The following article was initially an essay composed for a Communication & Development course at BUIC in 2008-2009:
Obviously, all aspects of the communication process—sender, encoding, message, channel, receiver, decoding and feedback—are essential to the greater communication picture. Lacking emphasis in any one of these aspects will result in mis-communication. Therefore, in that sense, all aspects are the most important. However, for the purpose of this article, I will execute a difficult argument by choosing the aspect which I think is the most important, and therefore should receive the most emphasis.
Many might argue that the sender, message, encoding, decoding and even channels are the most important aspect. After all, without these, there would be no communications to analyze at all. After much contemplation, I have decided that neither of those aspects is any more important than the one which is truly the starting and ending point of all communications. The most important aspect of the communications process is the receiver.
I came to this conclusion by asking myself what is the root of communication? In other words, what initiates all communications in the first place, for certainly the cause and starting point of any communication could be justified as the most important aspect. No matter what angle I looked at it from, it all came down to the receiver.
The reason a message is even created is to reach a receiver, for without the receiver, there will be no purpose. In communications, the sender has to consider everything revolving around the receiver, by asking him/herself questions such as, ‘Who do I want to communicate to?’ ‘Why do I want to communicate to them?,’ ‘How can I communicate to them?,’ and finally, ‘What do I need to know about them in order to communicate to them?’
Once such questions about the receiver are answered, only then can the communication process begin. The sender then, must tailor and encode the appropriate message that is suitable for the receiver. Since in the initial communication, the receiver is receptive to the message, every thing about the message has to be adapted to the receiver, and not the other way around.
For example, suppose George W. Bush—someone we all know too well—communicates with a village in a rural village in the middle of Laos, for example, he must first consider his audience (the receiver) before anything. If he just went to the village with the attitude that he as the sender was the most important aspect of his communication, he would not prepare himself, and it wouldn’t matter who his audience was.
In such an example, the encoding and message would all fall back to whatever he had to say, as the almighty sender was all that was important–there would be no need for interpreters to help decode the message. He could go to the village and give his speech with his Texas English accent, but since he did not consider the receiver as being more important, his communication would be very ineffective. The receivers may smile at the funny looking foreigner, but chances are most of them wouldn’t have a clue what he was talking about.
To continue the example, lets say he was smart enough to consider that he the sender was not the most important aspect alone, and that he needed to also emphasize the importance of the channel, encoding, and decoding as to ensure understanding of his message. Therefore, to prepare for his speech, he rented the best sound system that side of the Mekong, and recruited the best translator in could find.
Lets just say that the message he intended to communicate was that he is the best president that the USA ever had. Still, since he did not consider the receiver as being the most important aspect of the communication process, the communication would be ineffective. Even though he had hired translators (decoders) and prepared a good sound system (channel), it wouldn’t matter what facts and examples he gave, most of the people in that village would probably not care about the message, even if they could understand it clearly. The message simply was irrelevant to his audience, and since it did not emphasize them as the receivers, than it most likely would not be effective.
In reality, George W. Bush isn’t that stupid, and he and his speech writers are smart enough to know that the receiver is the most important aspect. When the current US President was touring Asia a few months ago, and he gave a speech in Thailand to commemorate 175 years of Thai-US relations, he was smart enough to relate his speech to his audience in Bangkok when he referenced his majesty, King Rama IV, or King Mongkut’s famed letter to the President Abraham Lincoln almost 150 years ago.
In the letter, King Rama IV offered his American counterpart a tribute of Siamese elephants to assist in the American Civil war (of which the American president kindly refused in that America wasn’t the natural habitat of elephants). George W. Bush made a light joke asking if the offer still stood. George W Bush (or his speech writers) knew that not only are the Thai people proud of their rich history, monarchy, and reputation of friendship, but they are very keen to good humored speakers. His joke was received with laughs and echoed among talks long after, certainly improving the President’s image among many.
In conclusion, I would like to relay a popular saying in Thai (also in other languages such as Urdu). Dtop Meu kaang diaw mai siang dung ตอบมือข้างเดียวไม่เสียงดัง which has a meaning along the lines that a one handed clap can not make a loud sound. In other words, the communication process is only effective as a whole; without any one aspect, the communication process is defunct.