The sender or source of the message, initiates the communication. In an organization, the sender will be a person with information needs, or desires and a purpose for communicating them to one or more other people.
The receiver is the person whose senses perceive the sender’s message. There may be a large number of receivers, as and when a memo is addressed to all the members of an organization, or there may be just one, as when one discusses something privately with a colleague. The message must be crafted with the receiver’s background in mind. An engineer in a microchip manufacturing company, for example, might have to avoid using technical terms in a communication with someone in the company’s advertising department. The person in advertising might find engineers unreceptive to communications about demographics. If the message does not reach the receiver, communication has not taken place. The situation is not much improved if the message reaches a receiver but the receiver doesn’t understand it. Three factors that can influence effective or ineffective communication are encoding decoding and noise.
Encoding takes place when the sender translates the information to be transmitted into a series of symbols. Encoding is necessary because information can only be transferred from one person to another through representations or symbols. Since communication is the object of encoding the sender attempts to establish ‘mutuality’ of meaning with the receiver by choosing symbols, usually in the form of words and gestures that the sender believes to have the same meaning for the receiver.
Lack of mutuality is one of the most common causes of misunderstandings or failure of communication. In Bulgaria and East Africa for example “yes” is indicated with a side-to-side shake of the head; “no” is indicated with a nod. Visitors who do not share these symbols can quickly experience or cause bewilderment when they talk with citizens of these areas. Misunderstandings may also result from subtler differences in mutuality. It was observed when a particular manager announced an office policy: no personal telephone calls would be permitted except to a stockholder. The manager must have believed that his staff would accept the communication matter of factly. In truth, staff resentment about the manager’s wealth and their own salary levels – calling a stockbroker is futile when you have little money to invest caused this message to be received skeptically. Mutuality was missing in that instance, because the sender and receivers took “stock broker” as symbols of different things.
Gestures, too, may be subject to different interpretations. A worker in a noisy factory may convey to a co-worker that he wants a machine to be shut off by drawing his hand, palm down, across his neck in a “cutthroat” gesture. Of one walked up to a police officer and made the same gesture a different reaction might result. Even raising one’s eyebrows can have varying meanings, expressing surprise in one context in skepticism in another.
Decoding is the process by which the receiver interprets the message and translates it into meaningful information. It is a two step process. The receiver must first perceive the message then interpret it. Decoding is affected by the receiver’s past experience, personal assessment of the symbols and gestures used, expectations (people tend to hear what they want to hear) and mutuality of meaning with the sender. In general, the more the receiver’s decoding matches the sender’s intended message, the more effective the communication has been. Physical proximity to others – which is the change made at Hallmark – can set the stage for greater mutuality between sender and receiver over time.
Noise is any factor that disturbs confuses or otherwise interferes with communication. Noise can arise along what is called the communications channel or method of transmission (such as air for spoken words or paper for letters). Noise may be internal (as when a receiver is not paying attention) or external (as when the message is distorted by other sounds in the environment). Noise can occur at any stage of the communication process. It is particularly troublesome in the encoding or decoding stage.