How do we change the impact of a message without changing anything about the message? In other words, as seen in the diagram, we don’t change the messenger, the receiver of the message, the message itself or the way it’s delivered . . . but, yet, we still change the message. Answer: we change how the person receiving the message feels about us because it alters how he interprets it.
Simply stated, if the person has a positive impression of us he will likely interpret what we say positively. Conversely, if he has a negative one, he’ll do so negatively. We most commonly see this when a commercial is pulled after the celebrity in it commits a crime or immoral act. That commercial is the same; it’s the same person in it, the same person viewing it, the same communication channel and the same message. Nothing changes. However, because the viewer of the commercial now feels differently about the celebrity, she will have a different interpretation of the message delivered about the product or service.
This also applies to a whole range of emotions beyond those along on a positive-negative line. It can affect how much latitude people feel they have when we give them instructions. If they’re fearful of reprisals, they’ll be more inclined to follow them to the letter regardless if unforeseen situations arise. If they feel more confident about our relationship, they’ll be more likely to adjust.
What this means is that we can invest all our time in correcting “miscommunication” by learning to communicate better, but if we don’t solve the underlying relational problems, we are likely wasting our time. It’s the relational elements that affect how people feel about us, and in turn, interpretation of our messages.