Noise in Communication

Communication Skills

Perception impacts the communication process, affecting the quality of communication and decisions made thereof. Robbins and Judge (2013) identify the communication process as occurring within a background of “noise”. The “noise” in communication includes the perceptual, psychological, social, relational, cultural, and physical context within which the communication occurs.

Impact of “Noise” in Communication

Let us apply the concept to see how the noise impacts communication at each point in the communication process:

  • Sender encodes message within perceptual context of personal values, attitudes, knowledge, experience and relationship to sender that affects the language and tone of the message.
  • The transmission of the message is through a communication channel media that has variable channel richness attributes.
  • The receiver decodes the message within the perceptual context of own personal values, attitudes, knowledge, experience and relationship to sender that affects the interpretation and ascribed meaning of the message.
  • Receiver gives message feedback based on interpretation of meaning derived from above decoding

The context of the communication is therefore, either a barrier or an enabler of the communication process. (Collins, 2012) identify the main barriers to communication as, cultural barriers, functional barriers and physical barriers. Robbins and Judge (2013) cite an extended list of communication barriers as, cultural barriers, functional barriers, physical barriers, perceptual barriers, semantic barriers and information overload.

Noise in Communication Scenarios

Let’s look at the scenarios below and analyze them for impact of perceptual noise. You have four hypothetical scenarios as given below. You respond as given. How does your response reflect impact of “perceptual noise”?

  1. I sometimes believe and trust everything that my superior tells me.
  2. With communication, I sometimes process and filter details to my advantage.
  3. In my organization, information is not always shared efficiently.
  4. At my organization, open and honest communication is not encouraged.
  5. Rumors and grapevine are not managed effectively.

Scenario One

Applying the schema theory, the response that “I sometimes believe and trust everything that my superior tells me” could either be informed by objective evaluation of the presented information which is sometimes credible and sometimes not, based on relational experience with superior. It could be a result of automatic cognition of the readily available or accessible mental schema of superior stored in the mind. In this case the stored mental schema of the superior is that he is not always honest, trustworthy or reliable. As observed by Stangor (2011) automatic cognition is influenced by situational factors. In this case, the automatic cognition could be a result of a recent occurrence of superior’s unreliability or flip flop tendencies. It could also be tiredness. Or not prepared to engage in strenuous interrogation of the matter.

Scenario Two

In the second scenario, the response that “I sometimes filter communication information to my advantage”. The response subscribes to the attributional theory research cited self-serving bias.  Robbins and Judge (2013). The filtering of information could also be manifestation of selective perception bias.

Scenario Three

The response to scenario three suggests variable personal attitude (cognition, affect and behavior) to the organization. The varying attitudes could be a factor of the moderating variables on attitudes. Robbins and Judge (2013) observe that attitudes are moderated by five variables. The variables are, importance of the attitude, link of attitude to behavior, accessibility, social pressures, and experience with attitude. In this case, the moderating variables affect at different times resulting in different perception and attitude to organization.

Scenarios Four and Five

Responses to scenario four and five can be explained in terms of factors influencing perception, viz perceiver factors, situational factors and target factors. (Robbins and Judge, 2013). The response could be a result of personal attitudes, values, personality attributes, motives, interests, expectations and experience. It could also be a function of the organizational attributes, characteristics, and relational aspects between the organization and perceiver. Yet again it could be the situational factors at play. For example, the perception and attitudes towards the organization during current COV-19 lockdown may be negative. The forced unpaid leave, and salary cuts create negative attitudes towards organizations, which color judgement on other aspects. This leads to the perception of the organization as not effectively dealing with rumors or not encouraging open and honest communication. All this could be as a result of anchoring, halo, confirmation bias or other perceptual errors.

Reflecting upon the above, it becomes ever important to interrogate how we make judgments, debunk cognitive errors and expose ourselves to other views to allow us to discover perceptual blind spots and our own entrenched views and positions. The noises in communication needs decided attention to improve quality of decisions and avoid conflict.

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