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  1. 1. Dr. Kretov Kirill – introduction tointerpersonal Communication.Present article is a part of Master Thesis written and successfully defended by Dr. Kretov Kirill (Master ofArts in Human Resource Management and Doctor of Business Administration) in May 2007, Geneva,Switzerland.The primary objective of this present article is to discuss communication: define the concept ofcommunication, explain the communication process in its entirety and enumerate factors which mayimprove its efficiency.Communication "Communication" is defined by Wikipedia as follows: Communication is a process that allows organisms to exchange information by several methods1. The clarity and scope of this definition are self-evident – in addition to explaining the term, itimplies that communication is characteristic to all living beings. In fact, alternative definitions of theterm tend to incorporate the notion even further, suggesting that animals and even bacteriacommunicate on a purely biological level. Therefore, a more accurate definition is needed to emphasizethe importance of meaningful communication if the subject of purely human interaction is to beconsidered: Communication can be defined as the process of meaningful interaction among human beings. Itis the act of passing information and the process by which meanings are exchanged so as to produceunderstanding. This definition helps explain the fundamental concept that lies at the heart of communication aswell as narrows the scope of communication in question to human beings alone. As such, it is thepreferred definition and will therefore be used for the remaining part of the paper.1
  2. 2. Importance Communication is vital. As previously discussed, it is an essential characteristic of all livingbeings, whether bacteria, reptiles or, indeed, homo-sapiens. The underlying need for communication isundeniable. It stems from a combination of both physical needs and animal instincts and is crucial tosurvival. However, one of the fundamental differences between human beings and animals is theformers’ vastly more complicated behaviour mechanisms, which in turn necessitate more accurate,advanced and complex methods of communication. Spiritually, misunderstanding of merely a few wordscan mean the difference between life and death. From a purely sociological perspective, it is safe to assert that the formation and continuedfunctioning of a grouping or organization is impossible without communication between its members.Furthermore, communication remains an essential precondition of the effectiveness of any such entity.Modern society and, indeed, all of its accomplishments and advancements – whether manufacturing acar, learning to milk a cow or constructive a nuclear warhead – would have been impossible toaccomplish without associated communication. Research indicates that inadequate communication isone of the most frequently cited sources of interpersonal conflict.2 EyeComTec Communication is vital for all human beings. But it may happen that a person is entirely limitedin communication, not being able to express himself neither by speech, nor by sign language. This is dueto the loss of motor activity - partial (hypokinesia) or complete (akinesia). In the first case, the mobility islost due to various diseases of the nervous system, and post-traumatic states of the brain and spinalcord, as well as strokes. In the second case, the loss of activity is a consequence of complex mentaldisorders and paralysis. All of us are so used to the constant movement and communication through speech that allthese diseases and problems can seem totally distant and insignificant. But, after losing in one terriblemoment, something that was considered so routine and natural the patient will literally be cut off fromthe world. There will be no possibility for him to move, to ask the doctor to help, or tell his close onesabout his condition. This is an irreparable loss for both the patient and his family. The only salvation for the patient in this case is his eyes. Even in the case of complex hemiplegia(paralysis of muscles of one side of the body), many people retain a total or partial ability to controltheir eyes and blink, as cranial nerves driving the eyeballs remain intact. Thus the patient keeps a last,lackluster compared with the lost abilities but only possible link to communicate with the outside world.With eye movements and blinks he can respond to unambiguous questions of the doctor, for example:one blink - yes, two blinks - no. At the same time, the patient has to resign himself to the fact that he’llbe unable to communicate voluntarily, outside simple one word answers. Or does he?2 K.W. Thomas and W.H. Schmidt, “A Survey of Managerial Interests with Respect to Conflict,” Academy ofManagement Journal, June 1976, p.317.
  3. 3. At EyeComTec3 (a subdivision of LAZgroup SA) -- a group of developers creating software to helppeople who are suffering from paralysis or significantly impaired mobility. Their mission is to developeffective and affordable technology allowing them to communicate exclusively through eye movements.They have already created working algorithms and prototypes of the programs; in the near future(Spring 2013), they will be documented and published on the official web-site Interpersonal Communication Communication has been defined earlier as the transfer and understanding of a certain meaning– but how exactly do the members of a group transfer such meaning among themselves? Existingresearch distinguishes between three methods of communication – oral, written and non-verbal. A. Oral Oral communication is the single most common method of transferring a certain meaning,simply because it is the first form of communication that human beings are exposed to. When a baby isborn, its cries are not merely a source of delight for the parents – it is also the human being’s firstattempt at oral communication. Oral communication is therefore ingrained in humans from birth. It encompasses meaningfulwords and sounds produced by human beings in an attempt to create understanding with othersthrough the transfer of meaning. Like every other method, oral communication has its advantages and disadvantages. Firstly, it isfast – the delay between sending a verbal message and receiving a verbal response is usually minimal.This enables human beings to exchange enormous volumes of information in comparatively negligibleamounts of time. Secondly, in cases where the receives is uncertain as to the precise meaning of themessage, feedback and clarification can be requested in real time, enabling corrections by the sender totake place instantaneously. The single biggest disadvantage of oral communication is the possibility of distortion when amessage has to pass through several people. The likelihood of such distortion increases in directproportion to the number of people it is communicated through. The “broken telephone” game playedin primary school remains an equally valid example of distorted meaning in business communication. Asa result, oral communication becomes clearly insufficient when sensitive information needs to becommunicated via a number of intermediary recipients. Possible distortion is avoided in such casesthrough the use of Written communication. B. Written Written communication encompasses the transmission of meaning through words and/orsymbols, such as e-mails, instruction manuals, notes, faxes and everyday literature. Written3 EyeComTec is a subdivision of LAZgroup SA - a group of developers creating software to help people who aresuffering from paralysis or significantly impaired mobility. The primary mission of EyeComTec is to developeffective and affordable technology allowing them to communicate exclusively through eye movements
  4. 4. communication is often the preferred method because it is both tangible and verifiable. For example,the photocopy of an instruction manual or the digital copy of an electronic message can be stored forlater reference. In contrast, while such storage is possible with oral communication through the use of atape recorder, it is relatively time-consuming, complicated, prone to technical errors and difficult torefer to (consider a situation where one needs to refer to a limited portion of data from a 2-hourpresentation). The second major advantage of written communication stems from its very nature. Whenconfronted with the need to put their thoughts down on paper, human beings are usually far morecareful with the way they present the information. Unlike oral communication, written transfers ofmeaning do not require the creation of the original message to be nearly instantaneous, and thisenables the sender to carefully construct the message, eliminating ambiguities and possible sources ofmisunderstanding or offense. As a result, written communication has the potential to be far morelogical, clear and thought-out than its oral counterpart. The major downside of written communication is time. Unlike oral communication, the writtenmethod is far more time-consuming. Additionally, it frequently involves completing a range ofprerequisite activities before a written message can be dispatched, such as spell checking or clearhandwriting. While currently available software helps automate some of these tasks and makes othersdownright redundant, written communication still remains an indisputably more time-consuming formof interaction. The final major disadvantage of written communication is feedback - or lack of it. Unlike oralcommunication where feedback is normally instantaneous, no such rapid feedback mechanism exists forthe written form. As a result, the certainty that the message will be received is reduced, as is thelikelihood that it will be interpreted as intended. While the option of contacting the receiver foradditional clarification and/or verification exists, it is not always available and is relatively time-consuming. Due to these reasons, written communication should be treated as a complementary formof communication in a given entity rather than the exclusive one. C. Nonverbal The last communication method to be discussed in this section is nonverbal communication.Nonverbal communication often takes place when we are sending a verbal message to someone4;however, in some cases, it also occurs even when no verbal message is being sent. In fact, someresearchers even argue that everything human beings do – from smiles and intonations to bodymovements and hairstyle – can be classified as nonverbal communication, albeit one with a meaningthat is difficult to extract and accurately interpret. High emotional intelligence is often an advantage –people possessing it can frequently extract more information from the sender by looking at how theverbal message is said instead of focusing merely on what is said. For instance, while a verbal messagemay say “Yes”, its nonverbal counterpart (for instance, the eyes of the sender) may actually convey the4 L.S. Rashotte, “What Does That Smile Mean? The meaning of Nonverbal Behaviors in Social Interaction,” SocialPsychology Quarterly, March 2002, pp.92-102.
  5. 5. opposite meaning. Understanding such subtleties is essential not only for ethical reasons, but alsobecause it helps improve the quality and effectiveness of transferring a message. According to J. Fast5, every body movement has a meaning; no movement is accidental. Peopleoften unintentionally send messages, often to their own detriment - consider cases where a speakeraddressing a large audience may send signals of uncertainty through a shaky voice or intonation. Body language is a very interesting field of study, but its root lie primarily in psychology. For HRmanagers, however, there are two essential messages that a body can convey. The first is the extent towhich an individual is interested in and appreciates the view of others. The second is the perceivedstatus of people involved in such an interaction (5). For instance, human beings tend to positionthemselves closer to people they like. While body language adds a deeper meaning to a sender’s message, it can also complicateverbal communication. This stems from the fundamental problem that there is no universally acceptedstandard of interpreting nonverbal communication. Furthermore, such interpretation can often beaffected by the personality, cultural background and experience of the receiver, to name only a few suchvariables. The single most critical disadvantage of nonverbal communication is that messages sent in thismanner are both difficult to control by the sender and difficult to interpret by the receiver. The Communication Process In defining the concept of communication, it was mentioned that it is a process of transferringmeaning. This section will analyze this process in greater detail by breaking it down into a number ofsteps that result in the transfer and understanding of the meaning. Various models of this process exist,due to multiple researchers identifying different – and occasionally conflicting – sets of steps involved.Some of these models are purely technical, such as Bell’s original sketches of the telephone6 and bearlittle practical use for an HR practitioner, while others are severely out of date, often by as much as 60years. This section will focus on discussing selected models that are considered of relevance to thistopic. They will be presented in chronological order reflecting the development of communications as afield of study since 1960s. Shannon’s model of communication (depicted below) was one of the first general models of thecommunication process7. For over 60 years, it has remained the first such model learned by students aspart of their initial academic foray into the field of communications.5 J. Fast, Body Language (Philadelphia: M. Evan, 1970), p.7.6 Bell. A.G. (unknown date). Sketch of the workings of the telephone, from his original sketches. Bell Family Papers;Library of Congress. (original image at Shannon, C.E.A (1948). Mathematical Theory of communication. Bell System Technical Journal, vol. 27, pp.379-423 and 623-656, July and October, 1948.
  6. 6. Shannon’s model divides the process of communication into eight distinct components:1. Information Source: the person who creates the message and therefore initiates the communication session.2. Message: sent by the Information Source and received by the Destination3. Transmitter: this term encompasses a wide variety of intermediary transmitters, both organic and non-organic. For example, Shannon’s original definition envisaged the transmitter as a telephone that captured audio waves and converted them into electronic signals. However, a signal can also be created and modulated simply by communicating the message verbally and through associated nonverbal communication.4. Signal: flows through a channel.5. Channel or carrier: can be anything, such as electricity, radio waves, paper, etc.6. Noise: as Shannon originally conceived of transmitters as telephones, the notion of noise was therefore comparatively restrictive and referred purely to secondary signals that confuse or obscure the signal carried by the channel. Contemporary analysis of the communication process generally regards noise as a metaphor for the variety of communication barriers that can distort the clarity of the message.7. Receiver: a wide variety of receivers is possible – for example, in face to face communication it would the set of ears (sound) and eyes (gesture).
  7. 7. 8. Destination: the person who consumes and processes the message. Several books on communication8 have since modified Shannon’s model, replacing transmittersand receivers with encoding and decoding respectively; the essential principle, however, has remainedunaltered. The model is also commonly known as the action model of communication). Its single biggestdisadvantage of this model is that it fails to account for the fact that communication is usuallybidirectional. As there is no guarantee that the original message was received (or was interpreted in theintended manner), there is usually a strong need for feedback. This element should never beunderestimated – it fulfils an essential function of the communication process by verifying thatunderstanding has been achieved. In fact, it can be safely asserted that effective communication isimpossible without feedback, because the use of the latter logically encompasses not only the transferof meaning, but also its understanding. The Interactive Model depicted below910 expands upon Shannon’s model by incorporating acybernetic concept of feedback. It is based on the notion that destinations provide feedback onmessages received, which in turn enables the information source to adapt their messages in real time. As the discussion on the importance of feedback demonstrates, its incorporation into the modelis a very important elaboration. Unfortunately, it is also a radically oversimplified one. Much like theoriginal message, feedback, too, needs to be encoded, transmitted, decoded and received. It is alsoaffected by noise – but none of these elements are indicated on the interactive model. In other words,while the model accounts for the complexities of the original message, it fails to do the same forfeedback and drastically oversimplifies it as a result.8 th Stephen P. Robbins, Timothy A. Judge. Organizational Behavior (Pearson, Prentice Hall, 12 edition 2007), p.369.9 Weiner, N. (1948). Cybernetics: or Control and Communication in the animal and the Machine. Wiley.10 Weiner, N. (1986). Human Use of human Beings: Cybernetics and Society. Avon.
  8. 8. The Transactional Model (depicted below) correctly treats feedback as another message.Moreover, it does not distinguish between the message sender and the receiver, instead perceiving bothas communicators involved in a circular flow of creating and consuming messages. Davis Foulger11 argues that the Transactional Model is, in many ways, an excellent model offace-to-face communication. It extends readily to an interactive medium that provides users withsymmetrical interfaces for creation and consumption of messages (notes, electronic mails, letters, etc.)However, the drawback of this model is its failure to account for the noise factor. For this reason, acombination of Transactional and Interactive models is best used to understand the communicationprocess; in the Transaction model above, the path from Communicator A to Communicator B (and,equally, from Communicator B back to Communicator A) is also the path from the sender to thereceived as depicted in the Interactive Model. By now, it should be evident that there multiple models of the communication process, and thatnone of them fully account for all steps involved in the process. Therefore, the concluding part of thissection will discuss the communication process in terms of how it actually happens in reality rather thanhow it is presented by models. Communication is always a purposeful process, whether it is merely a greeting or a complicatedspeech to an audience of corporate investors. In other words, communication requires there to be ameaning that needs to be transferred and, in one way or another, expressed in a message. The sender11 Foulder, D. An Ecological Model of the Communication Process. February 25, 2004. Retrieved from
  9. 9. creates a message by encoding a thought – for example, a Swiss entrepreneur running into his Americancounterpart may decide to encode their greeting into English. Similarly, the Swiss entrepreneur mayencode the message in a language unknown to the receiver; however, communication in such cases willusually not take place because it is unlikely to produce the understanding of the intended meaning bythe receiver. As soon as the message is formed and the receiver is identified, the sender needs to choose thechannel – the medium through which the message will travel to its intended recipient. For example, theSwiss entrepreneur above may choose to write a letter, make a phone call or speak with his Americancounterpart face-to-face. All of these are examples of different channels of communication, and it is theresponsibility of the sender to choose the most appropriate one. For example, the Swiss entrepreneurmay choose to hold a two-hour long video conference from his mobile phone – while expensive, it isclearly cheaper than discussing the matter in person if the American counterpart is thousands of milesaway. Once the channel has been chosen and the message has been sent, the receiver has to decode it– in other words, the symbols in which the message is encoded need to be translated into a formatunderstood by the receiver. Usually, there is no guarantee that the meaning as understood by thereceiver will be identical to the meaning originally invested into the message by the sender. The mainreason for this discrepancy is the aforementioned problem of noise – barriers to communication thatdistort the clarity of the message. So far, the communication process has followed Shannon’s action model of communication inthat it focused exclusively on uni-directional communication from the sender to the receiver. However,as discussed previously, communication is usually bidirectional – the receiver may decide to respond,giving communication a new purpose, restarting the process at its inception point and effectivelycreating a communication loop as depicted in the Transactional Model. Barriers to Communication The final part of this section discusses possible barriers to effective communication. Previouslydiscussed models of the communication process generally incorporate the element of noise (with theobvious exception of the Transactional Model). Noise has been defined as barriers that can distort theclarity of the message and alter its meaning – and in cases where the noise levels are particularly high,the message may not be delivered at all. Filtering Filtering takes place when the sender intentionally manipulates the content of the message andits presentation to ensure that it is viewed more favourably by the receiver. For example, telling peoplewhat they want to hear or emphasizing all attention on good news and barely mentioning the badmention the bad are frequent cases of filtering.
  10. 10. Selective perception Selective perception takes place when the receiver selectively sees and hears. It could be basedon the receiver’s needs, motivations, experience, background, culture and other personalcharacteristics.”We do not see reality; we interpret what we see and call it reality” Information overload Human beings have a limited capacity for processing data. When information to be processedexceeds the processing capacity, information overload occurs. This means that an individual may ignore,pass over, select out, or forget information. Information overload results in loss of information andlower efficiency of communication. On a side-note, information overload is applicable not only tohuman brain, but also to most modern communication channels, such as e-mail or mobile network thatoccasionally become overloaded and therefore ceases to be fully functional (for example, delayeddelivery of e-mails due to network overload). Contemporary managers are at a much higher risk of suffering from information overload due tothe proliferation of communication channels available (the proliferation of e-mails and associated spam,phone calls and their quality, SMS, faxes, meetings and the need to remain up-to-date on professionaldevelopments in one’s own field). Emotions The interpretation of the message by the receiver can be greatly influenced by how the receiverfeels at the time of receipt. The same message can be perceived differently depending on whether thereceiver is angry, tired or happy. For instance, common sense would lead one to avoid asking their directsuperior at work for a salary increase if the latter is known to be in a bad move; similarly, an exhaustedand stressed-out recipient is unlikely to effective process information. Extreme emotions, such asdepression, may even replace the rational capabilities of a human mind with purely emotionaljudgements, increasing the likelihood of misinterpreting the message. Language Language is a highly prominent barrier to effective communication. As discussed previously, aSwiss entrepreneur and his American counterpart would be unable to effectively resolve a problem ifthey could not speak the same language. Communication would simply be impossible – and even thoughbody language can convey a number of meanings, it is clearly insufficient for business purposes. Culturaldifferences can have a similar impact – jokes or gestures can be perceived differently depending on theculture of the recipient. Finally, even words can have entirely different meanings to different people,leading to entire messages being misinterpreted due to a person’s age, culture, experience, education,professional background, etc. Communication Apprehension One of the biggest barriers to effective communication is communication apprehension oranxiety. It is a serious problem because it can affect most of communication. Research indicates that
  11. 11. anywhere between 5% and 20% of the population is affected by communication apprehension12. Suchpeople often choose communication channels based not on their effectiveness for a given message, butrather on their determination to avoid a selected channel altogether. For example, people apprehensiveof oral communication will usually seek to avoid channels that involve verbal communication, renderingthem unable to give effective presentations or communicate effectively by phone. There are other barriers to successful communication; however, the ones enumerated above asgenerally the most prominent. A certain level of noise is always present. Hypothetically, even if humanbeings were to one day master the secrets of telepathy, the original visual message thus obtained wouldstill possibly mean different things to different people. Successful communication is essential – but it isdemanding in terms of skills and attention, and not even telepathy is a silver bullet for the problem ofnoise.12 J.C McCroskey, J.A. Daly, and G. Sorenson, “Personality Correlates of Communication Apprehension, “HumanCommunication Research, Spring 1976, pp.376-81.
  12. 12. References 1. 2. K.W. Thomas and W.H. Schmidt, “A Survey of Managerial Interests with Respect to Conflict,” Academy of Management Journal, June 1976, p.317. 3. L.S. Rashotte, “What Does That Smile Mean? The meaning of Nonverbal Behaviors in Social Interaction,” Social Psychology Quarterly, March 2002, pp.92-102. 4. J. Fast, Body Language (Philadelphia: M. Evan, 1970), p.7. 5. A. Mehrabian, Nonverbal Communication (Chicago: Aldine-Atherton, 1972). 6. Bell. A.G. (unknown date). Sketch of the workings of the telephone, from his original sketches. Bell Family Papers; Library of Congress. (original image at 7. Foulder, D. An Ecological Model of the Communication Process. February 25, 2004. Retrieved from 8. Shannon, C.E.A (1948). Mathematical Theory of communication. Bell System Technical Journal, vol. 27, pp.379-423 and 623-656, July and October, 1948. 9. Stephen P. Robbins, Timothy A. Judge. Organizational Behavior (Pearson, Prentice Hall, 12th edition 2007), p.369. 10. Weiner, N. (1948). Cybernetics: or Control and Communication in the animal and the Machine. Wiley. 11. Weiner, N. (1986). Human Use of human Beings: Cybernetics and Society. Avon. 12. J.C McCroskey, J.A. Daly, and G. Sorenson, “Personality Correlates of Communication Apprehension, “Human Communication Research, Spring 1976, pp.376-81. 13. Personal page of the author – Dr. Kirill Kretov: 14. EyeComTec is a subdivision of LAZgroup SA - a group of developers creating software to help people who are suffering from paralysis or significantly impaired mobility. The primary mission of EyeComTec is to develop effective and affordable technology allowing them to communicate exclusively through eye movements