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Communication Theory

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Communication is sharing one’s ideas, opinions and information through written or spoken words, symbols or actions. Communication can be effective only when the message conveyed by the sender is understood by the receiver. The essence of communication is getting the receiver and the sender ‘turned’ together for a particular message. 

The complexity of communication in today’s world can be identified  by the following components of communication for analysis. They are – a. sender, b. receiver, c. message, d. context, e. channel, f. culture and social/ business space, and g. feedback or impact. There are several theories of communication, which analyse the role that these components play in making communication effective.

In this article you will learn about different communication theories and their role in making communication effective.

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Communication theories – 1. The Speech-Act Theory 2. Sender’s Theory or Aristotle’s Theory of Communication 3. Channel Theory of Communication 4. Information Theory of Communication 5. Interaction Theory of Communication 6. Transaction Theory of Communication 7. Perception Theory of Communication 8. Modern Theory of Communication

List of Communication Theories

Communication is sharing one’s ideas, opinions and information through written or spoken words, symbols or actions. Communication can be effective only when the message conveyed by the sender is understood by the receiver. The essence of communication is getting the receiver and the sender ‘turned’ together for a particular message. 

The complexity of communication in today’s world can be identified  by the following components of communication for analysis. They are – a. sender, b. receiver, c. message, d. context, e. channel, f. culture and social/ business space, and g. feedback or impact. There are several theories of communication, which analyse the role that these components play in making communication effective.


A. The Speech-Act Theory

This theory was first propounded by the Oxford philosopher J.L. Austin in ‘How to Do Things With Words’ and further developed by American philosopher J.R. Searle.

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The Speech-Act Theory, which links utterances (what the sender says) to the acts performed (the action that the receiver takes after decoding the sender’s message). This also suggests that the meaning of the message can vary and change according to the situation, context, language and culture of the sender’s utterance.

Thus, communication does not take place in a vacuum or arbitrarily; it conforms to certain rule-based behaviours, norms and etiquette that are binding to both the sender and the receiver. Following the cooperative principle of H. P. Grice, any piece of conversation or a dialogue is an outcome of interrelated utterances that occur due to the cooperative behaviour of two or more persons.

Each of them recognises what the outcome of this exchange is likely to be and tries to carry it forward to its expected closure. To attain this expected closure, Grice suggests four maxims of quantity, quality, relevance, and manner. Explaining them further, he asserts that the quantum of communication has to be just enough, neither too much nor too little, so that the receiver can draw out the core meaning of the sender’s utterances.

Similarly, on the sender’s part, the utterances should not be irrelevant on matters he/she is trying to put across. The facts should be truthful with a substantial amount of evidence to convince the receiver. Finally, the utterances made by the sender should be brief, orderly and precise without being obscure and ambiguous.

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Thus, in an interaction or exchange, if either the sender or the receiver flouts even one of the maxims, it results in misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the message. In such a situation, both the sender and the receiver are faced with the dilemma of not knowing who is correct and what the other wants.

In this situation the interaction may take another direction which neither of them would like. It may not result in the exchange of any concrete idea or message. It is important, therefore, to remember that each exchange is a result of the previous exchange of utterances. Thus, interactions taking place in accordance with Grice’s cooperative principles help the sender and the receiver to achieve their goals.


B. Sender’s Theory or Aristotle’s Theory of Communication

This theory was first propounded by the great Greek Philosopher Aristotle in his work Rhetoric.

According to Aristotle, three components of communication process are:

Sender→ Message→ Receiver.

According to him the role of sender or source is most important in the process of communication. He emphasized that if persuasive techniques are used, the thinking process of the receiver can be changed. Thus the theory suggested that –

“A sender, by using persuasive techniques, will bring a change in the thinking process of the receiver. Therefore, the communication will be one sided and the sender will be of vital importance.” – Aristotle

Merits and Demerits:

Merits – Main merit of sender’s theory is that it is a simple and general theory of communication.

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Demerits – Main demerit of this theory is that it applies only to oral messages. It cannot be used for written messages. It is therefore a one-sided theory.


C. Channel Theory of Communication

This theory was propounded by Harold D. Lasswell. In fact, this theory is an extension of Aristotle’s theory. In this theory much emphasis has been laid on the channel of communication.

Main components of this theory are:

Sender → Message → Channel → Receiver → Effect

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The theory suggests who sends the message to whom by which channel and what its effect is.

Merits and Demerits:

Merits – Main merit of the theory is that it is the outcome of the intensive analysis of the practical aspects of communication by Lasswell. It suggests as to whom the sender is, which channel is being used by him to communicate, to whom he is sending the message and for what purpose.

Demerits – The disadvantage of this theory is that it is also one-sided. No detailed description of the main components of the theory has been discussed.


D.  Information Theory of Communication

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This theory was propounded by Shannon. It is also called Shannon Theory of Communication. Shannon was a mathematician and engineer. The theory explains the method of sending communication by computer. According to it, information is transmitted from one place to the other by signals and messages.

Shannon’s theory states that the communication process is linear. Beginning from information it goes straight to the destination. The entire communication process is one-sided. In this process verbal or signal information flows in computer language with the help of computers. Noise may create obstruction in understanding information. Noise is due to social and mechanical obstructions.

According to the theory, the information being communicated must have the following characteristics:

(i) Information should be up to date and sufficient. ,

(ii) Information should be easily comprehensible.

(iii) Information should have a special purpose.

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(iv) Information should have balanced and free flow in business organisations.

Merits and Demerits:

Merits:

Information theory has the following merits:

(i) Main components of the information process have been incorporated in the theory.

(ii) Both sender and receiver understand the meaning of signals and script.

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Demerits:

(i) Main defect of the theory is that the information process is one-sided.

(ii) It is a lack of feedback.


E. Interaction Theory of Communication

Interaction theory of communication is known by several names, viz., Inter-personal Theory, Circular Theory, Ping-Pong Theory, etc. Table-Tennis game is also called Ping-Pong. In this game, the ball shuttles between one player and the other, till one player wins the game, or achieves his objective. Like ping-pong in the communication process there is an exchange of ideas and emotions in the form of a message between the sender and the receiver.

In this theory, communication process is divided into nine parts, as under:

i. Beginning – The theory states that beginning of communication is from ideas or stimulus originating in the mind of the sender. He sends it in the form of a message.

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ii. Sender, Transmitter or Communicator – He initiates the message, either by speech or writing, or signals or acting.

iii. Encoding – In order to transmit the message, it is encoded by the sender into words, action, counting, pictures, etc. This process is called encoding.

iv. Channel – Message is sent by certain means called channel. For instance, post, telephone, etc.

v. Medium – It is the fifth stage of the communication process. As per the theory there may be many mediums of communication e.g., letter, conversation, visuals, signals, etc. A message sent by the sender reaches the receiver through the same medium.

vi. Receiver – He is the person who receives the message. He receives the message in more than-one way, i.e., by hearing, reading or seeing.

vii. Decoding – The receiver makes an attempt to understand the implied meaning of the message. This process is called decoding.

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viii. Action – The receiver takes action on the message, that is, he acts according to it.

ix. Feedback – It is the final stage of the communication process. In response to the message, the receiver expresses his reaction. It is the return information of the message. The sender comes to know the reaction of the receiver to the message; whether the latter has followed it correctly or not.

In the absence of feedback, communication remains one-sided. Communication can be effective only when the described feedback is received. For instance, a speaker addresses an audience. The latter react by applauding, nodding or asking questions. It means the communication is effective.

Merits and Demerits:

Merits:

(i) It is an extensive theory of communication, as it describes almost all stages of communication.

(ii) It is a two-sided theory of communication.

(iii) It gives due importance to feedback.

(iv) As a result of feedback, one comes to know about the shortcomings of the message and efforts are made to remove them.

(v) The theory is quite suitable for organisational activities because these activities are based on joint decisions. Organisations of group discussions, seminars, etc., are the important methods of communication systems.

Demerits:

The theory ignores “noise” that creates obstruction in the communication system. It is an important demerit of the theory.


F. Transaction Theory of Communication

The theory states that communication is a continuous process. It is also called Spiral Theory, because the communication process moves in a spiral between sender and receiver. The term transaction implies inter­dependence. One party gives the other. Both the parties are equal partners in the transaction and so are inter-dependent. According to Transaction Theory just as every action has its reaction, in the same way there is continuous action and reaction in the process of communication, like –

Message → Feedback → Message → Feedback

The reason being that message gives birth to feedback. In other words, message is the cause and feedback is its effect. Similarly, feedback gives rise to message and so is its cause while message becomes its effect. 

Thus, this action-reaction moves on continuously. It has been aptly said by Meyers and Meyers, “Human communication is a system wherein sender and receiver are identically receiver and sender.”

Main components of communication according to transaction theory are:

(i) Message,

(ii) Sender,

(iii) Encoding,

(iv) Channel,

(v) Medium,

(vi) Receiver,

(vii) Decoding,

(viii) Change in Behaviour,

(ix) Feedback.

All these components of communication remain active perpetually.

Merits and Demerits:

Merits – The theory has a significant role especially in collective decision. Both parties to communication are influenced by cause-effect. Thus, both-parties, as per this theory, are affected by each other in the process of communication.

Demerits – Main demerit of the theory is that it ignores the barriers and noise in the process of communication.


G. Perception Theory of Communication

Berlo was the propounder of Perception Theory of Communication. Theory gives great importance to perception. Perception means knowledge acquired through senses of sight, hearing, etc. 

In this theory Berlo suggested that based on his skills and experience, the sender encodes the message and transmits the same through any of the five senses. How the message is received, solely depends upon the receiver and his knowledge level in this particular context. Thus, the perception of the receiver plays a vital role in how the receiver receives and understands the message.

Merits and Demerits:

Merits – Main merit of the theory is that it gives importance to the sense organs i.e., ear, eye, etc., in the communication process. It accepts the perception of both receiver as well as sender.

Demerits – It is a narrow theory of communication. It ignores many significant stages of the communication process such as – channel, medium, feedback, etc.


H. Modern Theory of Communication

The modern theory of communication presents the communication process in the form of a communication cycle.

The communication theory centres on a study of sending and receiving messages.

The main steps of the process are as follows:

i. Input – Information or ideas that the sender plans to give to the receiver.

ii. Channel – The selected type of message — letter, memorandum, electronic mail, report, telephone call, conference, etc.

iii. Message – The actual message that is sent.

iv. Output – Information the receiver gets.

v. Feedback – Receiver’s response or non-response to the message.

vi. Brain drain – The possibility of misunderstanding at any step.

Improper feedback can occur at any step in the communication process because of messages being sent or received poorly. This lack of understanding is called entropy by scientists.

However, in this text, the term brain drain is used for such confusion between sender and receiver. This usage is a new and different application of the term. Brain Drains are placed to indicate that misunderstandings can occur at any stage – input, selection of channel, preparation of message, output or feedback.

Obviously, innumerable barriers can block immediate understanding of a message. It pays to write clearly so that a message can be understood in the first reading.

“Closing the Loop” of Communication:

In modern theory, the proper feedback of information from receiver to sender is called closing the loop of communication.

“Brain Drain”:

Not all messages are as simple as the foregoing request for a copy of corporation’s catalogue, and brain drain, a breakdown in the communication cycle, frequently occurs. This breakdown means the communication loop has not been closed properly.

Such breakdowns result in all those unclear messages and may be due to one or more of the following:

i. Improper formulation of the message in the mind of the sender.

ii. Improper statement of the information in the message.

iii. Improper reception of the information by the receiver.

The frequent occurrence of brain drain in all communication indicates an emphatic need for study in the field of planning and preparing for better communication.

Merits and Demerits:

Merits:

(i) Modern Theory of Communication is broad and proper.

(ii) It explains the important elements of communication.

(iii) There is also a proper description of feedback and barriers.

Demerits:

(i) Main disadvantage of the theory is that it is complex.

(ii) It introduces many difficult concepts, such as – closing the loop, brain drain, etc.


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