Communication has always been important, but the advent of computing, the internet and the jobs that surround them has made it even more imperative for the effective running of a business. Some of the ways in which communications is becoming more important are investigated below.
Software development was once something that happened between developers in the same building, but the internet changed this forever. With such ready access to the web and the ability to easily transfer content from one computer to another, development is now possible over huge distances. As an example, the team that created the OpenSSL encryption library that an enormous amount of digital security relies upon had never all met face-to-face until several years after the creation of the project; in the aftermath of the infamous Heartbleed bug. If developers do not communicate well and frequently, different contributors will likely take different approaches to different parts of the software, and may start repeating other people's work. If this was to go unresolved a piece of software could suffer badly, and bugs such as Heartbleed or Shellshock could crop up.
Often one will hear the statement that the world is metaphorically shrinking. As international travel becomes quicker, easier, safer and ultimately more affordable, travelling between countries has become commonplace. It's not unheard of for people to commute from Britain to mainland Europe each week or even daily, and such rapid movement has made communication ever more important. As people are increasingly likely to spend less time in the same place, they must look to digital communication in order to avoid problems. Government and local authorities must also stay connected, as the population they are responsible for become increasingly mobile.
In the modern day, working from home has become a far more common occurrence. For this reason, employees of a company must be able to effectively communicate with one another, and particularly with those above and below them in their company. As an example, the boss of a department or business may well travel to different cities or countries frequently as part of negotiating deals with clients. During the time that they are away from the offices they must still be able to keep up with the work performance and the tasks people are completing. In an ideal situation, they would be able to perform the work they would do in office – to run the business – wherever they are, and indeed some companies are managed in this way.
There are many different forms of communication that people use, dependent on the situation they find themselves in. Some of the most common are detailed below.
Written communication, arguably one of the oldest forms, appears in many contexts and can be realised in a number of media. A printed novel, online newspaper article or roadside sign all count as forms of written communication. Not only can this type of communication take form in a number of media, but it can be encoded in various different ways. Most obviously, the language in which the written text appears is significant. Different languages can be used to make a message accessible to a specific demographic, or to widen the opportunities available to the encoder in terms of subtle meaning and vocabulary. Written communication can be hindered by noise, which can be categorised as either visibility- or comprensibility-related.
Spoken communication is also very common. Learned by most in their first years of life, spoken communication makes up for the majority of human communication. Much like with written communication, different languages can dialects can be used to achieve different effects in spoken communication. As an example, adopting a High German tone and vocabulary, as opposed to those of the Swabish dialect, can be used to show formality and authority. Spoken communication can also be affected by noise, which is typically grouped as either intrinsic or extrinsic.
Email has become a standard form of communication familiar to the majority of those working in IT-utilising institutions. At virtually no cost, messages can be sent almost instantly across the world, allowing people to communicate with ease. Instant messaging allows for the same, but with added convenience and reduced latency. These forms of communication are examples of rapid communication between two or more participants, with messages being sent in multiple directions.
Advertising and news distribution is another form of communication. Unlike with face-to-face conversation or instant messaging, however, the signal transmitted is far more one-sided. Although many online news websites allow readers to submit comments and printed newspapers may write articles regarding letters sent to them, the communication is largely from the publisher to the consumer. This is often the cause of a lack of diversity in the opinions of media people view. By communication being as one-sided as it is these situations, and the content being available to such a wide audience, bias can easily affect the stance of the population. This is investigated further in the comparison of news articles later.
Communication begins with a concept in someone's mind that they wish to relay to another person. This could be a fact, statement, question or other form of data, but importantly it is not encoded into a format that another could understand, such as written English.
The concept is encoded by the sender, comprising the conversion of the concept in the persons mind into a format that can be decoded by another person. In conversation, when people are having difficulty finding the right word for a particular sentence, this is essentially a bottleneck in the encoding process. In order to encode a message, the sender must be familiar with a medium of communication, which is explained further in the transmission and noise section.
Once the content of the transmission is encoded, it is sent. In terms of spoken communication, this is in the form of sound generated by a person. In written communication, it may take form digitally or on paper. After this step, the message is no longer in the hands of either party, but rather in the space between the two.
This process could generate content in the form of spoken German or written Mandarin, which can be sent to another party. At this point the medium of communication is known to the sender, and this will have an effect on the way in which the encoded idea is transmitted. For spoken German, for example, the medium is vibrations in the air that can be heard as sound by another person. If people are communicating over the internet or a telephone connection, this is also part of the medium. Noise can be generated at any point while the message travels through the media. In the case of written Mandarin, the medium could be the internet and the receiver's computer, an engraving or model, or simply paper and ink.
Noise counts as anything which interrupts the strength of the signal by the time it reaches the receiver's mind; noise can be created in the sender, media or receiver. Noise can be literal sound – loud construction work outside an office building could interrupt a meeting – as well as one of many other factors which affect communication. For example, one of the participants not being able to see would likely effect communication.
The message send by the sender can be "heard" in a number of different ways. When communicating face-to-face with speech or on the telephone, the receiver hears the encoded message with their ears. The sound is processed by the brain and can then move to the decoding stage. In the scenario of a text based communication, such as an email, the message is read from a medium by the receiver.
Once the message has been received, the receiver can begin to decode it. For this to happen, the receiver must understand the language in which the message was originally encoded in. This may be a language such as German or Mandarin, but also includes others such as human body language and International Sign. By fluently understanding the language that the message was encoded in, one can effectively decode it and extract the original idea that the sender thought. Not being able to correctly or quickly decode the message counts as another form of noise.
Although someone may be able to effectively decode a message and extract the original content, they may still fail to understand what the sender was attempting to convey. This could be the error of the sender, receiver or both, and counts as noise.
One of the most important aspects of the sender-receiver model is feedback. This may be in the form of speech or text, but it perhaps most obvious in spoken conversation. During communication in this manner, participants unconsciously send responses to the words of the sender in the form of spoken words and particularly body language. This feedback gives the sender vital information about the success of the communication. If employees at a meeting are showing a lack of attention or typical signs of boredom, the direction of the meeting and subject matter at hand could be altered. Feedback enables the sender to judge whether their message is being efficiently conveyed, and to take action based on this judgement.
Noise can appear in many different forms. Anything that prevents communication from being as successful as it otherwise would be is classed as noise, regardless of whether it is literally unwanted sound or not. Noise hinders both interpersonal, or "face-to-face", communication and written communication. Noise which affects the former can be classed within one of two categories; intrinsic or extrinsic. These subcategories are explained below. Similarly, noise that affects written communication can be divided into either the visibility or comprehensibility category, explained here.
Noise which is caused by the parties involved in the communication is known as intrinsic, or confusingly interpersonal, noise. Some common scenarios that show significant intrinsic noise are explained below.
When speaking to one another, people may find that communication is made less effective as a result of someone having poor hearing or sight. Having to repeat statements and inevitably leaving some misunderstood could have a negative effect at a later date. This is noise created by the receiver.
In addition to issues at the receiving end, noise can occur with the sender as well. This is a weakness in the signal of communication, can occur for a number of reasons. Common causes include mumbled or quiet speech, a lack of fluency in a language, the use of jargon and body positioning.
If all of the parties involved in the communication were not all fluent in a single language, noise would be created. This could be a particular problem for businesses when negotiating deals oversees, and could lead to misunderstanding between individuals as to details of a subject. Speaking different languages could also be cause for distrust or discomfort.
Noise caused by the environment surrounding those communicating is considered extrinsic noise. In many cases, this is out of the control of the people communicating, and therefore causes the most disruption. Some examples of extrinsic noise are given below.
The room or area that the communicators find themselves in could be filled with the sound of other people communicating verbally and potentially the sound of machinery, computers, vehicles, etc. Applying primarily to verbal communication, this would be a problem as those communicating may not be able to hear each other over the ambient sounds.
The area in which people are trying to communicate could also be uncomfortably warm or cold. This would lead to the receivers not being attentive, more of their focus being diverted to adjusting their immediate surroundings. The sender may also find it harder to concentrate on the message being transmitted.
Visibility issues involve the communication being less successful due to the signal being aesthetically unclear. Some common examples are explained below.
Text is sometimes set in white over a yellow background, leading to little contrast in brightness between the two colours. This is difficult to read, and could lead people to not even notice a piece of text. Also in relation to colour, it's important in most situations for links on the web to be clearly identified, usually by being coloured blue and underlined. If text has not been italicised, emboldened or otherwise decorated colour-blind visitors may have difficult navigating the website.
One of the most frequent causes of visibility noise is the size at which text is set. Posters which are likely to be read from a distance must prioritise the key information they are displaying; titles, names, dates, venues, etc. If a poster is hung on a wall nearby a set of traffic lights with the intention of drivers seeing the advertisement, the poster must use large typography so that the drivers are able to read it easily. This can be easy to overlook during design, as the creator would be looking at the poster on their computer screen from a very small distance.
However clear a piece of text may be in terms of colour and layout, written communication can be still be impaired in other ways. If the text uses jargon and over complicated sentence structure, or alternatively uses colloquialisms and over-simplified or incorrect sentence structure, the text can be hard to understand just as much. This can be a problem if developers write the copy for a website, when they may use technical terms referring to the website which have little to no relevance to the average user.
In terms of spoken communication, it's stereotypical that software developers over-complicate descriptions of technological concepts and terminology when asked to explain them, which can leave people confused and no closer to understanding what they set out to.
Communications hindered by noise can lead to misunderstanding between two parties. This could have potentially very severe consequences, meaning that the overcoming or elimination of noise is essential in the workplace. Some of the ways in which the issues mentioned above can be solved are explained below. These issues include intrinsic and extrinsic factors in interpersonal communication as well as visibility and comprehensibility factors in written communication.
In the case of poor eyesight or hearing, the use of a hearing aid, clear spoken communication, extra explanation, or written communication can all be used to ensure the message is effectively transmitted. The ease with which these intrinsic factors can be overcome means that are rarely a significant issue.
The use of clear and audible speech, fluency in the appropriate language, use of accessible vocabulary and terminology, and effective us of positive body language and all be used to reduce intrinsic noise as well.
In order to overcome the barrier created by different people not having a common language in which they can communicate, an interpreter can be employed to translate between languages. In a scenario centred around written communication – particularly over the internet – online translation services such as Google Translate can be used to convert a passage of text into another language. Such applications may miss certain cultural differences which may result in offence or misunderstanding being caused, however.
In order to overcome disruptive ambient sound, the parties involved in the communication could move elsewhere or closer to one another. In particular cases, a microphone and headphone arrangement could be used. In other situations, people could be asked to talk more quietly or stop talking, or machinery could be switched off or altered to be less disruptive.
Although in some particular situations (such as outdoors), surrounding temperature may not be a variable of the environment that can be easily changed, it can have a big impact on the success of communication. In an office or educational institution, for example, fans or heaters could be used to make those listening more comfortable and therefore better listeners.
Text on a website should be clearly visible compared to its background, be well spaced from box borders, large enough to comfortably read, potentially underlined (if a link, for example), and set in a clear typeface. When the medium that the content is displayed on is a screen, serif fonts like Georgia and Palatino should be avoided, as they can become unclear at small sizes and lighter weighting. Instead, clear sans-serif typefaces should be used, such as Helvetica Neue or Clear Sans. Either can be used in print, thanks to much higher pixel/dot density.
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For the blind in particular, software exists for browsers that reads the content of websites to the user. By changing the way in which a website is programmed, the content that is read out can be altered, and properly tailored to visitors. Similar systems exist that convert text to Braille. In order for a website to be accessible and to achieve its purpose for all users, it should be built and tested to work with software for the disabled.
The key to making a website or publication that doesn't fall victim to this issue is to clearly understand the demographic that it targets, and to ensure that only relevant information is ever mentioned. An example of copy that targets a wide audience and must be easily understood is that shown in newspapers and on digital news distribution platforms. The content is written to be understood by a reading age lower than the actual average of the readers, meaning that a very small number of readers should experience difficulty.
In order to make written content more accessible and easily comprehended, the following extra steps can be taken:
Subheadings can be used to break up large sections of text. As well as allowing the reader to take a small break in between passages of text, the headings allow them to find particular parts of the text if they happen to know what their looking for. Having a contents page or index that corresponds to this set of headings can further improve their effectiveness, and numbering the headings well can make navigation of the work easier.
Graphics and diagrams can be used to break up content as well. Not only do they narrow the text column meaning that the copy is spread over a larger amount of space, but the images give the reader something else to look at and consider. This break from the text can be refreshing, and for readers who show a more visual learning style, it can explain the subject of the text more clearly.
In order to investigate people's actions in a meeting room context that leads to an unsuccessful and unproductive meeting, I looked at the Meeting from Hell video by "corporate trainer" Dana Brownlee. In the video, people play exaggerated, stereotypical meeting members, by ignoring conversation, not being punctual, arguing and not participating. Judging by the setting and topic of conversation, one can assume that the meeting is supposed to be an American township or municipal government meeting regarded road traffic and transport.
The video begins with four members of the meeting sitting around a table, one talking on a mobile phone. One of the people leans back in his chair looking towards the door, presumably looking for the organiser of the meeting, who has yet to arrive despite the meeting being called by her. Although the meeting has technically started, one member continues to speak on the phone disruptively, and two others show that they're even unaware of the time. This shows that the participants are not punctual or organised after fewer than 15 seconds.
Soon after, a woman enters and takes a seat at the head of the table. One can presume this person to be the facilitator and organiser of the meeting, but who has arrived late for it. After this, the door opens once more and another member joins the table apologising for her lateness. The two interruptions being separated means that they have an even greater effect on the already disorganised meeting. At this point the facilitator attempts to start conversation, vaguely and without inspiration mentioning that the meeting had been called to discuss traffic. This was said quietly, and while others were still talking loudly, however.
As the video continues, the man using his mobile phone continues to do so, speaking in a way that would be sure to irritate the others. Two of the members begin to argue about the traffic issue at hand, and cause another of the members to request that they do "not fight". This is done in a way that has no effect, however. Another of the members simply turns away from the meeting, placing his head in his hands. Throughout all of this, the facilitator fails to regain order and to control the employees at the meeting, to the extent that one leaves the room.
The meeting is overall an example of the direction in which no meeting should go. Not only were the participants not paying attention, not allowing each other to speak, and leaving the meeting, but were also late, unclear in speech and didn't effectively contribute. In my opinion, the facilitator would be accountable for the majority of these things, as she was late, spoke quietly, and showed a general lack of organisation. In a meeting, it should at least be the ability of the facilitator to talk above the others and ask them to be quiet. None of this is shown in the video, and the facilitator instead chose to allow the other participants to argue in a way that benefited nobody.
The meeting could have been improved in many ways, and the second video I watched covered most of these well.
In the second video, How To Run A Meeting by VideoJug, a group of people demonstrate ways in which a meeting can be organised and run so that people are not found talking over one another, people share ideas in an organised manner, and the meeting is generally a success. There a number of ways in which the video suggests colleagues can ensure they have a productive meeting.
Preparation is key in any meeting. Having a clear list of topics to discuss and decisions that must be reached by the end of the meeting, and perhaps timing the meeting so that each topic is addressed fairly, will mean that issues are not neglected or dwelled upon for too long. A list of objectives could be given to the people that should be at the meeting beforehand, so that they have time to think about the subjects and prepare anything they may need to argue their point. The facilitator in the Meeting from Hell video appeared not to have organised the meeting beforehand, and as a result the meeting was not clearly directed.
A facilitator is important to a meeting. Having an employee in the room who is able to exert authority over the others means that the meeting will inherently be more structured. A facilitator is able to ask people to be quiet if they haven't let others speak enough, and can encourage other who are more reluctant to speak to do so. This means that the opinions in the room are more balanced, and a decision that pleases as many as possible can be reached. A facilitator is important in braking up disagreements between members of the meeting that are having a negative effect. The facilitator should also be impartial, meaning that they will equally respect opposing views. In the Meeting from Hell, the facilitator is not punctual, which is important, and does not exert authority over the others.
The layout of the room can also be adjusted to have a positive effect. Having a meeting room that places everyone at even levels of authority, with the facilitator overlooking the meeting, is often used. A U-shaped table arrangement with the facilitator positioned between the two ends is common. Unlike some of the other steps to achieving a successful meeting, this was taken into consideration in the Meeting from Hell video.
Timing is also essential to a meeting. All of the participants arriving on time means that the meeting can start promptly and not run over time. Good timing was evidently not present in the Meeting from Hell, and this meant that people were not respective of the facilitator's position.
"Breaking the ice" is sometimes required if the members of the meeting do not know each other well. By knowing more about one another and others' personalities, people can have a more effective meeting, respective the views of their colleagues. It appears that the characters in the Meeting from Hell video were well acquainted, but some were evidently hostile towards each other. Some kind of exercise to make people more comfortable around each other could still have made the meeting more successful.
Taking notes during the meeting regarding the decisions that have been reached and the opinions of people can help to implement and act upon the decisions at a later date. It also means that everyone is clear on exactly what has been decided upon, and means that they will be consistent in their resulting actions at work. Although people in the Meeting from Hell did appear to have pens and paper, they were not shown to be taking notes. This could have simply been a result of the lack of organised discussion, however.
The the Spring of 2014, an decision by the Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, decided to drop deals being negotiated with the EU, in favour of a more pro-Russian stance. In Kiev, the capital city of Ukraine, which is situated in a significantly pro-EU part of the country, many people rose up and rioted. Groups seized government buildings all across the western half of Ukraine, and protested the decision made by the president.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukrainians have been divided. Much of the population living closer to Russia in the eastern side of the country speaks Russian as a first language, and wishes the country to become closer related to Russia. Many of those in the other half of the country, towards the west, would rather adopt more western politics and lifestyle. This divide was made suddenly more apparent when conflict arose.
RT, formerly known as Russia Today, is a Russian news outlet, funded by the state. The articles published by RT have been criticised by other nations on numerous occasions, and the political stance of the outlet is generally accepted to be pro-Russian. In order to analyse the way in which the conflict between the Ukraine and Russia was being reported by RT, in relation the BBC, I found an article on rt.com about the attacking of a village near Slavyansk in eastern Ukraine.
In the first sentence of the article, pro-Russian Ukrainians are described as "self-defense forces" (with American English spelling). This implies that those reporting the attack to RT are in self-defence, which is generally considered a more justified position than an offensive stance. This in turn implies support for pro-Russians in eastern Ukraine. Personally, I feel that it is fair to use this phrase, as the village was coming under attack from pro-EU militants from the west of Ukraine. The views of the pro-Russian nationals should be respected, and although they may have armed themselves, they were not taking a directly offensive approach.
Later in the article, those attacking the village are described as "Kiev forces". This makes the subtle implication that those in favour of the EU and a more European Ukraine are a minority. The phrase implies that the support for the EU in Ukraine is spread over a fairly small area, making it of less significance. This techniques is used to make Russian supporters believe they are the majority, which gives them confidence and morale. As RT is state-funded by the Russian Federation, it can be expected that the article would encourage pro-Russian opinions in Ukraine, as these would be beneficial to Russia.
Later in the article a quote is used from a representative of the "self-defense HQ", claiming that helicopters operated by those in support of Russia were in use for "covering operations". The inclusion of this quote makes readers aware of the vehicles available to pro-Russians. This too serves as a way to improve morale and confidence in the eastern half of Ukraine, and to potentially instil fear in the western half.
Further through the article, the mortars being fired by the pro-EU militants are reported to have been landing in the homes of eastern-Ukrainian residents. Although they were also reported to have been aimed at security checkpoints, this was apparently not proving effective. Telling readers that anti-Russian protesters were potentially killing innocent civilians would serve to worsen pro-Russians' opinions of western Ukraine. The report implies that the weaponry is inaccurate and that the operators are not qualified, which could also lead pro-Russians to believe the opposition was incompetent.
Lastly, the voting of Ukrainians in the referendum that took place is said to have been interrupted multiple times by "Kiev's armed forces". This portrays the Ukrainian forces as disrespectful of people freedom to vote, which would largely be condemned. Results about the support of Russia or the EU are also reported, for the cities of Donetsk and Lugansk. Both of the cities are located in strongly pro-Russian, eastern parts of Ukraine, which could be interpreted as evidence of bias in the RT report.
The British Broadcasting Corporation, being primarily funded by the license-paying public, are legally bound to impartiality. As Britain is a democracy, the BBC, must represent the views of everyone in equal precedence, and not show bias towards particular standpoints. For this reason, BBC articles offer a good source of politically-unbiased reports. Unlike RT, which is state funded, the BBC does not tend to show support for or report the opinions of the government. In order to compare with the RT article analysed above, I found a BBC article reporting the vow of Russia to keep troops in the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea until the political situation was "normalised".
The article begins with a simple explanation of the statement given by the Russian Federation in respect to it's movement of troops into Crimea, and the article explains that Russia intends to remain in Crimea to protect the interests of Russia. The introduction makes no use of questionable vocabulary, and clearly states the subject of the article.
The foreign minister for Russia is then quoted as stating that Russia was defending the rights of pro-Russians from "ultra-nationalist threats". I suspect this comment to have been cherry-picked from what the minister said in order to paint the Russian Federation in an exaggerated light, but the fact remains that Russia evidently believes the Ukrainians in support of the EU to be in the wrong. The "Western condemnation" of Russia's actions is also emphasised, implying that more countries than just Britain disagree with the movement of Russian troops, quoted as being described as a "violation of Ukraine's sovereignty".
Ukraine is later reported as having "ordered [a] full mobilisation" of its military to counter the occupation of Crimea by Russian forces. This shows that Ukraine has a military that it believes is capable of making an impact, something which was not reported as clearly by RT. The ability to mobilise a number of troops would show military capability, and may have not been mentioned by RT as Russian supporters would likely have not wished to acknowledge the fact.
Finally, the BBC article reported the occupation of the regional government building in Donetsk by pro-Russian protesters, as a pro-EU governor had been recently elected. This shows that although not attacking militarily, the Russian supporters in Ukraine were showing strong objection to the appointment of an EU-supporting representative. This fact was not covered by the RT article, possibly in an attempt to paint the Russian support in Ukraine as a more defensive force. Pro-EU occupation of government buildings was essentially condemned by the RT article, but similar actions by the pro-Russian protesters was left unmentioned.
The following articles and video were mentioned and referred to in my report: