Monday, 22 April 2013

The Mystery of Communication


For decades scholars have tried to describe communication through different models. The ”oldest” is the transmission model, or sender-receiver model. In this model the belief is that a sender can transmit his/her idea to the receiver as such. Well, I guess we know from practice that this usually isn’t the case. However we still act according to this model in various moments in our daily lives. For instance comments such as ”…but I’ve told you thousands of times…” represent the idea that what we say no matter how many times or how loud, it should be understood as we understand it. If the other one doesn’t seem to understand we start to repeat and re-phrase the same thing over and over again until we become frustrated and give up: ”You just don’t get it”, ”You are not listening”. Sounds familiar?

Later, features such as noise and feedback loops were added to the transmission model to describe the complexity of communication. Also the roles of the sender and the receiver became more reciprocal, and sending and receiving was seen as simultaneous acts.

However, communication is much more complex than just sending or receiving messages through different channels.

The constructionist model of communication describes communication as a process of co-creation of the social worlds we live in. We live in communication and it’s the essence of being human. Whereas in the transmission model our focus lies on how clearly the message was transmitted and how accurately it was heard, the constructionist model draws our attention to what we are making together and how we are making it.

I’ve find it helpful to think that even in a conversation between two people there are actually many other voices speaking. In a sense, there are at least six people:
  1. who you think you are
  2. who you think the other person is
  3. who you think the other person thinks you are
  4. who the other person thinks he/she is
  5. who the other person thinks you are
  6. who the other person thinks you think he/she is

Our view of self and others is shaped, defined, and maintained in communication. The first step to become a good communicator is to become aware that communication is a complex process and we can only grasp a piece of it. There’s always a lot more to know and learn.

Instead af assuming, try curiosity. 



Further reading:

Hackman, M. Z. & Johnson, C. E. 2009. Leadership. A Communication Perspective. 

Morreale, S. P., Spitzberg, B. H. & Barge, J. K. 2007. Human Communication: Motivation, Knowledge, and Skills.

Pearce, W. B. 2007. Making Social Worlds. A Communication Perspective.

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