Mixed Messages. The Critical Importance of Encoding and Decoding

I topic I chose to speak on from lesson 4 regarding Global Communication is the effects and outcomes of encoding and decoding in the communication process. It is my belief that if properly understood, and with great effort, the process of better communication can be achieved through an awareness and understanding of the communication process.

The team I manage in my work life is comprised of nine individuals from four different countries including the U.S. The process of maintaining successful communications between individuals, that continuously yield productive outcomes, has been something I’ve been challenged with for a long time. As learned in lesson 4, the communication process of encoding and decoding messages between individuals from culturally diverse backgrounds can result in a relatively high percentage of message misunderstandings (Schneider, Gruman, & Coutts, 2013). I my case I believe our communication problems occur partly because of the team’s diverse cultures backgrounds, (Islamic, Indian, Chinese and American) and partly because, individually, they’re highly educated in the field of technology. Implementing better communication tools, including a thorough understanding of encode/decode communication process, coupled with a genuine appreciation of their cultural differences, can result in improved communication.

The subject of encoding and decoding is one component of the generally excepted information flow that occurs within any interaction between individuals. Defined, it’s an idea generated by one person, shaped into a message, and sent by that person to another person, who then receives the message, interprets it, and then generates his or her own idea or understanding about its meaning (Schneider, Gruman, & Coutts, 2013). This ongoing circular flow of information represents the everyday encoding and decoding of messages presented to us during all interactions. Like most people, during my workday, I don’t typically stop and analyze the encoding and decoding process of every communication. Like most people, I simply read and react to what I believe to be the intended meaning of the message. Having a general understanding and awareness of the encoding/decoding process that occurs in all communications should help senders and receivers of messages pay closer attention to the intended information of the messages and avoid misunderstandings.

In its simplest form, the definition of communication is the exchange of information between two parties, “as interpersonal acts that exchange meaning and information.” (Schneider, Gruman, & Coutts, 2013). In most everyday interactions between people we take the intention and outcome of the communication for granted and make the assumption that the intended message is effectively delivered and received. Unfortunately, a study done on message communications, through email or voice, revealed that typical messages between parties are misinterpreted on an average of between 13% and 22% of the time (Kruger, Epley, Parker and Ng, 2005). Add the elements of cultural diversity and the communication problems are exacerbated. While lesson 4 lightly touches on the impacts of communication from a global perspective, Moran, Abrahamson, Moran (2014), delve deeper into the impact of different cultural backgrounds and its effect on communication. From a global perspective, additional implications affecting message communication include cultural values, social norms, attitudes and stereotyping, all of which potentially affect the interpretation of a communication.

Understanding the encoding and decoding communication channel correctly and applying it effectively, from both a global and non-global perspective, has the potential to greatly improve the quality of all communications. However, despite the most disciplined effort misunderstandings still occur. Over the years I’ve taught my team to suspend email messaging when misunderstandings occur and reconnect via phone or face to face. Despite my best intentions, in many cases, even the face to face communication can have a similar outcome or misunderstanding. In a study conducted by Kruger, Epley, Parker, and Ng (2005), it was observed that even when people know each other, there is a 25% likelihood that the anticipated understanding of any communication sent by a sender, and actual understanding received and interpreted by the receiver, would be misinterpreted. Adding in cultural or language differences and the percentage of misunderstandings increased.

The knowledge and importance of good communication is a practical tool essential in the business world. The encoding and decoding process in one component of the overall communication flow In its simplest form, awareness of the encoding and decoding process that occurs in all communications should help us be better communicators. The information taught in lesson 4 and the readings in chapters 2 and 3 (Moran, Abrahamson, Moran, 2014) has taught me the importance of applying better communication practices. As we seek to become better leaders and global communicators, implementing better tools and/or processes to create, deliver and interrupt messages should improve the communication flow and lesson the percentage of misunderstandings.


Kruger, J., Epley, N., Parker, J., & Ng, Z. (2005). Egocentrism over e-mail: Can we communicate as well as we think? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 89(6), 925–936. doi:10.1037/00223514.89.6.925

Moran, R. T., Abramson, N. R., & Moran, S. V. (2014). Managing Cultural Differences (Ninth ed.). New York: Routledge.

Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., & Coutts, L. M. (2013). Applied social psychology: Understanding and addressing social and practical problems. Los Angeles: Sage.

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