There is real power that comes into our lives when we understand how communication works in any human interaction and how people see and react to our efforts to communicate.
Wilbur Schramm's model departed from earlier communications models as it included the concepts of encoding and decoding. That is, a message we intend to send or one we receive has to go through a process or a filter of our own experience, and thus we may not receive the same message that the sender of the message sends.
There is a graphical representation of the Schramm model at the top of the page, or click here to see a larger version.
The sender of the message has a meaning that he or she hopes to convey, but that message has to be "encoded" in a way that the sender believes that the receiver will understand. We often encode the message in a way that we hope will communicate more than words alone. For example, I was in a class once where the teacher indicated that there were lots of double negative expressions that ended up communicating something positive. He cited, "I do not disagree," or "Steve was not incompetent."
Then he asked, "Is there ever a time when two positive make a negative?" The class was silent for a moment until someone said, "Yeah, right." Sometimes our messages come out a bit different because we encode them in a way that the other person may misunderstand.
The message is then sent through a channel. Channels may include verbal, non-verbal, physical, writing or other channels. One of the interesting ideas about channels in this model is that sometimes different channels require different "codes." We have to be aware that we are communicating in the same way in multiple channels. If we are communicating love in words, but our facial expression shows no passion, our receiver will sense a mixed message.
On the other side of the equation, the sender will have a perception of the message ("I hear words of love but there is no passion behind them.") and will have to decode the message based on the perception of the message and on the receiver's own experiences. In this case, the receiver might get the message, "He says he loves me but he doesn't feel it."
The model then repeats itself with the receiver now becoming the sender and the sender becoming the receiver.
Finally, Schramm's model adds the component of "noise," represented by the orange cloud.
Noise, or the distractions all around us every day, impacts the quality of our sending and receiving. I can impact every aspect of the communication process. Noise can affect our encoding and decoding, it can disrupt the channels and taint the feedback. So eliminating or reducing the noise in our communications process is important. Turning off the television, paying full attention to the communication and not checking your smartphone every time a text message arrives is important in effectively communicating in our families.
One of the things I like about this model is that it applies to virtually every form of human communication. Speaking, writing, reading, listening, texting, talking on the phone, and just sitting down together and reading a story can all be better understood with the model.
As we all work to be better communicators, a good understanding of the model of communication will help us think through our interactions, plan to eliminate or reduce noise, and deal intuitively with our various codes and channels to better communicate with our family members and important others in our lives.