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Communication Models – Which One Is The Best?

Natalie Ediger, October 30, 2019· Communication

Communication in the 21st century-which model explains it best?

There are many different communication models, some of which are already very old, but which have nevertheless retained their validity in the age of modern, digital communication. In some cases, they have even gained in importance when it comes to developing an optimal communication concept for internal and external corporate communication.
But which communication model is the best? Is there even a best communication model? We have devoted ourselves to this question and examined the best known communication models for their transferability to today’s world. The focus is on usability as a basis for external and internal corporate communication.

Core aspects of the best-known communication models

The best known communication models are the transmitter-receiver model according to Shannon & Weaver, the 4-ear model according to Schulz von Thun and the iceberg model according to Watzlawick. In the following, we have summarized for you the core statements behind the models and how this affects communication in modern times.

Transceiver model after Warren Weaver & Claude E. Shannon (1940)

The model is a media effectiveness model, as it considers the external impact of language and provides solutions for optimisation. The communication model, also known as the Shannon Weaver model, was developed as early as 1940 and has been continuously developed and taken up ever since. The core statement is as follows:

  • Communication always includes sender and receiver

  • Sender and receiver decode codes of communication in their own way.

  • If the code differs from verbal and non-verbal aspects, misunderstandings and conflicts can occur.

The classical model, however, lacks social aspects such as motivation, interpersonal relationships and recipient feedback. This makes it less flexible and less able to describe modern communication and give recommendations for action. Nevertheless, the core idea of an individual communication code that can be changed and adapted is very interesting.

The four-ear model after Schulz von Thun (2000)

The four-page model, as it is also called, is a so-called functional model of communication. It explains the essential functions that communication fulfils and clarifies the four different communicative levels at which communication always takes place. The levels or channels are:

  1. Factual level

  2. Self barung level

  3. Relationship level

  4. Appeal level

In the transmission of messages, information or content, other levels play a role in addition to the purely verbal level, which is responsible for the factual content, which are sometimes subconsciously included. They are also subconsciously received by the recipient. The interface to the communication codes from the sender-receiver model is therefore obvious.

The relationship level in particular plays an important role here, because how what is said is perceived depends directly on the relationship between sender and receiver. If it is negative, statements are unconsciously evaluated more negatively, for example. It is then almost impossible for the broadcaster to convince the audience. At the same time also the Apellebene (which wants to achieve the transmitter of the information) as well as the self revelation (which says the spoken out over the transmitter) play directly into the way in which the information is understood by the receiver or the receivers.

In both internal and external corporate communications, this model can make a decisive contribution to making information that is not just numbers, data or facts more target group-specific, personal and emotional. This increases motivation, credibility, openness and loyalty.

The iceberg model after Watzlawik

The iceberg model is an interpersonal model, because it tries to explain the influence of non-verbal aspects on communication. The model directly incorporates the idea of Sigmund Freud’s levels of consciousness. Paul Watzlawik speaks of only 10 – 20% of the communication that is transmitted via the factual level. The remaining up to 90% fall on the relationship level and are therefore non-verbal. Therefore the said plays only a subordinated role, if it is not adapted with the relation level, the kind, how something is said and also on the receiver of the message. The iceberg model can be used to create a wonderful link between the four-ear model and the transmitter-receiver model, because the entire relationship level can be understood as a code in the sense of the transmitter-receiver model, which is also reflected in the four-page model.

In this way, the model can provide an understanding of how important other levels are besides pure factual information that are played with what is said.

Which of the models is best for improving corporate communications?

In principle, all three models are very similar on closer inspection, as they have intersections in the way communication is viewed. Although none of the models is able to describe communication with all its facets, interesting aspects can be derived from the different models which should be considered in modern corporate communication in order to build up a successful communication concept in the company. The question of which model is the best communication model can therefore best be answered in this way:

The combination of the core aspects of different communication models offers the greatest potential for improving external and internal corporate communication.

Ideally, you should develop your own communication concept based on the knowledge you can gain from the models, which is individually tailored to your company. To this end, one can ask oneself which findings are particularly relevant for companies.

Corporate Meeting in einem Büro.

Importance of communication models for external corporate communication

In public relations and marketing, a successful communication concept plays a decisive role for the sustained success of the company and for its presence on the market. The following axioms, which can be derived from the communication models, should therefore be taken into account when developing a communication concept for external corporate communication:

  • Channel reduction must be compensated: Communication takes place beyond the subject level on further levels or channels. Channel reduction, as is the case with modern media, can therefore lead to misunderstandings.

  • The relationship level must be addressed: In an age in which more and more written communication is taking place, emotional content such as moving images, explanatory videos or visual content in general is becoming increasingly important for external communication.

  • Speeches and appeals become dialogues: Digital media have made it possible for anyone to become a communicator and content creator. Direct communication and customer feedback are playing an increasingly central role instead of advertising phrases. Everyone wants and should be heard.

These guidelines result directly from the fact that communication is more than just the spoken or written word. All the communication models mentioned above ultimately come to this conclusion. Since digital transmission of information via channels such as social media, e-mails or even content on websites over many years has resulted in practically only written content being communicated, an underrepresentation of the other levels (in addition to the subject level) has resulted.

This is called channel reduction. As a result, people have become more receptive to emotional content. Moving images, successful animations, which are based on the corporate philosophy and carry it with them, are a tried and tested means of attracting attention and building up an open, honest and feedback-oriented dialogue culture. This can also be empirically proven. A study by Coolerinsights has shown that the conversion rate of websites can be increased by up to 85% by switching from pure text and image-based content to moving images. Every company must be aware of this fact.

Importance of communication models for internal corporate communication

For internal communication, too, important findings can be derived from the combination of the various communication models.

  • No over-digitization: Modern communication tools in companies should be balanced. A distinctive culture of dialogue and direct communication must never be abolished by too many tools.

  • Speak the same language: This is not only meant literally. Rather, it is crucial that information and content are not misunderstood. The same code is therefore decisive. The relationship level plays a decisive role here. Communication must also take place at eye level across departments and hierarchies. Every member of the company should be able to participate in open, honest and direct dialogues.

  • Internal to external: Communication within the company should be so open that it can be excluded that members of the organisation receive important information about third parties and not from internal corporate communication. Otherwise this leads to a breach of trust, which in turn damages the communication concept in the company.

Applying old concepts to new media

Although many principles of communication have been known for many years, companies seem to increasingly have the feeling that they no longer apply today because communication has changed so much. Constant availability, ever faster changes, an increase in written communication and a flood of information are just some of the things that have shaped recent years thanks to smartphones, broadband Internet and digitisation.

What is crucial, however, is that human communication has not fundamentally changed. We are only indifferent to certain content. However, this is a normal filter reaction resulting from the flood of information. Here, it is important to focus precisely on the principles of communication and to focus increasingly on the development of a distinctive communication culture. This begins with an open internal corporate communication, ranges from an intensified dialogue at eye level to a target-group-oriented approach, from the relationship level to an agile error and feedback culture.

Communication models that have served for years as good support in explaining human communication and avoiding communication errors are becoming increasingly important in today’s world and are by no means outdated.

Individual communication models for digital transformation

Every company should develop an individually tailored communication concept. This is beyond question. In the course of this, it makes sense to develop a communication model at the same time that describes the communication in the company. In this way, potential disruptive factors can be identified and countermeasures can be taken before negative effects arise.

Such a model could, for example, check various channels used in the company for internal and external communication according to the communication concept for their suitability for an optimised dialogue culture. At the same time, consideration could be given to how under-represented channels and levels such as the relationship level can be strengthened in order to establish a balance and a uniform language based on the corporate culture.

An individual communication model is a very

good complement to the communication concept.

Since communication concepts for corporate communication generally relate almost exclusively to content and channels, the development of a communication model can help to check the suitability of the concept. Here, findings from existing communication models can be incorporated and linked with the new findings, contents and technologies of the communication concept.  In this way it can be ensured that communication does not get out of hand, but is based on old knowledge and findings. This approach avoids typical errors such as keeping unused digital communication tools or using unsuitable channels for certain information.

Our recommendation in this context is to also design the communication concept in an agile way and to check the actual suitability again and again via iterations. New findings and collected data should be used to review the concept and to make improvements.