So wayyyy back when I started this blog – and this journey with you guys – the first thing we looked at was the definition of theory. Now, 20 odd posts later (achievement unlocked!) I realise I forgot one important thing.
What is communication?
Isn’t that weird? This blog is all about things to do with communication and we didn’t even really discuss in any depth whatsoever what communication is. How remiss of me, don’t you think?
So let’s deal with that now, shall we?
At its most basic level, the word ‘communication’ describes a process of imparting or exchanging information. But we aren’t here for basic. To dive a little deeper into what communication is, it’s important to look at how it is modelled.
The Linear Model
The linear model of communication was inspired by telephone conversations in the 1940’s. It is credited to Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver who modelled the communication process such that successful sending and receiving of a message is determined by the channel’s capacity to handle signal degradation caused by static noise. The linear model is so called because communication moves in a (unidirectional) straight line.
Unfortunately, this model is the most limited. Granted, we have to give jack his jacket (give them credit) for getting us on our way to figuring out the ins and outs of communication. We got useful things out of it – ‘source’, ‘receiver’, ‘noise’.
The Interactional Model
A few years after Shannon and Weaver gave us the linear model, Wilbur Schramm proposed an alternate model that portrayed communication as a two-way interaction.
With Schramm’s model communication moved from a linear process to a circular one where participants are both senders and receivers of messages. This model also introduces useful concepts like communication context and fields of experience, which are the frames of reference that each participant brings to the communication act.
The downside with this model is that it makes communication look like such a passive process. Rather than how we know communication to be a process in which we are always simultaneously sending and receiving messages, it makes it seem as though each participant initiates a message and waits until the other responds.
In order to demonstrate this simultaneity which occurs within the communication process, we move finally to the transactional model.
The Transactional Model
Perhaps the first model to portray communication as a simultaneous transaction is attributed to Dean Barnlund.In this model, messages and feedback are being simultaneously exchanged between communicators. They are engaged together in a transaction, and thus their fields of experience overlap.
Enough with being technical…
So I’ve said all that to say what exactly?
The way we derive meaning from these three models is the way we define communication. The models have provided us with all these technical terms – source (sender), receiver, channel, noise, feedback, context, fields of experience – and a means of combining them.
- Communication takes place within a context – a time and a place – and between the fields of experience of the participants.
- We are, at all times, both sending and receiving messages through a channel or medium.
- Noise can inhibit effective communication, i.e the extent to which a message is understood.
From the basic definition through the models to the interaction of these technical elements, we’ve come full circle.
Cyndi, the Transactionalist