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The Communication Process 101

The Communication Process 101

Author: marlene johnson

At the end of this tutorial, the learner will understand the general process underlying communication.

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We spend our days communicating. We talk to family, friends, coworkers. We send emails. We receive emails. We leave voicemail. We send voice messages. We need to communicate in order to get anything done, and to have relationships. And when it works well, it's great. When it doesn't work so well, well, it can lead to conflict.

I'm Marlene, and in this tutorial, I'd like to talk with you about the basic communication process, how it should work, and why sometimes it might not work so well. So, first of all communication. It can be defined as the process of moving information from person to person using symbolic codes.

Symbolic codes. You might wonder what that is. Well, if you've ever seen a spy movie where you've got guys trying to decode something, they were either the good guys or the bad guys. Or maybe you've heard on the news about computer hackers trying to break a code. Or back in World War II, when they used telegraphs or Morse Code.

We had experts trying to break the code, to find out what the enemy was trying to communicate. Today, we even have archaeologists going in to caves, trying to decode the hieroglyphics that the cave men left, and hieroglyphics were nothing but a series of pictures. So, we all are familiar with this idea of decoding, and a code is simply a set of symbolic symbols with consistent meanings use to hold and convey information.

So whether it's keystrokes, the pictures in a cave that the cavemen used, or letters in an alphabet that make up words. When you're decoding something, you're trying to decode these symbols. So a symbol is a representation of a concept in a tangible form. As I said, keystrokes, letters in the alphabet, even tapping if it's Morse code, or pictures.

These symbols, you put them together. They form words, or pictures, if you're a caveman, and you put them together, and you have information. So, information is a sequence of symbols that can be interpreted as a message. We all know about information. We live in a world of information overload. We might say too much information. Messages. We all know, you have mail.

Emails, tweets, blogs, people talking to us, voicemail, junk mail. It might seem endless. Well, a message is simply a "packet" of information which has been encoded-- you have have these symbols they put into a code-- and is moved from sender to receiver. So, now let's look at what happens when you actually try to move these codes, the symbols, back and forth between sender and receiver.

Want to introduce you to Jack and Tony. So, here we have Jack, and we're going to call him our sender. He's got a message that he wants to send to Tony.

So, a sender in communication, is the person moving information from him or herself to another. So, Jack here, might decide to email, tweet, blog, or maybe he's just going to pick up the phone and talk to Tony, or maybe they're in the same room. He's got to decide how he wants to send this message. What kind of a code, spoken or written.

Tony here, depending on what Jack does, is going to either read or hear what Tony says. So, Tony has-- --this is his little thought bubble here. He's got some information up here, and he wants to get it to Tony.

Now, wouldn't it be nice, you probably thought this would be nice at some point in your life, if you could just take what's in your head, and move it over into someone else's head. Sort of beam it over there. Raw information. One person to the next. Can't do it.

Jack can't just move this information into Tony's head. This sort of reminds me when I was growing up, my father used to say to my mother, Llewella, you just can't put an adulthood's head on a kid's shoulders. Sometimes you wish you could do that, but you can't.

So, you have to take the information up here, in your head, and you have to encode it, and then send it. Now, let's say Jack and Tony both speak English. This should be simple. Hey, they both speak English. No problem.

I think oftentimes we think it's simple. It's kind of like, I've got the ball, I'm the sender. Here, Jack's got the ball. He's going to throw it to Tony. Tony throws it back to Jack. Their just throwing it, and this ball is the message.

Hey. I got a message. I send it to you. You send it and we're on a roll here. Not so fast. It's not quite that simple. A lot of times, instead of throwing a ball back and forth, it's a little more like throwing jello.

You could imagine this. Someone throws you jello, you catch it, but you probably don't get all it. There's blobs of it that fall apart. There's blobs of it that fall apart. So, how does this happen? Jack here, is trying to send Tony a message, should be simple.

Well, it's because of something called filters. Now, a filter is a factor that can prevent a message from being received or cause it to be received or interpreted in a way other than the one meant by the sender. So, that's when the ball starts turning into jello, these filters.

So, let me give you some examples. Let's say, Jack wants to send this message to Tony. He's going to call him up, and there's static. Ever been out there, can you hear me now? Ah, can hear me now? Can you hear me now? OK. That's static you know? Tony can't get the message. Or maybe they're in a restaurant together. It's very noisy. There's a band playing. Tony can't hear it.

So, that's external static or maybe, just maybe Tony's driving, And he's multitasking. Tony shouldn't be driving, but he is while he's on his cell phone, or he's sitting at home, and he's checking his email while he's also trying to talk to Jack here. So, there's a lot of filters coming in, and he may not get all of it. OK. He might not get everything Jack's saying.

Well, there could be an internal filter. Tony's a little cranky with Jack. OK. Or Jack says something that kind of upsets Tony. So, now he's not even paying attention to the message. He's just focusing on the statement that Jack made that he found upsetting. Or maybe Jack says to Tony, get this to me ASAP.

And Tony thinks, ASAP, as soon as possible. OK. I'll get it him in the middle of the week, when I finish with my other project. And actually what Jack meant by ASAP, when he said as soon as possible, is right now. Drop everything and get it to me right now.

Now, if Jack is Tony's boss, and he meant right now, and Tony misinterpreted that, even though they speak the same language, and doesn't get it to him right away, well, you can see how that would lead to conflict.

So, is there a solution here. Well, yes. There is. We thought this was communication. It was just, I throw the ball to you. You catch it. Maybe you don't get it all though. You didn't catch it.

It was a little more like throwing jello. So, before you can say you had what we would call a communication event, the sender needs a confirmation message. So, what is that? Confirmation message is a message sent by receiver to sender indicating that a message has been received and indicating how the message is been interpreted.

So, in this case, Tony got back and said, ASAP. So, let me clarify what you mean by that. Is it OK if I get it next week? Well, then he may have, he probably would have heard back from Jack, his boss letting him know, No, that's not what I meant.

So, it's clarifying the message. Now, sometimes it might be simple. You think, we don't need to do this. I ask you for the milk. You just give me the milk. It's like sitting at the table with you, and that's fine unless there happens to be skim milk, 2%, and whole milk, and you're not sure which kind of milk I want if it's all sitting there.

So, communication is so critical to relationships. It's the way we operate in the world, but it's vital to communicate clearly to avoid conflict. So, this little introduction here, in terms of how the communication process works, the fact that it's not quite as smooth as we think it should be in many instances because of the filters and the need for a confirmation message can be helpful.

When you think about ways to avoid conflict or to communicate more clearly with someone so that actually you don't create 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.


The process of moving information from person to person using symbolic codes.

Confirmation Message

A message sent by receiver to sender indicating that a message has been received and indicating how the message has been interpreted.


A factor that can prevent a message from being received or cause it to be received or interpreted in a way other than the one meant by the sender.


A sequence of symbols that can be interpreted as a message.


A "packet" of information which has been encoded and is moved from sender to receiver.


In communication, the person receiving information from another.


In communication, the person moving information from him or herself to another.


A representation of a concept in a tangible form.