40 Encoding and Decoding

Part of the misunderstanding in these examples can result from the process of encoding and decoding. Encoding occurs when the sender begins to formulate the message. One of the first things that the sender must determine is the channel that s/he will use to convey the message. For our purposes as public speakers, the channel is the spoken word sent through the sound waves of the human voice. The speaker’s purpose and intent, as well as her/his communication style, influence which words will be chosen for the message, how those words will be strung together into sentences and phrases, and how those words will be delivered quietly, forcefully, etc. Individuals may, at times, spend more time and expend more effort to encode important messages a meeting with the boss to request a raise, a marriage proposal, or a persuasive presentation requiring just the right words. Yet you’d probably be surprised to learn that most speakers give little conscious thought to the encoding process in their everyday communication.

The receiver of the message goes through her/his own process in order to make sense of incoming messages. This process is known as decoding . Decoding begins once the message has been received. The receiver or listener must be able to deduce meaning from the words and phrases used so that s/he can literally “break the code ” and interpret the message correctly . Receivers can usually interpret the message without any complicated processing, as long as the code used to create the message has a common meaning between sender and receiver. When the sender uses terms that are unfamiliar to the receiver or sends the message in a language unknown to the receiver, it can become more difficult if not impossible -to decode the message. If asked “Quel est votre nom? “, a response to the question is impossible without the necessary code an understanding of French.

In the example above, the language difference between the speaker and the listener interferes with the listener’s decoding process and becomes a barrier to shared meaning. Interference comes in many forms. In Chapter One we discussed how interference can intrude on the speech process. Physical noise from our surroundings, such as a train whistle or a crying child, as well as mental noise from our own thoughts, can make correctly interpreting the message almost impossible. The presence of interference adds to the likelihood that our message won’t be received as intended. A critical phrase is missed as we daydream or a few words are drowned out by noise, and the message is no longer complete. At the drive-through you order a diet soda, but the sudden buzz of a timer inside the restaurant sounds over the word “diet. ” Because noise interfered with the original message, the receiver never even heard the word “diet, ” and you end up with a regular soda instead.


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