The Basics of Formal Communication Communication involves two parties: a transmitter and a receiver. Although to hear some people you would think it was a one-way process! It’s certainly not a simple process. Breaking the process down, there are a number of key ingredients, or decisions, which we shall now look at one by one. The first decision the transmitter makes concerns the 'channel' of communication. Our choice will depend upon the whereabouts of the receiver, the nature of the message, the availability of different channels and the ability of the channel to accurately convey the message. Faxes, memos, emails, face to face meetings, telephone conversations - all of these are channels and we need to be careful that we choose the right one to convey our message. Next, the transmitter has to choose what to say, he/she has to 'encode' the message. E n c o d e Transmitter Receiver We use codes all the time, without giving it a second thought. Speech is a code. The language we use to describe an object or feeling is a code. All we need to do is to 'code' our message in such a way that it can be 'decoded' the other end. How simple, yet how often we get it wrong. The problem is that we tend to express ourselves using language and content, that make sense from our perspective - life as we see it from our 'hill top'. To be 'decoded' correctly, however, the message must make sense from the receiver's 'hill top'. Therefore, before composing what we want to say, we first need to put ourselves in the shoes of the receiver. After-all... ... communication is what 'B' receives, not what 'A' sends! E n c o d e Transmitter D e c o d e Receiver Even when we have tried hard to express our message in a way which will make sense to the receiver, other factors may have modified the message or, as the information theorists say, 'diminished the integrity of the signal'. This we can call 'noise'. There are three types. Channel Noise. This is static on the line, physical interference. A hoarse voice, a radio next door, too much illumination, etc. Psychological Noise. A message which intimidates or an act of superiority which irritates the 'receiver' when it should inform. These are examples of psychological noise. The nature of the message is affected by the feelings of the recipient. Body language, of course, is psychological noise when it counteracts the message. On the other hand it may reinforce the message. In which case it is 'sound' rather than noise. We can't hear it. We simply accept it, intuitively interpreting a non-verbal code. Communication experts tell us that 'the spoken word is never neutral'. It is always affected by the nature of our delivery. Language Noise. Language noise is the result of a mismatch of code between transmitter and receiver. A's signals may not be understood by B. For instance, the sign in an American car park which reads 'FINE FOR PARKING'. Is it an encouragement or a warning? Another element of language noise is redundancy. Redundancy is an overkill of information. But redundancy sometimes aids accurate decoding and helps to overcome 'channel noise'. We can decipher bad handwriting because sufficient information remains in the words and characters we can recognise to enable us to decipher the words and characters we cannot read. Ch an Psychological Noise ne lN ois La e u ng eN ag ois e Noise E n c o d e D e c o d e Transmitter Receiver Here then is the model of the communication process we have discussed so far. One element is missing. Feedback. Feedback is evidence of communication. Or, to be more exact, evidence of the signal having been received. The decoding of the feedback, in turn, tells us whether the signal has been correctly interpreted (always assuming that we, for our part, have correctly interpreted the feedback signal). The possibilities for misunderstanding are endless. Feedback E n c o d e D e c o d e Feedback Transmitter Receiver Without feedback there is no communication. Feedback is the contribution of the receiver but this has to be earned, or if necessary, invited. Having a conversation with someone who gives no indication that they are following what you are saying - no words or grunts or looks - can kill the communication. Looks, especially. Since we all tend to look more at people we like, it can be very disconcerting not to be looked at. Perception People are different. Because they are different, they see, or perceive, other people differently. They may, therefore, behave differently towards different people and in different situations. We say they have different personalities and different perceptions. What then are these factors - personality and perception - that make people different? Perception is the process by which we select, organise and interpret external stimuli and information into terms and categories which are meaningful and consistent with our own frames of reference. We all need a selection mechanism as we are incessantly exposed to a multitude of stimuli and have to filter out extraneous 'noise' to find and identify those which are relevant and important to us as individuals. Listening to music on the radio, we know the baby is asleep upstairs. When she cries, we screen out the music and concentrate to hear whether the cry is a pain cry, a hunger cry, or a temper cry, to help us decide what action to take. Selection enables us to avoid distracting or unimportant stimuli. We then organise this filtered information into clusters and categories that, through remembered experience, enable us to make interpretations in relation to our internal frames of reference. We might classify someone who accepts all information as true, without checking, as trusting. Past experiences of ourselves and of others who were trusting may have shown that the information given was not accurate - even in some cases, was deliberately inaccurate - and that acting on the assumption of accuracy has led to unexpected and negative outcomes. We therefore link together the concepts of trust, unqualified acceptance of information, deception, and negative consequences. We say that people who are trusting are prone to deception and unexpected pitfalls. This may not be objectively real, but it is subjectively 'real' for the person described in the example, and it therefore influences their attitude and behaviour toward people they perceive as 'trusting'. Filters and Stereotypes Effective understanding of other people depends very much on interacting and communicating with them, 'getting to know' them. C A B Figure 1 In figure 1, A's and B's perceptions and impression of person C are different, even though the information passed from C to A and B is the same, because A and B have different values, beliefs, attitudes and remembered experiences - different filters. C A B Figure 2 When, as in Figure 2, A and B communicate to each other their perceptions of C, and a process of disclosure and feedback occurs, A and B are more likely to understand each other's perception of C. C A Figure 3 B Greater common understanding develops when A, B and C share and feedback perceptions of each other. C A B Figure 4 And even greater empathy and understanding occurs when, as in Figure 4, A, B and C share some common values, beliefs, attitudes and remembered experiences. Too often, however, in organisations, we have to make judgements of other people based on limited information. In these situations we face the conflict of needing to be as accurate as possible in our perceptions while needing also to make-up our minds as quickly as possible. In these cases where time or information is short, we often tend to stereotype people into categories which fit the aggregation of the limited information available, within the parameters of our past experiences. Prejudice occurs by simply categorising people on incomplete information, or by simply refusing to accept evidence about individuals which conflicts with previous experience. However, we often have to rely on 'first impressions' in such situations as selection interviews, or in making a sale to an unknown customer. This brings in the third factor which influences perception - the situation - together with the other two - the perceiver, and the perceived. Dealing first with the 'perceived'. Our perception and categorisation of, and our behaviour towards other people, are influenced to a certain extent by their apparent characteristics. Some of these which affect our interactions with them are: (a) Physical appearance 'Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look. He thinks too much. Such men are dangerous'. There are many old adages that link personality characteristics to physical appearance. Gestures, demeanours, and facial expressions are also important influences on our perception. Two fingers raised in a Victory sign by Winston Churchill in 1940 evoked admiration for his courage and defiance. Two fingers raised in vulgar contempt by an irate driver, generate entirely different feelings in us when we have to form impressions based on public behaviour. We may infer characteristics of strong self-discipline from the ramrod figure of a Sergeant Major, while feeling that a person who is unkempt and mooches around is lazy and unmotivated. A scowl makes us unhappy, while a smile makes us want to smile back. Dress also affects our evaluation of other people - we dress smartly for an important interview in order to make a good impression. (b) Verbal and Social Cues One of the most influential factors in our perception of other people is their verbal behaviour - how people speak, and what they say. We all have our own pictures of someone who speaks with a broad Yorkshire accent, or a Scouse accent, or a Scots, Cockney or German accent. Grammatical exactitude and the use of long words may influence us to see people as very intelligent, though this may not be the case. People's education and status are often categorised by their manner of speech. If you went to a public school, and were happy there, you could tend to attribute positive characteristics to someone with a strong public school accent. People who speak loudly are often considered extrovert - or even vulgar - while people with soft voices are thought to be shy and sensitive. (c) Motor Behaviour 'People who won't look you in the eye are shifty and unreliable'. 'Strong handshake - strong character'. Certain personality traits are often inferred from people's motor behaviour. These various cues - physical appearance, verbal, social and motor behaviour - help us to form impressions of other people in a first social interaction. Some may be valid, others not. There appears, however, to be a low correlation between most of these factors and personality traits. How, and which, cues are selected, depends on the values, attitudes and beliefs of our particular culture and society, as well as on those of ourselves, the perceivers. Some of the factors specific to us, the perceiver, which affect the perception of other people are: (a) Our own values, beliefs, attitudes, prejudices and remembered experiences. (b) Our level of awareness and knowledge of, and confidence in, ourselves. People with accurate perceptions of themselves are likely to be more accurate in their perceptions of others. Positive attributes are also more likely to be given to people perceived to be like ‘us’, and vice versa. If the perceiver is loyal and committed to his organisation, he is likely to discount people who are not. (c) Our current needs, feelings and state of mind. People's perceptions are likely to be affected by immediate past and current events - those events which are currently influencing their feelings and behaviour. A person seriously worried about his finances is not likely to take kindly to someone who is trying to sell him an expensive continental holiday. d) Our expectations about other people. If told someone is brilliant, we tend to see brilliance - at first. If told that someone is a cold fish, we expect to see someone who meets this description, and this influences our initial perception of, and behaviour towards that person. People seem to see what they expect to see, and often the conflicting evidence needs to be overwhelming before it is accepted. Situational factors can be very influential when forming first impressions of people. Since we have few behavioural cues to help us, the context (a board meeting or a car accident), the environment (a police station or a football match), and the perceived value of the other person to ourselves (the Managing Director or a disliked neighbour) all affect our perception. When meeting new people we have to rely on inadequate information to form impressions about them. This information may be reliable or not, but on this slender basis we tend to predict their future behaviour. First impressions, of course, don't last. As we interact more with other people we are collecting, selecting, categorising and interpreting more information about them, and we can more easily understand their behaviour and predict it more accurately. But we can improve our ability to understand other people and their behaviour by being aware of these three influencing factors - the perceived, the perceiver, and the situation. Of these three we have most control over ourselves, the perceivers. The more we understand and have confidence in ourselves, the more likely we are to understand others.
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