Effective Communication: Narrowing the Gap

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“Do you ever wonder what happens to the words that we send
Do they bend, do they break from the flight that they take
And come back together again with a whole new meaning
In a brand new sense, completely unrelated to the one I sent”

Did You Get My Message? © BMG Rights Management, 
Dan Wilson / Jason Mraz 

Communication is something that goes through all our lives. It’s our lifetime companion and a great tool making us different from other animals. The way we master communication skills largely defines how successful we are as professionals, partners, parents, friends and many more social roles we play every day.

Effective communication helps us in all the spheres of our life. Bringing up children is not possible without explaining how the world works. No relationship can last long without partners talking about the problems they face. No process or instructions can replace effective communication in an organization and the benefits it brings. 

But to our great disappointment communication sometimes does go out of our control. Have you ever wondered what can go wrong in such a simple thing as saying something to someone beside you with no obvious physical barriers? However, we use clarifying questions so often and doubt whether we got it right that looks like even the simplest communication pattern can bring ambiguity. Sometimes it seems that we say something, as we belief, to encourage but get completely the opposite results instead: people do not support our ideas, fail to meet our expectations, or do not follow our thoughts. 

I can recall numerous situations where things were done not the way they were expected. We tend to blame for motivation issues, lack of discipline and skills, whereas the root cause is often in faulty communication. Occurrence of misunderstanding between people can lead to numerous bugs in their behaviour and cooperation. Such phenomenon is often referred to as a “communication gap”. Understanding that peoples’ interaction and successful collaboration often fail because of communication gaps is a big step towards overcoming them.

Once we make sure that all the bugs from communication layer are fixed, we can proceed to fixing deeper issues in motivation, attitudes, personal traits or lack of hard skills. I have been always interested in the impact of faulty communication and what successful communicators usually consider to avoid it. In the following series of posts I will try to uncover some of the existing barriers of communication that can reduce its effectiveness and prevent it from achieving the goal: delivering the message to the target destination as initially designed and achieving originally planned result.

Human Communication And Its Structure

To understand where the barriers of communication can arise, let’s take a closer look at the basics of human communication and its structure. 

Human communication is a complex concept and is hard to describe with a single definition. Humans unlike other animals use their communication abilities to cooperate and share their intentions. We are social creatures deeply caring for social bonding and harmony in our daily personal interactions. Unlike our closest relatives primates who regulate much of their bonding by grooming, human beings are facing much more interactions throughout their lives and had to come up with a more efficient way.

Human bonding is largely achieved and maintained through speech. Although non-verbal code, including body language, intonation, posture, facial expressions, and many other forms, occupies a major share in human communication, the information sharing is still primarily achieved by using a language. The vast areas in our brains dedicated to the processing of speech and language, as well as person recognition and the recognition of intention. The social complexity made humans learn to predict and interpret behaviour and our brains evolved to become skilled in social competence with communication at its core. 

When debugging a complex solution we first look at its parts to be able to identify if the bug is located in any isolated component of the system. A few models have been introduced to describe communication and its parts for better analysis. The first conceptual communication model was a mirror representation of a radio or telephone and consisted of three primary parts: sender, channel and receiver.

Analogy comparison to the telephone talk also gave birth to the notion of “noise” that is nowadays applied to any interference that can affect the successful delivery of the message. The evolution of views on communication led so far that nowadays it is no longer considered a linear process but a range of highly interdependent, fluid and self-modifying interactions. What was originally presented as a simplistic view today considered only a small part, a particular instance of communication: a speech act. Nevertheless, although the models focusing on dynamic nature of communication are extremely captivating and deserve a separate article, I will stick to more structural representation. Throughout all the models we see that no communication is possible without its key components: Sender, Message, Channel and Recipient. For better troubleshooting we should also consider Noise and Feedback. 

In interpersonal communication two or more people sending messages to each other, speaking out, typing, writing tons of words, sentences and texts. The original message is encoded, travels through the selected channel, is affected by some noise and overcomes some barriers, is decoded, and hopefully reaches its destination. How can we be sure that after all the long journey the message gets to the recipient as originally designed? How does the recipient understand that the message they receive is the one originally planned?

Communication gaps or failures are the situations where there is a difference between what the sender wants to convey and the recipient understands. Usually such misunderstandings result in no or unintended action since the original communicative intention is misinterpreted. 

It’s absolutely impossible to fully eliminate all the communication barriers but what we can do is to trace their possible location based on the communication model and uncover the root cause. In a series of articles to follow I will describe some of the possible barriers of communication depending on where in the communication model they arise. Locating the barriers of communication helps to shape better understanding of what an effective communication is and contributes a lot to mastering the communication skills. 

Stay tuned and follow for more insights on the topic.

May the communication force be with you.  🙂

Sources of inspiration and knowledge:

  1. COMMUNICOPEDIA
  2. Wikipedia – Human Communication 
  3. Levelt, W. (1999). ABlueprintof thespeaker. In C. Brown & P. Hagoort (Eds.), The neurocognition of language (chapter 4). Oxford Press.
  4. Wikipedia – Interpersonal Communication 

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