calls to action are adoption, discontinuance, deterrence, and continuance.

Key Terms

  • motivation: Willingness to perform an action, especially a behavior; an incentive or reason for doing something.

Persuasion attempts to influence people’s beliefs, attitudes, intentions, motivations, or behaviors in relation to an event, idea, object, or other person(s). Persuasion is achieved through written or spoken communication that conveys information, thoughts, emotions, logic, and arguments. Effective business communication often involves persuasion. Salespeople, lawyers, and politicians make their living attempting to persuade others, and persuasion is an important part of the work of managers and leaders as well.

Persuasive communication achieves five things:

  • Stimulation
  • Convincing
  • Call to action
  • Increase consideration
  • Tolerance of alternate perspectives

Stimulation

Persuasive communication reinforces, intensifies, and prioritizes existing beliefs. The purpose may be to spur action, build group cohesion, or develop commitment to a shared set of goals. This approach may begin by acknowledging areas of common ground and then introducing new information that helps the audience value this commonality even more.

Convincing

Sometimes a message is meant to convince an audience of the rightness of a certain choice or course of action. This often involves getting people to change their minds. The use of evidence and logical reasoning are effective techniques for accomplishing this type of persuasion.

Call to Action

Persuasive argument is often a call to action. This type of speech is not purely about stimulating interest to reinforce and accentuate beliefs, or convincing an audience of a viewpoint. Its intention is to get people to do something (often to change their behavior). Calls to action are commonly part of implementing decisions.

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Call to action: A call to action offers its audience a clear choice for their response.

There are several types of calls to action: adoption, discontinuance, deterrence, and continuance. Adoption means the speaker wants to persuade the audience to accept a new way of thinking or adopt a new idea that influences their behavior. Discontinuance is the opposite: it involves the speaker persuading audience members to stop doing something (like quit smoking). Deterrence is a call to action that focuses on persuading the audience not to start something if they haven’t already started. Continuance means the speaker wants to persuade the audience to continue doing what they have been doing, such as reelect a candidate, keep buying a product, or stay in school to get an education.

Increase Consideration

Persuasive communicators also work to increase audience awareness and willingness to consider their position. Effective persuasion requires a target that is open to persuasion, and often this depends on how a message is framed and delivered. For example, an audience that is unmoved by appeals to emotion may be more willing to listen to rational arguments and facts.

Tolerance for Alternative Perspectives

The final key to creating a persuasive argument is helping the audience develop a tolerance for alternative perspectives. Perhaps the audience is interested in purchasing a certain type of car; as the lead salesperson on that model, the speaker has to listen and perform informal audience analysis to learn that horsepower and speed are important values to this customer.

Types of Communication: Verbal, Written, and Nonverbal

There are three main vehicles for communication: verbal, written, and non-verbal.

Learning Objectives

Recognize the main ways in which individuals communicate and the pros, cons, and methods associated with each

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Types of communication include verbal, written, and nonverbal.
  • Verbal communication provides immediate feedback and so it is best for conveying emotions and maintaining interpersonal relationships; it can involve storytelling and crucial conversations.
  • Written communication requires appropriate use of grammar, word choice, structure, and punctuation to be effective.
  • Non-verbal communication is the process of sending and receiving wordless (mostly visual) cues.

Key Terms

  • nonverbal: A form other than written or spoken words, like gestures, facial expressions, or body language.

The most common vehicles for communication are oral, non-verbal, written, and electronic.

Oral communication describes the verbal exchange of information, emotions, thoughts, and perceptions. It includes speeches, presentations, conversations, and discussions. Body language and tone of voice play a significant role in how oral communication is perceived. Since oral communication almost always involves the simultaneous transmission and receipt of a message, feedback from the audience is immediate.

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Oral communication: Oral communication allows immediate feedback.

Written communication includes e-mail, memos, and reports. There is usually a gap of time and space between creation/transmission of a written message and its receipt. Written communication can include non-verbal elements like handwriting style, spatial arrangement of words, or the format and physical layout of a page that can effect how it is understood. However, the absence of aural cues such as tone of voice make careful word choice, grammar, structure, and punctuation essential for effective written communication.

Electronic communication uses a variety of digital technologies to carry messages between senders and recipients. Both oral and written communication can be conveyed electronically. For example, telephone and web conferencing are two modes of oral communication, while e-mail and text messaging are examples of written communication.

Non-Verbal Communication

Social psychologist Michael Argyle said that while spoken language is normally used to communicate information about external events that impact the speakers, non-verbal codes establish and maintain interpersonal relationships. Argyle concluded there are five primary functions of non-verbal bodily behavior in human communication:

  1. Express emotions
  2. Express interpersonal attitudes
  3. Work with speech to manage the cues of interaction between speakers and listeners
  4. Present one’s personality
  5. Conduct rituals (greetings)

Humans communicate interpersonal closeness through series of non-verbal actions known as immediacy behaviors. Examples of immediacy behaviors are smiling, touching, open body positions, and eye contact. Cultures that display these immediacy behaviors are considered high-contact cultures.