A new way of looking at workplace communications
Enter communication models: the theoretical frameworks that depict and explain the processes and elements involved in communication. These models help researchers, practitioners and, more recently, business owners and staff, to understand communication dynamics.
In this article, we zoom in on the linear model of communication, unpicking what linear communication is, the components of this model, and examples of linear communication in the workplace.
What is the linear model of communication?
Linear communication is a one-way type of communication where someone sends a message without getting any feedback from the receiver of the message.
Linear communication is a simple communication model that's often used in sales and marketing activities, when sending engaging messages to customers, and in large-scale organisations, when sending communications to a group of people.
This one-way communication style is particularly useful when communicating a message to a wide range of people simultaneously.
The 7 components of linear communication
We've already mentioned the “sender” and “receiver” that are involved in linear communication. In total, there are seven components of the linear communication model. They include:
The sender is the initiator of the message. They are the person who creates the message sent by linear communication. In sales, the sender could be a salesperson who creates a promotional email to send to potential clients.
Unsurprisingly, the receiver is the person on the receiving end of the message. The receiver is the audience. In the workplace, the receiver could be an employee who receives an email from a supervisor with instructions for a new project.
The message is the core information or content being conveyed from the sender to the receiver. In marketing, a message could be a slogan in an advertisement promoting a product's unique selling proposition.
The channel is how the message is sent; that is, the medium or method used for transmission. For example, in the workplace, a team leader might use a staff meeting as the channel to communicate important project updates to the team.
Encoding is the process of converting a message into a suitable form of transmission. Before sending a message it has to be encoded, turning potentially complex information into something easily understood. For example, a salesperson might encode a complex technical specification into more straightforward language for a client presentation.
When a receiver gets a message, they must decode it. Decoding is the process of interpreting and making sense of what was received. Often consumers decode an advertisement's message to understand the benefits and features of a product.
Noise refers to any type of interference or disruption that affects the accuracy of the transmission or reception of a message. We can break noise into three sub-categories:
Physical noise: This refers to external, tangible interferences that can disrupt the transmission of a message, like static on a phone line.
Semantic noise: This refers to issues related to language and meaning, like when a sender and receiver have different interpretations of words, symbols, or language, resulting in miscommunication.
Psychological noise: This refers to internal, mental, or emotional factors affecting communication. For example, a sender or receiver may have stress levels which interfere with the ability to comprehend or convey a message.
What are other models of communication?
There are two other models of communication in addition to the linear model of communication. They are:
Interactive communication is a two-way process. It occurs between two or more people and occurs when everyone in the conversation is a sender and a receiver. It often involves immediate feedback and response too, which allows for real-time adjustments to messaging.
The interactive communication model has three main characteristics: the ability for all parties to respond to each other's messages, the exchange of messages in real-time, and collaboration and mutual participation.
An example of interactive communication could be a face-to-face conversation between two colleagues discussing a project. They can ask questions, seek clarification, and provide immediate feedback, creating a dynamic exchange of information.
Transactional communication builds on the interactive model, recognising that participants simultaneously give and receive information. It views communication as a continuous, evolving process where roles are interchangeable.
The transactional communication model has three main characteristics: understanding that the roles of sender and receiver aren't fixed and that they influence each other, that communication is an ongoing and evolving process, and that communication is about a shared meaning and understanding between communicators.
An example of transactional communication is when a team works collaboratively on a project through an online platform. It requires team members to share information, respond to each other's ideas, and collectively shape the project's direction.
Different models of linear communication
The linear communication model shows communication as a one-way, linear process between sender and receiver. There are several sub-models which illustrate this concept. They share common elements, but each model highlights certain aspects of the communication process.
Examples of different models of linear communication include:
Although not strictly linear, Aristotle's communication model is considered a precursor to later communication models. This model focuses on key elements that contribute to effective messaging, including the sender's credibility (ethos), emotional appeal (pathos), and logical structure (logos).
From a linear model of communication perspective, Aristotle's model underscores the importance of not only noting what is said (message) but also who says it (sender) and how it is conveyed (channel).
Shannon-Weaver's linear model
The Shannon-Weaver model was the first major model of linear communication developed by Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver in 1949. The model comprises a sender, message, receiver, channel, and noise. It portrays communication as a linear sequence where the sender writes a message, sends it via a channel, and the receiver understands it. Noise can interfere with any part of the communication process.
Berlo's SMCR model
David Berlo's 1960 SMCR model expands upon the Shannon-Weaver linear communication model by introducing additional components that emphasise the complexity of the communication process. The model is named after its main elements: source, message, channel, and receiver.
Berlo's SMCR model introduces the concepts of encoding and decoding a message, emphasises the importance of psychological aspects of communication, and recognises verbal and non-verbal forms of communication.
Lasswell's model is a communication model introduced by Harold Lasswell in 1948 in his publication The Structure and Function of Communication in Society. His concise communication model focuses on answering fundamental questions about the communication process, including:
Who: who is the communicator or source of the communication?
Says what: what is the content or message being communicated?
In which channel: through which medium or channel is the message transmitted?
To whom: who is the intended audience or receiver of the message?
With what effect: what impact or effect does the communication have on the audience?
Lasswell's model simplifies communication into these essential components, emphasising the role of the communicator, the message, the medium, the audience, and the impact.
Benefits of linear communication
There are several advantages of using linear communication in a workplace setting, including:
- Clarity: Linear communication has a clear and straightforward structure which ultimately minimises confusion. In a workplace, this ensures that essential information is conveyed without ambiguity, reducing the risk of misinterpretation.
- Efficient top-down communication: In a hierarchical functional organisational structure, linear communication aligns with the traditional top-down flow of information. This structure is often efficient for disseminating important announcements from management to employees.
- Message control: Similarly, linear communication allows organisations to maintain a high degree of control over their messages. This means leaders can carefully craft official communications so that the intended message aligns with goals and values.
Less noise interference: Linear communication has fewer steps and fewer opportunities for noise. In the workplace, this means that important messages are less likely to be misinterpreted or diluted, leading to a more accurate and reliable transfer of information.
Speed: Linear communication has a quick and direct flow of information. This is advantageous in the workplace when time-sensitive updates or critical information needs to be transmitted promptly.
Examples of the linear model of communication
Here are two examples of linear communication relevant to the workplace, sales, and marketing:
Example 1: workplace communication
In a corporate setting, a CEO sends out a company-wide email detailing changes in organisational structure and strategic goals.
As the sender, the CEO encodes the message to communicate important updates. The email serves as the channel through which the information is transmitted to all employees, who act as receivers.
In this scenario, the linear communication model is evident as employees can absorb the information, but may not have an immediate platform to respond, representing a classic top-down flow of communication within the workplace.
Example 2: sales and marketing communication
A product launch event illustrates linear communication in the sales and marketing realm. A company organises a live stream on social media platforms to introduce a new product.
The company, acting as the sender, encodes the details about the product into the live stream. The social media platform serves as the channel, delivering the message to the audience (potential customers), who act as the receivers.
While viewers can witness the product features, the linear nature of the communication means that immediate interaction or feedback is limited during the live stream.
Communication spans beyond the written, verbal, and non-verbal. If you want to check you've exemplified your communication skills on your next job application, submit your CV for a free review.