The Communication Process

The goal of communication is to convey information—and the understanding of that information—from one person or group to another person or group. This communication process is divided into three basic components: A sender transmits a message through a channel to the receiver. (Figure shows a more elaborate model.) The sender first develops an idea, which is composed into a message and then transmitted to the other party, who interprets the message and receives meaning. Information theorists have added somewhat more complicated language. Developing a message is known as encoding. Interpreting the message is referred to as decoding.


The other important feature is the feedback cycle. When two people interact, communication is rarely one‐way only. When a person receives a message, she responds to it by giving a reply. The feedback cycle is the same as the sender‐receiver feedback noted in Figure . Otherwise, the sender can't know whether the other parties properly interpreted the message or how they reacted to it. Feedback is especially significant in management because a supervisor has to know how subordinates respond to directives and plans. The manager also needs to know how work is progressing and how employees feel about the general work situation.

The critical factor in measuring the effectiveness of communication is common understanding. Understanding exists when all parties involved have a mutual agreement as to not only the information, but also the meaning of the information. Effective communication, therefore, occurs when the intended message of the sender and the interpreted message of the receiver are one and the same. Although this should be the goal in any communication, it is not always achieved.

The most efficient communication occurs at a minimum cost in terms of resources expended. Time, in particular, is an important resource in the communication process. For example, it would be virtually impossible for an instructor to take the time to communicate individually with each student in a class about every specific topic covered. Even if it were possible, it would be costly. This is why managers often leave voice mail messages and interact by e‐mail rather than visit their subordinates personally.

However, efficient time‐saving communications are not always effective. A low‐cost approach such as an e‐mail note to a distribution list may save time, but it does not always result in everyone getting the same meaning from the message. Without opportunities to ask questions and clarify the message, erroneous interpretations are possible. In addition to a poor choice of communication method, other barriers to effective communication include noise and other physical distractions, language problems, and failure to recognize nonverbal signals.

Sometimes communication is effective, but not efficient. A work team leader visiting each team member individually to explain a new change in procedures may guarantee that everyone truly understands the change, but this method may be very costly on the leader's time. A team meeting would be more efficient. In these and other ways, potential tradeoffs between effectiveness and efficiency occur.