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PROBLEM: "I Don't Know How to Communicate Effectively with Others"

Important Ideas for Good Communication

1. The first goal of communication is to convey the idea in the sender's mind into the mind of the receiver(s) in as perfect a reproduction as possible. Ideas which are highly visual (create a picture in the mind) are easier to convey than those which don't.

2. The Communication Process links a sender with a receiver over a channel of communication which carries a message to the receiver's physical senses. The Channel is like a bridge linking the two sides of the communications act. The Channel can be anything which may faithfully carry a message to one or more of a person's five senses-- a book (eyes), TV, radio (ears), song, painting, tin cans linked with a string, an iron bar, the air (smell), the hand (touch), food or drink (taste).

 The channel helps define the limits of the message. It is obviously very hard to provide visual images on radio. The channel also becomes part of the message. The same inspiring or terrifying film you see in a theater may well not have the same impact on television.

3. All acts of communication between humans contain "noise," or interference which prevents a perfect reproduction of the message in the receiver's mind. Messages must be designed to overcome this noise factor. The cause of "Noise" may be physical, psychological, or cultural -- and often all three. The methods used to overcome noise depends on its cause.

There is always "noise." The wise communicator asks, "How can the background, location, economic level, sex, etc. of my target audience influence how they interpret my message?"

4. Successful communication requires a common "language." This "language" is simply an agreement by both sender and receiver about what the symbols of communication mean. For example, we agree that "hood" can mean the metal piece on a car covering the engine. So when you say "I dropped my bowling ball on your hood," I understand what you did. Thus the word "hood" (and its verbal sound) has become a symbol for this metal piece for both of us. Other English speaking countries (or regional U.S. slang) have a different word. Thus, the British phrasing "I dropped my ball on your bonnet" doesn't convey the same meaning to an American receiver, although it means the same to the British sender. Why? Because sender and receiver don't share the same word-symbol for the metal piece. In fact, the message it conveys to the receiver is understandable, but totally wrong. Be sure all the words in your message are understandable in the way you mean them to your audience.

5. This language (collection of symbols) must be present for any medium to be used for communication. For example, an iron bar can only be a medium of communication if both parties agree on a common meaning for the sounds produced by banging on one end with a hammer. Smell is only a useful method of communication among dogs because they share a genetic memory of what those various smells mean.

6. Any message contains a core idea. It's important to search for that core idea, and not get distracted by the secondary ideas and descriptive words which enrich the core idea. If you are the sender, be sure to identify your core idea -- it is what you want the receiver to understand more than anything else. Failure to make it clear can result in anger and frustration by the receiver. If you are the sender, use the features of your channel(s) of communication to emphasize your core idea to make it stand out for the receiver. For example, visually you could make it bold, make it move or blink, make it a bright color, surround it with white space, etc.

7. Communication problems often arise because of assumptions. We assume that we share a common meaning for the word or picture symbols being used. A good communicator will carefully examine the assumptions upon which his/her message rests.

In summary, there are many hidden pitfalls to good communication, whether it is with a mass audience, or your spouse. Any message sent to any receiver should be carefully constructed to emphasize its core idea, clear up any possible confusion about definitions, avoid those words or ideas which may be misinterpreted due to social or cultural differences, and use the advantages of the channel of communication to make all its ideas as clear as possible.

The real key to most successful human communication is to first recognize that it looks simple to do, but it isn't.

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(c) Gary Witt, 1998

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