Berlo’s SMCR model was created by American communication theorist David Berlo in 1960, who expanded the Shannon-Weaver model of communication into clear and distinct parts. Berlo’s SMCR model is a one-way or linear communication framework based on the Shannon-Weaver communication model.
Understanding Berlo’s SMCR model
Berlo’s SMCR model was created by American communication theorist David Berlo in 1960. His interpretation of the communication process was incorporated into a book titled The Process of Communication which became widely referenced in academia.
The model itself – which is sometimes referred to as the sender-message-channel-receiver (SMCR) model – is the result of Berlo’s work to expand the Shannon-Weaver communication model into clear and distinct parts.
Berlo studied psychology at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) and worked under Wilbur Schramm to pursue a doctorate in communications. Schramm is credited as the founder of the field of communication studies who developed his own model in 1954.
Berlo’s model and synchronization
Like most communication models, Berlo’s SMCR model posits that the sender and receiver must be synchronized for communication to be effective.
Synchronization occurs when clear and concise information is transmitted by the sender and then actively heard and interpreted by the receiver.
As a consequence, Berlo saw communication as a linear process that was successful when the skills of the receiver complemented or matched those of the sender.
The idea that the receiver was integral to the success of communication was first proposed by Aristotle over 2,000 years previous.
However, it also should be noted that communication can be asynchronous when the receiver is unable to provide direct feedback on a message or confirm that it was understood.
Communication is often asynchronous when it occurs in television advertisements or some digital channels such as email.
The four components of Berlo’s SMCR model
Berlo’s SMCR model is so named because SMCR is an acronym of four key components.
Berlo believed each component and a collection of associated factors was essential to any communication process.
Let’s take a look at them below.
1 – Sender (S)
The sender is the person who transmits the message and initiates the communication process.
Here, Berlo identified five factors related to the sender:
Communication skills enable the individual to encode and decode messages and will vary according to each person or context.
In the case of verbal communication, Berlo noted that encoding skills such as writing and speaking and decoding skills such as reading and listening were important.
Nonverbal cues such as body language, facial expression, intonation, and gestures are also used to increase communication effectiveness.
Thinking and reasoning are additional skills used to establish the purpose of communication and devise a plan to enable it.
To ensure the purpose of a message can be easily deciphered by the receiver, the sender must be an effective decoder.
What is the attitude of the sender toward themselves, the audience, or the subject of communication?
In his book, Berlo defined attitude as “some predisposition, some tendency, some desire to either approach or avoid” a certain entity.
Unsurprisingly, communication is more effective when the sender/source has a positive or confident attitude toward themselves.
The sender’s attitude toward the receiver also determines the receiver’s attitude toward them and is often based on prior interaction.
Attitude has important implications for the fidelity of communication.
In this context, fidelity means the receiver understands what the sender wants to express without any decay in meaning or authenticity.
When the attitude is negative or otherwise adversarial, communication suffers.
For example, a salesperson who is unconvinced or unenthused when pitching a product will likely find it more difficult to convince the prospect and close the deal.
Knowledge is a communicator’s familiarity and understanding of the subject matter and the other person or entity.
Inadequate knowledge renders effective communication almost impossible – particularly when the sender knows more than the receiver about a topic.
Teachers, salespeople, and other educators commonly find themselves dealing with this imbalance and must be able to converse in such a way that the receiver understands them.
Social systems comprise the values, beliefs, laws, rules, or religions that impact the way the sender communicates.
One’s social class (and the groups one belongs to) also impact communication and define acceptable topics of discussion and forms of behavior.
Social systems also impact the way the message is encoded or decoded.
This is most obvious in the difference between certain nationalities or how an employee speaks to a co-worker versus their boss.
2 – Message (M)
The message is the information sent from the sender to the receiver and may take the form of audio, text, video, or voice.
The key factors affecting the message include:
Or the information contained in the message from start to finish.
Any non-verbal factor that accompanies the content, such as gestures and body language.
How the message is passed on or delivered.
The way the message has been structured to increase its effectiveness.
How is the message sent, and in what form?
3 – Channel (C)
Channel describes the communication medium.
During mass communication, the medium may be a radio, television, or the internet.
In a general conversation between two people, the five senses play an important role:
Used to receive and interpret messages.
Used to perceive non-verbal communication.
Some non-verbal communication is also sensed by holding or shaking hands and hugging.
For example, through perfumes, flowers, or pheromones.
When an individual tastes food, they then communicate positive or negative feelings via facial expressions.
4 – Receiver (R)
The receiver is the person who has to interpret the sender’s message and then respond accordingly in a process called decoding.
The receiver is characterized by the same five factors as the sender.
In theory, these factors should match or at least closely align for the message to be interpreted successfully.
The role of feedback in Berlo’s SMCR model
Berlo’s SMCR model is one of the earliest such frameworks and is a little less refined as a result. In addition to not incorporating the role of noise, there is less emphasis on the role of feedback.
That is, Berlo did not explicitly account for how the sender and receiver use information to determine how messages are perceived and conveyed.
In the years since Berlo’s work was published, however, some believe that feedback was incorporated into the SMCR model in a less obvious way.
When the sender transmits information to the receiver, both parties swap places and the sender reiterates aspects of the information to confirm that it was understood.
Advantages of Berlo’s model of communication
Since it’s a linear communication model, it helps simplify how a communication strategy is structured.
Thus helping formulate a simple execution plan for a company’s communication strategy.
In fact, as often happens in the corporate world, many of these models are not supposed to be used to represent the real world.
Even if you take one of the most used frameworks in business, like the Sales Funnel, this is not supposed to represent how people who get to know our company becomes customers.
Instead, those are prioritization tools that help structure a simple strategy in a complex environment.
So this is the advantage of Berlo’s model of communication; it’s simple.
Disadvantages of Berlo’s model of communication
Berlo’s communication model does not consider noise’s impact on communication effectiveness.
This is a major drawback, as noise affects how a potential audience perceives the speaker’s message.
Noise can potentially reframe the message and make it perceived to the final audience in the opposite direction of what it was meant for.
And usually, noise can be of two types: external (or physical noise) and internal (or mental noise).
Understanding all the facets of noise within an environment is critical.
This understanding helps structure a proper message and understand how thorough this message needs to be delivered!
The lack of consideration for the impact of noise on communication is one of the major drawbacks of using Berlo’s communication model.
Berlo’s SMCR model Case Study: Sales Rep Pitch
Now, let’s describe Berlo’s SMCR model using the hypothetic example of a presentation where a company sales rep is pitching a new laundry detergent.
1 – Sender
The initiator of the communication process in this example is the sales rep. Like most sales reps, the individual is a skilled, confident, and persuasive public speaker.
Body language, facial expressions, voice intonation, and gesturing are used to convey the important points of the pitch.
For example, the rep may raise their voice to emphasize that the detergent is made from 100% environmentally friendly materials.
It is clear as the rep presents that they know the product back-to-front.
In other words, they communicate the main features and benefits of the detergent without referring to notes or tripping over their words.
The rep is also cognizant of the contextual social systems, cultures, rules, and laws that influence their communication and the reaction of the audience.
For example, they do not make claims about the product that cannot be verified by hard data or approved studies.
2 – Message
The message is a PowerPoint presentation that takes the form of a product pitch.
It includes an attractive cover slide, value proposition, compelling brand story, solutions that are backed by proof, and a clear call to action.
Again, the rep uses verbal and non-verbal communication to complement the written message.
The message is also conveyed with a mockup of the physical product as it may appear once on sale in a retail outlet.
3 – Channel
The primary channel in this example is the projection of a computer screen on the wall.
The audience, who are key decision-makers at a supermarket chain, primarily use the hearing and seeing senses to receive the message.
At the end of the presentation, however, the sales rep invites the audience to a tactile experience of the detergent.
They touch the packaging to assess its weight distribution and ergonomics.
The detergent also contains an added fabric softener, so the audience is able to feel clothes laundered by the detergent compared to another brand.
Some individuals also smell the clothes to determine whether the fragrance is something consumers will ultimately find desirable.
4 – Receiver
In Berlo’s model and indeed all other communication models, the receiver is the person or people who are sent the message.
In this case, the receivers are the supermarket chain employees whose primary role is to source new inventory for stores.
If the sales presentation has its intended effect, the employees can decode the message and take a desirable action.
As we noted in previous sections, the receiver and sender must share some commonalities in communication skills, attitude, knowledge, social systems, and culture.
The supermarket employees present are cleaning product experts who understand industry jargon and can quickly assess the potential product-market fit.
Since both communicators are on the same page, the sender’s persuasive message is heard and understood by the supermarket that decides to try the laundry detergent in its stores.
Berlo’s SMCR model Case Study: Employees Training
Here is another example of Berlo’s SMCR model.
Suppose that a company that provides confined space certification visits a construction site to train employees on how to work safely in enclosed areas.
1 – Sender
The sender, or source, is the individual providing the confined space training. To transmit information to the audience of employees, the speaker relies on:
- Communication skills – this includes when to take pauses, emphasis on important points or procedures, and clear enunciation. The speaker also uses construction site jargon where appropriate and tells relatable stories when they observe that the audience’s attention is starting to wane.
- Attitude – the speaker enters the room with the attitude that employee safety is the number one priority on construction sites.
- Knowledge – the speaker has excellent knowledge of confined space procedures. In addition to 15 years of experience in the industry, they have undertaken training with an accredited provider and routinely attend refresher courses.
- Social systems – since the content and structure of the training program are governed by law, the speaker’s presentation is similarly structured and somewhat formal. The speaker also touches on values related to safety such as accountability, trust, and honesty.
2 – Message
The message encapsulates the content of the confined space training program.
The content is accurate, factual, and up-to-date, and the speaker is careful not to use any words that may confuse the audience or distort the message.
Other elements of the message include:
- Elements – the speaker uses hand gestures to point to the information contained on slides and maintains a confident posture. They also move around the room when speaking to avoid becoming static and potentially disinteresting.
- Treatment – since the risks of working in confined spaces can cause injury or even death, the speaker ensures they are authoritative and serious at all times when presenting the message. But they never appear too serious as to lose the attention or respect of the employees.
- Structure – the message is supported by videos, props, case studies, and live demonstrations to emphasize the importance of confined space safety.
3 – Channel
Since the training is conducted face-to-face, the speaker communicates the course content via some of the five senses:
- Hearing – the audience listens to directives or information.
- Seeing – the audience watches video case studies of workplace incidents involving confined spaces.
- Touching – under supervision, the audience is allowed to enter a confined space and use vital equipment such as a safety harness and carbon dioxide detector.
4 – Receiver
The entity responsible for interpreting the training provider’s message is the cohort of employees in the audience.
In theory, the communication skills, attitude, social systems, and knowledge of the sender and receiver should be comparable.
Let’s assume that the employees are also competent communicators who nod their heads in agreement, listen with intent, and ask questions to clarify certain points.
With the shared belief that safety should be taken seriously, they also possess the correct attitude to receive the speaker’s message in the way it is intended.
Since the speaker also worked in the construction industry before shifting careers, they share certain social and cultural values with the employees in the audience.
- Berlo’s SMCR model is a one-way or linear communication framework based on the Shannon-Weaver communication model.
- Berlo’s SMCR model is an early communication model with a few limitations. It does not consider the impact of noise on the communication process. What’s more, it makes no allowance for feedback and its ability to alter the sent or received message.
- Berlo’s SMCR model is based on four components: sender, message, channel, and receiver. Each component – and its various sub-factors – must match or closely align between the sender and receiver for effective communication.
Read Next: Communication Cycle, Encoding, Communication Models, Organizational Structure.
Read Also: Lasswell Communication Model, Linear Model Of Communication.
Connected Communicational Frameworks
Helical Model of Communication
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