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The Business Communication Process

The Business Communication Process

To learn how to communicate effectively within a business context, it is important to understand that business communication is a 6-stage process:

  1. The sender has an idea to communicate
  2. The sender encodes this idea in a message
  3. The sender transmits the message
  4. The receiver gets the message
  5. The receiver decodes the message
  6. The receiver returns feedback to the sender

Problems can arise at any one of these stages of communication.  A message is not transmitted successfully if the sender’s e-mail is blocked by the receiver’s spam protection program.  A problem arises in the decoding phase if the receiver does not understand the language in which a message is written. A more subtle encoding problem may occur if a younger speaker decides to spice up a presentation with references to popular songs or hot television shows that are unfamiliar to the older members of the audience.  Finally,  a message is ineffective if it fails to generate feedback from the receiver.   Good business communication always seeks to “close the loop” by encouraging a response from the receiver.

Although problems in transmission and feedback are the most obvious and easily avoided difficulties that may arise, problems in the encoding and decoding stages are probably the most serious, if only because they are the most easily overlooked.  As we will see, a large part of business communication revolves around understanding your audience.  When composing a business message, be sure that you are encoding your message in a way that will be understood by your audience.  Similarly, when reading or listening to a business message, do not assume that the message needs no decoding on your part. 

Barriers to Effective Communication

There can be many barriers to effective business communication.   Physical distractions like a noisy air conditioner in an auditorium or static on a telephone line can disrupt communication.  When a receiver is given too much information to process all at once, he is a victim of information overload, and important facts can be lost in the overwhelming onslaught of useless data. 

Communication can often be relatively easy between two individuals who share a great deal in common.  Friends who have worked together for a long time, strangers who have similar jobs at different companies, and even veterans who served in the same war find that their similarities enable them to communicate well with one another.  They see the world the same way.  People who do not have a wealth of similar experiences to draw upon often see the world differently; these perceptual differences can be a barrier to effective communication.  Members of different generations, men and women, and people from different countries (even those who share a language in common) may have to work hard to overcome these differences. 

Two individuals who do not share the same language will, of course, have a great deal of difficulty communicating with one another and may require a translator to assist them.  Automated online text translation services,  such as those provided by Altavista and Google, are of limited usefulness because they do not yet have the ability to translate the nuances of colloquial speech.  Try translating even a simple phrase from English into German or Spanish, and then back into English, to get an idea of how important human translators can be in overcoming the language barrier.

Some barriers to communication are deliberate.  Companies that see a danger in the free flow of information within the organization may create a restrictive environment in which individuals are discouraged from communicating sensitive information to one another.  Organizations with many levels in the corporate hierarchy can discourage upward information flow from ordinary workers to the decision makers many levels above them.  One last barrier to effective communication is the temptation for some individuals (and even organizations) to employ deceptive communication practices to gain an advantage over their competitors.   Many recent scandals in the business world have arisen from this temptation.

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