Agricultural Communications and Journalism

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Communication/Diffusion-Adoption Process

Graphical look at the Communication Process
Stages in the Diffusion - Adoption Process
The Adoption Process

In the article below:
Definition of Communication
Process Model - S.M.C.R.


Definition of Communication

Communication covers a wide topic area. Any definition of a topic as broad as communication would be too general, too complex, or too fragmented to be of much use to a community leader. We can explain various aspects of communication with definitions, but they would not be unified. One way to define communication is to explain the process of communication.

Applying the term process to communication means that it is an ongoing event. In our social interaction with others, we are communicating. Communication, therefore, is the process whereby we attempt to transmit our thoughts, ideas, wishes, or emotions to others.

For our purpose, communication involves only the information, thoughts, ideas, etc. that we want to transmit to a specific audience. The definition of communication does not include observed behavior unless the observed behavior is intended to help transmit the message. For instance, there is no communication between a leader and two group members who are having a conversation on the other side of the room, even if the leader is observing their behavior. The two group members do not intend their conversation to transmit any messages to the leader. Nor is the leader intending to transmit any messages to the two members through his/her observation. However, the leader can use gestures to help transmit messages to a specific audience as a part of the communication process.

The goal of communication is the acceptance of the sender's message by the receiver. If the receiver understands the meaning of a message that asks for action, but fails to act, the goal of communications is not achieved. But if the receiver does respond to the message by taking the appropriate action, the goal of the communication has been achieved.

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There are many communication models that serve a variety of purposes. They range from single event analyses, which can be used from instructing beginners to complex models, which are usually understood only by specialists in the field of communication. We have chosen the SENDER-MESSAGE-CHANNEL-RECEIVER (S.M.C.R.) Model for this publication. The S.M.C.R. model is helpful for examining a single communicative event; that is, it can isolate one event out of the ongoing communication process and illustrate the actions that take place.

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The sender (or source in the S.M.C.R. model) is the transmitter of the message. There are five factors which influence the sender in any communication he/she transmits:
  1. Communications skills
  2. Attitudes
  3. Knowledge
  4. Position in the social system
  5. Culture
These five factors also influence the receiver and will only be summarized here.

There are five verbal communication skills which determine our ability to transmit and receive messages. Two are sending skills: speaking and writing. Two are receiving skills: listening and reading. The fifth is important to both sending and receiving: thought or reasoning. The extent of the development of these skills helps determine our ability to communicate verbally.

The effectiveness of our communications is also determined by our ability with nonverbal communications skills. A stern look of disapproval from the group leader readily communicates to the group member receiving the look that something he/she said or did was not well taken.

Attitudes, the second factor influencing the sender and receiver, are hard to define. For our purpose we will say that an attitude is a generalized tendency to feel one way or another about something. For instance, you may have a favorable or an unfavorable attitude toward voluntary groups working to solve community problems. If your attitude on this matter is favorable, you may, however, feel that certain problems could be better handled by the city council.

Attitudes influence our communication in three ways. Attitudes toward ourselves determine how we conduct ourselves when we transmit messages to others. If we have a favorable self-attitude, the receivers will note our self-confidence. If we have an unfavorable self-attitude, the receivers will note our uneasiness. However, if our favorable self-attitude is too strong, we tend to become brash and overbearing, and our communication loses much of its effect with the receiver.

Attitude toward subject matter affects our communication by predetermining the way we work our messages about certain subjects. An example would be a community leader with a favorable attitude toward bringing industry into the local area. He/she is likely to talk about only the good that industry could achieve. He/she may deliberately neglect to mention the difficulties encountered in trying to recruit new industry or any possible undesirable effects that might result.

Attitude toward the receiver or the receiver's attitude toward the sender is the third attitude item that influences our communication. Our messages are likely to be very different when communicating the same content to someone we like and then to someone we dislike. We also structure our messages differently when talking to someone in a higher position than ours, in the same position, or in a lower position, regardless of whether we like them or not.

Knowledge level has a bearing on our ability to communicate effectively about a subject. A businessman might feel ill at ease trying to talk with a farmer about hogs, cattle, corn, or beans. The farmer would probably not feel qualified to talk about city slums, urban traffic problems, or city government. They may both feel quite comfortable discussing politics, however.

The position of the sender and the receiver in their respective social systems also affects the nature of the communicative act. Each one of us occupies a position in one or more social systems, such as our family, work groups, church, community, or the organizations to which we belong. We perceive those with whom we communicate as occupying a similar, higher, or lower position in their respective social systems (as explained in previous sections on attitudes toward the receiver or sender).

Our culture also influences our communication effectiveness. Communication is more effective between persons with similar cultural backgrounds. Culture is relatively independent of social position in many cases. For instance, a voluntary association leader in Iowa could probably communicate better with the people in his/her own group, because of their similar cultural background, than he/she could with a leader in the same organization in the East.

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In the S.M.C.R. Model, the message is what the sender attempts to transmit to his/her specified receivers. Every message has at least two major aspects: content and treatment.

The content of the message includes the assertions, arguments, appeals, and themes that the sender transmits to the receivers. For instance, community leaders may wish to send a message to community organizations appealing for financial support for a new swimming pool. The content of the message may include the results of a survey showing the need for a new swimming pool, the proposed plan for the new pool, the costs involved, and the appeal for financial support.

The treatment of the message is the arrangement or ordering of the content by the sender. In the above example, the community leaders can arrange the content in many ways. The receiver is likely to be more receptive to the message, however, if the sender talks about the survey illustrating the needs prior to talking about the costs and making the appeal for financial support.

The selection of content and the treatment of the message depend upon our communication skills, attitudes, knowledge level, our position in social systems, and our culture. The selection of content and the treatment of the message we use also depends upon our audience and their communication skills, knowledge, attitudes, social position, and culture. A doctor, for example, would probably select different content and treat the message differently when talking about the same subject to two different audiences, i.e., his/her fellow doctors and a group of community leaders.

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Social Scientists recognize two types of channels: (1) sensory channels based on the five senses of sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste, and (2) institutionalized means such as face-to-face conversation, printed materials, and the electronic media.

We use the institutionalized means to transmit most of our messages. Each institutionalized medium requires one or more of the sensory channels to carry the message from the sender to the receiver. For instance, when we use face-to-face conversation (an institutionalized medium) we make use of sight (gestures, expressions), sound (voice, other noises), and possibly touch, smell, or taste.

Social Scientists have generally found that the receiver's attention is more likely to be gained if the sender uses a combination of institutionalized means using two or more sensory channels. Suppose, for example, someone tells your group that the quality of education in your community is not as good as the public is led to believe. If your group can discuss the problems face-to-face with school administrators during visits to the school (sight and sound) as well as hear about them through institutionalized means such as television and newspapers, they are more likely to pay attention to the message.

When applying the multi-channel concept to real situations, you need to consider the three basic institutionalized means and a minimum of two of the sensory channels, specifically sight and sound.

Face-to-face conversation has the greatest potential for getting the receiver's attention. It should be the primary institutionalized means used by leaders in sending messages to their group members. However, leaders should supplement face-to-face conversation with other institutionalized means and sensory channels in their continuing effort to gain the attention of their group members.

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The receiver in the S.M.C.R. model must attend to, interpret, and respond to the transmitted message. The goal of communication is reached when the receiver accepts the sender's message. Attention and comprehension are the means the receiver uses to attain the goal of acceptance of the message.

Attention is the process by which the receiver tunes in on a message and listens to it, watches it, or reads it. The sender must consider his/her receiver and treat the message in such a way that the receiver's attention is more easily gained and retained.

Comprehension implies understanding of the message by the receiver. Here again, the sender must consider his/her intended receiver and use message content and treatment that will enable the receiver to understand the message.

Once the receiver has attended to the message and comprehended or understood the content, his/her next task is to accept the message on at least one of three levels: the cognitive, that is, the receiver accepts the message content as true; the affective, the receiver believes that the message is not only true but good; overt action, where the receiver believes the message is true, believes it is good, and takes the appropriate action.

The sender can do much in deciding on his/her content and treatment of the message to gain the receiver's attention and comprehension. However, he/she has little control over the receiver's acceptance of the message. One consideration required at this point is to note that receivers are more inclined to accept message contents which agree with their previous attitudes. The sender has a less difficult task if his/her message agrees with the receiver's attitudes. If the receiver disagrees with the sender's message, acceptance is less likely.

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Feedback is the sender's way of determining the effectiveness of his/her message. During feedback the direction of the communication process is reversed. When providing feedback, the original receiver goes through the same process as did the original sender, and the same factors influence him as they did the sender.

The receiver may use the same channel for feedback as the sender used for the original message; this is usually the case in face-to-face conversation. Or the receiver may take a different channel, as might be the case when you as a leader transmit a message to your group requesting action on a matter and the group acts or does not act in the way you asked. The group's actions have then become the feedback. Another example might be the increased sales of a product due to radio and television advertising. The purchase of the product by the public provides feedback to the manufacturer on the effectiveness of the communicated message.

In face-to-face conversation, feedback is more easily perceived. The sender can tell if the receiver is paying attention when he/she speaks to them. If the receiver falls asleep or looks at other things in the surrounding environment, the sender realizes that he/she does not have the receiver's attention.

If the sender sees furrowed brows or questioning facial expressions from his/her receiver, he/she knows that the receiver did not comprehend his/her message. However, the overt action taken by the receiver is the feedback that the sender uses to determine the amount of influence he/she has had with the receiver.

Feedback measures influence. We know that democratic leadership involves influencing others. When a group has been successful in raising money for a community project, they can rightfully feel that they were influential. If the group had failed in their effort to raise the money, one of the reasons could be that they were not influential in the community. If your group takes the action you want them to take, you have been influential; if it does not, then you were not influential.

Feedback provides a method of eliminating mis-communication. It is most effective in face-to-face conversation where feedback is instantaneous. If a group leader asks one of the members for some ideas on projects for the next year and the member suggests having travel films, the leader knows immediately that mis-communication has occurred. The group member suggested program ideas and not project ideas. The feedback would be effective if the leader were to immediately clarify the difference between programs and projects. Had the situation not been face-to-face, the group member might still be thinking of travel films for next year's project.

If any of the above information is incorrect, or needs to be updated, contact Gary J. Wingenbach.
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