Saturday, 30 June, 2007

Communication Theories

“The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn't being said.” Peter Drucker (1909 - 2005)

When my professor of “Corporate communication” popped up “Communication theory” presentation in the class, first thing I came into my mind was “why do we have to learn these useless theories to be an MBA?” But after one hour the experience was completely different. It was really interesting to see that how a simple thing like communication (as I thought before) was actually was not so simple at all. There are so many factors we consider in our conscious or unconscious mind on order to communicate, to convey our message.
So, what is communication? According to
Encyclopedia of Public Health:

“Communication is the production and exchange of information and meaning by use of signs and symbols. It involves encoding and sending messages, receiving and decoding them, and synthesizing information and meaning. Communication permeates all levels of human experience and it is central to understanding human behavior.”

Theories of communication are actually is not something new that came into picture in twentieth century. In the history of philosophy, Aristotle first addressed the problem of communication and attempted to work out a theory of it in The Rhetoric. Aristotle represented communication as might an orator who speaks to large audiences. Although His model incorporates few elements.

Aristotle’s Model of Communication

Mass communication research was always traditionally concerned with political influence over the mass press, and then over the influences of films and radio. The 1950s was fertile for model-building, accompanying the rise in sociology and psychology. It was in the USA that a science of communication was first discussed.

> The earliest model was a simple sender-channel-message-receiver model.
> Modifications added the concept of feedback, leading to a loop.
> The next development was that receivers normally selectively perceive, interpret and retain messages.

Lasswell’s Model
Political scientist Harold Laswell, writing in 1948, posed the question, “Who says what in which channel with what effect?”. His model includes considerations of a variety of factors being considered to determine
the impact of a communication. But his model does not consider some important factors such as noise, field of experience etc. For example, what would happen if the speaker speaks some language that the audience does not understand? What if the audience does not have any knowledge about the subject the speaker is trying to convey?

Shannon & Weaver’s Model
It is interesting to see that a communication theory has come out from a telephone company- Bell Telephone Company. Shannon and Weaver’s (1949) model introduces three elements not found in Aristotle’s model: a transmitter, a receiver, and sources of noise. At first glance his model seems to be more focused on telecommunication; some of the elements may easily generalize into other fields of interest. Consider that in any face-to-face situation, there may be environmental or other sources of noise that interfere with the communication.

Schramm's Model
Wilbur Schramm (1954) began studying communication as an independent discipline. He developed several models for addressing different questions. One contribution Schramm made was to consider the fields of experience of the sender and receiver.
The sender encodes the message, based upon the sender’s field of experience. The extent to which the signal is correctly decoded depends on the extent of the overlap of the two fields of experience. For instance, if I give a lecture on finance to an audience of sixth graders may result in little or no communication because he has no experience or knowledge about finance. The colored overlapping ovals in the figure represent the fields of experience of the sender.

Another one of Schramm’s models introduced the idea of feedback from the receiver to the sender. In this model, communication becomes a continuous process of messages and feedback. This model allows for interaction. The feedback not necessarily has to be verbal, it could be in any form. For instance, when someone is explaining something to me, I might node my head to give feedback to say that I understand what he or she has to say.

The Westley-MacLean model
This model accounted for both mass communication and interpersonal communication, as well as the relationship between the two. Also, it broadened and elaborated on the feedback concept. This model suggests that in a given situation some of the many signals in one's environment at any point in time were selected by an advocate and combined to form a new message -- a news story, advertisement, or speech, etc. If the audience had some firsthand knowledge, they might question the advocate, and their questioning would be classified as feedback.

Kincaids's Convergence
In the convergence model, "communication" is defined as a process in which participants create and share information with one another in order to reach a mutual understanding. Several cycles of information-sharing about a topic may increase mutual understanding but not complete it. Generally communication ceases when a sufficient level of mutual understanding has been reached for the task at hand. Mutual understanding is never perfect.

The convergence model represents human communication as a dynamic, cyclical process over time, characterized by:
  • Mutual causation, rather than one-way mechanistic causation;
  • Emphasizing the interdependent relationship of the participants, rather than a bias toward either the "source" or the "receiver" of a message.
Mutual understanding and mutual agreement are the primary goals of the communication process. They are the points toward which the participants either converge or diverge over time.

Just as no single behavioral theory explains and predicts all human behavior, no communication theory explains and predicts all communication outcomes. Some view this as a fragmentation in understanding the role of a communication in human affairs. Others view this as a productive theoretical diversity, conducive to the understanding of human activity in many complex dimensions.

Before I forget, all credit goes to Richard S. Croft for his wonderful article and illustrations.