Saturday, July 19, 2014

How to Overcome Challenges to Communication in the Digital Age

 by Brandon Janse Van Vuuren

In the early 1900 telephones become commonplace, the 1980s saw the rise of the internet, and in the last few years the number of communication methods grew exponentially, with cell phones becoming ubiquitous and the rise and fall of IM, Mxit and various other messaging services. Currently apps such as Whatsapp and social networks like Facebook are frequently used for communication. However, communication can often be challenging without the presence of non-verbal cues, and our messages can become lost in these mediated forms of communication if we are not aware of the potential pitfalls.

In the digital age we are hyper-connected, receiving large amounts of information constantly. While there are merits to easier access to information and readily accessible forms of communication, such as 140 character tweets and short messages on Whatsapp, there are many cases where these messages are not received as they were intended to be.

Communication is not simply about transmitting information, but also about ensuring that the correct meaning behind these messages is understood. Often, this involves signals on the emotional level as well, and there are subtleties and nuances of meaning in direct, face-to-face communication such as tone of voice or facial expressions which are lost in text messages or emails.
The Shannon and Weaver Model of Communication, more generally known as the communication cycle, gives us an idea of how to communicate effectively. According to the model there are six nodes of communication:
a. The Sender - the person initiating the communication
b. The Channel - the means of communication; in modern terms, WhatsApp, Facebook or email
c. The Receiver - the person whom the message is intended for

The next part of the cycle involves the different phases the message goes through:
d. Encoding - this is the way the sender expresses the message
e. Decoding - this is the way the receiver interprets the message
f. Feedback - this is the part where the receiver indicates to the sender what they understand from the message

At each one of these stages there are ways that communication can disintegrate; an example is when the sender lacks proper articulation in order to communicate the message, which could lead to the receiver decoding it incorrectly and reacting based on incorrect information.

Mindtools offers some guidelines to help in communicating effectively in a digital age:
1. Proofread: taking some time to proofread ensures that you communicate professionally and can also help to ensure that what you say is understood correctly.
2. Check your tone: unlike verbal and physical communication, the person receiving your email cannot hear the tone of your voice or see your facial expression. According to Mindtools, "Your choice of words, sentence length, punctuation, and capitalization can easily be misinterpreted without visual and auditory cues."
3. Make the message clear and brief: ensure the content of the message is clear. By keeping it brief you limit the potential for misinterpretation.
4. Filter the message: put yourself in the receiver's shoes and imagine how they might interpret your message. Doing this might save time when miscommunication takes place, and spares the inevitable frustration of misunderstood messages.

By being more conscious of the challenges of digital communication and implementing these basic guidelines, it becomes much easier to get a message across as it was intended.