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Encoding Information

Encoding Information

Author: marlene johnson

At the end of this tutorial, the learner will understand that information can be encoded in multiple ways during communication

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Video Transcription

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So you want to send me some information. Or perhaps I want to send you some information. How do we make sure that when we send each other this information, it's clear, it's meaningful, and it's been an effective communication?

A lot of times, we might send information back and forth. And it's not as effective as we would want it to be. And when that happens, it can lead to conflicts. I'm Marlene. And this is a topic I'd like to take up with you today.

So let's look at how we send this information back and forth. We have a variety of ways that we could do it. And however we do it, it's going to involve symbols and codes. So what do I mean by symbols and codes?

Well, symbols could be we both speak English. And we use the alphabetic. A symbol could be a letter in the alphabet.

String some letters together. Make up words. I could send those words to you in an email. And we have information.

So words and letters of an alphabet are an example of symbols and codes. A code really is a set of symbols with consistent meanings used to hold and convey information. And a word is one example. Symbols are a representation of a concept in a tangible form. The tangible form, in this case-- letters in an alphabet.

Now that's just one example of a code and a symbol. There are a variety of different codes we can choose from to send information. Words, which of course could be spoken or written.

Or let's say we aren't able to speak to one another. We don't speak the same language. And if you've ever traveled in a foreign country, you've probably run into this.

We can use gestures. So you try to act out something. You want something in a restaurant. And you might-- like you're pouring water. Or hello, come here, no. So we use symbols to convey a message. Or we act things out, using our gestures as symbols to form a code that we hope this other party will understand.

So gestures, pictures-- that's another way we can do it. In fact, before there were movies with sound, people used to pay good money to see silent pictures. They'd go sit in a movie theater, and there'd be nothing but pictures going across the screen. And the pictures would tell a story. The pictures were the code.

So symbols and codes, however we use them, are what we use to send information. So information is a sequence of symbols that can be interpreted as a message. It is an awareness of things inside and outside the self that must be encoded in symbols to be conveyed to another. Now you could simplify this by simply saying, information is what you don't already know. And so we need to transmit it back and forth between each other.

Now broadly speaking, there are two ways we can do this-- verbally and nonverbally. So let's start with verbal communication. Verbal communication is communication using the code commonly called spoken or written language. So when we speak, if we speak the same language, we use words, verbally. And when we use this words or this language to communicate in writing, whether it be by email, or I send something in the mail, or you write a book, then of course, that's written language.

Now to be effective, we have to make sure that we're understanding this verbal communication in the same way. So what could get in the way? Well, let's say you're speaking to someone who, perhaps, English is not their first language. And you say, boy, I'm so glad we've met the deadline on the project. I'm just going to go home and chill.

This person thinks, chill? Why would you want to do that in a Minnesota winter? Because "chill," the meaning of that word, as we all know, has something to do with shivering and being cold.

Of course, in the context you're using it, you don't mean that at all. You mean relax-- run home and relax. But that meaning in this context was not communicated.

Or you could use a phrase that somebody doesn't understand. Let's think outside the box. Well, what does that mean? If someone hasn't heard that phrase before, what does it mean to think outside the box?

It's think creatively. So that meaning might not come through if people don't have the same meanings for your words. So those are a couple of examples. And I think oftentimes we use acronyms or abbreviations, expecting that people will understand when they don't.

Now let's look at the second broad way that we can communicate. That is nonverbal communication. And that is communication using a variety of physical codes.

So what do I mean by physical codes? Well, let me give you some examples of nonverbal communication. Going to put these up here. So we can communicate nonverbally in all these ways-- body language, eye contact, gestures, and facial expressions.

Now the interesting thing here is that often, what we do nonverbally might contradict what we're doing verbally. So for example, body language-- we might be wanting to have a friendly conversation. We're standing like this. And it might look like we're defensive.

Or we're in a meeting. And we are interested in what the person's saying. But we're sitting here doing this-- looking down, texting, perhaps.

And we're just so used to texting or sending text messages, we don't realize we're sending a contradictory message to the person speaking in this meeting, who might be offended by our nonverbal behavior here. So body language, in a variety of ways, we're always sending signals that way when we are present in front of someone. And it can contradict with our verbal.

Eye contact-- often in this culture, we like to have direct eye contact. It means that we're listening. We're respecting the individual. But in some cultures, direct eye contact is considered a bit aggressive. So it could be interpreted differently, depending on the culture.

Then we have gestures. We already saw how we will rely on gestures if we're speaking to someone who doesn't share the same spoken language that we share. But we use gestures to help punctuate something.

We might say, go team. Or it was a large contract. We use gestures to show for you, for me. Quite naturally, we'll gesture when we're talking.

And then of course, there's facial expressions. And sometimes our facial expressions might give us away and communicate something we don't want to be communicating. Once again, you're sitting in a meeting. Someone makes a suggestion or shares an idea. And you roll your eyes.

Well, anybody who sees that-- particularly the person sharing the idea-- is going to get the idea that you are, perhaps, ridiculing what he or she said. Maybe you didn't even know they saw you roll your eyes. Or you might say, yeah, I think that's a good idea. I really do. But everything about your nonverbal seems to contradict what you're saying.

When that happens, communication is never effective. So it's important to be aware that we have both verbal communication and a variety of ways with nonverbal communication to get messages across.

Now I've been talking about spoken messages here. When we are writing, you might say, well, there's no nonverbal. Well, there isn't a nonverbal. People can't see your facial expression. They can't hear you.

But have you ever had, say, an email message misinterpreted? Because people thought you sounded bossy, or arrogant, or something that you didn't even intend? Well, in writing, that's called tone. We may come across with a particular message just the way we sound in writing. And oftentimes, that's easy to misinterpret, because we don't have the other nonverbal signals there.

Whenever I've asked this question of people, say, in a workshop setting-- have you ever been misinterpreted on email?-- everybody raises their hand. So once again, it just brings to the focus-- to the forefront-- the importance of looking at our communications, being aware of the variety of ways we code information, and how it can be interpreted. And how when there's contradictory messages being sent, or we're sending messages that might be misinterpreted, we can have problems that could potentially lead to conflict. So I've enjoyed being part of this tutorial. And I look forward to next time.

Terms to Know

A set of symbols with consistent meanings used to hold and convey information.


A sequence of symbols that can be interpreted as a message. An awareness of things inside/outside the self that must be encoded in symbols to be conveyed to another. "What you don't already know".

Non-Verbal Communication

Communication using a variety of physical codes.


A representation of a concept in a tangible form.

Verbal Communication

Communication using the code commonly called spoken or written language.