Communication theories come from research and thought that define how information is conveyed and received between two parties. These theories apply to verbal and written communication between people as well as mass and broadcast communications. Some researchers apply the concepts to communication between animals and across computer networks. Dozens of communication theories exist, but most fall into several broader categories.
Models of Communication
The simplest communication theories describe how information is sent and received. These model the differences, for example, between a conversation among two individuals and the exchange of ideas in a six-person staff meeting, and what affects those exchanges. Five Forms of Communication theory lists different communication models, while Relational Dialectics explores how the conflicting desire for autonomy and connection affects interpersonal communication.
Theories of Effective Communication
In efforts to improve the quality of communication, some researchers develop theories about what makes communication effective. These theories explore what goes right when ideas pass between two parties, and how to repeat that success more easily and reliably. Examples include Cutlip and Center's seven Cs of communication, which holds that attention to clarity, credibility, content, context, continuity, capability and channels improves the quality and effectiveness of communication. The Narrative Paradigm theory holds that humans pay more attention to stories than to data or logic, so communicating with a narrative structure is often more effective and convincing.
Theories of Ineffective Communication
Other researchers work to identify what goes wrong with communication in order to avoid those pitfalls when developing communication strategies. These look at situational, cultural and cognitive reasons why communication might fail, or break down, between groups. The Groupthink theory explores why cohesive groups rarely consider or communicate all options when solving problems. Cognitive Dissonance Theory states that communication breakdowns often happen because people don't like -- and will act to ignore or avoid -- information incompatible with their opinions and beliefs.
Structural theories of communication investigate the components of communication, both to understand meta-communication and how to improve the effectiveness of those components. Cultural Approach to Organization explores how cultures organize communication around shared symbols, experiences and archetypes. Muted Group Theory defines how communication is different for minorities in a society than for the majority in the same culture using the same language.
Economic and Political Theories
Some communication theories focus on how to apply communication toward achieving specific economic or political goals. Rhetoric theories are the most basic of these, exploring how a speaker can persuade an audience. More advanced theories -- such as Uses and Gratifications -- investigate specific applications of communication to business and government, and many of these theories have to do with the effects and application of television and other media on our lives. Cultivation Analysis is one such theory; it explores how people gain knowledge through curated mass media rather than through direct experience or research.
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