The Communication Cycle

Six Steps to Better Communication

The Communication Cycle - Six Steps to Better Communication

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PaulTessier

Organize and present your messages effectively using this six-step process.

The ability to express an idea is well nigh as important as the idea itself. – American businessman, Bernard Baruch

Whether you're writing an email to a co-worker, delivering on-the-job training to a new team member, or giving an important presentation to the board of directors, you must communicate in a way that is clear, concise, and easy to understand.

But do you ever get lost while planning out your message, or struggle to identify what your audience truly needs to know?

There are so many factors to consider during preparation and presentation that it's easy to forget an important point. The Communication Cycle is a six-step process that can help you to develop and refine your messages. It helps you ensure that you don't forget anything essential the first time you present it, and can maximize its impact. By putting the process into the form of a cycle, this approach encourages you to use the feedback you receive to improve your communications in the future.

In this article, we'll examine the Communication Cycle, and look at how you can use it to improve your daily communications. We'll also look at an example which shows how you can use it to deliver important communications.

Understanding the Communication Cycle

The Communication Cycle (shown below in figure 1) provides a handy checklist that can help you to communicate effectively with your audience.

The Communication Cycle

Note 1:

You can apply the Communication Cycle to any situation where communication is involved, but you'll likely find it most useful for preparing and delivering important or complex communications, such as team or organizational emails, marketing materials, and presentations.

Note 2:

The Communication Cycle doesn't include a "test" step. However, you can still apply steps three, four, five, and six to testing your communication. (For example, by asking colleagues to proofread and comment on text, or by practicing a presentation in front of a small group.) You then use any feedback to change and improve your message when you restart the cycle.

How to Use the Communication Cycle

Follow these steps to use the cycle:

Step One: Clarify Your Aim

Organize your thoughts about the message that you want to communicate by answering these questions:

  • To whom am I communicating?
  • What message am I trying to send? What am I trying to achieve?
  • Why do I want to send this message? Do I need to send it at all?
  • What do I want my audience to feel?
  • What does my audience need or desire from this message?
  • What do I want my audience to do with this information?

Tip:

Our article on The 7 Cs of Communication may be helpful during Step One. Our Communication Skills article also gives some useful tips on removing barriers to communication.

Step Two: Compose/Encode

Now that you've organized your thoughts with the questions in Step 1, start crafting your message. Ask yourself:

  • What's the best way to communicate this message?
  • What level/type of language should I use?
  • Does the audience have any background information on the topic?
  • Will my audience need any additional resources to understand my message?
  • Am I expressing emotions in my message? If so, which emotions?
  • Will the audience assume anything about me or my motives that will damage the credibility of the communication?

Tip:

Our articles on The Rhetorical Triangle and Monroe's Motivated Sequence can show you how to structure your communications effectively, so that you can inspire your audience to act.

Step Three: Transmit/Deliver

The way that you communicate your message is vital to ensuring that your audience receives it effectively. Ask yourself:

  • Is this the right time to send this message?
  • What is my audience's state of mind likely to be, and what workload will they be experiencing when they receive this message? How should I present my message to take account of this?
  • Will there be any distractions that may damage the impact of the communication? (This is especially important to consider when giving a speech or presentation.)
  • Should I include anyone else in the audience?

Step Four: Receive Feedback

This is a key step in the Communication Cycle. Without feedback from your audience, you'll never know how you can improve the way that you communicate your message.

Make sure that you include some type of feedback process as part of your communication. For instance:

  • Do you know how to read body language, and could you use it to steer your presentation?
  • If you're giving a speech or presentation, will you allow time for a question-and-answer session at the end?
  • Will you have a process for getting feedback from your audience?
  • When you receive feedback, is it generally what you want and expect?

Remember to use indirect feedback here, too. Did you get the response that you wanted from your communication? Is there anything more that you can interpret from the response that you received?

Step Five: Analyze/Decode/Learn

Use the feedback that you received in Step Four to learn and grow. Depending on your situation, you might need to rewrite your message and try again. (One of the benefits of testing your message on a small scale is that you can do this before the big day.) Questions to ask yourself might include:

  • Why did you receive this feedback? What does this tell you about your message?
  • What could you have done differently to get the response that you wanted?
  • Did the audience feel the way you expected them to feel? If not, why not?
  • How should you act or behave differently to move forward?

Step Six: Change/Improve

This step completes the cycle. All of the feedback in the world won't help you unless you commit to learning and changing. Do this by:

  • Honoring and respecting the feedback that you've received. If you believe it's valid, change your message or behavior.
  • Identifying resources that can help you to improve. For instance, ask colleagues for help and advice; do more testing; or use surveys, classes, books, seminars, and so on.

A Communication Cycle Example

Using the Communication Cycle is fairly straightforward. Think of it as a checklist for creating your messages.

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Here's an example of how you can use it:

You're responsible for IT in your organization, and you need to create a presentation for your CEO and executive board. The content should explain exactly what the IT department does and how much work you're all responsible for. The presentation's goal is to show how vital IT is to the organization so that you can hire additional staff to manage the workload, instead of facing budget cuts next quarter.

Here's how you could use the Communication Cycle to organize your presentation effectively.

Step One: Aim

  • To whom am I communicating?
    • The CEO and executive board.
  • What message am I trying to send?
    • I must show that IT is an essential part of the organization, and that we deserve additional funding to hire more staff.
  • Why do I want to send this message?
    • Without the board's understanding, they might cut our budget next year.
  • What do I want my audience to feel?
    • I want them to feel excited about the valuable service that IT performs, and concerned about the threats the company might face if our staff is cut.
  • What does my audience need or desire in order to receive this message?
    • My audience needs to understand thoroughly what IT does and, specifically, that we protect the organization from daily threats. The board will need strong data about the money that we've saved the company over the past two years.
  • What do I want my audience to do with this information?
    • They must understand that giving IT additional funding is in their best interest.

Step Two: Compose/Encode

  • What is the best way to communicate this message?
    • Group presentation.
  • What level/type of language should I use?
    • I should avoid using IT jargon and terms. My language should be professional, but easy to understand.
  • Does the audience have any background information on this message?
    • Some members of the executive board have only a vague understanding of what the IT department does. Others have a much sharper idea.
    • The executive board has figures to show that the IT budget is higher than that of other departments.
  • Will my audience need any additional resources to understand my message?
    • Graphs and statistics, on paper or in a PowerPoint presentation, will be helpful visuals.
  • Am I expressing emotions in my message? If so, which emotions?
    • I must express how excited I am by my job and my department, as well as the urgency we all feel when faced with additional budget cuts, especially when we provide such an important service to the organization.
  • Will the audience assume anything about me that will hurt communication?
    • They might assume that, since I'm in IT, I'll naturally be a poor communicator. I must prove right away that this isn't true.

Step Three: Transmit/Deliver

  • Is this the right time to send this message?
    • Yes, because the board will soon approve the budget for the next year.
  • What is my audience's frame of reference? What is likely to be their state of mind and workload when they receive this message?
    • They're likely to be overloaded with information already. I must be concise, yet convincing.
  • Will there be any distractions that may hurt communication?
    • The presentation will likely be in Conference Room A. There's a noisy air vent in that room, so I'll have to speak loudly.
    • The presentation is near the end of a long day for the executive team, so they might be tired or lose interest easily.
  • Should I include anyone else in the audience?
    • No.

Step Four: Receive Feedback

  • I'll allow 10 minutes at the end of the presentation for a question-and-answer session with the board.
  • I'll meet with the CEO immediately after the presentation to get his input.
  • I'm going to do some research on body language, which will help me see cues from board members on how I'm doing throughout the presentation.

Steps Five and Six: Analyze, and Improve

A few days after the presentation, your boss tells you that the board liked your message and approved additional funding, thanks to your convincing statistics and message. However, they thought that the presentation was a little too long.

With this knowledge, you commit to shortening your speeches and presentations in the future, and you'll do a better job cutting unnecessary information while you're creating your message.

Key Points

The Communication Cycle is a six-step process for organizing and presenting a message effectively. You can apply it in all situations that involve communication, but it's most useful for important or complex communications.

The process follows a cycle which includes these six steps:

  1. Clarify your aim.
  2. Compose/Encode.
  3. Transmit/Deliver.
  4. Receive feedback.
  5. Analyze/Decode/Learn.
  6. Change/Improve.

By looping through the cycle twice or more, you can continue to improve your communications by analyzing audience response and learning from the feedback that you receive.

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Comments (9)
  • This month BillT wrote
    Hi manoor,

    Thank you for the positive comment. There are many examples of casual business 'ice breakers' available through a search on Google.

    BillT
    Mind Tools Team
  • This month manoor wrote
    nice one, concise not very detailed,
    hope to see an example shows informal business speech
  • Over a month ago Michele wrote
    Hello Razuu,

    Well said! Although the cycle may be common sense, we sometimes fail to follow the natural sequence of the steps.

    Michele
    Mind Tools Team
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