Business Communication for Success
Business Communication for Success
[ A u t h o r r e m ove d a t r e q u e s t o f o r i g i n a l p u b l i s h e r ]
U N I V E R S I T Y O F M I N N E S OTA L I B R A R I E S P U B L I S H I N G E D I T I O N , 2 0 1 5 . T H I S E D I T I O N A D A P T E D F R O M A W O R K O R I G I N A L LY P R O D U C E D I N 2 0 1 0 B Y A P U B L I S H E R W H O H A S R E Q U E S T E D T H AT I T N OT R E C E I V E AT T R I B U T I O N .
M I N N E A P O L I S , M N
Business Communication for Success by University of Minnesota is licensed under a Creative Commons
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Chapter 1: Effective Business Communication
1.1 Why Is It Important to Communicate Well? 3
1.2 What Is Communication? 7
1.3 Communication in Context 16
1.4 Your Responsibilities as a Communicator 20
1.5 Additional Resources 25
Chapter 2: Delivering Your Message
2.1 What Is Language? 28
2.2 Messages 32
2.3 Principles of Verbal Communication 35
2.4 Language Can be an Obstacle to Communication 41
2.5 Emphasis Strategies 46
2.6 Improving Verbal Communication 53
2.7 Additional Resources 57
Chapter 3: Understanding Your Audience
3.1 Self-Understanding Is Fundamental to Communication 63
3.2 Perception 70
3.3 Differences in Perception 80
3.4 Getting to Know Your Audience 82
3.5 Listening and Reading for Understanding 88
3.6 Additional Resources 91
Chapter 4: Effective Business Writing
4.1 Oral versus Written Communication 94
4.2 How Is Writing Learned? 97
4.3 Good Writing 102
4.4 Style in Written Communication 107
4.5 Principles of Written Communication 111
4.6 Overcoming Barriers to Effective Written Communication 116
4.7 Additional Resources 120
Chapter 5: Writing Preparation
5.1 Think, Then Write: Writing Preparation 123
5.2 A Planning Checklist for Business Messages 128
5.3 Research and Investigation: Getting Started 137
5.4 Ethics, Plagiarism, and Reliable Sources 142
5.5 Completing Your Research and Investigation 149
5.6 Reading and Analyzing 153
5.7 Additional Resources 156
Chapter 6: Writing
6.1 Organization 161
6.2 Writing Style 175
6.3 Making an Argument 184
6.4 Paraphrase and Summary versus Plagiarism 192
6.5 Additional Resources 195
Chapter 7: Revising and Presenting Your Writing
7.1 General Revision Points to Consider 198
7.2 Specific Revision Points to Consider 201
7.3 Style Revisions 211
7.4 Evaluating the Work of Others 217
7.5 Proofreading and Design Evaluation 221
7.6 Additional Resources 225
Chapter 8: Feedback in the Writing Process
8.1 Diverse Forms of Feedback 228
8.2 Qualitative and Quantitative Research 239
8.3 Feedback as an Opportunity 244
8.4 Additional Resources 248
Chapter 9: Business Writing in Action
9.1 Text, E-mail, and Netiquette 250
9.2 Memorandums and Letters 256
9.3 Business Proposal 265
9.4 Report 270
9.5 Résumé 277
9.6 Sales Message 286
9.7 Additional Resources 290
Chapter 10: Developing Business Presentations
10.1 Before You Choose a Topic 294
10.2 Choosing a Topic 299
10.3 Finding Resources 305
10.4 Myths and Realities of Public Speaking 314
10.5 Overcoming Obstacles in Your Presentation 317
10.6 Additional Resources 323
Chapter 11: Nonverbal Delivery
11.1 Principles of Nonverbal Communication 326
11.2 Types of Nonverbal Communication 333
11.3 Movement in Your Speech 341
11.4 Visual Aids 345
11.5 Nonverbal Strategies for Success with Your Audience 357
11.6 Additional Resources 359
Chapter 12: Organization and Outlines
12.1 Rhetorical Situation 362
12.2 Strategies for Success 366
12.3 Building a Sample Speech 373
12.4 Sample Speech Outlines 376
12.5 Organizing Principles for Your Speech 378
12.6 Transitions 383
12.7 Additional Resources 386
Chapter 13: Presentations to Inform
13.1 Functions of the Presentation to Inform 388
13.2 Types of Presentations to Inform 393
13.3 Adapting Your Presentation to Teach 397
13.4 Diverse Types of Intelligence and Learning Styles 407
13.5 Preparing Your Speech to Inform 409
13.6 Creating an Informative Presentation 415
13.7 Additional Resources 419
Chapter 14: Presentations to Persuade
14.1 What Is Persuasion? 423
14.2 Principles of Persuasion 426
14.3 Functions of the Presentation to Persuade 429
14.4 Meeting the Listener’s Basic Needs 433
14.5 Making an Argument 439
14.6 Speaking Ethically and Avoiding Fallacies 447
14.7 Sample Persuasive Speech 451
14.8 Elevator Speech 455
14.9 Additional Resources 457
Chapter 15: Business Presentations in Action
15.1 Sound Bites and Quotables 459
15.2 Telephone/VoIP Communication 461
15.3 Meetings 465
15.4 Celebrations: Toasts and Roasts 468
15.5 Media Interviews 471
15.6 Introducing a Speaker 474
15.7 Presenting or Accepting an Award 476
15.8 Serving as Master of Ceremonies 479
15.9 Viral Messages 481
15.10 Additional Resources 484
Chapter 16: Intrapersonal and Interpersonal Business Communication
16.1 Intrapersonal Communication 487
16.2 Self-Concept and Dimensions of Self 489
16.3 Interpersonal Needs 493
16.4 Social Penetration Theory 497
16.5 Rituals of Conversation and Interviews 503
16.6 Conflict in the Work Environment 511
16.7 Additional Resources 518
Chapter 17: Negative News and Crisis Communication
17.1 Delivering a Negative News Message 520
17.2 Eliciting Negative News 530
17.3 Crisis Communication Plan 536
17.4 Press Conferences 539
17.5 Additional Resources 544
Chapter 18: Intercultural and International Business Communication
18.1 Intercultural Communication 548
18.2 How to Understand Intercultural Communication 551
18.3 Common Cultural Characteristics 554
18.4 Divergent Cultural Characteristics 558
18.5 International Communication and the Global Marketplace 564
18.6 Styles of Management 569
18.7 The International Assignment 572
18.8 Additional Resources 578
Chapter 19: Group Communication, Teamwork, and Leadership
19.1 What Is a Group? 581
19.2 Group Life Cycles and Member Roles 586
19.3 Group Problem Solving 594
19.4 Business and Professional Meetings 600
19.5 Teamwork and Leadership 608
19.6 Additional Resources 613
Please share your supplementary material! 614
Business Communication for Success
is adapted from a work produced and
distributed under a Creative Commons
license (CC BY-NC-SA) in 2010 by a
publisher who has requested that they
and the original author not receive
attribution. This adapted edition is
produced by the University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing through the eLearning Support Initiative.
This adaptation has reformatted the original text, and replaced some images and figures to make the resulting
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About the Author
Business Communication for Success is adapted from a work produced by a publisher who has requested that they
and the original author not receive attribution. This adapted edition is produced by the University of Minnesota
Libraries Publishing through the eLearning Support Initiative. Though the publisher has requested that they and
the original author not receive attribution, this adapted edition reproduces all original text and sections of the
book, except for publisher and author name attribution.
Unnamed Author is the Shadle-Edgecombe Endowed Faculty Chair at Arizona Western College. He serves
as the professor of speech communication with an emphasis in business communication for a combined campus
partnership with the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University–Yuma.
Unnamed Author is the author of The Basics of Speech Communication and The Basics of Interpersonal
Communication, both currently published by Allyn & Bacon.
Beyond his classroom experience, Unnamed Author regularly serves as a communications advisor to the
industry. He has extensive experience and publications in the areas of health communication, safe and healthy
work environments, and organizational and crisis communication. He has served as an evaluator for the United
States National Institutes of Health’s Small Business and Innovative Research (SBIR) program since 1995. He
served as an evaluator of educational programs for the Ministerio de Hacienda de Chile. His development of
the Tenio Natural Reserve in Southern Chile has brought together people from around the world to preserve and
restore indigenous flora and fauna. Their collective effort will serve for generations to come.
Unnamed Author studied at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and at Washington State University’s
Edward R. Murrow School of Communication. He and his family divide their time between the United States and
Puerto Montt, Chile.
I would like to say thank you to Jeff Shelstad for answering my e-mail. To say his model just makes sense is an
understatement. I am honored to be a part of it all.
Jenn Yee has been an excellent project manager. When I needed feedback she made sure it was available, and
when I needed space to create, she helped facilitate it. Writing can be a solitary activity but she made the journey
positive and productive.
Elsa Peterson, you are wonderful. Your sharp eye for detail, consistent dedication to the text, and quick
turnarounds on requests were invaluable to this project. I have never worked with a better developmental editor.
Dan Obuchowski also offered valuable insight into the construction industry and practices that lends real-world
credibility to this text.
To my reviewers in the field, I appreciate all the specific feedback that contributed to clear improvements in the
• Brenda Jolivette Jones, San Jacinto College – Central Campus (email@example.com)
• Christina McCale, Regis University (firstname.lastname@example.org)
• Billie Miller, Ph.D., Cosumnes River College (email@example.com)
• Joyce Ezrow, Anne Arundel Community College (firstname.lastname@example.org)
• Sally Lederer, U of M Carlson School of Management (email@example.com)
• Greg Larson, Salt Lake Community College (Greg.Larson@slcc.edu)
• Gayla Jurevich, Fresno City College (firstname.lastname@example.org)
• Laura Newton, Florida State University (email@example.com)
• Judy Grace, Arizona State University (firstname.lastname@example.org)
• Rita Rud, Purdue University (email@example.com)
• Edna Boroski, Trident Technical College (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Your words of encouragement and constructive criticism have made this effort worthwhile.
Finally, to Lisa, my life partner, you are amazing. You were a draft recruit on this project and quickly learned
the formatting requirements in short order. You are a valuable part of this team. Your relentless editing serves as a
clear example of Strunk’s axiom: “Omit needless words.” This text is the better for it. Writing with you, like life,
gets better with each year.
Puerto Montt, Chile
For Lisa and our children, Mackenzie, John, and Katherine
Business Communication for Success (BCS) provides a comprehensive, integrated approach to the study and
application of written and oral business communication to serve both student and professor.
This series features chapters with the following elements:
• Learning Objectives
• Introductory Exercises
• Clear expectations, relevant background, and important theories
• Practical, real-world examples
• Key Takeaways or quick internal summaries
• Key terms that are easily identified
• In-chapter assignments
• Postchapter assessments linked to objectives and skills acquisition
Each chapter is self-contained, allowing for mix-and-match flexibility and custom or course-specific design. Each
chapter focuses on clear objectives and skill demonstrations that can be easily linked to your syllabus and state
or federal requirements. Supported by internal and external assessments, each chapter features time-saving and
learning-enhancement support for instructors and students.
BCS is designed to help students identify important information, reinforce for retention, and demonstrate
mastery with a clear outcome product.
The text has three content categories:
2. Process and products
The first three chapters form the core foundation for the study of oral and written business communication. The
next sequence of chapters focus on the process of writing, then oral performance with an emphasis on results.
The final sequence focuses on contexts where business communication occurs, from interpersonal to intercultural,
from groups to leadership.
In each of the process and product chapter sequences, the chapters follow a natural flow, from prewriting
to revision, from preparation for a presentation to performance. Each sequence comes together in a concluding
chapter that focuses on action—where we apply the skills and techniques of written or oral communication in
business, from writing a letter to presenting a sales speech. These performances not only serve to reinforce real-
world applications but also may serve as course assessments. All chapters are compartmentalized into sections so
you can choose what you want to use and eliminate the rest, and here the beauty of it rings true—you can adapt
and integrate content from other texts or your own work to truly make it fit your course and student needs.
Chapter 1: Effective Business Communication
Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.
I know that you believe that you understood what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you
heard is not what I meant.
–Robert J. McCloskey, former State Department spokesman
1. Write five words that express what you want to do and where you want to be a year from now. Take those five words and write a paragraph that clearly articulates your responses to both “what” and “where.”
2. Think of five words that express what you want to do and where you want to be five years from now. Share your five words with your classmates and listen to their responses. What patterns do you observe in the responses? Write a paragraph that addresses at least one observation.
Communication is an activity, skill, and art that incorporates lessons learned across a wide spectrum of human
knowledge. Perhaps the most time-honored form of communication is storytelling. We’ve told each other stories
for ages to help make sense of our world, anticipate the future, and certainly to entertain ourselves. The art of
storytelling draws on your understanding of yourself, your message, and how you communicate it to an audience
that is simultaneously communicating back to you. Your anticipation, reaction, and adaptation to the process will
determine how successfully you are able to communicate. You were not born knowing how to write or even how
to talk—but in the process of growing up, you have undoubtedly learned how to tell, and how not tell, a story out
loud and in writing.
You didn’t learn to text in a day and didn’t learn all the codes—from LOL (laugh out loud) to BRB (be right
back)—right away. In the same way, learning to communicate well requires you to read and study how others
have expressed themselves, then adapt what you have learned to your present task—whether it is texting a brief
message to a friend, presenting your qualifications in a job interview, or writing a business report. You come to
this text with skills and an understanding that will provide a valuable foundation as we explore the communication
Effective communication takes preparation, practice, and persistence. There are many ways to learn
communication skills; the school of experience, or “hard knocks,” is one of them. But in the business environment,
a “knock” (or lesson learned) may come at the expense of your credibility through a blown presentation to a client.
The classroom environment, with a compilation of information and resources such as a text, can offer you a trial
run where you get to try out new ideas and skills before you have to use them to communicate effectively to make
a sale or form a new partnership. Listening to yourself, or perhaps the comments of others, may help you reflect
on new ways to present, or perceive, thoughts, ideas and concepts. The net result is your growth; ultimately your
ability to communicate in business will improve, opening more doors than you might anticipate.
As you learn the material in this text, each part will contribute to the whole. The degree to which you attend to
each part will ultimately help give you the skills, confidence, and preparation to use communication in furthering
2 Business Communication for Success
1.1 Why Is It Important to Communicate Well?
1. Recognize the importance of communication in gaining a better understanding of yourself and others.
2. Explain how communication skills help you solve problems, learn new things, and build your career.
Communication is key to your success—in relationships, in the workplace, as a citizen of your country, and across
your lifetime. Your ability to communicate comes from experience, and experience can be an effective teacher,
but this text and the related business communication course will offer you a wealth of experiences gathered from
professional speakers across their lifetimes. You can learn from the lessons they’ve learned and be a more effective
communicator right out of the gate.
Business communication can be thought of as a problem solving activity in which individuals may address the
• What is the situation?
• What are some possible communication strategies?
• What is the best course of action?
• What is the best way to design the chosen message?
• What is the best way to deliver the message?
In this book, we will examine this problem solving process and help you learn to apply it in the kinds of situations
you are likely to encounter over the course of your career.
Communication Influences Your Thinking about Yourself and
We all share a fundamental drive to communicate. Communication can be defined as the process of understanding
and sharing meaning (Pearson & Nelson, 2000). You share meaning in what you say and how you say it, both
in oral and written forms. If you could not communicate, what would life be like? A series of never-ending
frustrations? Not being able to ask for what you need or even to understand the needs of others?
Being unable to communicate might even mean losing a part of yourself, for you communicate your self-
concept—your sense of self and awareness of who you are—in many ways. Do you like to write? Do you find
it easy to make a phone call to a stranger or to speak to a room full of people? Perhaps someone told you that
you don’t speak clearly or your grammar needs improvement. Does that make you more or less likely to want to
communicate? For some, it may be a positive challenge, while for others it may be discouraging. But in all cases,
your ability to communicate is central to your self-concept.
Take a look at your clothes. What are the brands you are wearing? What do you think they say about you?
Do you feel that certain styles of shoes, jewelry, tattoos, music, or even automobiles express who you are? Part
of your self-concept may be that you express yourself through texting, or through writing longer documents like
essays and research papers, or through the way you speak.
On the other side of the coin, your communications skills help you to understand others—not just their words,
but also their tone of voice, their nonverbal gestures, or the format of their written documents provide you with
clues about who they are and what their values and priorities may be. Active listening and reading are also part of
being a successful communicator.
Communication Influences How You Learn
When you were an infant, you learned to talk over a period of many months. When you got older, you didn’t learn
to ride a bike, drive a car, or even text a message on your cell phone in one brief moment. You need to begin the
process of improving your speaking and writing with the frame of mind that it will require effort, persistence, and
You learn to speak in public by first having conversations, then by answering questions and expressing your
opinions in class, and finally by preparing and delivering a “stand-up” speech. Similarly, you learn to write by
first learning to read, then by writing and learning to think critically. Your speaking and writing are reflections of
your thoughts, experience, and education. Part of that combination is your level of experience listening to other
speakers, reading documents and styles of writing, and studying formats similar to what you aim to produce.
As you study business communication, you may receive suggestions for improvement and clarification from
speakers and writers more experienced than yourself. Take their suggestions as challenges to improve; don’t give
up when your first speech or first draft does not communicate the message you intend. Stick with it until you get it
right. Your success in communicating is a skill that applies to almost every field of work, and it makes a difference
in your relationships with others.
Remember, luck is simply a combination of preparation and timing. You want to be prepared to communicate
well when given the opportunity. Each time you do a good job, your success will bring more success.
Communication Represents You and Your Employer
You want to make a good first impression on your friends and family, instructors, and employer. They all want
you to convey a positive image, as it reflects on them. In your career, you will represent your business or company
in spoken and written form. Your professionalism and attention to detail will reflect positively on you and set you
up for success.
In both oral and written situations, you will benefit from having the ability to communicate clearly. These are
skills you will use for the rest of your life. Positive improvements in these skills will have a positive impact on
your relationships, your prospects for employment, and your ability to make a difference in the world.
4 Business Communication for Success
Communication Skills Are Desired by Business and Industry
Oral and written communication proficiencies are consistently ranked in the top ten desirable skills by employer
surveys year after year. In fact, high-powered business executives sometimes hire consultants to coach them in
sharpening their communication skills. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the
following are the top five personal qualities or skills potential employers seek:
1. Communication skills (verbal and written)
2. Strong work ethic
3. Teamwork skills (works well with others, group communication)
5. Analytical skills
Knowing this, you can see that one way for you to be successful and increase your promotion potential is to
increase your abilities to speak and write effectively.
Effective communication skills are assets that will get you there.
Maryland GovPics – Baltimore Jewish Council Meeting – CC BY 2.0.
In September 2004, the National Commission on Writing for America’s Families, Schools, and Colleges
published a study on 120 human resource directors titled Writing: A Ticket to Work…Or a Ticket Out, A Survey
of Business Leaders. The study found that “writing is both a ‘marker’ of high-skill, high-wage, professional work
and a ‘gatekeeper’ with clear equity implications,” said Bob Kerrey, president of New School University in New
York and chair of the commission. “People unable to express themselves clearly in writing limit their opportunities
for professional, salaried employment.” (The College Board, 2004)
1.1 Why Is It Important to Communicate Well? 5
On the other end of the spectrum, it is estimated that over forty million Americans are illiterate, or unable to
functionally read or write. If you are reading this book, you may not be part of an at-risk group in need of basic
skill development, but you still may need additional training and practice as you raise your skill level.
An individual with excellent communication skills is an asset to every organization. No matter what career you
plan to pursue, learning to express yourself professionally in speech and in writing will help you get there.
Communication forms a part of your self-concept, and it helps you understand yourself and others, solve problems and learn new things, and build your career.
1. Imagine that you have been hired to make “cold calls” to ask people whether they are familiar with a new restaurant that has just opened in your neighborhood. Write a script for the phone call. Ask a classmate to copresent as you deliver the script orally in class, as if you were making a phone call to the classmate. Discuss your experience with the rest of the class.
2. Imagine you have been assigned the task of creating a job description. Identify a job, locate at least two sample job descriptions, and create one. Please present the job description to the class and note to what degree communication skills play a role in the tasks or duties you have included.
The College Board. (2004, September). Writing skills necessary for employment, says big business: Writing can
be a ticket to professional jobs, says blue-ribbon group. Retrieved from http://www.writingcommission.org/pr/
National Association of Colleges and Employers. (2009). Frequently asked questions. Retrieved from
National Commission on Writing for America’s Families, Schools, and Colleges. (2004, September). Writing:
A Ticket to Work…Or a Ticket Out, A Survey of Business Leaders. Retrieved from
Pearson, J., & Nelson, P. (2000). An introduction to human communication: understanding and sharing (p. 6).
Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.
6 Business Communication for Success
1.2 What Is Communication?
1. Define communication and describe communication as a process.
2. Identify and describe the eight essential components of communication.
3. Identify and describe two models of communication.
Many theories have been proposed to describe, predict, and understand the behaviors and phenomena of which
communication consists. When it comes to communicating in business, we are often less interested in theory than
in making sure our communications generate the desired results. But in order to achieve results, it can be valuable
to understand what communication is and how it works.
The root of the word “communication” in Latin is communicare, which means to share, or to make common
(Weekley, 1967). Communication is defined as the process of understanding and sharing meaning (Pearson &
At the center of our study of communication is the relationship that involves interaction between participants.
This definition serves us well with its emphasis on the process, which we’ll examine in depth across this text, of
coming to understand and share another’s point of view effectively.
The first key word in this definition is process. A process is a dynamic activity that is hard to describe because
it changes (Pearson & Nelson, 2000). Imagine you are alone in your kitchen thinking. Someone you know (say,
your mother) enters the kitchen and you talk briefly. What has changed? Now, imagine that your mother is joined
by someone else, someone you haven’t met before—and this stranger listens intently as you speak, almost as if
you were giving a speech. What has changed? Your perspective might change, and you might watch your words
more closely. The feedback or response from your mother and the stranger (who are, in essence, your audience)
may cause you to reevaluate what you are saying. When we interact, all these factors—and many more—influence
the process of communication.
The second key word is understanding: “To understand is to perceive, to interpret, and to relate our perception
and interpretation to what we already know.” (McLean, 2003) If a friend tells you a story about falling off a bike,
what image comes to mind? Now your friend points out the window and you see a motorcycle lying on the ground.
Understanding the words and the concepts or objects they refer to is an important part of the communication
Next comes the word sharing. Sharing means doing something together with one or more people. You may
share a joint activity, as when you share in compiling a report; or you may benefit jointly from a resource, as when
you and several coworkers share a pizza. In communication, sharing occurs when you convey thoughts, feelings,
ideas, or insights to others. You can also share with yourself (a process called intrapersonal communication) when
you bring ideas to consciousness, ponder how you feel about something, or figure out the solution to a problem
and have a classic “Aha!” moment when something becomes clear.
Finally, meaning is what we share through communication. The word “bike” represents both a bicycle and
a short name for a motorcycle. By looking at the context the word is used in and by asking questions, we can
discover the shared meaning of the word and understand the message.
Eight Essential Components of Communication
In order to better understand the communication process, we can break it down into a series of eight essential
Each of these eight components serves an integral function in the overall process. Let’s explore them one by one.
The source imagines, creates, and sends the message. In a public speaking situation, the source is the person
giving the speech. He or she conveys the message by sharing new information with the audience. The speaker also
conveys a message through his or her tone of voice, body language, and choice of clothing. The speaker begins
by first determining the message—what to say and how to say it. The second step involves encoding the message
by choosing just the right order or the perfect words to convey the intended meaning. The third step is to present
or send the information to the receiver or audience. Finally, by watching for the audience’s reaction, the source
perceives how well they received the message and responds with clarification or supporting information.
“The message is the stimulus or meaning produced by the source for the receiver or audience.” (McLean, 2005)
When you plan to give a speech or write a report, your message may seem to be only the words you choose
8 Business Communication for Success
that will convey your meaning. But that is just the beginning. The words are brought together with grammar and
organization. You may choose to save your most important point for last. The message also consists of the way
you say it—in a speech, with your tone of voice, your body language, and your appearance—and in a report, with
your writing style, punctuation, and the headings and formatting you choose. In addition, part of the message may
be the environment or context you present it in and the noise that might make your message hard to hear or see.
Imagine, for example, that you are addressing a large audience of sales reps and are aware there is a World
Series game tonight. Your audience might have a hard time settling down, but you may choose to open with, “I
understand there is an important game tonight.” In this way, by expressing verbally something that most people in
your audience are aware of and interested in, you might grasp and focus their attention.
“The channel is the way in which a message or messages travel between source and receiver.” (McLean, 2005)
For example, think of your television. How many channels do you have on your television? Each channel takes
up some space, even in a digital world, in the cable or in the signal that brings the message of each channel to
your home. Television combines an audio signal you hear with a visual signal you see. Together they convey the
message to the receiver or audience. Turn off the volume on your television. Can you still understand what is
happening? Many times you can, because the body language conveys part of the message of the show. Now turn
up the volume but turn around so that you cannot see the television. You can still hear the dialogue and follow the
Similarly, when you speak or write, you are using a channel to convey your message. Spoken channels include
face-to-face conversations, speeches, telephone conversations and voice mail messages, radio, public address
systems, and voice over Internet protocol (VoIP). Written channels include letters, memorandums, purchase
orders, invoices, newspaper and magazine articles, blogs, e-mail, text messages, tweets, and so forth.
“The receiver receives the message from the source, analyzing and interpreting the message in ways both intended
and unintended by the source.” (McLean, 2005) To better understand this component, think of a receiver on a
football team. The quarterback throws the football (message) to a receiver, who must see and interpret where to
catch the ball. The quarterback may intend for the receiver to “catch” his message in one way, but the receiver
may see things differently and miss the football (the intended meaning) altogether.
As a receiver you listen, see, touch, smell, and/or taste to receive a message. Your audience “sizes you up,”
much as you might check them out long before you take the stage or open your mouth. The nonverbal responses
of your listeners can serve as clues on how to adjust your opening. By imagining yourself in their place, you
anticipate what you would look for if you were them. Just as a quarterback plans where the receiver will be in
order to place the ball correctly, you too can recognize the interaction between source and receiver in a business
communication context. All of this happens at the same time, illustrating why and how communication is always
1.2 What Is Communication? 9
When you respond to the source, intentionally or unintentionally, you are giving feedback. Feedback is composed
of messages the receiver sends back to the source. Verbal or nonverbal, all these feedback signals allow the source
to see how well, how accurately (or how poorly and inaccurately) the message was received. Feedback also
provides an opportunity for the receiver or audience to ask for clarification, to agree or disagree, or to indicate
that the source could make the message more interesting. As the amount of feedback increases, the accuracy of
communication also increases (Leavitt & Mueller, 1951).
For example, suppose you are a sales manager participating in a conference call with four sales reps. As the
source, you want to tell the reps to take advantage of the fact that it is World Series season to close sales on
baseball-related sports gear. You state your message, but you hear no replies from your listeners. You might
assume that this means they understood and agreed with you, but later in the month you might be disappointed
to find that very few sales were made. If you followed up your message with a request for feedback (“Does this
make sense? Do any of you have any questions?”) you might have an opportunity to clarify your message, and to
find out whether any of the sales reps believed your suggestion would not work with their customers.
“The environment is the atmosphere, physical and psychological, where you send and receive messages.”
(McLean, 2005) The environment can include the tables, chairs, lighting, and sound equipment that are in the
room. The room itself is an example of the environment. The environment can also include factors like formal
dress, that may indicate whether a discussion is open and caring or more professional and formal. People may be
more likely to have an intimate conversation when they are physically close to each other, and less likely when
they can only see each other from across the room. In that case, they may text each other, itself an intimate form of
communication. The choice to text is influenced by the environment. As a speaker, your environment will impact
and play a role in your speech. It’s always a good idea to go check out where you’ll be speaking before the day of
the actual presentation.
“The context of the communication interaction involves the setting, scene, and expectations of the individuals
involved.” (McLean, 2005) A professional communication context may involve business suits (environmental
cues) that directly or indirectly influence expectations of language and behavior among the participants.
A presentation or discussion does not take place as an isolated event. When you came to class, you came from
somewhere. So did the person seated next to you, as did the instructor. The degree to which the environment is
formal or informal depends on the contextual expectations for communication held by the participants. The person
sitting next to you may be used to informal communication with instructors, but this particular instructor may
be used to verbal and nonverbal displays of respect in the academic environment. You may be used to formal
interactions with instructors as well, and find your classmate’s question of “Hey Teacher, do we have homework
10 Business Communication for Success
today?” as rude and inconsiderate when they see it as normal. The nonverbal response from the instructor will
certainly give you a clue about how they perceive the interaction, both the word choices and how they were said.
Context is all about what people expect from each other, and we often create those expectations out of
environmental cues. Traditional gatherings like weddings or quinceañeras are often formal events. There is a time
for quiet social greetings, a time for silence as the bride walks down the aisle, or the father may have the first
dance with his daughter as she is transformed from a girl to womanhood in the eyes of her community. In either
celebration there may come a time for rambunctious celebration and dancing. You may be called upon to give a
toast, and the wedding or quinceañera context will influence your presentation, timing, and effectiveness.
Context is all about what people expect from each other.
Toshihiro Gamo – Marriage Matrix – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
In a business meeting, who speaks first? That probably has some relation to the position and role each person
has outside the meeting. Context plays a very important role in communication, particularly across cultures.
Interference, also called noise, can come from any source. “Interference is anything that blocks or changes the
1.2 What Is Communication? 11
source’s intended meaning of the message.”(McLean, 2005) For example, if you drove a car to work or school,
chances are you were surrounded by noise. Car horns, billboards, or perhaps the radio in your car interrupted your
thoughts, or your conversation with a passenger.
Psychological noise is what happens when your thoughts occupy your attention while you are hearing, or
reading, a message. Imagine that it is 4:45 p.m. and your boss, who is at a meeting in another city, e-mails you
asking for last month’s sales figures, an analysis of current sales projections, and the sales figures from the same
month for the past five years. You may open the e-mail, start to read, and think, “Great—no problem—I have
those figures and that analysis right here in my computer.” You fire off a reply with last month’s sales figures
and the current projections attached. Then, at five o’clock, you turn off your computer and go home. The next
morning, your boss calls on the phone to tell you he was inconvenienced because you neglected to include the
sales figures from the previous years. What was the problem? Interference: by thinking about how you wanted to
respond to your boss’s message, you prevented yourself from reading attentively enough to understand the whole
Interference can come from other sources, too. Perhaps you are hungry, and your attention to your current
situation interferes with your ability to listen. Maybe the office is hot and stuffy. If you were a member of an
audience listening to an executive speech, how could this impact your ability to listen and participate?
Noise interferes with normal encoding and decoding of the message carried by the channel between source and
receiver. Not all noise is bad, but noise interferes with the communication process. For example, your cell phone
ringtone may be a welcome noise to you, but it may interrupt the communication process in class and bother your
Two Models of Communication
Researchers have observed that when communication takes place, the source and the receiver may send messages
at the same time, often overlapping. You, as the speaker, will often play both roles, as source and receiver. You’ll
focus on the communication and the reception of your messages to the audience. The audience will respond in
the form of feedback that will give you important clues. While there are many models of communication, here we
will focus on two that offer perspectives and lessons for business communicators.
Rather than looking at the source sending a message and someone receiving it as two distinct acts, researchers
often view communication as a transactional process (Figure 1.3 “Transactional Model of Communication”),
with actions often happening at the same time. The distinction between source and receiver is blurred in
conversational turn-taking, for example, where both participants play both roles simultaneously.
Figure 1.3 Transactional Model of Communication
12 Business Communication for Success
Researchers have also examined the idea that we all construct our own interpretations of the message. As the
State Department quote at the beginning of this chapter indicates, what I said and what you heard may be different.
In the constructivist model (Figure 1.4 “Constructivist Model of Communication”), we focus on the negotiated
meaning, or common ground, when trying to describe communication (Pearce & Cronen, 1980),
Imagine that you are visiting Atlanta, Georgia, and go to a restaurant for dinner. When asked if you want a
“Coke,” you may reply, “sure.” The waiter may then ask you again, “what kind?” and you may reply, “Coke is
fine.” The waiter then may ask a third time, “what kind of soft drink would you like?” The misunderstanding in
this example is that in Atlanta, the home of the Coca-Cola Company, most soft drinks are generically referred to
as “Coke.” When you order a soft drink, you need to specify what type, even if you wish to order a beverage that
is not a cola or not even made by the Coca-Cola Company. To someone from other regions of the United States,
the words “pop,” “soda pop,” or “soda” may be the familiar way to refer to a soft drink; not necessarily the brand
“Coke.” In this example, both you and the waiter understand the word “Coke,” but you each understand it to mean
something different. In order to communicate, you must each realize what the term means to the other person, and
establish common ground, in order to fully understand the request and provide an answer.
Figure 1.4 Constructivist Model of Communication
1.2 What Is Communication? 13
Because we carry the multiple meanings of words, gestures, and ideas within us, we can use a dictionary to
guide us, but we will still need to negotiate meaning.
The communication process involves understanding, sharing, and meaning, and it consists of eight essential elements: source, message, channel, receiver, feedback, environment, context, and interference. Among the models of communication are the transactional process, in which actions happen simultaneously, and the constructivist model, which focuses on shared meaning.
1. Draw what you think communication looks like. Share your drawing with your classmates.
2. List three environmental cues and indicate how they influence your expectations for communication. Please
14 Business Communication for Success
share your results with your classmates.
3. How does context influence your communication? Consider the language and culture people grew up with, and the role these play in communication styles.
4. If you could design the perfect date, what activities, places, and/or environmental cues would you include to set the mood? Please share your results with your classmates.
5. Observe two people talking. Describe their communication. See if you can find all eight components and provide an example for each one.
6. What assumptions are present in transactional model of communication? Find an example of a model of communication in your workplace or classroom, and provide an example for all eight components.
Cronen, V., & Pearce, W. B. (1982). The coordinated management of meaning: A theory of communication. In F.
E. Dance (Ed.), Human communication theory (pp. 61–89). New York, NY: Harper & Row.
Leavitt, H., & Mueller, R. (1951). Some effects of feedback on communication. Human Relations, 4, 401–410.
McLean, S. (2003). The basics of speech communication. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
McLean, S. (2005). The basics of interpersonal communication (p. 10). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Pearce, W. B., & Cronen, V. (1980). Communication, action, and meaning: The creating of social realities.
New York, NY: Praeger.
Pearson, J., & Nelson, P. (2000). An introduction to human communication: Understanding and sharing (p. 6).
Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.
Weekley, E. (1967). An etymological dictionary of modern English (Vol. 1, p. 338). New York, NY: Dover
1.2 What Is Communication? 15
1.3 Communication in Context
1. Identify and describe five types of communication contexts.
Now that we have examined the eight components of communication, let’s examine this in context. Is a quiet
dinner conversation with someone you care about the same experience as a discussion in class or giving a speech?
Is sending a text message to a friend the same experience as writing a professional project proposal or a purchase
order? Each context has an influence on the communication process. Contexts can overlap, creating an even more
dynamic process. You have been communicating in many of these contexts across your lifetime, and you’ll be
able to apply what you’ve learned through experience in each context to business communication.
Have you ever listened to a speech or lecture and gotten caught up in your thoughts so that, while the speaker
continued, you were no longer listening? During a phone conversation, have you ever been thinking about what
you are going to say, or what question you might ask, instead of listening to the other person? Finally, have you
ever told yourself how you did after you wrote a document or gave a presentation? As you “talk with yourself”
you are engaged in intrapersonal communication.
Intrapersonal communication involves one person; it is often called “self-talk.” (Wood, 1997) Donna
Vocate’s book on intrapersonal communication explains how, as we use language to reflect on our own
experiences, we talk ourselves through situations. For example, the voice within you that tells you, “Keep on
Going! I can DO IT!” when you are putting your all into completing a five-mile race; or that says, “This report
I’ve written is pretty good.” Your intrapersonal communication can be positive or negative, and directly influences
how you perceive and react to situations and communication with others.
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 preunderstanding.” (Habermas, 1984)
For example, you may have certain expectations of time and punctuality. You weren’t born with them, so where
did you learn them? From those around you as you grew up. What was normal for them became normal for you,
but not everyone’s idea of normal is the same.
When your supervisor invites you to a meeting and says it will start at 7 p.m., does that mean 7:00 sharp, 7-ish,
or even 7:30? In the business context, when a meeting is supposed to start at 9 a.m., is it promptly a 9 a.m.?
Variations in time expectations depend on regional and national culture as well as individual corporate cultures.
In some companies, everyone may be expected to arrive ten to fifteen minutes before the announced start time
to take their seats and be ready to commence business at 9:00 sharp. In other companies, “meeting and greeting”
from about 9 to 9:05 or even 9:10 is the norm. When you are unfamiliar with the expectations for a business event,
it is always wise to err on the side of being punctual, regardless of what your internal assumptions about time and
punctuality may be.
The second major context within the field of communication is interpersonal communication. Interpersonal
communication normally involves two people, and can range from intimate and very personal to formal and
impersonal. You may carry on a conversation with a loved one, sharing a serious concern. Later, at work, you
may have a brief conversation about plans for the weekend with the security guard on your way home. What’s
the difference? Both scenarios involve interpersonal communication, but are different in levels of intimacy. The
first example implies a trusting relationship established over time between two caring individuals. The second
example level implies some previous familiarity, and is really more about acknowledging each other than any
actual exchange of information, much like saying hello or goodbye.
Have you ever noticed how a small group of people in class sit near each other? Perhaps they are members of the
same sports program, or just friends, but no doubt they often engage in group 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.
To take a page from marketing, does your audience have segments or any points of convergence/divergence?
We could consider factors like age, education, sex, and location to learn more about groups and their 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 e-mail 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. In a public speaking situation, the group normally defers to the
speaker. For example, the boss speaks to everyone, and the sales team quietly listens without interruption.
This generalization is changing as norms and expectations change, and many cultures have a tradition of
“call outs” or interjections that are not to be interpreted as interruptions or competition for the floor, but instead
as affirmations. The boss may say, as part of a charged-up motivational speech, “Do you hear me?” and the
sales team is expected to call back “Yes Sir!” The boss, as a public speaker, recognizes that intrapersonal
1.3 Communication in Context 17
communication (thoughts of the individual members) or interpersonal communication (communication between
team members) may interfere with this classic public speaking dynamic of all to one, or the audience devoting
all its attention to the speaker, and incorporate attention getting and engagement strategies to keep the sales team
focused on the message.
How do you tell everyone on campus where and when all the classes are held? Would a speech from the front
steps work? Perhaps it might meet the need if your school is a very small one. A written schedule that lists all
classes would be a better alternative. How do you let everyone know there is a sale on in your store, or that your
new product will meet their needs, or that your position on a political issue is the same as your constituents?
You send a message to as many people as you can through mass communication. Does everyone receive mass
communication the same way the might receive a personal phone call? Not likely. Some people who receive mass
mailings assume that they are “junk mail” (i.e., that they do not meet the recipients’ needs) and throw them away
unopened. People may tune out a television advertisement with a click of the mute button, delete tweets or ignore
friend requests on Facebook by the hundreds, or send all unsolicited e-mail straight to the spam folder unread.
Mass media is a powerful force in modern society and our daily lives, and is adapting rapidly to new
technologies. Mass communication involves sending a single message to a group. It allows us to communicate
our message to a large number of people, but we are limited in our ability to tailor our message to specific
audiences, groups, or individuals. 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. You can tweet
a picture that is worth far more than 140 characters, and you are just as likely to elicit a significant response.
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.
Communication contexts include intrapersonal, interpersonal, group, public, and mass communication. Each context has its advantages and disadvantages, and its appropriate and inappropriate uses.
1. Please recall a time when you gave a speech in front of a group. How did you feel? What was your experience? What did you learn from your experience?
2. If you were asked to get the attention of your peers, what image or word would you choose and why?
3. If you were asked to get the attention of someone like yourself, what image or word would you choose and why?
4. Make a list of mass communication messages you observe for a one hour period of time. Share your list with classmates.
18 Business Communication for Success
Habermas, J. (1984). The theory of communicative action (Vol. 1, p. 100). Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
McLean, S. (2005). The basics of interpersonal communication (p. 14). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Vocate, D. (Ed.). (1994). Intrapersonal communication: Different voices, different minds. Hillsdale, NJ:
Wood, J. (1997). Communication in our lives (p. 22). Boston, MA: Wadsworth.
1.3 Communication in Context 19
1.4 Your Responsibilities as a Communicator
1. Discuss and provide several examples of each of the two main responsibilities of a business communicator.
Whenever you speak or write in a business environment, you have certain responsibilities to your audience, your
employer, and your profession. Your audience comes to you with an inherent set of expectations that you will
fulfill these responsibilities. The specific expectations may change given the context or environment, but two
central ideas will remain: be prepared, and be ethical.
Communicator Is Prepared
As the business communicator’s first responsibility, preparation includes several facets which we will examine:
organization, clarity, and being concise and punctual.
Being prepared means that you have selected a topic appropriate to your audience, gathered enough information
to cover the topic well, put your information into a logical sequence, and considered how best to present it. If your
communication is a written one, you have written an outline and at least one rough draft, read it over to improve
your writing and correct errors, and sought feedback where appropriate. If your communication is oral, you have
practiced several times before your actual performance.
The Prepared Communicator Is Organized
Part of being prepared is being organized. Aristotle called this logos, or logic, and it involves the steps or points
that lead your communication to a conclusion. Once you’ve invested time in researching your topic, you will
want to narrow your focus to a few key points and consider how you’ll present them. On any given topic there
is a wealth of information; your job is to narrow that content down to a manageable level, serving the role of
gatekeeper by selecting some information and “de-selecting,” or choosing to not include other points or ideas.
You also need to consider how to link your main points together for your audience. Use transitions to provide
signposts or cues for your audience to follow along. “Now that we’ve examined X, let’s consider Y” is a
transitional statement that provides a cue that you are moving from topic to topic. Your listeners or readers will
appreciate your being well organized so that they can follow your message from point to point.
The Prepared Communicator Is Clear
You have probably had the unhappy experience of reading or listening to a communication that was vague and
wandering. Part of being prepared is being clear. If your message is unclear, the audience will lose interest and
tune you out, bringing an end to effective communication.
Interestingly, clarity begins with intrapersonal communication: you need to have a clear idea in your mind of
what you want to say before you can say it clearly to someone else. At the interpersonal level, clarity involves
considering your audience, as you will want to choose words and phrases they understand and avoid jargon or
slang that may be unfamiliar to them.
Clarity also involves presentation. A brilliant message scrawled in illegible handwriting, or in pale gray type on
gray paper, will not be clear. When it comes to oral communication, if you mumble your words, speak too quickly
or use a monotonous tone of voice, or stumble over certain words or phrases, the clarity of your presentation will
Technology also plays a part; if you are using a microphone or conducting a teleconference, clarity will depend
on this equipment functioning properly—which brings us back to the importance of preparation. In this case, in
addition to preparing your speech, you need to prepare by testing the equipment ahead of time.
The Prepared Communicator Is Concise and Punctual
Concise means brief and to the point. In most business communications you are expected to “get down to
business” right away. Being prepared includes being able to state your points clearly and support them with clear
evidence in a relatively straightforward, linear way.
It may be tempting to show how much you know by incorporating additional information into your document
or speech, but in so doing you run the risk of boring, confusing, or overloading your audience. Talking in circles
or indulging in tangents, where you get off topic or go too deep, can hinder an audience’s ability to grasp your
message. Be to the point and concise in your choice of words, organization, and even visual aids.
Being concise also involves being sensitive to time constraints. How many times have you listened to a speaker
say “in conclusion” only to continue speaking for what seems like forever? How many meetings and conference
calls have you attended that got started late or ran beyond the planned ending time? The solution, of course, is
to be prepared to be punctual. If you are asked to give a five-minute presentation at a meeting, your coworkers
will not appreciate your taking fifteen minutes, any more than your supervisor would appreciate your submitting
a fifteen-page report when you were asked to write five pages. For oral presentations, time yourself when you
rehearse and make sure you can deliver your message within the allotted number of minutes.
1.4 Your Responsibilities as a Communicator 21
Good business communication does not waste words or time.
Angelina Earley – Times! Of! The World! – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
There is one possible exception to this principle. Many non-Western cultures prefer a less direct approach,
where business communication often begins with social or general comments that a U.S. audience might consider
unnecessary. Some cultures also have a less strict interpretation of time schedules and punctuality. While it is
important to recognize that different cultures have different expectations, the general rule holds true that good
business communication does not waste words or time.
Communicator Is Ethical
The business communicator’s second fundamental responsibility is to be ethical. Ethics refers to a set of
principles or rules for correct conduct. It echoes what Aristotle called ethos, the communicator’s good character
and reputation for doing what is right. Communicating ethically involves being egalitarian, respectful, and
trustworthy—overall, practicing the “golden rule” of treating your audience the way you would want to be treated.
Communication can move communities, influence cultures, and change history. It can motivate people to take
stand, consider an argument, or purchase a product. The degree to which you consider both the common good and
fundamental principles you hold to be true when crafting your message directly relates to how your message will
The Ethical Communicator Is Egalitarian
The word “egalitarian” comes from the root “equal.” To be egalitarian is to believe in basic equality: that all
people should share equally in the benefits and burdens of a society. It means that everyone is entitled to the same
respect, expectations, access to information, and rewards of participation in a group.
22 Business Communication for Success
To communicate in an egalitarian manner, speak and write in a way that is comprehensible and relevant to all
your listeners or readers, not just those who are “like you” in terms of age, gender, race or ethnicity, or other
In business, you will often communicate to people with certain professional qualifications. For example, you
may draft a memo addressed to all the nurses in a certain hospital, or give a speech to all the adjusters in a certain
branch of an insurance company. Being egalitarian does not mean you have to avoid professional terminology
that is understood by nurses or insurance adjusters. But it does mean that your hospital letter should be worded
for all the hospital’s nurses—not just female nurses, not just nurses working directly with patients, not just nurses
under age fifty-five. An egalitarian communicator seeks to unify the audience by using ideas and language that
are appropriate for all the message’s readers or listeners.
The Ethical Communicator Is Respectful
People are influenced by emotions as well as logic. Aristotle named pathos, or passion, enthusiasm and energy, as
the third of his three important parts of communicating after logos and ethos.
Most of us have probably seen an audience manipulated by a “cult of personality,” believing whatever the
speaker said simply because of how dramatically he or she delivered a speech; by being manipulative, the speaker
fails to respect the audience. We may have also seen people hurt by sarcasm, insults, and other disrespectful forms
This does not mean that passion and enthusiasm are out of place in business communication. Indeed, they are
very important. You can hardly expect your audience to care about your message if you don’t show that you care
about it yourself. If your topic is worth writing or speaking about, make an effort to show your audience why it
is worthwhile by speaking enthusiastically or using a dynamic writing style. Doing so, in fact, shows respect for
their time and their intelligence.
However, the ethical communicator will be passionate and enthusiastic without being disrespectful. Losing
one’s temper and being abusive are generally regarded as showing a lack of professionalism (and could even
involve legal consequences for you or your employer). When you disagree strongly with a coworker, feel deeply
annoyed with a difficult customer, or find serious fault with a competitor’s product, it is important to express
such sentiments respectfully. For example, instead of telling a customer, “I’ve had it with your complaints!” a
respectful business communicator might say, “I’m having trouble seeing how I can fix this situation. Would you
explain to me what you want to see happen?”
The Ethical Communicator Is Trustworthy
Trust is a key component in communication, and this is especially true in business. As a consumer, would you
choose to buy merchandise from a company you did not trust? If you were an employer, would you hire someone
you did not trust?