The communication model presented in Figure below illustrates the standard way researchers think about the communication process. According to this model, communication flows through channels between the sender and receiver. The sender forms a message and encodes it into words, gestures, voice intonation, and other symbols or signs. Next the sender transmits the encoded message to the intended receiver through one or more communication channels ( media).
A Model of the Communication Process
The receiver senses the incoming message and decodes it into something meaningful. Ideally the decoded meaning is what the sender intended (although this does not always occur).In most situations the sender looks for evidence that the other person received and understood the transmitted message. This feedback may be a formal acknowledgment, such as “Yes, I know what you mean,” or indirect evidence from the receiver’s subsequent actions.
Notice that feedback repeats the communication process. Intended feedback is encoded, transmitted from the receiver to the sender of the original message, received, and decoded.
This model recognizes that the communication of meaning from one person to another can be and often is altered by noise —the psychological, social, and structural barriers that distort and obscure the sender’s intended message. If any part of the communication process is distorted or broken, the sender and receiver will not have a common understanding of the message. The results of noise can be serious.
Deborah Tannen, a linguist who studies miscommunication between senders and receivers, tells the story of Judy Scott, who was applying for a job as office manager at the headquarters of an ice cream distributor, a position she was well qualified for. 5 Although her last job title was “administrative assistant,” she actually ran the entire office and did it well. However, at the interview she never had the chance to explain this. The interviewer did all the talking; she left feeling frustrated and failed to get the job.
Scott ran into a common structural barrier that distorted the message she was trying to transmit: The intended receiver, the interviewer, did not listen. Larry Summers might also have suffered the consequences of noise. When meeting face-to-face with Cornell West, he probably did not intend to denigrate the scholarship and teaching of one of the most famous African American academics, but Cornell West perceived the message that way.
The noise that led to miscommunication may have been created in part by Summers’s failure to correctly frame the message—and in part by West’s unfavorable perception of Summers going into the interview and his psychological predisposition to interpret messages from the brash and blunt economist in a negative light.
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