21 December 2007

Communication - not a 'sending' process

Corporate communications as it is practised today seems to rely often on the notion of communication as a conduit process - a sender sends a message to a receiver. This metaphor underlies many practitioners' thinking about their roles, the objectives and measures they devise, and the processes they use to 'reach' their 'audiences'. Indeed, the suggestion that this notion is a metaphor, and not a factual description of reality, would be seen as contentious by many practitioners.

From my own metaphoric bias - that communication can be seen as a behavioural coupling - it's helpful to hear that an empirical cognitive scientist such as Stephen Pinker has doubts about the validity of the conduit model: "Another misleading conceptual formula is the conduit metaphor, in which to know is to have something and to communicate is to send it in a package." That comes from his latest book, quoted by Shawn at Anecdote.

The question of how these metaphors conceal or reveal aspects of our work (or lives) needs a longer conversation, but my view would be that the metaphor we adopt (consciously or not) in part determines the intention and outcomes of our working. In organisational terms, if practitioners explore and adopt a variety of metaphors, that might lead to more flexibility in intention, and more variety in outcomes.

Technorati: internal communications, metaphor, Pinker

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