Interpersonal Communication

“What we got here is a failure to communicate,” is a classic line from the Paul Newman movie, Cool Hand Luke. The statement summarizes a general belief by most employees about their jobs and the companies for which they work. Communications on the job are normally believed to be poor by most employees. Perhaps the lack of communication complaint is only an excuse for a general dislike for the job. But why do so many people complain about the lack of good communication?

It is important to understand exactly what communication means. What one person believes is good communication, another person feels is non-existent communication.

Communication in organizations is defined as the process by which messages are transmitted from one person to another. Messages may be expressed in the form of bulletins, letters, memos, job descriptions, policy statements, telephone communications and other forms of verbal information. Some definitions imply that communication occurs only when the sender is successful in sending the intended message. A problem with this definition is that people seldom are totally effective in transmitting their intended messages. The goal in studying communication is to narrow the gap between the intended message and the message which is actually transmitted. Communication involves four elements:

  • the Sender
  • the Message
  • Medium or Device for sending the message
  • The Receiver

It is important that the sender and the receiver have similar backgrounds for communication to be totally effective. In communicating a person never knows for certain what another person is thinking. We make assumptions from verbal and physical signs about what other people are thinking and feeling.


Before a message can be transmitted from one person to another it must be encoded. Encoding is the process of transmitting into words, gestures, facial expressions, etc. which represent the message the sender hopes to communicate. It is important to know that only symbols are transmitted. The meaning depends upon the receiver’s interpretation of those symbols. A small child responds favorably to an adult who speaks in a soft tone of voice no matter what the adult is saying.


The medium or device of a message can be a face-to-face meeting, a letter, telephone call, etc. Different mediums are utilized depending on the nature of the communication. Most people want to discuss serious or important matters in person. The telephone is usually used for less formal communication.