A simple but powerful communication model

by Anne-Marie Dingemans on September 1, 2011

Trivia: Did you know that the foundation of the most widely used communication models is a communication model that started life as a schematic, mathematical representation for signal transmission on telephone lines in 1948?

One of the most used models for communication is the Shannon-Weaver model. Mr. Shannon is the man who developed the mathematical model, and Mr. Weaver the researcher who used it to describe communication between people.

I love using this model because it’s so simple. There is a source (a person) who has something to share (a thought, an idea, a command, suggestion, opinion, etc.). That’s the message. This message is sent into the world by a transmitter. The transmitter can be a voice, email, image, or anything really, that a person can use to convey his message. The transmitter transforms the thought into a format that can be transported, the signal. At the (virtual) other ‘end of the line’ is a receiver that transforms the received signal into a message, and this message reaches the destination (person). On its way, the signal is subject to noise which distorts the message.

Can you see the power of its simplicity? The model shows you that there are several critical points where a communication can suffer altering or interference. The first point is when the source uses a transmitter to transform the message into a signal. The word ‘transform’ already shows you that the integrity of the message is compromised. A transformed message is not the same as the original. The signal that comes out of the transmitter suffers from noise, which also affects the purity of the message, and then it needs to go through another transformation! At this point it almost seems like a miracle that most messages do get through more of less intact!

Noise in interpersonal communication consists of three types;

1- Physical noise; a real disturbance from the environment that affects the reception of the message (actual noise, for example)

2 – Psychological noise; prejudices and stereotypes that affect and change the signal (let’s say a child starts talking about economics; you’re likely to not take his message seriously, because you’re stereotyping the little person as a child, and you are prejudiced against the knowledge level of children. Therefore you conclude that he cannot be a credible source of knowledge about economics)

3- Semantic noise; sender and receiver do not use the same coding and decoding methods (compare this to a TV signal that is intercepted by a radio transmitter. There is no way that the radio transmitter can correctly decode the TV signal, so the TV message will not be received in the way it was intended by the sender)


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