What Are Communication Models? Communication Models In A Nutshell

Communication models explain the social process of communication. Each model explains the development of communication while emphasizing different parts of the communication process.

Understanding communication models

Communication models are useful because they provide a visual representation of the complex interactions that occur during communication. That is, they distill the basic structure of communication into a more digestible form. They also identify the various elements involved and how different parts of the process interact or are interrelated. 

The first major model for communication, the Shannon-Weaver model, was developed by Claude Shannon with an introduction by Warren Weaver in 1948. Both were engineers working for Bell Telephone Labs who were tasked with ensuring that telephone cables and radio waves were operating at maximum efficiency. In the following decades, the Shannon-Weaver model was adapted and expanded by other communication theorists and scholars.

Today, there are generally accepted to be eight major communication models spread across three distinct categories. We will take a look at these categories and models in the following sections.

The three communication model categories

  1. Linear – which describes communication as a one-way process involving a sender, message, and receiver. Linear models were developed at a time when one-way communication was the only way to transmit messages. For example, an individual with a radio could hear a message transmitted by the radio announcer without being able to transmit a message in return. As a result, little credence was given to the role the receiver played in communication.
  2. Interactive – these models describe communication as a process where two or more individuals take turns as both the sender and receiver. Interactive models also consider how feedback is given on transmitted messages in both a physical and psychological context. This makes communication a two-way, interactive process where each individual works to maintain the conversation.
  3. Transactional – transactional models consider the communication process in terms of social, relational, and cultural contexts. Instead of senders and receivers, individuals are called communicators. These individuals don’t just communicate to send messages. Rather, communication helps them create relationships, alliances, and social communities through dialogue. Transactional models also influence notions of self.

Examples of communication models

Below is a look at a few of the eight major communication models:

Lasswell’s model

lasswell-communication-model
The Lasswell communication model is a linear framework for explaining the communication process through segmentation. Lasswell proposed media propaganda performs three social functions: surveillance, correlation, transmission. Lasswell believed the media could impact what viewers believed about the information presented.

A basic, linear framework for analyzing one-way communication by asking five questions: Who? Said what? Through which channel? To whom? With what effects?

Berlo’s SMCR model

berlos-smcr-model
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.

The SMCR model

linear-model-of-communication
The linear model of communication is a relatively simplistic model envisaging a process in which a sender encodes and transmits a message that is received and decoded by a recipient. The linear model of communication suggests communication moves in one direction only. The sender transmits a message to the receiver, but the receiver does not transmit a response or provide feedback to the sender.

The sender-message-channel-receiver model separated the Shannon-Weaver model into clear parts and has since been expanded upon itself. Theorist David Berlo introduced factors that influenced the two-way communication process, including awareness level, social system, attitude, and cultural system.

Osgood-Schramm model

An interactive model which looks at reciprocal communication and how each participant has to encode, decode, and interpret a message for maximum effectiveness. The model also encourages practitioners to consider the impact their messages have on the receiver, both desired and undesired.

Barnlund’s model

A dynamic, two-way transactional communication model which suggests the sending and receiving of messages occurs simultaneously. Messages are passed back and forth almost imperceptibly, with constant feedback provided by both parties serving as the message that is transmitted.

Dance’s helical model

Former University of Denver professor Frank Dance suggested communication could be explained by the shape of the helix. That is, communication between two people is shaped by time and experience and is an evolutionary process. This process can be seen when two meet each other for the first time. Initially, communication is simple, polite, and restrained. Over time, each participant becomes more comfortable with the other and the quality of communication improves. Dance’s model also explains the way children begin their lives by speaking simple words and phrases, gradually developing a more complex vocabulary over time.

Key takeaways:

  • Communication models explain the social process of communication. Each model explains the development of communication while emphasizing different parts of the communication process.
  • There are generally accepted to be eight major communication models spread across three categories: linear, interactive, and transactional. Each model is an interpretation or expansion of the Shannon-Weaver model developed in 1948.
  • Some of the major models to benefit from the work of Shannon and Weaver include Berlo’s SMCR model, Barnlund’s model, Dance’s helical model, and the Osgood-Schramm model.

Connected Business Frameworks

communication-strategy-framework
A communication strategy framework clarifies how businesses should communicate with their employees, investors, customers, and suppliers. Some of the key elements of an effective communication strategy move around purpose, background, objectives, target audience, messaging, and approach.
7-cs-of-communication
The 7Cs of communication is a set of guiding principles on effective communication skills in business, moving around seven principles for effective business communication: clear, concise, concrete, correct, complete, coherent, courteous.
first-principles-thinking
First-principles thinking – sometimes called reasoning from first principles – is used to reverse-engineer complex problems and encourage creativity. It involves breaking down problems into basic elements and reassembling them from the ground up. Elon Musk is among the strongest proponents of this way of thinking.
ladder-of-inference
The ladder of inference is a conscious or subconscious thinking process where an individual moves from a fact to a decision or action. The ladder of inference was created by academic Chris Argyris to illustrate how people form and then use mental models to make decisions.
six-thinking-hats-model
The Six Thinking Hats model was created by psychologist Edward de Bono in 1986, who noted that personality type was a key driver of how people approached problem-solving. For example, optimists view situations differently from pessimists. Analytical individuals may generate ideas that a more emotional person would not, and vice versa.
second-order-thinking
Second-order thinking is a means of assessing the implications of our decisions by considering future consequences. Second-order thinking is a mental model that considers all future possibilities. It encourages individuals to think outside of the box so that they can prepare for every and eventuality. It also discourages the tendency for individuals to default to the most obvious choice.
lateral-thinking
Lateral thinking is a business strategy that involves approaching a problem from a different direction. The strategy attempts to remove traditionally formulaic and routine approaches to problem-solving by advocating creative thinking, therefore finding unconventional ways to solve a known problem. This sort of non-linear approach to problem-solving, can at times, create a big impact.
moonshot-thinking
Moonshot thinking is an approach to innovation, and it can be applied to business or any other discipline where you target at least 10X goals. That shifts the mindset, and it empowers a team of people to look for unconventional solutions, thus starting from first principles, by leveraging on fast-paced experimentation.
design-thinking
Tim Brown, Executive Chair of IDEO, defined design thinking as “a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” Therefore, desirability, feasibility, and viability are balanced to solve critical problems.
catwoe-analysis
The CATWOE analysis is a problem-solving strategy that asks businesses to look at an issue from six different perspectives. The CATWOE analysis is an in-depth and holistic approach to problem-solving because it enables businesses to consider all perspectives. This often forces management out of habitual ways of thinking that would otherwise hinder growth and profitability. Most importantly, the CATWOE analysis allows businesses to combine multiple perspectives into a single, unifying solution.

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Gennaro Cuofano

Gennaro is the creator of FourWeekMBA which reached over a million business students, executives, and aspiring entrepreneurs in 2020 alone | He is also Head of Business Development for a high-tech startup, which he helped grow at double-digit rate | Gennaro earned an International MBA with emphasis on Corporate Finance and Business Strategy | Visit The FourWeekMBA BizSchool | Or Get The FourWeekMBA Flagship Book "100+ Business Models"