Without going into extensive neurological explanations, let’s put it this way: Communication is all in your head! Well, maybe not all, but it certainly begins and ends there.

And it begins with the sender. To send a message, a person must say or do something that represents an idea in his or her own mind. The sender has a mental image, a vision, an idea, an opinion, or perhaps some information that he or she wants to convey to someone else. The sender initiates the communication process and has a primary interest in making sure it’s effective.

If a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one there to hear it, does it make a sound? Hmmm. Good question. So if someone sends a message and there’s no one to receive it, is it communication? The answer is no. Communication requires both a sender and a receiver. To receive a message, a person must interpret something said or done by another personthe senderand give it a name and develop a feeling about it. The receiver’s job is to then seek to understand whatever it is the sender wants to communicate. The receiver shares responsibility with the sender to ensure an effective communication process.

The message is the vehicle for the sender to share feelings, thoughts, and ideas. It is the way the sender’s mental images are transmitted to the receiver. Messages can travel in a variety of ways, including spoken, written, or behavioral. The message may be immediately clear and understood, or murky and misleading, based on how well all of the components in the communication process have been considered and accommodated. Always remember that the meaning of the message will be whatever the receiver assigns to it. In other words, the sender may have a meaning in mind, but the receiver can only know what it means to him or her personally. Message is not synonymous with meaning. In fact, the communication challenge is to make sure that the meaning that is intended by the sender is the same as the meaning the receiver assigns to the message when it’s received.

Messages go both ways. In other words, the sender sends a message to the receiver, who then sends a message back to the sender. The messages that are sent back from the receiver to the sender are called feedback. There is always some kind of feedback. Saying nothing is a “message”perhaps a powerful one. The receiver may be very passive and not initiate verbal feedback. The sender may not insist on it. In such cases, communication may or may not occur. Without meaningful feedback, you can’t even be sure that the message was received.

Senders choose words that are consistent with their own unique beliefs and experiences. For example, if you believe that women don’t belong in the work force, you will probably use words with negative connotations and exhibit related nonverbal behaviors when you communicate about female employees. If you have spent many years working in a sales environment, your definition of “teamwork” will probably be quite different from that of an assembler in a manufacturing plant. A single father of three young children sees a very different world than a mature career woman. In a conversation, your choice of words and examples based on your own “world” may or may not communicate your ideas well to someone whose life is very different from yours.

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