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1.4: Models of Communication

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    Linear Model

    There are many models of communication, and there are many components within these models that will be discussed in detail throughout this chapter.

    One of the earliest models of communication in the Western world was the linear model of communication, which shows that a communication event took place. It contains one sender of the message and the message itself being sent to one receiver, as shown in Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\). The message is encoded (created) by the sender and sent out via the channel, then received by the receiver. This model does not include the concept of feedback as an integral component. One of the criticisms of the linear model is that it lacks the component feedback and the idea that meaning is created amongst communicators.

    Directional graphic showing communication moving from sender to channel and then receiver
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Linear Model of Communication on Public Speaking Project is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

    Interactional Model

    Over time the linear model has evolved into the interactional model of communication. This newer model takes into account that for there to be a sender of communication, there needs to be a receiver who takes an active role in the communication event. The interactional model of communication, as shown in Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\), has both the sender and receiver actively using feedback so that communication is no longer seen as simply linear. However, this model lacks the co-creation of meaning that takes place in true communication interactions.

    Both parties are senders/receivers of the message, mediated by feedback, noise, and physical and psychological contexts.
    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Interactional Model of Communication on Survey of Human Communication is licensed under CC BY 3.0

    When a pilot is getting ready to take off, they must listen to Air Traffic Control (ATC) on their radio to hear what is happening on the runway. When they are ready to take off, they will press a button inside the cockpit to send a request to ATC for clearance. When they are done, they have to release the button so they can hear the response from ATC. If they continue to hold down the button, they won’t be able to receive a message and ATC won’t be able to hear any other messages. The communication between pilots and ATC is linear; it can only go one way. You can either send or receive a message; you cannot do both. For a long time this is how we thought about human communication. There is a sender (the pilot), who encodes a message (“request takeoff”) and sends it via a channel (radio) to the receiver (ATC), who then decodes the message. While this might be an accurate way to describe a two-way radio conversation, it is not an accurate reflection of human communication in general. When the pilot is sending a message to ATC, the pilot is also receiving messages simultaneously from a co-pilot or other crew. Likewise, the ATC contact is managing a number of different aircraft as well as coworkers in the tower. Communication is not linear. We are simultaneously sending and receiving, encoding and decoding, and managing several channels across contexts, all while we try to block out noise. Today, we have moved past this linear model of communication to embrace a transactional model. 

    Transactional Model

    The current transactional model of communication was created to showcase the entirety of what humans experience when we communicate with one another, as shown in Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\).

    Each communicator is influenced by their environment and noise, as discussed in the next section.
    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): Transactional Model of Communication by Elizabeth Encarnacion is licensed under CC BY 4.0.

    The transactional model better acknowledges the complex nature of communication. Let’s take some time to break down the individual parts. First, rather than identifying the individual parties as sender and receiver, the transactional model simply refers to the parties involved as communicators.


    The communicators are simultaneously encoding and decoding throughout the exchange. Encoding occurs when an individual constructs a message using symbols; decoding happens when someone attempts to interpret the message. We create messages in our heads and then decide how to share those messages with others. Simultaneously, we are taking in messages from our communication partners, and trying to derive meaning from their feedback. The concepts of noise and feedback must taken into account as this occurs. The transactional model shows how meaning is co-created and feedback is at the core of shared meaning as all communicators are acting as senders and receivers in a synchronized manner.

    Take for instance a scenario where you have come home from work and your roommate is home. You are tired but the monthly bills will be late if they are not paid. You make eye contact with your roommate and verbally ask your roommate if they have a minute. You have already begun the transaction of communication. In this scenario you are both communicators. You use verbal and nonverbal means of communicating. You knew it was imperative to discuss the bills and your mind started to create or encode messages. While you made eye contact and verbalized a message, your roommate was actively communicating with you. Did they make eye contact? What did this say to you? We are actively decoding and encoding simultaneously. Decoding in this scenario may be lack of eye contact or focused eye contact. We are attempting to make meaning from messages we receive while creating messages or responses. The feedback we give can be verbal and nonverbal. Perhaps your roommate had a tone that you interpret as irritated, which then changes how you respond. This message negotiation helps us co-create meaning. Understanding how each role in the model affects communication can help us to understand our communication and how to become behaviorally flexible and thereby competent communicators.


    The message is the meaning or content that one communicator is attempting to get the other to understand. The message can be verbal or nonverbal. A Verbal message is one that uses language. When a customer walks into a coffee shop and the barista says “good morning,” they are using language to express their message. Verbal messages can be spoken or written. If the message is nonverbal then there is an absence of language. When the customer walks into the coffee shop and the barista waves their hand, they have conveyed a similar message nonverbally because no language was used. Often the message contains both: for example, if they wave and say “good morning,” the message is both verbal and nonverbal.


    In order for a communicator to send a message they must use a channel. The channel is how a message moves from one communicator to another, through different mediums of communication that extend the richness or leanness of the message. In the previous example the channel is face-to-face. This channel is the richest because it allows for all kinds of messages. We can hear, see, smell, touch, etc. so we can send all kinds of different messages. Every other channel limits the kinds of messages that we can send. For example, you could place a coffee order online through an app on your phone. In this case, you won’t talk to the barista or see them wave or smile, but they will still get your specific order. Technology has vastly expanded the number of different channels that we have to communicate with one another. For instance, after you pick up your coffee you can snap a picture and post it on Instagram or text a friend to show them how your name was misspelled. Each of these channels influences the kinds of messages and the potential communicators. The relationship between these different components of communication will be something we return to as we learn more about interpersonal communication.


    Feedback is a large part of how we co-create understanding by negotiating meaning, clarifying messages, and adding to our messages. We do this verbally and nonverbally. This occurs in face-to-face communication and in computer-mediated communication, or communication via electronic means. That may sound odd at first, but let's say that you sent an important text message to your roommate about getting their share of the rent transferred today to avoid the rent being late. Your normally responsive roommate does not respond for hours. How might you interpret this feedback? In Chapter 5, you will learn about the nonverbal elements of communication, and more in-depth examples will show how feedback plays a crucial role in interpersonal communication.


    Communication requires communicators, at least one message, and a channel—but to limit the complexities of communication to just these three aspects would not give us a complete understanding of what communication truly is. Communication does not take place in a vacuum. Every time we communicate, we do so within larger contexts while also managing noise. We cannot separate the message and the channel from the larger contexts that the communicators are in. Each communication encounter is situated in a relational, environmental, and cultural context that impacts not only the individual people, but the communication itself.

    Relational Context

    When we communicate, there is a relational component involved that affects various aspects of the interaction, such as the message we send, the way we send it, and how the other person receives and interprets the message. The relational context is the relationship between the communicators that influences the other aspects of communication. While not all communication may seem to have a relational component involved, even a lack of relationship is part of the relational context and impacts the way we will communicate.

    Relational contexts impact our communication in various ways. For example, If you miss a day of class, you might reach out to a classmate via text: “Hey, did I miss anything?” That same communication with your instructor would be very different because of the relationship between a student and professor. When you reach out to your professor, you might do so face-to-face or via email, and you might start by referring to them by name rather than “hey.” Because of the contextual nature of these relationships, peer-to-peer versus student-to-professor, we tend to treat the message differently because of the social norms and rules we have been taught growing up. For instance, we may show a small amount of respect to the instructor, including more detailed descriptions of why we missed class, and ask permission to turn in work late — as compared to texting our peers, where we might not feel the same level of responsibility to give that much detail.

    While the relationship influences communication, the relational context will also be different for each communicator. Again, this will influence not only the content of the message, but also how the message is delivered. For example, one of the authors, as a teenager often used curse words at home when talking to their mother, because it was seen as acceptable in their relationship and within their family. However, a lot of their peers were shocked when they found this out. They would never dare use curse words with their parents. While the relational communication with the author's mother was different than other peers had with their parental relationships, it doesn’t mean one version of the communication was “wrong” and one was “right.” They were different given the different and varying relational contexts involved.

    While there are some generalities regarding what may be socially acceptable for certain relationships and relational context, our individual relationships are unique and therefore so is the communication they have.

    Environmental Context

    Where we communicate also influences our communication. The environmental context includes the setting, the circumstance, the situation, etc. that influence communication. Since this context can include a variety of situational factors, it has an impact upon the complex nature in which our communication takes place. The environmental context affects the communication interaction by helping or hindering the communicators effectiveness in creating and responding to the messages.

    If you wanted to have a serious conversation with a friend or significant other, it wouldn’t make sense to invite them out to a loud restaurant with live music. That kind of conversation would be better suited in a quiet and more intimate setting. This way the two of you could discuss the serious matter in private, where you wouldn’t have to worry about people overhearing, and you could be more forthcoming. You could hear each other well and make sure you are paying attention, invested in the conversation, and not distracted by what's around you.

    The circumstance of the communication encounter also dictates the appropriate nonverbal communication that is used. Take, for example, the appropriate attire one might wear to a funeral. In Western cultures like in the United States, family and friends in mourning will typically wear dark colors such as black, whereas, in East Asian cultures such as in Cambodia, white is the appropriate color worn to celebrate the reincarnation and circle of life of the person who has passed. Wearing white to a Western funeral or wearing black to an East Asian funeral would not be expected given the cultural norms of this type of event. The attire we wear and our appearance work as tools within our nonverbal communication to create meaning.

    Cultural Context

    Throughout the various relational contexts we may find ourselves in, and the various environments those relationships are happening in, the cultural context is always influencing our communication as well. Culture is defined as a group of people who share values, beliefs, norms, and a common language. Due to this shared way of thinking and behaving, people from the same culture often share similar perspectives on the world. Cultural context includes these learned perceptions of the world. What we find effective and/or appropriate in a given situation is greatly influenced by and influenced from our culture and cultural identity.

    Some of the most basic understandings of culture and cultural context can be found in research conducted by Professor Geert Hofstede on cultural dimensions, which showcase six ways in which a culture’s values, needs, and social behaviors are analyzed (Cho et. al, 2019). The six value dimensions that Hofstede established from their research are Collectivism versus Individualism, Nurturing versus Achievement, Power Distance (high or low), Uncertainty Avoidance (high or low), Time Orientation (long-term versus short-term), and Indulgence versus Restraint. The six value dimensions are explained in more detail in the sidebar titled “Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions.”

    Hofstede proposed that to understand how a particular culture utilizes communication, it is important to understand where its social behaviors lie on these dimensions. With regard to our understanding of interpersonal communication, these cultural dimensions are important building blocks in understanding the cultural context we may face when interacting within our relationships.

    Cultural dimensions can be important in romantic relationships, where couples from two different cultures may have to learn each other's cultural norms in order to understand the ways their partner’s family dynamics function as compared to their own. They can be also found in friendships, where each friend must respect and accept certain boundaries in the relationship because of their cultural differences, and in family relationships, where elder family members expect a certain level of respect and honor from younger generations. In order to promote understanding of our interpersonal relationships, fundamental understanding of our cultural differences is key.

    Through dissecting the interpersonal scenarios that happen in our everyday life, we will explore the intersection between the relational context, environmental context, and most importantly, the cultural context to showcase the complex ways in which we communicate with others. While becoming a competent communicator includes a high amount of awareness, understanding, knowledge, and skill, it can help us build confidence and help to strengthen our relationships.

    Hofstede's Cultural Dimensions

    The cultural dimensions are an excellent tool in beginning to analyze the different identity and cultural perspectives through a communicative lens. They allow us a small glimpse into the unique characteristics that make up the values, traditions, rituals, and practices of various cultures around the world. But just like each person is unique, so too is our understanding of cultural identity. It is difficult to place absolutes on human behavior, and therefore impossible to put absolutes on how someone’s cultural identity will be displayed. While Hofstede’s cultural dimensions are a beginning step in understanding interpersonal communication through a cultural lens, there are many more exciting steps to take along our learning journey.

    Collectivism versus Individualism

    The level of individual or group needs practiced within a culture. Collectivistic cultures are guided by collaborative support, interdependence, tight-knit large family structures, and a “we” identity. Individualistic cultures are guided by independence, autonomy, individuality, and the prioritization of immediate family structures over extended family structures.

    Nurturing versus Achievement

    The level of cooperation or competition practiced within a culture. Nurturing-based cultures are guided by concern for people and their well-being, emphasizing relationships and support. Achievement-based cultures are guided by markers of success such as material gain or status, and emphasize personal responsibility and stereotypical gender roles.

    Power Distance (High or Low)

    The level of, or distribution of, resources within a culture and the acceptance of those patterns of distribution from members of the culture. A high-power- distance culture emphasizes and accepts differences in status, title, hierarchy and authority. Cultures with low power distance have more equal divisions of power and do not put significance in titles, status, hierarchies, or authority.

    Uncertainty Avoidance (High or Low)

    The level to which a culture expects and accepts predictability, rules, regulations, and guidelines. A culture with high uncertainty avoidance will emphasize the need for rules and regulations. These cultures will find confidence in following guidelines and erring on the side of caution. A culture with low uncertainty avoidance will be more comfortable with variability, vagueness in rules or guidelines, riskiness, and adventure.

    Time Orientation (Long-Term versus Short-Term)

    The positionality of a culture’s understanding of time being future-oriented or present-oriented. A culture with long-term orientation will be focused on instilling value in generational wisdom of elders, long-term relationships, and persistence as important to goal achievement. A culture with short-term time orientation focuses on short-term goals, having high respect for past traditions, and creating quick and efficient results.

    Indulgence versus Restraint

    The level to which a culture embodies the goals and virtues of personal happiness. A culture that is indulgent will be focused on individual satisfaction through leisure and personal freedom. A culture that values restraint emphasizes self-control and strict social norms, and individual freedoms like leisure are not valued as much as hard work and dedication.

    Discussion Questions
    1. Can you identify where you think you might fall within any of these cultural dimensions? Name the dimension and explain why.
    2. Do you think having multiple cultural identities (for example, identifying as a Mexican American) will impact where you are in any one of these dimensions? Explain.
    3. Have you had an instance where you can now see how a cultural dimension might have impacted your communication with someone in your life? Share your experience and the outcome of that interaction.


    Women holding hands over her ears
    Figure \(\PageIndex{4}\): Loud by Elyas Pasban, Unsplash

    Noise is the last part of the communication model. Noise is interesting because we do not need noise to communicate, but we cannot communicate without it. Noise is always present. Noise refers to anything that interrupts the communication process and prevents the message getting from one communicator to the other.

    Physical Noise

    Physical noise is anything in our environment that is loud enough to prevent one communicator from hearing the other. If you are at a large sporting event there is going to be a lot of physical noise that will interfere with your communication with the friend sitting next to you. In this case you will probably have to raise your voice to make sure they can hear you over the roar of the crowd, or the noise of the buzzer, etc. However, if you are texting with someone who is not with you, the loud noise wouldn’t necessarily interfere with your conversation. Physical noise can interfere with the communication differently depending on the channel.

    Psychological Noise

    When we communicate, we not only have to manage the interference from cognitive noise, but we also have to keep from being distracted by our own internal noise. Psychological noise is noise within ourselves. For example, if you are reading a book but at the same time you are thinking about where you are going to meet up with friends later that night, your communication is being affected by psychological noise. You can physically read the whole page but not really decode the message within the page's content because you are distracted by your thoughts. Another example could be when you are walking into class and you receive a text message from a friend that you haven’t heard from in a while. But because you are in class, you can’t check your phone right away. So instead of being able to concentrate on the lecture, you are just thinking about what the text message could say. That message has now created psychological noise.

    Physiological Noise

    We also have physiological noise. This relates to our bodies on a physical level. Sometimes our bodies speak to us and that can be distracting. For instance, have you ever slept in a way that when you woke up your back or neck hurt? That discomfort may stay with us for hours and that prevents us from active listening or even taking in messages from other communicators. Maybe we have a cast on a broken bone and the itchy nature of that cast is consistently distracting. Any physical distraction that prevents us from taking in our communication partners’ messages is considered physiological noise. Similarly, if you are sitting in class while the instructor is speaking but you are hungry because you didn’t eat breakfast, your body’s needs create thoughts that interfere with your ability to receive the message—and once again noise has impeded communication. This example shows both psychological and physiological noise both interfering with communication being received and understood.

    Cultural Noise

    Lastly, we have cultural noise. Cultural noise includes the barriers that exist among people from different cultural groups. This can range from speaking different languages, differences in meaning of nonverbal cues, or differences in cultural dimensions that create misunderstanding within relationships. Cultural noise creates obstacles in meaning that can become problematic in receiving messages accurately and appropriately. One of the most difficult aspects of cultural noise is when we are unaware that it is impacting our ability to be competent in our communication, or when we are unaware that the cultural noise is present within the environment. For example, an American individual is interviewing for a company where the boss conducting the interview is Filipino. While the company resides in the United States, the boss identifies as collectivistic and finds value in creating a team that focuses on collaboration and group goal setting. The American interviewing for the company identifies as individualistic, and sees their greatest strengths as their self-reliance, freethinking, and having strong initiative. The individualistic person interviewing with the collectivistic boss may not understand the cultural noise that is being created within this situation by highlighting aspects of their work ethic and ability to do the job in ways that are not culturally valued by the person they are speaking to. This cultural noise creates miscommunication between the interviewer and interviewee in a way that would have negative outcomes of them not feeling this job was the right fit, while the interviewee doesn’t get a chance to explain their ability and eagerness for teamwork.

    Noise is always present in communication, but different types of noise interact with various channels and messages differently. No matter what noise is present, we must learn to manage it if we are going to communicate effectively. Now that you have a better understanding of the individual components of communication, we can turn our attention to the principles of communication.

    This page titled 1.4: Models of Communication is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Multiple Authors (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative (OERI)) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.