The Communication Model

We are surrounded by information. From the moment of waking, we are aware of the time, the state of the sky, the weather and a host of feelings and experiences that we are going through. The information is processed at a variety of levels. The alarm bell rings and the sound travels through our auditory canals and makes us aware of the time, our plans for the day, the immediate activities we have to undertake and the way we feel at that point. This processing of information in response to a single stimulus leads to a variety of mental activities.

What happens when there are a variety of stimuli? Sights, sounds and smells of our surrounding environment continuously assail our senses. Our awareness and perception of these stimuli continue throughout the day. These stimuli can be considered to constitute information – information in abundance.


All information is raw data, in that it is open to different forms of processing and understanding. When we are faced with data, we process it through the sieve of our distinct perceptive capability. Each individual will view the data and ascribe different meanings to it, thereby creating individual realities.


Let us consider an event and see how it is perceived through different perception lenses. A child dashes out onto the street in front of a car. The driver hits the brakes and jumps out of the car in a state of concern or possibly rage. The driver’s perception is driven by a belief that children tend to be unaware of their traffic surroundings when they are at play. At this point the driver views the event as carelessness or a genuine error in judgment on the part of the child.


The child pleads for help since his friend has been hurt. The child has come running with the expectation of adult help. This is the child’s experience set – when there is a problem, a grown up should be called to set things right. The child had taken the drastic measure to call attention to a crisis. The child’s perception and reality is completely different from the perception of the driver of the car. It is only when the reality is communicated that the perception undergoes a change towards a single reality.


Thus, original perception changes when the event is clarified. Data is received through the five main senses. Our visual sense registers data as it appears and processes it internally in the mind’s eye. Our auditory senses allow us to process data through internal and external hearing. Our olfactory senses receive data about odours and fragrances and sort it appropriately for us. The gustatory senses permit the identification of tastes as they pass into our systems.


How do we recognise this data? Consider a filing system that allows for a broad category of documents and places sub-categories for more specificity. The mental filing system is called RAS (Reticular Activating System). This system sorts the data and allows us to filter out specific information so that we categorise new information that presents itself. The filters may be our previous experiences, values and beliefs, attitudes, decisions and language and metaprograms (habits of thinking). After the first level of data sensing, an activity of perception takes place. Our internal processing is dependent on our individual beliefs and attitudes. This is why the driver’s visual perception led him to consider the conclusion that the child was being careless.


The RAS speeds up the process of understanding information by filtering the data and providing a comprehensive overview of large parts of the information as it flows in through the sensory organs. Imagine a machine that takes 2 billion bits of data per second and converts it to 7 or so, chunks per second. The main categories are few and allow for extensive sub-categorisation.


Let us say your olfactory nerves pick up a smell. Your brain tells you the smell is that of a flower; this is the first category of filtering. A second category based on your past experience with the smell of roses will tell you whether this is a natural smell or an artificial scent. Now you have processed the information through sub-category 1. Now, you may further filter the data to locate where the smell is emanating from and conclude that you are near a rose bush or a florist.


Now let us understand how different forms of processing may occur with the same set of data.

Your mental filtering has led you to the conclusion about whether you are experiencing the natural fragrance of roses. Another person may experience the same smell and filter the information and conclude that this smell is going to lead to a headache. A third person might conclude that the smell signifies the presence of a flower show in the vicinity. The same event has led three brains on three different paths.


Now, taking this event further let us consider how the brain processes the information. Your conclusion about the fragrance might remind you of your spouse’s birthday in the coming week and trigger action on your part. The person who thinks of the physical discomfort opts to choose another route to travel or remembers to buy tablets for the pain. The third person decides to return to the flower show with family in tow.


Thus, the stimulus of smell has led to diverse reactions from the three people. A super-program in the mind, called a metaprogram, creates this diversity. The metaprogram triggered a memory or led to a decision based on the event. The metaprogram acts as an overruling logic set that directs our thoughts and actions over the processing and filtering. Thus, events occur and throw information in our direction. We consciously process and act on some information, while we let the other information flow by, unchallenged. These unconscious decisions are taken by the metaprogram.


The model of the world created by each individual is distinct from that created by another. Each model is true at an individual level; each model is workable and leads to an outcome; each model comes under change only when different perceptions are opened out and a common reality is sought.


So, what is the point of all this anyway?


The point is when we communicate we must ascertain whether the person has heard and understood what is intended. In the absence of this communication framework, individual perception leads to the dilution of intent and poorly organised action.


Let us use this framework for understanding how communication flows between sender and receiver in this example. At a corporate meeting, the Chief of Accounts announces the need for a budget cut in order to come out of a cash-strapped situation. Manager A hears it and starts considering the possible areas for reducing costs; Manager B rejects the information based on past experience to these events while Manager C panics that this is the first sign of downhill performance.


An effective communication experience would be possible if the Chief of Accounts were to accept the existence of different reactions to the communication. A conscious choice to assuage negative feelings may be made by clarifying the likely areas of budget cuts that will see the company safely through the year. This will help Managers B and C realise that the event in front of them is representative of internal facts. This can negate unwanted effects of the communication.


A further step could be to ask individuals to ask questions that will resolve any doubts they have about issues. Organisations may have a series of small group meetings to negate the existence of a perception-reality distortion.


You may be a salesperson trying to achieve your targets while your organisation seeks to satisfy the customer’s need for a reliable value proposition. When you approach the customer, your pitch will be based on the organization’s offering and your customer’s need. This is your route to satisfying the customer’s need. If you approach the customer with the primary purpose of making a deal to achieve your target, you are likely to be less willing to negotiate, less open to alternatives and display low sensitivity to the customer’s view point. You will miss out on the long-term benefits of achieving the assignment.


An understanding of the differences in individual perception is particularly important when managing relationships with business partners, team members, family members and friends. A realisation that two people can cease to see eye to eye despite communication is important. When we try to understand the different platforms from which people are trying to make themselves understood, we realise the necessity of finding common ground and addressing ourselves from there.


Allow us at BreakState to help you crystallise your understanding of the different models of perception at work and manage them. We show you how to understand the perspective of the listener to who you are trying to sell a product and make an optimised pitch.