Communication happens through a process in which people use verbal and nonverbal methods to share information with one another. Verbal communication involves using words that are written, spoken, or signed; nonverbal communication is simply communication without words (body language, for example). Because the communication process is complex, it’s helpful to break it down into parts. As your understanding of this process grows, you’ll be able to focus on the various aspects of it and become a more effective communicator.
Think of communication as a game of catch, but with ideas instead of a ball. It doesn’t work without at least two people (one to deliver and one to receive), and both parties need to actually put effort into what they’re doing. A passer who isn’t fully focused is likely to miss the target, just as a catcher who isn’t paying attention to where the ball is going will probably miss the catch.
In the same way, a speaker and a listener—or maybe a writer and a reader—must both pay attention and try their best for communication to be effective. But they probably aren’t taking distinct turns as they would in a typical game of catch. Instead, interpersonal communication is more like two people juggling balls back and forth. As the model below shows, communication is an ongoing process in which people are simultaneously sending and receiving messages.
Message—Like a ball being tossed to a receiver, the message is the ideas being shared with the listener either verbally or nonverbally.
Source—The source of the message is the person who is speaking, writing, or doing something else to deliver or share ideas.
Receiver—Just like in a game of catch, there has to be a receiver, someone who “catches” the message and interprets it. This component can also be referred to as an audience, especially when there is more than one receiver.
Interference—Anything that distorts the message, or distracts you from it, is considered interference. This can be caused by a noisy setting or by the thoughts and emotions that keep you from attending to the message.
Context—This refers to the situation in which the communication occurs. Context can include the condition of the physical environment, the number of people involved, and the existing relationship between the speaker and listener.
Identifying these different components of communication will help you focus on each part of the communication process. As you practice the strategies outlined in this course, you’ll develop your communication skill and cultivate your ability to deliver information, articulate ideas, listen effectively, and connect to various audiences.