Understanding Communication Skills

Applying the Seven Stages of the Communications Process

Conveying a message to other people clearly might sound simple, but it's a process that is often fraught with error.

Many people struggle to communicate effectively – verbally and in writing. They impart thoughts and ideas that don't reflect their intended meaning, and that their recipients misinterpret or misunderstand.

This can result in confusion, frustration, wasted effort, and missed opportunities. Communication breaks down, causing collaboration and progress to become impossible.

Research shows that good communication is one of the top "soft" skills that managers look for in employees. But communication will only ever be successful when both the person sending the message and the person receiving it understand the key messages being put across.

In this article and in the video below, we look at how to make your communications foolproof using a seven-step framework known as the Communications Process.

Watch this video to get tips on how to get your message across clearly and effectively.

How Do We Communicate?

Did you know that any time that you communicate with another person, you are using the Communications Process (see figure 1, below)?

It stands to reason then that understanding this process will help you to become more aware of what is happening as you communicate, and the things you can do to ensure that your message gets received "loud and clear."

Figure 1. The Communications Process

The Communications Process Diagram

From "The Mathematical Theory of Communication," Copyright 1949, 1998, by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Used with the permission of the University of Illinois Press.

To be an effective communicator, you need to make sure that your messages are clear, concise, accurate, and well planned. This will avoid misunderstanding and ensure that they get through each stage of the Communications Process without a hitch.

Let's take a look at the seven stages of the process in more detail:

1. Source

The "source" is the sender of the message – in other words, you! And the "message" refers to the information and ideas that you want to deliver.

You need to be clear about what message you want to communicate, and why it's important – what's its main purpose? And, moreover, why should anyone care? You also need to be confident that the information that you impart is useful and accurate.

2. Encoding

This stage involves putting your message into a format that you can send, and that the receiver will be able to easily understand or "decode." Your success will depend on your ability to convey information clearly and simply, and to eliminate areas of confusion.

For example, be aware of any cultural mismatch between you and your recipient. Also, avoid making assumptions about the receiver's existing knowledge of the subject. You might know the "ins and outs" of what you're talking about, but he or she probably won't. Lastly, steer clear of gaps in the information that require a "mental leap."

A key part of being a successful encoder is knowing your audience. Failure to understand and respect who it includes will likely result in your message "falling flat," and being misunderstood, dismissed or even ignored.

3. Channel

There are countless different channels that you can use to send your message.

Verbal communications channels include face-to-face meetings, telephone and videoconferencing. While written communications include letters, reports, emails, instant messaging (IM), and social media posts. You might also want to include videos, photos, illustrations, or charts and graphs in your message to emphasize your main points.

Different channels have different strengths and weaknesses. For example, it's not particularly effective to give a long list of directions verbally, and you'll be better off delivering sensitive feedback in person, rather than via email.

So, choose the channel that you use carefully. Our article, Tune Your Communication, can help you to do this.

4. Decoding

Successfully decoding a message is as much a skill as encoding it is. To accurately decode a message, you need to take the time to read through it carefully, or to listen actively to it.

Confusion will most likely occur at this stage of the Communications Process, though that doesn't mean it will always be the decoders fault. He might lack sufficient background knowledge to understand the message, or he might not understand the specific jargon or technical language that you are using. It's therefore essential that you tackle issues like these at the encoding stage.

5. Receiver

No doubt, you'll want your audience members to react in a certain way or take a specific action in response to your message. Remember, though, that each person is different, and will interpret it subjectively.

Every receiver who enters into the Communication Process brings with them their own ideas and feelings that influence their understanding of your message, and their response to it.

That means it's your job, as the sender, to take these ideas and feelings into consideration when drawing up your message. To do this effectively, brush up on your emotional intelligence and empathy skills.

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6. Feedback

Your audience will likely give you feedback as soon as it's seen or heard your message. This might include verbal or nonverbal reactions. Pay close attention to these, as they will reveal whether your audience truly understood your message.

If you find that there has been a misunderstanding, try to adapt the message. For instance, if you're talking about a complex subject, find a simpler way to communicate it. Could you break it down into steps, or remove technical jargon? This will make it easier for everyone in your audience to grasp the subject matter, no matter their background knowledge.

7. Context

The "context" is the situation in which you deliver your message. This may include the current political and social environment, or the broader culture (for instance, the corporate culture or the national culture.)

Tip:

For further tips on how to organize and present your messages clearly and accurately, see our article, The Communication Cycle.

How to Remove Barriers From the Communication Process

Barriers to communication can pop up at any stage of the process. So, to deliver your messages effectively, you must break these down.

Let's begin with the message itself. If your message is too lengthy, disorganized, or is full of jargon or errors, it'll likely be misunderstood and misinterpreted – it might even make your recipient confused or angry! Using poor verbal or body language can also muddle the message that you're trying to send.

Contextual barriers tend to stem from offering too much information, too fast. So, remember that often "less is more." Be mindful of the demands on other people's time, especially given today's ultra-busy society.

Finally, put your message into context. Make sure that you know your audience's culture. This will help you to converse with and to deliver your message to people that have different backgrounds and cultures than you.

Key Points

The ability to communicate clearly and effectively has become an increasingly sought-after skill in the workplace. Despite this, it's one that many people struggle with.

You can become a more capable communicator by gaining a better understanding of the Communications Process – that is the process we go through each time that we communicate with someone. It includes seven stages:

  1. Source.
  2. Encoding.
  3. Channel.
  4. Decoding.
  5. Receiver.
  6. Feedback.
  7. Context.

This site teaches you the skills you need for a happy and successful career; and this is just one of many tools and resources that you'll find here at Mind Tools. Subscribe to our free newsletter, or join the Mind Tools Club and really supercharge your career!

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Comments (89)
  • Over a month ago BillT wrote
    Hi michellesh,

    Thank you for the positive feedback, and for letting us know the added value you have found in the resources.
  • Over a month ago michellesh wrote
    These are all excellent tip & strategies to help me whether I'm talking or communication with customers or co-workers. I'm very happy that I found your resources to help me at work or in the future.
  • Over a month ago Midgie wrote
    Hi Ronald,
    Thanks for that feedback and pleased to hear you liked the article. Hope you enjoy more of our resources here to help you further your knowledge and skills.

    Midgie
    Mind Tools Team
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