Type of Project
Human Communication: Messages and Constitutive Processes
When John and Mary construct their shared realities, they engage in what we call the human communication process . Both John and Mary serve as sources and receivers of messages. Both engage in message encoding and decoding and in selecting verbal and nonverbal channels for message transmission.
Both are influenced by their individual competence and their perception of the competence of the other. Each brings to the exchange a different set of experiences, and each may view the context of their interaction differently. Thus, all their messages are subject to distortion or noise. The effect, or what happens between John and Mary, is a result of the complex interaction of all these elements. John and Mary are literally constituting or bringing about the reality of their relationship.
Human communication process
Attempts to construct shared realities through social interaction.
Each individual engaged in communication with others is both a message source and a message receiver . We talk (send messages) while closely monitoring the nonverbal reactions of others (receiving messages). We listen (receive messages) and determine how to respond (send messages). We use technology to rapidly exchange messages without cues important in face-to-face interactions. Often message-sending and message-receiving activities occur so rapidly that they seem to be happening simultaneously.
Individuals send messages as sources and receive messages as receivers. The process is often so rapid as to appear simultaneous.
Message encoding is the process of formulating messages, choosing content and symbols to convey meaning. Message decoding is the process of assigning meaning in the role of receiver to message symbols generated by the message source.
As a message source and receiver, each individual encodes and decodes messages. Message encoding is the process of formulating messages, choosing content and symbols to convey meaning. Message encoding is determining what we want to be understood (content) and how we believe that it can best be presented (choosing symbols). Message decoding is the process of assigning meaning in the role of receiver to message symbols generated by the message source.
Decoding is taking what we see and hear from others and deciding how it should be interpreted or understood. Both encoding and decoding are influenced by our communicative competence (knowledge, sensitivity, skills, and values), our personal identifications (cultural, social, organizational, and other), our specific intentions (desire for clarity, openness, manipulation, deceit, control, and so forth), our past experiences, our perception of the competence of others, and the communication context.
The message is the symbolic attempt to transfer meaning; it is the signal that serves as a stimulus for a receiver. Sources send messages consisting of auditory, visual, olfactory, gustatory, or tactile stimuli in any combination of these five senses. Sources of messages intend meaning, but messages in and of themselves do not carry meaning. Meanings, or interpretations of messages, are assigned when the receiver decodes the message.
Messages serve as symbols for meaning and as such are subject to situational and cultural influences. In other words, to understand a message as a source intends requires an understanding of the source’s symbol system (language and actions and intent of language and actions) in a particular situation.
Symbolic attempt to transfer meaning; the signal that serves as a stimulus for a receiver.
The channel is the medium through which the message is transmitted. It is the link or links between source and receiver. Channels include the five senses and any technological means used for message transmission. Channels are frequently used in combination (verbal and nonverbal, oral and written, face-to-face, and telemediated), with certain channels generally more credible than others.
When verbal and nonverbal messages appear to contradict, for example, researchers tell us most people will find the nonverbal channel more credible than the verbal one. In other words, most of us believe it is more difficult to lie nonverbally than verbally. Channels can distort messages both technologically and in sensory reception. Indeed, the very selection of one channel over another may become a message in and of itself.
Written channels, for example, are more often used than face-to-face channels for giving bad news. Evidence is growing suggesting e-mail and text messages are often more harsh than face-to-face communication. Receiving a memo or e-mail from your boss—the bad-news channel—may be cause for alarm even before the actual message has been read.
Medium through which the message is transmitted.
Distortion or interference that contributes to discrepancies between the meaning intended by the source of a message and the meaning assigned by the receiver.
Noise is the distortion or interference that contributes to discrepancies between the meaning intended by the source and the meaning assigned by the receiver. Noise can be anything: physical distractions, channel interference, communicative competence, communication context, or psychological predispositions.
Noise is always present in one form or another, and the type or types of noise contribute to the meanings assigned to messages by receivers and to the encoding of new messages. Think for a moment about your reaction to receiving an important message from a person whose credibility you have reason to doubt. What meaning do you assign to the message based on your prior relationship with this individual? Assume next that you receive the same message from a trusted friend. Is your reaction different? What type of noise was generated by your past experiences with both individuals? How did that noise affect meaning?
Each individual brings knowledge, sensitivity, skills, and values to communication interactions. Our ability to understand appropriate behaviors, our specific intentions, our willingness to engage in communication, and our ability to interact with others to generate shared realities all contribute to our impression of our own competence.
Also, we continually evaluate and form impressions about the competence of those with whom we communicate. Our impression of our own competence and the impression we have of the competence of others contribute to both the encoding and decoding of messages. Ultimately, competence contributes to communication effects and how we evaluate the effectiveness of our interactions.
Field of Experience
All parties in a communication interaction bring a specific set of experiences or background to bear on the interaction. What we do in a particular situation is related to how much we know about the situation from past experiences and whether we share any common past experiences. We may behave very differently in situations in which we have considerable past experience than we would in situations that are new and unfamiliar.
The field of experience is situation specific and may or may not relate to broader evaluations of self-competence. In other words, although we may feel less competent in situations in which we have little past experience, that impression does not automatically transfer to other circumstances in which we have more background.
Field of experience
Set of specific experiences or background that all parties in communication bring to bear on the interaction.
Generally, it is believed that the more common the field of experience among those communicating, the easier it is to share similar meanings or to construct shared realities. Have you ever tried, for example, to explain an American sporting event to a visitor from another country where the sport is not played and has never been televised?
Did you even know where to begin? Chances are that the lack of any prior experience on the part of your receiver (no common field of experience between you) required you to engage in considerable detail, making it difficult even to begin to describe the event. You can imagine that your approach would be entirely different if you described the same event to a longtime fan of the sport.
The communication context is the environment for the communication interaction. Context includes not only the specific time and place of the interaction but also the roles, relationships, and status of communication participants. As such, prior interactions among participants contribute to the construction of the current communication context. It is fair to say context contributes to our specific intentions in a given circumstance.
Communication intentions, as most of us have experienced, can range from full disclosure, openness, and clarity seeking to deception, ambiguity, manipulation, and control. Most of us recognize we communicate differently depending on how well we know people, what their formal position is in relation to us, and how visible our communication is to others. The way we express ourselves in the privacy of our own homes may differ from what we will say and do in our work environments. How we communicate in face-to-face interactions often varies from what we do with our mobile technology.
Openly disagreeing with a friend or coworker is different from openly disagreeing with our boss. The way we express ourselves is related to whether we believe others to be more knowledgeable or competent than we are or whether we believe that we possess the best information in a specific setting.
The way we express ourselves also reflects the expectations of the particular culture or environment in which we communicate. We can therefore say that context is both culturally and physically influenced, and as with other elements in the communication process, perception of context can differ from one communication participant to another.
Environment for the communication interaction.
Realities and Effects
The communication realities or effects are the result, consequence, or outcome of the communication exchange. Effects can be observed to be directly related to communication interactions. When people have an argument and terminate relationships at the end of the argument, we witness what we would call an obvious effect. At other times, the effect is not immediately observable or is, at best, delayed in time and context.
A student does not contribute to a group project; the project is completed and all group members receive the same grade. Nothing appears to happen until the next class project begins and members of the group ask the instructor to reassign the student to another team. They share a reality from a previous set of communication exchanges which influences their desire of a different future. Although less direct, this reality or effect nevertheless should be understood as an outcome of previous communication exchanges.
Reality or Effect
Created social reality or result, consequence, or outcome of communication exchanges.
In addition to being viewed in terms of results, the effect of an interaction is evaluated by communication participants for effectiveness and ethics. Did the outcomes result from the free, informed choices of all parties? Did one or more parties feel manipulated? Were all parties empathically supported?
Were the best alternatives considered as a result of the interaction? It is in this evaluative area—ethics and effectiveness—that future interactions are influenced. Perceptions of whether past interactions were ethical and effective influence perceptions of the desirability of future communication.
Communication as Constitutive of Shared Realities
Human communication is the process of attempting to construct shared realities , to create shared meanings. It is our attempts to have others understand our world as we do or as we want them to understand it and our efforts to comprehend the world of those around us.
As Robert Craig (2007) describes, “A first-order constitutive model of communication posits that communication, rather than merely a neutral conduit for transmitting independently existing information, is the primary social process through which our meaningful common world is constructed.” As a process for the construction of shared realities, human communication is culturally and contextually influenced, dynamic, and ever-changing.
Meanings resulting from the communication process; attempts to have others understand our world as we do or as we intend for it to be understood and our efforts to comprehend the world of those around us.
When this process occurs between two individuals with some type of ongoing relationship, we call the process interpersonal communication. When the process occurs among several individuals, we describe it as group communication. When large numbers of people are involved (either personally or through technological channels), we call the process public or mass media communication.
Finally, we refer to the human communication process in organizations as organizational communication , the subject of our text. Whether in interpersonal, group, public, mass media/networked/telemediated, or organizational contexts, the human communication process involves attempts to construct shared realities among people to generate shared meaning. Think back to the “What Business Is This of Ours?” case.
What were the shared realities at Quality Engineering? Describe the fields of experience and the context of the interaction between John and Mary. What were the noise factors? Can you predict the effect of their interaction? Will they be able to work together in the future?
A word of caution is appropriate at this point. Although we continue to describe human communication as the process of constructing shared realities and creating shared meanings and realities, we must remember shared meanings are always incomplete and characterized by ambiguity. The human communication process as an attempt to construct shared realities can represent openness and clarity but also be characterized by manipulation, control, or deceit.
I can deliberately attempt to have you understand a situation as I understand it, hoping for a shared reality characterized by openness, but I can also deliberately attempt to have you understand a situation very differently from what I know the facts to be.
Imagine I want you to share with me a reality that I choose but not one based on my more complete knowledge, experience, or awareness. My messages then generate a shared reality between us that is characterized by deceit. The important concept here is that the construction of meaning is an intentional process between us related to our knowledge, sensitivity, skills, and values.