Exploring Communication Breakdowns

The diagram above is a simple communication model yet we often forget it when in the middle of trying to get a point across. I’ve taught this to many associations and it is a core competency of the Business Communication class I teach at the University of Houston, Bauer College of Business. This article addresses the model and breaks it down for busy readers who desire to apply the ideas and principles in their business, professional, and personal lives.
There is a cliché that says, “professionals do not want to be told anything, yet they don’t mind being reminded.” I’ll make the leap that each of you reading this article is a professional, so allow me to remind you of some of the foundations in the communication model.
Here are the five steps: Message, Encode, Send, Decode, and Meaning.
breakdowns.gifIn this model, someone is trying to communicate while someone – or a group – is trying to receive. In between is the challenge, as the message is distorted by encoding and decoding meaning, innuendo, and confusion. In addition, the sending medium can create all kinds of challenges. In this article, I’ll breakout each of the modules and hopefully “remind” the professionals of how to increase effective communication:
Message – This is what needs to be communicated. Be it education, warning, humor, instruction, romance, or a variety of different things we desire to say.

Encoding – We tend to package our words inside various filters and possible Trojan horse models, such as our world view, politics, religion, agendas (public and hidden), implications, imprecisions, and all kinds of emotions.

Sending – We send our messages using vehicles like the written word, the spoken word, email, sign language, gestures, text messages, pictures, emojis, code, voice mail, non-verbal signals, etc. The list is long and the more we add to the message and the encoding, the more difficult/different the meaning will be to decode and attach the correct meaning.
Decoding – If the sender has wrapped their message in encoded meaning, like paper around a fish in an open market, the receiver then proceeds to decode the message using their filters, such as worldview, politics, religion, life experience, innuendo, age, culture, fatigue, and a host of other challenges.

Meaning – The meaning is attached to the message, which might be what the sender intended but often is not close to what the sender intended.

When the message is received in order and correct, great. When there are communication breakdowns, shutdowns, disconnects, failures, and misinterpretations, then the process of repair begins.

Now that you have seen the five step model of communication, I’ll isolate where it breaks down and who is responsible for repairing the communication.