Problems in developing in massage
The first potential source of trouble is formulation of the message. Problems involve indecision about message content, lack of familiarity with the situation or the receiver, emotional conflicts, or difficulty in expressing ideas. If you aren't successful at this point, the communication process starts out wrong and rapidly goes downhill.
Indecision about message content
Communication often fails because the sender tries to convey everything that she or he knows about a subject. When a message contains too much information, it is difficult to absorb. So if you want to get your point across, you have to decide what to include and what to leave out, how much detail to provide, and what order to follow. If you try to explain something without first giving the receiver adequate background, you will create confusion. In addition, if you recommend actions without first explaining why they are justified, your message may provoke an emotional response that inhibits understanding.
Lack of familiarity with the situation or the receiver
Creating an effective message is also difficult if you don't know how it will be used. Unless you know why a report is needed, you are forced to create a very general document, one that covers a little bit of everything. In the process, you are likely to leave out some important information and to include some irrelevant material.
Lack of familiarity with your audience is an equally serious handicap. You need to know something about the biases, education, age, status, and style of the receiver in order to create an effective message. If you were writing for a specialist in your field, for example, you could use technical terms that might be unfamiliar to a layperson. Or if you were addressing a lower-level employee, you might approach the subject differently than if you were talking to your boss.
Another potential problem in developing the message arises when the sender has conflicting emotions about the subject or the audience. Let's say that you've been asked to prepare a report recommending ways to improve the organization of your department. After analyzing the situation, you have come to believe that the best approach is to combine two positions. Unfortunately, this solution means eliminating the job of one of your close associates, and when the time comes to write your report, you find yourself apologizing for your recommendation. Even though you know your position is justified, you find you cannot make a convincing case.
Difficulty in expressing ideas
Lack of experience in writing or speaking can also prevent a person from developing effective messages. Some people may have a limited vocabulary or may be uncertain about questions of grammar, punctuation, and style. Or perhaps they are simply frightened by the idea of writing something or appearing before a group. Problems of this sort can be overcome, but only with some effort. The important thing is to recognize the problem and take action.
Taking courses in communication at a college is a good first step. Some companies offer their own in-house training programs in communication; others have tuition reimbursement programs to help cover the cost of outside courses. Self-help books are another good, inexpensive alternative. Or you might prefer to join a club—Toastmasters or the League of Women Voters, for example — that provides opportunities for practicing communication skills in an informal setting.
PROBLEMS IN TRANSMITTING THE MESSAGE
Communication may also break down because of problems in getting the message from sender to receiver. The most obvious transmission problems are physical: bad connections, poor acoustics, illegible copy. Although defects of this sort (called "noise") seem trivial, they can completely block an otherwise effective message. For this reason, you should exercise as much control as possible over the physicd transmission link. If you're preparing a written document, make sure that its appearance doesn't detract from your message. If you're delivering an oral presentation, choose a setting that permits the audience to see and hear you without straining.
A more subtle transmission problem arises when two messages compete for the receiver's attention or when two messages have conflicting meanings. When two messages are transmitted at once, there is interference in the communication line, just as there is interference when two radio signals overlap. Both messages are garbled, and the receiver has trouble deciphering either one. A similar problem arises when two messages are contradictory. You should be aware that a conflicting message may also be conveyed nonverbally — a tone of voice, a wink, or a casual shrug may conflict with the words being spoken.
Perhaps the most troublesome transmission problem arises when the communication chain has too many links. Because everyone's mental map is different, some distortion is likely when messages are transferred from person to person. The original message is interpreted and retold differently by each person in the chain. By the time the message reaches the end of the line, it may only vaguely resemble the original version. The longer the chain, the bigger the problem.
Problems receiving in the massage
Like transmission problems, reception problems often have a physical cause. The receiver may be distracted by competing sights and sounds, an uncomfortable chair, poor lighting, or some other irritating condition. In some cases, the barrier may be related to the receiver's health. Hearing or visual impairment, or even a headache, can interfere with reception of a message. These annoyances generally don't block communication entirely, but they may reduce the receiver's concentration.
Perhaps the most common barrier to reception is simply lack of attention on the receiver's part. We all let our minds wander now and then, regardless of how hard we try to concentrate. People are especially likely to drift off when they are forced to listen to information that is difficult to understand or that has little direct bearing on their own lives. If they are tired or concerned about other matters, they are even more likely to lose interest.
PROBLEMS IN UNDERSTANDING THE MESSAGE
Although messages may get lost anywhere along the communication chain, the biggest potential trouble spot is the final link, where the message is interpreted by the receiver. Differences in background, vocabulary, and emotional state can all lead to misunderstanding.
When the receiver's life experience differs substantially from the sender's, communication becomes more difficult. For example, as Wal-Mart expands into larger urban areas, managers may find that local employees have backgrounds and communication expectations that differ from those of rural employees. Age, education, gender, social status, economic position, cultural background, temperament health, beauty, popularity, religion, political belief, and even a passing mood can all separate one person from another and make understanding difficult. Figure 1.2 shows how shared experience contributes to shared meaning and understanding; the portion of each diagram where the circles overlap represents the level of understanding between sender and receiver.
Decoding a message to absorb its ideas is a complex process. Our ability to absorb information depends on our past experiences, and over time, each of us builds up a particular view of the world. Then when we learn something new, we try to fit it into our existing pattern. But if the new information doesn't quite fit, we are inclined to distort it rather than rearrange the pattern, or we pay more attention to some ideas than to others. Therefore, when we communicate with people who share similar experiences and expectations, much of what we say automatically fits into their mental framework. But when we encounter people with different backgrounds, what we say may be interpreted from an entirely different viewpoint. Communicating with someone from another country is probably the most extreme example of how background may impede communication, and Chapter 17 details the problems and opportunities of intercultural communication.
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