What is the communication model? (With how it works)

Updated 5 September 2023

Communication models provide a framework for development-communication practitioners to build ideas for effective message delivery to a specific audience. These professionals are constantly developing ways to communicate on behalf of non-governmental and private organisations in a way that empowers and mobilises societies for social change. Understanding the concept of each model enables practitioners in this field to become better communicators. In this article, we discuss what the communication model is, elements of the communication process, including how it works and the various types of communication models.

What is the communication model?

The communication model is a systematic representation of the procedure that aids in understanding the human communication process. Models depict the process symbolically and conceptually. They also help to simplify the complex process of conversing and establish where and with whom communication occurs. There are three broad categories, including the linear, interactive and transactional models of communication. Each model offers a unique perspective on the process of communicating.

Related: Communication in project management (definition and types)

Elements of the communication process

The following are common terms in models of communication:

  • Message: A message represents the information that an individual receives from a source. For example, you're communicating a message when you send an email or deliver a speech.

  • Source or sender: This represents the individual who's delivering a message to a recipient. It's where or from whom information originates.

  • Receiver: The receiver represents the individual who's getting the message. For example, when you listen to a speech, watch a show or read written content, you're the receiver in the communication process.

  • Noise: Noise includes any factor that affects a communication flow and can prevent the receiver from getting the right message. This includes physical noise, such as horn sounds or loud music and encoded signals that create a distraction in a channel.

  • Channel: Channels are mediums for conveying a message to the target audience. This may include phone conversations, text messages, emails, video, radio and social media.

  • Encoding: This involves choosing the appropriate words and order to deliver the intended information to an audience or a receiver. A useful technique for the sender to improve their message encoding is to imagine the communication from the receiver's perspective mentally.

Related: How to communicate visually (with definition and examples)

How the communication process works

The following are steps in the communication process:

1. Generation of ideas

The sender starts the communication process by developing an idea they intend to convey to another person or group of individuals. It's beneficial for the sender to clarify the concept and purpose of a message. There's a higher possibility of effective communication if you consider what you aim to achieve and how the receiver may perceive the message before developing your idea.

2. Encoding the message

After formulating an idea, the sender encodes a message using words, symbols and actions that convey meaning. Since individuals interpret information differently, choosing a widely recognised communication method is beneficial to avoid misinterpretation. It's necessary to note the receiver's communication abilities, experiences and culture to achieve effective communication.

Related: What is cross-cultural communication (with benefits)

3. Selecting appropriate channels

The next step in the communication process is to select the most appropriate medium to convey a message. This could be virtual, verbal or non-verbal means. For example, while delivering customer feedback through emails may be relevant, visual tools like tables and charts may be more suitable for providing financial reports.

Related: What is a medium in communication? (Plus various types)

4. Decoding the message

Decoding involves interpreting a message or turning words into thoughts. After the recipient receives the message, they evaluate it and seek to comprehend it. If the sender and receiver share a similar perception, communication between them may become more effective.

5. Providing feedback

Feedback is essential in communication because it allows the sender to determine if the recipient comprehends the message. Unless it's a linear communication, the recipient gives feedback as a reply to the sender. The sender can improve the quality of the feedback they receive by delivering what the receiver can comprehend at the initial stage.

Related: The importance of feedback (with types and examples)

3 types of communication models

Here are the types of communication models you can consider:

1. The linear model of communication

Linear communication involves conveying a message without receiving any response from the recipient. It's a one-way communication method that can be useful for delivering a message to a large group of individuals at once. This communication model focuses more on the speaker than on the receiver of information. Examples of linear communication include written content, radio and television. The following include types of the linear model:

Aristotle's model

The Aristotle model is one of the oldest models of linear communication. It comprises the speaker, the speech, the listener, the occasion and the effect. Aristotle's model concentrates on the credibility of the speaker's message and how they can connect to the listeners without expecting any feedback.

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Lasswell's model

Lasswell's model aims to explain linear communication by addressing five message-related questions. These questions seek to understand the message's communicator, what their information entails, the channel of information delivery, the audience and the effect on the receiver. This model is useful for media persuasion and interpersonal or group communication, where the communicator aims to disseminate a message to several groups in various situations.

Shannon and Weaver model

The five communication elements featured in this model are the source, transmitter, channel, decoder, noise and receiver. This model focuses on telephone and radio cables and proposes that there are static or background sounds that may disrupt the communication process. These disturbances or noises refer to any factor that can hinder effective communication between the sender and receiver of a message.

Berlo's model

Berlo's model is an extension of the Shannon and Weaver model. It explains the communication process in four steps, including the source, message, channel and receiver. The model suggests that there are key factors that may influence communication between two persons, including the social system and cultural background. Consequently, the elements regulating the message the source sends also affect how the recipient decodes the information.

Related: What are linear models of communication? (With FAQs)

2. Interactive model of communication

Interactive communication occurs when everyone in the conversation includes only the sender and a receiver of a message. Contrary to the linear model, the interactive model of communication allows feedback. This means that when the sender conveys information, the receiver can also respond and share their opinions. An example is a telephone conversation between two colleagues or the exchange of emails within the work environment. Examples of the interactive models of communication include:

The Osgood-Schramm model

The Osgood-Schramm model is a circular model that represents a reciprocal manner of communication between a message's sender and receiver. In this approach, the communication circle fulfils three functions such as encoding, decoding and interpreting. Both the sender and the receiver encode and decode information at the same time. This model encourages feedback from the audience and exhibits good communication by accounting for interpretation.

The Westley and MacLean model

Westley and MacLean emphasise a significant relationship between environmental responses and communication. According to the model, communication starts when an individual receives a message and responds based on their object of orientation or physical surroundings. This implies that several factors, such as experiences or cultural diversity, can influence how an individual communicates and responds to the message they receive.

Related: How to use the rational model of decision making (with tips)

3. Transactional model of communication

The transactional communication model refers to the continuous exchange of information that occurs between the sender and the recipient at the same time. It presents communication as a two-way, dynamic process within a social, relational and cultural framework. The relational environment describes a person's interpersonal history and the type of relationship they possess with another person. In the cultural context, many identification components, such as ethnicity and values, define the flow of communication. At the same time, the social context includes standards that regulate the communication process. Examples of this model include:

Barnlund's transactional model

According to Barnlund's transactional model of communication, sending and receiving messages are mutually exclusive. This model suggests that the effectiveness of communication is the responsibility of both the sender and receiver. The model also indicates that individuals communicate to form intercultural relationships and build communities.

Dance's Helical model

Dance's model depicts communication as a dynamic, non-linear, continuous and evolutionary process. The model proposes how the communication process continues to expand and evolve as individuals send messages and receive feedback from one another. For example, communication between two strangers develops into a less formal dialogue as they interact continuously. This measure signifies that previous experiences and conduct can influence communication flow.


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