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Education Article

Navigating the Intricacies of Interpersonal Communication


From the book Managing Service Excellence by C. William Crutcher

Navigating the Intricacies of Interpersonal CommunicationAlthough we talk all the time—to ourselves, to others, for work, for fun, to relay important information or to create or enhance a relationship—we are far from experts on how to do it effectively. According to C. William Crutcher’s book Managing Service Excellence, there are specific mechanics within the communication process we likely fail to consider when we are trying to relay a message.

Usually, when we want to talk, we just open our mouths and words come out—not necessarily the right words at the right time with the right tone. We tend to speak spontaneously instead of thoughtfully, due to the need to convey a message and move on to our next action. The outline below calls our attention to the intricacies of the communication process and provides some thoughts for consideration before we speak.

  • SENDER: Every communication is initiated by someone. The sender begins the process and determines who will be the intended receivers of the communication.

HINT: Sometimes we are surprised who has overheard our message inadvertently. Always be aware of your surroundings when delivering a communication, particularly one that may be sensitive.

  • ENCODE: The sender converts their thoughts into a message, (hopefully) conveying what the sender wants to communicate. The message medium could be oral, written, or expressive, such as a picture or nonverbal cues.

HINT: Depending on the urgency of the message, we may not carefully consider the message content and, too often, just blurt out whatever is on our minds, influenced by our current environment, mood, and other factors. Always reread your message for appropriate editing and think about whether this is the right time to send that communication—are your receivers ready to hear it right now?

  • MEDIUM: The sender chooses which modality to employ to transmit the message to the receiver(s). If the message is in oral form, the medium could be electronic, such as a phone or video call, or it could be face-to-face. If the message is in written form, it could be delivered in hard copy or electronically, through text or email. Always make sure to consider the best medium to relay your message to your intended audience, and NEVER write anything down you don’t want to have to defend. Before sending a text or email, ask yourself, “If this were published in the newspaper, would I be OK with that?” Sometimes your receiver needs to hear your tone of voice to really comprehend the message. Remember that a written message may be misinterpreted, especially if you write it concisely (being thoughtful of others’ time), so if a misunderstanding is possible, pick up the phone instead!
  • RECEIVER: This is the intended recipient of the sender’s message. We might have numerous recipients, so remember to write your message to the entire audience.

HINT: Keep in mind that once anything is written and sent, it can be forwarded or copied and shared, intentionally or not, with others. Again, “If this were published in the newspaper, would I be OK with that?” is a wise question to consider. Also, remember to consider your surroundings with face-to-face conversations, as there are likely other ears out there listening.

  • DECODE: Once the message has reached the receiver, the receiver must now decode or interpret it. The sender may have intended “A + B = C,” but depending on how the receiver read or heard the message (particularly a written one without the opportunity to hear tone of voice and ask clarifying questions), “A + B” might equal “D.”

HINT: While decoding the message, the receiver filters it through their current temperament, so a bad morning, a headache, or the rush to the next meeting could result in an interpretation that differs significantly from the sender’s intent. If the message is particularly sensitive, take a moment to consider the receiver's current circumstances. Reflect on whether this is the right time and medium to ensure that your intended communication is received as planned.

  • FEEDBACK: Senders typically expect and may even plan for feedback on their communication. That is the key to dialogue, versus monologue. A channel for opening up two-way lines of communication is essential for an excellent interpersonal exchange. Feedback might clarify the message, expand it, refine it, redirect it, ensure expectations are understood and met, or close the communication. The larger the audience, the less meaningful the feedback (if any is received at all).

    HINT: If you want feedback, narrow your audience to those whose input would be most valuable. If you get feedback, respond to it, or you will discourage people from taking the time to prepare a response in the future.
  • NOISE: Throughout the entire communication process, a phenomenon known as “noise” prevails, typically going unnoticed and perhaps not even realized. Noise includes one’s emotions at the time of preparing, writing, reading, or responding to the communication; and external noise like a TV, children playing, or others talking within one’s earshot. We will explore this topic in a future article.

HINT: Pay attention to whether now is the right time to send or respond to an email or text message. Sometimes it is best to send a quick note saying, “I’ll respond soon,” and ensure you do so when you are calmer and more focused. If possible, relocate to a quieter area that enables better concentration on the message you wish to send or how you wish to respond. Doing so benefits both you and your receivers.

Bottom line is that every interaction should, ideally, be handled thoughtfully. But time constraints and the complexities of life can make this ideal challenging. Those challenges shouldn’t, however, cause you to be abrupt or rude in your communications. Whether professionally or personally, your receivers deserve your best, and each interaction is an opportunity to demonstrate that. This is the heart of excellent customer service!