What Leads to Miscommunication?

The Basic Communication Model Explained

When communication breaks down, we too often label it “miscommunication.” Unfortunately, this word doesn’t help us understand how to improve or prevent similar situations from occurring in the future. An understanding of the basic communication model helps to identify more precise causes of miscommunication and improve the way we communicate with others.

The basic communication model depicts communication as a process of sending and receiving messages. The model‒presented below‒appears linear, but in reality communication is a dynamic and complex process.

Sender: The communication process begins with thoughts inside the head of the message sender and, at some point, they identify a reason to communicate. The sender may consider the situation, their objective, the recipient of the message, how best to send the message, and what the message should include.

Message: When the sender converts thoughts into words they encode a message. Messages are a combination of elements, including:

  • Content: the combination of words to convey meaning

  • Treatment: the tone the message conveys

  • Structure: how the message is organized

Channel: A communication channel, sometimes referred to as the medium, is the way the message gets from the sender to the receiver. A message can be delivered orally, in writing, and even non-verbally. Examples of each type are included in the list below.

  • Oral: face-to-face conversations, presentations, or mediated conversations via technology (e.g., telephone or video conferencing)

  • Written: emails, text messages, social media posts, letters, and reports

  • Nonverbal: facial expressions, gestures, movement, and touch

Receiver: The message receiver, also known as the audience, interprets/decodes the message. The same message can be decoded differently by different people, increasing the chances that messages may not be received the way the message sender intends.

Feedback: When the message receiver responds to the message sender they are providing feedback. At this point, the receiver becomes the sender.

Noise: Barriers that can interrupt the flow of communication are called noise. Three types of noise and examples are provided in the list that follows.

  • Semantic: When the message sender uses words the message receiver does not understand (e.g., jargon, technical or abstract language)

  • Environmental noise: Sights, sounds, and touch that distract the receiver from understanding a message.

  • Psychological: Internal thoughts, assumptions, and emotions that impact how a message is received.

The next time you experience a communication breakdown, consider the following list of questions to help you better understand what may have gone wrong:

  • Is the purpose of the communication clear?

  • Has the message been properly tailored to the recipient?

  • Is the message organized with the recipient in mind?

  • Is the appropriate communication channel used?

  • Has the message sender taken efforts to reduce noise?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, then you will be closer to understanding the cause of the communication issue, and you will be able to take steps to avoid a similar breakdown in the future.

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