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Elements in the Communication Process

Completion requirements

Different key elements can be identified in the communication process, but although they will be described separately, they are interrelated and interdependent.

Element 1: Sender/Source

This is the person who initiates the communication by thinking of an idea to communicate to the receiver. The sender is also referred to as the source, the communicator or the encoder. We cannot put our thoughts directly into the head of the other person. As such we need to use symbols, gestures, pictures, tone of voice and words which we expect that the receiver should interpret as the specific ideas that we wish to convey. This process is called encoding. The source should identify the most appropriate codes to ensure effective translation of the message. The source has the responsibility to check for understanding once the message was conveyed.

Element 2: The Receiver/Audience

The audience or receiver is the person to whom the sender directs the message and has to understand the message. Each receiver will understand the message differently because of his/her different frame of reference and perceptions.

In the analysis of the audience the SENDER must consider the following...

The sender has to consider the following:

The receiver will decode or translate the message the source has sent to him. The receiver will consider the gestures, words, symbols, etc. to come to a conclusion as to what the real message was that was sent to him/her.

The message may not be received as intended for a variety of reasons:

  • The sender used inappropriate/insufficient codes
  • The channel was not effective/clear
  • Language inefficiency
  • Cultural differences
  • The receiver’s belief and values distorted the meaning of the message

Element 3: Communication Situation

Communication takes place in a particular situation and refers to the time, place and circumstances in which the communication occurs. The meaning of words is directly related to the situation and changes accordingly. Compare the two sentences:

“This is great!” (The boss said this about a report you have written.)

“This is great!” (The boss said sarcastically about something that has gone wrong.)

Communication occurs in several kinds of contexts and is differentiated from each other according to the number of participants involved. The following contexts are identified:

Element 4: The Purpose of Communication

Effective communication is well planned. The sender/communicator has to identify the purpose of the communication and analyse the audience. The audience can consist of any number of people.

The sender of a message has to have a clear purpose of the desired result he/she wants to achieve. Is it:

To give information – Meeting to be held at 12:00 on 2 January 2004.

To request information – When will the meeting be held?

To persuade – Please attend the meeting, as it is of the utmost importance.

To promote goodwill – During the meeting the CEO will discuss new remuneration options.

Element 5: Message

The message is the content or subject matter the communicator wants to convey. For example: The message is: “Go out!” A message is a generic term that refers to any communication, spoken or written, long or short. A comment made in passing, a two-line e-mail, a two hour formal presentation, a 200-page report – all are messages.

Element 6: Encoding

The sender needs to encode the message into an appropriate code before it can be sent. Encoding is the act of making an idea accessible or perceptible to the receiver. This can be done by using:

A verbal code – any communication involving words, whether spoken or written, or

A nonverbal code – a code without words e.g. facial expressions, gestures, etc.

The sender must use a code that will make the message accessible to the receiver. More than one code can be used at the same time e.g. language (words) together with body language, for example, using the word “out” together with a gesture of the hand that signals “go out”.

Language is not the only code we use to communicate. The clothes we wear, body language, colour and pictures all convey meaning. The effectiveness of the message will depend greatly on the correct choice of code. For example, when communicating to illiterate people you cannot use verbal written language, you have to use nonverbal codes e.g. pictures.

Element 7: Communication Medium/Channel

The communication channel is the medium through which the message travels. The message must be conveyed to the receiver in a concrete form.

The choice of communication channel, e.g. telephone, e-mail, or face-to-face, is very important in getting the message across.

Why do people choose one channel over another? Time and cost are factors, but communication apprehension or anxiety also plays an important part. People may be afraid to speak in front of a group, or use the telephone, or they are not comfortable with writing letters or memos. People will avoid situations where they have to use a certain channel and that influences communication negatively. Communicating an important message telephonically can result in misunderstandings because there is no written material that can be referred to. Sensitive issues may be handled better in face-to-face situations than over the telephone or via e-mail.

A written message may be regarded to be more serious than a verbal message. A memorandum is more formal than a note or email. A gesture/artefact/gift tends to be more personal/emotional – encoding the message with deeper meaning.

There is no best/right/wrong medium to use. It all depends on the situation and purpose of the message.

Element 8: Decoding and Interpretation

Before a message can be received, the symbols in it must be translated into a form that can be understood by the receiver. This is the decoding of the message. The receiver has to receive, interpret and understand the encoded message. If the receiver is unable to decode the message, there will be no shared meaning and no communication. For example, if the receiver can only understand English and the message is in Zulu there can be no shared understanding.

Understanding is the result of communication effectiveness. The more overlap between the meaning of the sender and the meaning of the receiver, the more effective the communication transfer will be. The ideal is to achieve some form of an overlap of meaning. A total overlap in meaning and understanding is not possible due to different frame of reference and perceptions.

Element 9: Feedback

Feedback is the receiver’s response to the message. It provides the sender with a way to determine if the receiver received, interpreted and understood the message as it was intended. The message can be adjusted should misunderstandings occur.