Communication skills need an update?
One of the ways we can improve our individual communication skills, is by simply understanding better how communication works. By understanding the components of communication, we can better see how we are communicating, what is going well and what needs work. The tool I’m about to introduce you to will not only help you understand your communications better, you can also pull it out any time you have a communication or exchange that doesn’t go well and use it as an evaluation tool for what went wrong.
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If you do a google search you find roughly three thousand five hundred million results for communication models. But they all basically give you the same information – they show the communication process in symbols. In the resources provided below, I have shared a very simple model I often use specifically for this purpose. Please pull it out now - it might be helpful to have it printed or opened in a separate window you can toggle to.
This is a basic communication model. If your eyes have already glossed over, I get it. Looking at models can get into some pretty boring stuff, so I’m going to go through this at a high level because the important message is on the backend. Stay with me.
A basic communication model:
For any communication you need someone with information trying to get the information to someone else.
In this case, I have information about communications I would like to share with you. So, in this case I am the source.
I am going to encode the information into a message that I believe will be clear and easy for the receiver –you – to understand. This encoding is my message.
Once I’ve decided on my message, I choose a channel with which to deliver it – in today’s case I am delivering the information via this article. The article is the channel.
You are here reading this article, taking in the information as it comes across the channel, decoding it for understanding, and translating it based on your personal experiences and background.
I will know, 1.) if you have understood the information I have shared, 2.) if I have encoded that information into a message that was clear to you, and 3.) if I have chosen a channel that makes sense, based on the feedback I receive from you. (This is not a shameless plug to get you to leave a comment – but please feel free to give your feedback on Facebook or Instagram using the hashtag #SkillStories)
As I said, models can get really boring, especially models you’ve never seen before. Don’t over think it. You actually use this basic model several hundred times a day whether you know it or not.
For example: If I ask you to raise your hand and you do it, then I tell you to put your hand down and you do it, we have just worked our way through the basic communications model a couple of times.
In this example, the information I had was a request – I wanted you to raise your hand. I encoded my message as a request and delivered it via this article. If you raised your hand and then put your hand down again when I asked you to, your actions are the feedback that tells me my message was received and was clear.
And of course, I am assuming you all raised your hands.
Pen and Journal or Paper
Communications Model (provided in resources at the bottom)
How to use this information
Most people never think about the components of their communications. Knowing that these different components exist and how they work to create even the simplest of communications is the first step in understanding more about your own communication.
Think about a communication you have had recently that didn’t go the way you expected. Let’s run it through the communication model.
Write the answers to the following questions in your journal:
Take a moment to write a brief summary of the communication you have in mind. What went well? What didn’t appear to go well? How was the communication left?
Using the communications model provided in the resources, label the components based on the communication you are evaluating: who was the source, what was the message, what channel was used, was the messaged received well and what was the feedback?
Now that you’ve put your communication through the model, what went well? Is there something you feel could be improved upon for future communications?
Pen and Journal or Paper
For a broader personal evaluation, ask yourself these questions:
· Do you find you have to explain yourself to people a lot?
· Do you get the outcomes you are expecting?
· Do people seem to blow-off your requests?
If any of these are issues for you, you likely need to work on how you’re encoding information – or an easier way to think about it, you need to work on your messaging. It’s possible you’re not being clear.
Take a moment to write down any examples that came to mind while reading these questions. How could you have clarified your message? (ProTip: Sometimes giving too much information can be just as unclear as not providing enough information.)
Now, ask yourself these questions:
· Do you find people do not respond to your emails?
· Do you sometimes have trouble getting your message into an email?
· Do you text people because it’s easier for you or because it makes sense for the communication?
If any of these are issues for you, you want to take more time to consider your channel. Not every communication is appropriate for email. Not every conversation needs to be had on the phone. And not every remote conversation needs to be a Zoom meeting. Evaluate the message you want to send before deciding which channel you are going to use.
Take a moment to write down any examples that came to mind while reading these questions. How did you decide on your channel? What other channels could have been considered? (ProTip: email or text may be easier for you, but is it right for the receiver?)
Understanding communication components gives you a tool with which to evaluate communications and see where you can improve. But as I pointed out in the beginning of this article, it takes at least two people for a communication to happen (talking to yourself does count, but that is actually called intrapersonal communication and is an article for another time).
To maximize the use of the knowledge you have just picked up, the best thing you can do is share this information with your co-workers and colleagues. When they understand the communication components, they will also be able to better communicate, and your team dynamics will be greatly impacted.
Many of the teams I have worked with over the years have found understanding and using communication models improves productivity, ensures on-time and accurate product delivery and creates an overall working environment that is clear, efficient and somewhat drama free.
If you’re truly interested in understanding communication models, there’s a pretty good blog by a Dr. Chris Drew that outlines the foundations of communication modeling going back to 300 BC – yes, we have been trying to figure out how to better communicate for quite some time. And of course, feel free to sign up for our mailing list to find out about opportunities for our quarterly communication workshops and the annual Summer Summit.
References & Resources