Life in college throws communication challenges in my face the whole time. I have to learn how to deal with my classmates -- and some of them are a mixed bag. I have to learn how to communicate with my parents, particularly when topics become sticky; and I have to learn how to effectively communicate with my teachers so as to evoke their admiration rather than their ire. All of this (and more) demands top-notch communication skills and this is where I find the Shannon and Weaver model to come in handy.
Communication fascinates me. I believe that it is one of the most important skills that a person can learn. There is one saying that goes that "life and death is in the power of the tongue" and truly life and death, and everything in between, does depends on one's listening to the other, interpretation of the other's words, focusing on their gestures and non-verbal images, and fielding response. Marketing is part of communication. And marketing exists in every facet of life from gaining a job interview to appealing to the lecturer for consideration of a lousy mark. Negotiation is part of communication and is not only Mr. Kissinger that needs to be adept at that but each of us too in orders to tackle disparate sticky situations. Persuasion is part of communication and I may need that in order to market my ideas. And conflict resolution is certainly part of communication; an essential skill in convincing my friend-cum-enemy to reconcile. Communication extends to so many other facets that, positing that I gain excellence in the practice, will enable me to achieve excellence in interpersonal relationship thereby frequently gaining that which I want to achieve and, consequently, living a healthier happier life.
The Shannon and Weaver model (i.e. theory) makes me compare communication to a ball. To see why, it is best that I illustrate the theory in a diagrammatic fashion:
The two boxes on the left refer to the source of the information. On the extreme left you have the "source" of the information that is appended by "transmitter." You have the box in the middle which denotes the gap -- real but not always experienced -- between (the first two boxes on the right) "receiver" and "destination." Leading off from the intervening oblong is a box labeled "noise source."
Communication is like a ball. You have the person (the "source") throwing the ball (i.e. The message). This transmission process is replete with all the characteristics of the ball-thrower. The message contains the particular experiences of the thrower, the way he or she perceives experiences that serve as background to the message; the particular words that she uses that reflect her particular experiences; her particular cultural and social internalizations that invest the message; her bias; and so much more.
We often imagine the situation in a simple direct way without the attendant complicities. The person throws the ball (i.e. The message); the other person catches the ball. In reality, however, other situations can intervene causing the person, frequently, to drop the ball. And we may not always see this occurring. This can occur in one of several ways. Background context (or "noise") can be a feature. For instance, the recipient may be in a sour mood and this may dictate the way that he interprets and/or receives the message. He may not be feeling well. There may be physical noise in the environment. He may be fatigued, and so forth. Countless diversions can corrupt the message causing the person to receive it incorrectly.
This "noise" also serves as the "media" or the "channel" through which the message become channeled to the other. The accompanying "noise" -- mood, distracting context, sensory stimuli -- attaches itself to the "ball" and also affects the outcome. A case in point may be where the transmitter throwing me the "ball" happens to be wearing an expensive perfume. The smell attaches itself to the message and I may be more open to receiving the message in a more accommodating manner. On the other hand, if the transmitter was grimacing whilst transmitting the message, the sensory motions of his face may distract me and prevent me from receiving the import of the message as intended.
The gap in the middle reminds us of the channel. There are various ways in which the message can be communicated, face-to-face being just one of them, although it is the richest since it is the one that provides greatest clarity. Other possibilities are via video conferencing, computer (social media such as Facebook etc., You Tube, Discussion group, Chat Room, e-mail, Skype, and so forth), telephone (or cellular phone with the myriad contemporary corollaries), and written documents (such as fax, simple mail, penmanship, and so forth). The computer and mail -- anything that consists of writing and is not verbal -- possesses the lowest richness.
The richer the medium, the more it utilizes multiple cues, speedy and personal feedback, language variety, and emotional expressions in processing the information. The clearer, therefore, it will be to understanding (decoding) the message. On another level, it may also help me in assessing the importance of the message and in scheduling more earnest messages with 'richer' import where I attempt to meet the person face-to-face or, at least, take greater care in encoding my written words in a way that the person is more likely to 'catch" them in a peaceful manner. This is particularly important given the fact that the 'richer' the communication, the more potential it has of being perceived as comprehensible, credible, and relevant. Messages that I want to deliver to be taken as such should, therefore, be delivered in as 'rich' a way, and in as careful a way, as possible all the time taking into consideration the very different way that the other interprets my meaning. True enough this may not necessarily always be the case. One study, in fact, shows that managers in the Houston area viewed written messages to be as credible as oral ones (Lee's PowerPoint slides on Media Richness Theory). Nonetheless, each person is different and people are affected by the context in different ways.
The gap in the middle tells us, too, that there is an ontological chasm between transmitter and recipient. Backgrounds and ways of understanding of either are so different that each injects the message with his or her own particular substance. To thoroughly understand it -- and receive ball -- both need to be on the exact same wave -- length. And this is so rare. Which is why it is so difficult to counsel another -- or retain friendship within the college days. Or even to get a teacher to understand my meaning. The "transmitter" receives the message via his particular experiences and social / cultural manner of understanding. It has to be perfectly attuned for him to receive the import of the message exactly as I had intended it. And the loop continues by the transmitter throwing the "ball" back to me. I have to understand the import of his message. And so forth. No wonder so much communication goes askew.
I love this model. It helps me better grasp so many facets of communication and I find it helpful when communicating with others. Firstly, I find that it helps my listening. Active listening is essential in fully grasping the import of the other's words. I intend to see that my "ball" has been received and I can do so in at least two ways. One way is by actively watching the other and observing from his or her facial expression whether he has understood me. Another way is by asking him for feedback or questioning whether he has received the "ball."
The model also helps me enhance communication in a situation where the recipient is of a different gender, age, background, or social position than mine. A case in point may be a teacher. Understanding that the recipient stands in a sphere distinct than my own, I will take particular pains to investigate the mechanisms of her cognitive mindset so as to endeavor to throw my "ball" in a way that it perfectly reaches her without falling. I will consider, too, the fact that she imbues the "ball," in turn, with her particular cultural, sexual, and other particular connotations and, having that in mind, will aim to ensure that I am receiving the "ball" correctly. It is for all these reason that I like Shannon & Weaver's model.
The only thing that confused me with Shannon & Weaver's model was its similarity to Schramm's Interactional model. I wondered whether and how the two models differ, and whether either of the models had anything new to contribute to the other. They each seemed to be saying the same thing in different ways. Schramm's tells us that the sender and receiver send and bounce messages back and forth via a feedback loop. Think of a tennis match in this instance.…