I was flipping through my old college business communications textbook (_Business Communication: Process and Product, 4th Edition _by Mary Ellen Guffy) when lo and behold I came across the (false) metaphor of the tube for communications:

Guffey - Communications sketch

I will give the textbook some credit since there is some explanation that it’s not so simple as just putting up a semaphore:

Only when the receiver understands the meaning intended by the sender—that is, successful decodes the message—does the communication take place. Such success, however, is difficult to achieve because no two people share the same life experiences and because many barriers can disrupt the process.

But this is a very message-centric view of communications.  As I’ve learned in my experiences, when you think of communications as “messaging” you are concentrating on the process, rather than the outcome.  As I would argue, the outcome is that you induce an action in the other receiver.  By action I mean either physically (getting the receiver do something) or mentally (changing the way people think is the very basis of Public Relations and Perception Management). This action can be external (getting someone else to do something), internal (writing this out will help me understand it better) or temporal (I’m writing in my diary so that I can tell my future self how I’m feeling right now; or, I’m adding a memo to the file so that, in the event of a future audit, the auditor will know what happened and not decertify us).

I would say that a better explanation of how communications takes place is as follows:

  1. You (the sender) define/desire something to take place (in relation to your worldview/nature)

  2. You identify individual(s) with influence or affect over your desire (the receiver)

  3. You define the action/change you want to induce in the receiver (in relation to the receiver’s worldview/nature) that corresponds to you achieving your desire

  4. You identify the mediums the receiver can accept and how using that medium might affect the action/change you wish to induce in the receiver (in relation to the receiver’s worldview/nature)

  5. You decide upon a medium and appropriate message that will most effectively/efficiently induce the action/change in the receiver.

  6. Then you send it.

Now I’m not saying that you need to do these as discrete steps all the time—human social evolution makes us incredibly efficient at doing these types of things without thinking …most of the time. But those innate skills break down when talking with people of different cultures (or subcultures, e.g. liberals and conservatives or baby boomers and millenials) or life experience, you need to take into account the whole process before the message is sent.

The key part in this is understanding—as best as possible—the receiver’s worldview/nature.  This is why the key skills to communications are curiosity, observation, listening, understanding, and empathy—not to mention broad life experiences.  Which is not to say that effective communications requires touchy-feely feel-goodery: not at all.  In some situations being an asshole is effective and efficient; in some situations it isn’t. Being able to know the difference is the key for communicating effectively.