Chapter 1: Professional Business Communication
6 Communication in Context
To begin this section, watch the following 18 minute TED Talk from Sam Sommers, The Hidden Power of Context
Context is made up of the parts of communication that influence the meaning of a message. Context has an influence on the communication process. Contexts can overlap, creating an even more dynamic process. You have been communicating in many contexts across your lifetime, and you’ll be able to apply what you’ve learned from experiences in multiple contexts to business communication.
Intrapersonal communication involves one person; it is often called “self-talk” (Wood, 1997). Donna Vocate’s (1994) book on this topic explains how, as you use language to reflect on your own experiences, you talk yourself through situations. Your intrapersonal communication can be positive or negative, and directly influences how you perceive and react to situations and communication with others. For example, before a big presentation, you may give yourself a pep talk to calm feelings of anxiety and give yourself a boost of confidence.
What you perceive in communication with others is also influenced by your culture, native language, and your world view. As the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas said, “Every process of reaching understanding takes place against the background of a culturally ingrained pre-understanding” (Habermas, 1984).
The second major context within the field of communication is interpersonal communication which normally involves two people, and can range from intimate and very personal to formal and impersonal. A conversation over coffee with a colleague about a project you’re working on would be a form of interpersonal communication.
“Group communication is a dynamic process where a small number of people engage in a conversation” (McLean, 2005). Group communication is generally defined as involving three to eight people. The larger the group, the more likely it is to break down into smaller groups.
When engaging with groups, you can observe factors like age, education, sex, and location to learn more about general preferences as well as dislikes. You may find several groups within the larger audience, such as specific areas of education, and use this knowledge to increase your effectiveness as a business communicator.
In public communication, one person speaks to a group of people; the same is true of public written communication, where one person writes a message to be read by a small or large group. The speaker or writer may ask questions, and engage the audience in a discussion (in writing, examples are an email discussion or a point-counter-point series of letters to the editor), but the dynamics of the conversation are distinct from group communication, where different rules apply.
Through mass communication, you send a message to as many people as possible. Mass communication involves sending a single message to a group. It allows you to communicate your message to a large number of people. Something to consider, however, is that you may be limited in your ability to tailor your message to specific audiences, groups, or individuals when using mass communication. As a business communicator, you can use multimedia as a visual aid or reference common programs, films, or other images that your audience finds familiar yet engaging. By choosing messages or references that many audience members will recognize or can identify with, you can develop common ground and increase the appeal of your message.