Sunday, February 10, 2008

Communication Theories

Last week, we talked about communications as a science. Several communication theories have been developed by sociologists and political scientists after World War II. I would like to introduce them in this posting.

Harold Lasswell Model
The first discussed theory was a linear communications model of Harold Lasswell, which was developed in 1948. The model includes a sender of a message, a channel, and a recipient of the message. The result of the message is the effect, which can consist of a variety of outcomes.

The Harold Lasswell Model, 1948

Who (speaker) --> What (message) --> Channel (or medium) --> Whom (audience or listener)
= Effect

Shannon and Weaver Model
The next model was developed shortly after Lasswell’s model by Shannon and Weaver. This model emphasizes the transmission of information; the message is not as important in the Shannon and Weaver Model as it is in most other communication models. Shannon and Weaver were of the opinion that communication does not contribute to meaning; the sole purpose of communication is getting information from A to B. Shannon and Weaver introduced the term “noise” and described ways to overcome the problems that are related to the occurrence of noise. Noise is defined as an interference of communication; thus, it is a disruption of the transmission of information. Noise can be overcome by redundancy: The sender should say things twice when he thinks the problem of noise could exist.
Because of his important theoretical findings, Shannon is called the “father of information theory.”

Schramm’s Model
While Shannon is called the “father of information theory,” Schramm is referred to as the “founder of communication studies.” Schramm elaborated on Shannon’s models and included some very important new findings.
His later models were the first ones to describe communication as a circular process. Schramm included the recipient’s response to the sent message in his model. This feedback creates a communication circle, which connects sender and recipient. Additionally, Schramm introduced the terms encoding and decoding. Encoding is the sender’s way to create a message and decoding is the recipient’s way to take a message apart. Successful encoding and decoding necessitates the use of a common vocabulary. Schramm defined the common field of experiences, which is an area of commonalties or an area that both (sender and recipient) know about. Messages have to be in this common field of commonalities in order to be understood appropriately. If they are not in this field, communication is disturbed and frustration can arise.

Katz and Lazarsfeld Model
Katz & Lazarsfeld’s Model is important because of its political implications. The political scientists Katz & Lazarsfeld observed that individuals are greatly affected by opinion leaders who are able to reach a great number of people through the (at their time) newly developed mass media. Katz & Lazarsfeld’s model of communication through mass media is linear again.

Wesley MacLean-Model
The next discussed model was the Wesley- MacLean model, which describes potential messages as “events.” The model includes an advocate who supports transmitting an event.

Kincaid’s Model
The last model we talked about was the Kincaid’s Convergence model. The model describes the way to create and share information in order to reach mutual understanding, which is defined as the final result of successful communication. Kincaid’s model depicts the fact that communication is a cyclical process. Kincaid uses the term information rather than the term message.

My personal opinion about communication theories
Models are a simplistic description of the reality. Therefore, they provide a convenient way to look at complicated relations of reality. The advantage of models is simultaneously a threat to everybody who works with models, because models should not oversimplify the reality. If that happens, models will lose their capability to appropriately describe the reality.
The communication models help us to understand the important facts of communication, which I should consider when I try to become a good communicator. In consequence of our class discussion, I recognized that today’s communication is understood as a circular process. The feedback is an important component of communication. Feedback should be analyzed in order to figure out whether a communication process was successful.
Another important point is the necessity to use a common vocabulary to avoid frustrating communication experiences. Some people who are experts in a specific field often use their “technical language” when talking to persons who do not know much about that specific field. The consequence is a bad understanding of the message and frustration because the sender and the recipient do not communicate in a “common field of experiences.” This mistake should be avoided in order to effectively communicate.

Examples/ Personal Experiences
I had bad experiences when I communicated with my university in Germany. I emailed a certain office of the university in order to figure out what I had to do to apply for a specific waiver. Unfortunately, I got no response the following week; it took the office of the university 10 days to write a response. A few weeks later, I had another question and emailed the same office again. Again, I had to wait several days for an email response. This was a frustrating experience. However, this occurrence helped me to recognize the importance of feedback. I learned that communication is a circular process, and that after a message is sent, there should always follow a response.
This finding is very important for companies that want their customers to be satisfied with their service (or product). When it takes too long to respond to a customer’s message, the customer can become frustrated and unsatisfied. The dissatisfaction could induce the customer to choose a competing company the next time he wants to purchase a similar product or service.
My university had not to be afraid of losing a customer, because it seems to be clear that once a student has been enrolled, it is unlikely that the student will leave the university and choose another with a better customer service. This is especially true for German universities, because German universities do not face very tough competition, because they are all state owned.
That is another thing a learned from this occurrence: Competition forces companies to be good communicators; if there is only little competition, companies do not have a strong incentive to communicate efficiently.
I had a positive communication experience with my bank in Germany. The bank assigned one certain person I could contact whenever I had questions, wishes, or some transactions to do. This person was responsible for my satisfaction regarding financial issues. Therefore, she was very kind and helped whenever she could (she gave positive feedback). I felt that I, as a customer, was a very important person for the bank. That gave me an idea of how communications should be if companies want to achieve their goal of customer satisfaction.


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