A Model for Describing and Diagnosing Human Miscommunications

Primary author: Lynne Cooper

Primary college/unit: Carson College of Business
Campus: Pullman


Miscommunication in team settings can lead to conflict and negatively impact team performance. Rapidly recognizing that a miscommunication has occurred and diagnosing the cause enables team members to fix the communication errors before they grow into conflicts. Existing models of human communication, however, are built on models developed during the early decades of computer use. The sequence “Message–>Encode–>Transmit–>Receive–>Decode–>Message” focuses on the transmission and receipt of messages consisting of well-structured, unambiguous data and information but fails to capture the richness, ambiguity, and contextualization inherent in person-to-person communication.

Communication starts with intent – the meaning (X0) the sender wishes to communicate and the intended impact of that communication. Analogous to the sequence above, meaning (X0) is articulated into a message (X1) by the sender, which is received (Y1) and interpreted by the recipient to extract meaning (Y0). Perfect communication occurs when X0 = Y0. Errors can occur anywhere along the path, for example, when a person misspeaks (X0-X1), Autocorrect changes a text (X1-Y1), or the receiver doesn’t recognize sarcasm (Y1-Y0).

The path from X0 = Y0, however, is affected multiple factors: the channel chosen to communicate, the physiological and emotional state of the sender and receiver, cultural and social factors, and the common ground of knowledge and experience they share. These factors serve to amplify, dampen, filter, or add noise, i.e., introduce errors, into the communication process.

This research developed an enriched, but still parsimonious, model that integrates these key factors into a practical model for describing and diagnosing interpersonal (mis)communications.