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Principles, theories and methods of effective communication (written and oral) in general, and in a management context

Principles, theories and methods of effective communication (written and oral) in general, and in a management context

Understanding Individuals: Principles, theories & Methods of effective communication


This section covers: 

  • Principles, theories and methods of effective communication



The Oxford English Dictionary defines communication as "the imparting, conveying, or exchange of ideas, knowledge and information'.  This can apply to words or body language.


Effective Communication

Lasswell introduced an important model of five levels of communication identified from his experiences in the second world war, elements of which survive in more developed modern models:

1.  Who: the source

2.  Says What: the message

3.  In Which Channel: through what channel or medium

4.  To Whom: the audience

5.  To What Effect: the desired effect??

The Five Ws

Lasswell's (1948) model has been further developed and modernised and is now referred to as the 'Five Ws' and this model has been widely used, particularly when managing change.  However, addressing the 'Five Ws' is an essential element of all communication, getting this right is the first step in the process and is dependent upon what is required to be communicated at the time.  This is particularly important when managing change in an organisation.

1.  Who should be told?

Everyone who needs to be told about something should be told.  It is advisable to relate the communication to all as soon as possible.  Openness is the key to making everyone feel involved (although there will always be some things which are not disseminated as widely as others).  Where appropriate, communicate widely so that individuals are given the opportunity to influence the process and local ownership is gained.  Barriers can also be identified and overcome.

2.  When should they be told?

The time to communicate with relevant people should be carefully considered.  It might be within a set meeting or a one-off arrangement.  If the communication covers a wide range of people where possible it is desirable that discussions take place at the same time to avoid confusion, spread of rumours or misunderstandings.  If internal and external stakeholders are involved, internal staff should be communicated with prior to external stakeholders; this is to prevent staff hearing from other sources, including the media.

Key communications should be made as soon as possible following a significant event or decision.

3.  What should they be told?

Clear messages, related to the subject or problem.  In complex situations it is advisable to create a shared meaning and understanding, this can be done by:

  • checking back with the recipients through an iterative process
  • let them ask questions
  • asking for clarification of what they have understood being clear that words, behaviours and symbols are not misunderstood or misinterpreted.

4.  Where should the message be conveyed?

Choose the most effective medium to get your message across, this could be in meetings, seminars, press releases etc.  Make time to communicate properly, do not do it in the corridor, in the toilet or the car park.  This leads to gabbled and garbled messages and can contribute to the 'grape vine'.

5.  Who should control the communications process?

The most appropriate person depending on the subject.  If it involves external agencies include the Press Officer.


The Message

William McGuire (1981) adds a further dimension to communication. Instead of having only an X axis with Source, Message, Channel, and Receiver which he calls "input factors", he adds a Y axis comprised of Attention, Liking, Comprehension, Yielding, Remembering, and Action, which he calls "output factors."


































Since McGuire combines the traditional S-M-C-R uni-dimensional model with factors on the Y axis, we have a more sophisticated way of thinking about and analysing communication. In fact his two dimensional matrix is useful for analysing the effectiveness of persuasive communication both before and after the fact.

In addition to McGuire's dimensions there are also three other elements that are vital for all social or business interaction through communication:

1.  Use of language: the understanding of what people hear can be changed by loudness, intonation, clarity, use of jargon, aggressive words, and colloquialisms.

2.  Behaviour: in face to face meetings body language can affect the whole meaning of communication, for example frowning, arms folded and legs apart, pointing fingers, looking bored versus animated voice and eyes, smiling face and positive arm movements.   Charles Brower summed this up in this quote…
"A new idea is delicate. It can be killed by a sneer or a yawn. It can be stabbed to death by a quip and worried to death by a frown on the right man's brow."                      

3.  Other symbols, for example hand-outs, presentations, stage props, examples of work etc.


Getting over the right message is complex as the meaning of the message may be:

  • misunderstood
  • misinterpreted
  • misheard
  • ignored
  • perceived as irrelevant


Delivering the 'right' message

Careful thought on how the message is delivered is required, taking into account:

  • What are we trying to convey?
  • What are we inadvertently conveying?


Confucius wrote..

'If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant. 

If what is said is not what is meant, then what ought to be done remains undone'.


Monroe's Motivation Sequence

Monroe's Motivated Sequence (1935), whilst written to support people making persuasive speeches, is a useful reminder of the key as they are the same for all communication and action. 

Attention Step

  • Get the attention or your audience.  This can be done with a detailed story, shocking example, dramatic statistic, quote, etc.  This is part or your introduction (in addition to stating your thesis, giving a preview of your main points, mentioning your credibility, and telling your audience why the topic is of concern to them).

Need Step

  • Show the problem exists, that it is a significant problem, and that it won't go away by itself.  Document your statements with statistics, examples, etc.
  • Offer a clear concise statement of the need.
  • This is the central idea.
  • Tell them what you are going to tell them.
  • Establish expectation.


  • Present one or more illustrations and/or specific instances to give audience idea of nature and scope of the problem.


  • Use supporting materials, statistics, testimony, etc. to drive point home.


  • Point out how issue or problem affects audience's health, security, etc.


  • Offer solutions for the problem you have shown exists in the Need Step.  These are solutions that the government or society as a whole can implement.  You must satisfy the need.
  • Includes:

Initial Summary
o State in advance what your main ideas are.

Detailed Information
o Discuss in order the information for each of the main ideas.

Final Summary
o Tell them what you said.


Visualisation Step

  • Tell us what will happen if we don't do something about the problem.  Be graphic.
  • Primary strategy is to project audience into future and accepting or denying your proposals.
  • In informative speeches this step may be used to suggest the pleasure that may be gained from this knowledge.


Action Step

Required when action is an essential output. 

  • Offer alternatives to your audience that they can do personally to help solve the problem you have shown exists.  Again, be very specific and very realistic.
  • Motivate staff to get out and do something!  Wrap up loose ends by giving a review of points and restating your thesis, and then conclude the speech.


Models of Communication


   Model of 



   One to one


  • time for the individual
  • the individual has the opportunity to voice clear opinions without the influence of others


  • the manager is likely to have more of a voice
  • open to manipulation
  • only the leader gets the overall picture
  • time consuming



  • can reach more staff
  • makes middle managers feel involved
  • the message becomes diluted, incorrect or forgotten
  • some people will not hear the message at all

  One to one
  within a group

  • the team has more control over the content of the decision and can therefore ensure that the rationale remains intact
  • there are fewer hidden agendas to second guess and negotiate
  • it is easier to achieve individual commitment and with each endorsement, to build a sense of a collective bandwagon beginning to roll
  • people respond in a private capacity.  Is this enough if the going gets rough?  Will they change their mind?
  • The evidence itself is subject to rather less discussion than it would receive in a larger group

  Round table
  led consensus

  • Ensures that the message is heard the same by everyone
  • Everyone hears the opinions of others
  • Open communication channels


  • might not be candid about the obstacles and opportunities
  • less likely to feel the need to defend their own corner
  • professionals often feel obliged to disagree then then come up with consensus
  • difficulty in getting everyone together at the same time.

  Round table 
  consensus for a
  group decision

  • Ensures that the message is heard the same by everyone
  • Everyone hears the opinions of others
  • Open communication channel
  • no leader to keep the communication focussed
  • no control over the group's activities
  • potentially no outcomes



Lasswell, H. (1948). "The Structure and Function of Communication in Society." In Lyman Bryson (ed.), The Communication of Ideas. Harper and Row

McGuire, W. (1981). "Theoretical Foundations of Campaigns." In Ronald Rice and William Paisley (eds.), Public Communication Campaigns, Sage.

Monroe, A.H. (1935). Motivation Sequence's_motivated_sequence



                                                                      © K Enock 2006, N Leigh-Hunt 2016