Much research has been done to try to break down interpersonal communication into a number of elements in order that it can be more easily understood. Commonly these elements include:
For any communication to occur there must be at least two people involved. It is easy to think about communication involving a sender and a receiver of a message. However, the problem with this way of seeing a relationship is that it presents communication as a one-way process where one person sends the message and the other receives it.
In fact communications are almost always complex, two-way processes, with people sending and receiving messages to and from each other. In other words, communication is an interactive process.
Message not only means the speech used or information conveyed, but also the non-verbal messages exchanged such as facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures and body language. Non-verbal behaviour can convey additional information about the message spoken. In particular, it can reveal more about emotional attitudes which may underlie the content of speech.
Noise has a special meaning in communication theory. It refers to anything that distorts the message, so that what is received is different from what is intended by the speaker. Whilst physical 'noise' (for example, background sounds or a low-flying jet plane) can interfere with communication, other factors are considered to be ‘noise’. The use of complicated jargon, inappropriate body language, inattention, disinterest, and cultural differences can be considered 'noise' in the context of interpersonal communication. In other words, any distortions or inconsistencies that occur during an attempt to communicate can be seen as noise.
Feedback consists of messages the receiver returns, which allows the sender to know how accurately the message has been received, as well as the receiver's reaction. The receiver may also respond to the unintentional message as well as the intentional message. Types of feedback range from direct verbal statements, for example "Say that again, I don't understand", to subtle facial expressions or changes in posture that might indicate to the sender that the receiver feels uncomfortable with the message. Feedback allows the sender to regulate, adapt or repeat the message in order to improve communication.
All communication is influenced by the context in which it takes place. However, apart from looking at the situational context of where the interaction takes place, for example in a room, office, or perhaps outdoors, the social context also needs to be considered, for example the roles, responsibilities and relative status of the participants. The emotional climate and participants' expectations of the interaction will also affect the communication.
The channel refers to the physical means by which the message is transferred from one person to another. In face-to-face context the channels which are used are speech and vision, however during a telephone conversation the channel is limited to speech alone. (See Effective Speech)