What is the helical model of communication? The helical model of communication in a nutshell

The helical model of communication is a framework inspired by the three-dimensional spring-like curve of a helix. It argues communication is cyclical, continuous, non-repetitive, accumulative, and influenced by time and experience.

Understanding the helical model of communication

The helical model of communication was first proposed by Frank Dance in 1967 to offer a more detailed look at the communication process. Dance equated the functioning of his model with a helix or spiraling curve shaped like a spring that moves upward and downward.

To better explain the helical aspect of the model, Dance argued that an individual begins communicating from the day they are born by crying for whatever they need. This is a simple and very rudimentary form of communication. As they grow older, the child progresses to more complex forms of communication which are also cumulative. When they graduate from single words to complete sentences, they are building on what they already know to communicate more effectively.

This process is represented by a helix, with progressively larger circles providing a visual metaphor for the evolution of communication from birth to the present moment. It’s also important to note that communication moves backward in the metaphorical sense. The child who learns to speak in complete sentences is drawing on memories and impressions from an earlier period in their life. This process of looking backward also shapes behavior. For example, a teenager may alter their communication style to avoid swearing after being reprimanded by someone in the past.

The key ideas of the Helical model of communication

Here are some of the key ideas of Dance’s model:

  1. Communication occurs cyclically without ever perfectly repeating itself. When an individual receives information from someone, they will use it to communicate more effectively next time.
  2. The model accounts for the dimension of time in communication to suggest how an individual improves. Instead of communication being a two-dimensional process, it is in fact a three-dimensional process. 
  3. Complex communication grows from simple origins. Although we touched on this concept in the introduction, the cumulative way communication evolves is worth reiterating. Two strangers may meet each other and initially exchange names and occupations to start the communication process. Over time, however, they learn to communicate through more complex channels such as body language, moods, gestures, or mannerisms.

Limitations of the Helical model of communication

The helical model of communication does possess some limitations. 

For one, it is somewhat ambiguous. While similar frameworks such as the Osgood-Schramm and Lasswell models detail clear steps in communication, Dance’s model does not detail the processes that occur within the cycle. This makes the Helical model difficult to validate. What’s more, there is debate as to whether the helix represents an evolving ability to communicate or the progression of learning through the act of communicating itself.

The Helical model also assumes communication to be a continuous and constant process. In reality, however, life is punctuated by meaningless or unproductive periods where the individual does not learn from their past or adopt more complex forms of communicating. That is, communication is not always associated with growth.

Key takeaways:

  • The helical model of communication argues communication is cyclical, continuous, non-repetitive, accumulative, and influenced by time and experience
  • The helical model of communication suggests the evolution of communication in an individual starts the day they are born. As they grow older, they develop progressively more complex communication through experience and feedback.
  • The helical model of communication has some limitations. For one, its abstract nature means it is difficult to validate. The model also assumes communication to be a constantly evolving process. Unfortunately, this notion contradicts the realities of life.

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Published by

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"