Communication Theory

This Chapter describes how communication can be viewed as the verbal or non-verbal interaction between two or more individuals, with the purpose of exchanging information and to create and share meaning. The way in which communication is used to change the behaviours and thoughts of others is examined and how businesses use mechanisms such as advertising to encourage consumers to buy their products and services is also reviewed.

Shannon and Weaver’s model (1949) is outlined, defining the most important elements of the communication process as being the information source or sender producing the message, the encoder transmitting the message into signals, the channels used to adapt signals for transmission, the decoder who interprets the code and the receiver or the final destination of the message (as intended by the sender). The Chapter explains how this process can be affected by noise (unwanted interference influencing message delivery) and feedback (which can clarify messages and help avoid misunderstandings).

Berlo’s model (1960) is also highlighted, explaining how relational communication is important to understand those elements which can influence the delivery of any message (such as culture and knowledge). This theory emphasises how efficient feedback mechanisms between interlocutors can minimise any cultural or social discrepancies. The key elements of the model (source, message, channel and receiving) and how they interact is explained, but the Chapter recognises that this remains a relatively simple linear approach. The key tenets of Barnlund’s model (1962) are therefore also explored, noting how this transactional model expands the concept of feedback.

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Uncertainty Reduction Theory is addressed in the Chapter, exploring the work of Berger and Calabrese (1975) who stated that reducing uncertainty in regards to other individuals or situations is one of the core motives for engaging in communication. This sets the scene for a subsequent review of Agenda-Setting Theory, illustrating how McCombs and Shaw (1993) demonstrated a strong link between the information present in mass media and the perception of voters. The impact of digital information sources is considered in this context, noting how this now makes it more difficult for media outlets to present a biased view.

The impact of cultural aspects on communication approaches is outlined in the Chapter, noting how this is shaped by both relational (two or more individuals attempting to reach a common perspective acceptable to all involved) and rhetorical (studying how messages and the mode of transmission shape how others think and act) factors. The work of Hofstede (1984) provides further guidance in examining this dynamic, setting the context for a review of the balance between verbal and non-verbal communication forms. In doing so, the distinction between verbal signals, para-verbal/vocal signals and non-verbal signals is explored.

The Chapter closes with a review of communications in the digital age, emphasising that whilst the theories explored remain relevant, there are new/emerging rules and norms generated by this environment. Whilst these platforms offer organisations new opportunities to communicate with their audience and are much more interactive, the pressure to respond rapidly introduces new challenges.


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