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What communication is and how it actually takes place is subject to debate. Here are a couple of different models (Stacey, 2007, pp 271 - 277)

cybernetic sender-receiver model -- A thought arises in one autonomous individual's mind which is encoded in language and transmitted to another autonomous individual who then decodes the language so that, when communication is good, the thought in one mind is transferred to the mind of another. If there is a gap between what was transmitted and what was received, then further transmissions are required to close the gap. Here meaning lies in the word, that is, in the vocal gesture of the one making the gesture; the part played by the receiver is simply one of translation until the same meaning is received as was transmitted. It becomes very important, then, to get the communication 'right.' This model is reflected in the dominant discourse when people in organizations talk about insufficient, good, and bad communication. When people in organizations complain about poor communication they are usually thinking in these terms. In this model, communications begins with the sender and ends with the receiver, implying a linear view of time.

gesture-response model --
Mead (1934) did not think in terms of a sender and a receiver. Instead he thought of one body making a gesture to another body where the gesture calls out, or evokes, a response form that other body. That response is itself a gesture back to the first body which, in turn evokes a further response. What we have, then, is ongoing responsive processes, which Mead called the conversation of gestures, where beginnings and endings are purely arbitrary. The conversation of gestures is temporal social processes in which the fundamental unit is the social act consisting of gesture and response, where these are phases of the social act and cannot be separated form each other because tougher the constitute meaning in the following way.

Mead gave an example of a very simple act of communication between two dogs to explain this point about the social constitution of meaning. One dog makes the gesture of a snarl and this may call forth a counter snarl, which means fight; or the gesture could call forth flight, which means victory and defeat; or the response to the gesture could be crouching, which means submission and domination. Meaning, therefore, does not lie in the gesture alone but in the social act as a whole. In other words, meaning arises in the responsive interaction between actors; gesture and response can never be separated but must be understood as moments in one act. Meaning does not arise first in each individual, to be subsequently expressed in action, nor is it transmitted from one individual to another but, rather, it arises in the interaction between them. Meaning is not attached to an object, formed as a representation, or stored, as in cognitivism, but is created in the interaction. Immediately, knowing becomes an aspect of interaction, or relationship. Here meaning is emerging in the action of the living present (see Chapter 10) in which the immediate future (response) acts back on the past (gesture) to change its meaning. Meaning is not simply located in the past (gesture) or the future (response) but in the circular interaction between the two as the living present. In this way the present is not simply a point but has a time structure. Communication is then a social, relational process so that poor communication means inadequate interaction. The process of gesture and response between biological entities in a physical context constitutes simple co-operative, social activity of a mindless, reflex kind. At this stage, meaning is implicit in the social act itself and those acting are not conscious of that meaning.

Consciousness --
For consciousness to arise, Mead argued that our mammal ancestors must have evolved central nervous systems that enabled them to gesture to others in a manner that was capable of calling forth in themselves the same range of responses as in those to whom they were gesturing. This would happen if, for example, the snarl of one called forth in itself the fleeting feelings associated with counter snarl, flight or submissive posture, just as they did in the one to whom the gesture was being made. The gesture now has a substantially different role. Mead described such a gesture as a significant symbol, where a significant symbol is one that calls forth the same response in the gesturer as in the one to whom it is directed. Significant symbols, therefore, make it possible for the gesturer to 'know' what he or she is doing. If, when one makes a gesture to another, one is able to experience in one's own body a similar response to that which the gesture provokes in another body, then one can `know' what one is doing.

Possessing this capacity, the maker of a gesture can intuit, anticipate and to some extent predict, the consequences of that gesture. In other words, he or she can know what he or she is doing, just before the other responds. The whole social act, that is, meaning, can be experienced in advance of carrying out the whole act, opening up the possibility of reflection and choice in making a gesture. Furthermore, the one responding has the same opportunity for reflecting upon, and so choosing, from the range of responses. The first part of a gesture can be taken by the other as an indication of how further parts of the gesture will unfold from the response. In this way, the two can indicate to each other how they might respond to each other in the continuous circle in which a gesture by one calls forth a response from another, which is itself a gesture back to the first.

As individuals interact with each other in this way, the possibility arises of a pause before making a gesture. In a kind of private role-play, emerging in the repeated experience of public interaction, one individual learns to take the attitude of the other, enabling a kind of trial run in advance of actually completing or even starting the gesture. Will it call forth aggression, fright, flight or submission? What will be the consequences in each case? In this way, rudimentary forms of thinking develop, taking the form of private role-playing, that is, gestures made by a body to itself, calling forth responses in itself. Mead said that humans are fundamentally role-playing animals.

Consciousness, therefore, arises in interaction and the body, with its nervous system, becomes central to understanding how we 'know' anything. I want to stress how Mead is arguing that individual human consciousness, mind, arises in the social act, in communicative interaction, so that there cannot be the one without the other.

Language --
Mead then argued that the gesture that is particularly useful in calling forth the same attitude in oneself as in the other is the vocal gesture. This is because we can hear the sounds we make in much the same way as others hear them, while we cannot see the facial gestures we make as others see them, for example. The development of more sophisticated patterns of vocal gesturing, that is, of the language form of significant symbols, is thus of major importance in the development of consciousness and of sophisticated forms of society. Mind and society emerge together in the medium of language. However, since speaking and listening are actions of bodies, and since bodies are never without feelings, the medium of language is also always a medium of feelings.

As soon as one can take the attitude, the tendency to act, of the other, that is, as soon as one communicates in significant symbols, there is at least a rudimentary form of consciousness. The nature of the social has thus shifted from mindless co-operation through functional specialization to mindful, role-playing interaction made more and more sophisticated by the use of language as silent conversation with oneself. Meaning is now particularly constituted in gesturing and responding in the medium of vocal symbols but these vocal symbols are always aspects of a process that always includes the 'symbols' of feeling. Mind, or consciousness, is the gesturing and responding action of a body directed towards itself as private role-play and silent conversation, and society is the gesturing and responding actions of bodies directed towards each other. They are thus the same kind of process.

It is important to note here that the conversational processes of communication described by Mead are not some kind of social determinism and they do not function in some perfect manner. Although I have the physiological potential for calling forth in myself similar responses to my gestures as those evoked in others, there is no guarantee that I will 'get it right', certainly not at the first attempt. This is because there is no fixed causal connection between my gesture and the response evoked in you, which is why Mead's theory is not a form of social determinism. There is no fixed causal connection because at the same time as your response is evoked by my gesture it is also selected by you in a manner that reflects your experience of a lifetime of interacting with others. Although I may be able to anticipate something of the kind of response you may make, I can never be sure because I can never know your life history in full and, even if I could, there is always the possibility of some surprising, spontaneous response from you. Furthermore, the response that my gesture to you evokes in me is also, at the same time, selected by my own lifetime of experience so that what is evoked in me may have to do more with me than with you. The possibility for miscommunication is thus substantial and can only be dealt with in ongoing conversation as we try together to clarify what we mean. This is not a cybernetic feedback process, as in the sender-receiver model, but an ongoing, conversational negotiation of meaning.

Sender-receiver vs. gesture-response model --
Mead's mode of communication is thus profoundly different from the sender-receiver one. The sender-receiver model encourages us to believe that good communication will enable us to 'get it right'. So if I translate my thought clearly into language, if there is no 'noise' in transmission caused, for example, by distorting emotions, and if you translate my clear words clearly into thought, then our communication will be good. Or if the communication does not succeed at first then 'feedback' from the receiver will enable the sender to provide a more precise communication. On this view, a leader or manager who is a good communicator will be able to send a message to all the members of an organization and they will immediately understand it. However, people in organizations frequently complain that communication is not good enough and the response is to blame the sender or the receiver. This leads to a call for improvement in communication skills, involving the development of language and presentational skills and the development of detached attitudes to objective communication. This, it is believed, will lead to improved communication in an organization. In terms of strategy it then becomes important to formulate clear plans and communicate them clearly so that people will implement them. Implementation problems are frequently blamed on poor communication.

However, in Mead's model of communication, when I make a gesture to a number of people, I can rely on its calling forth many different responses from others, altof whom have different life histories. Since the meaning does not lie in my words alone but emerges in the words and the responses they evoke in others taken together, it follows that I can only know the meaning of what I say in your responses to them. There is no point in blaming you, or your blaming me, because we are having to carry on exploring just what it is we mean - this is the very nature of communication. Sending me for training in communication skills can, therefore, have only a very limited effect in terms of improving the communication between us because you are implicated too. From this alternative perspective on communication it is no use for a leader, or manager, to imagine that they have sent a clear message and leave it at that. Communication ceases to be a one-off event that someone can get right and becomes instead an ongoing conversational process in which meaning is being clarified and, in the course of such clarification, is actually evolving in potentially novel ways. From this perspective, one can no longer think of the strategic plan as a one of communication which must be got right. Instead, one comes to see the activities of strategizing as ongoing conversational processes, essentially involving emotion and fantasy, as well as reason and all the other aspects of conversation.

I think leaders, managers and others will act differently with regard to communication and communication skills training if they take this different perspective on communication.

The generalized other & role playing --
Mead takes his argument further when he suggests how the private role-play/silent conversation of mind evolves in increasingly complex ways. As more and more interactions are experienced with others, so more roles and wider ranges of possible responses enter into the role-playing/silent conversational activities that precede the gesture, or to be more accurate, are continuously intertwined with, public/vocal gesturing and responding. In this way, the capacity to take the attitude of many others evolves and this becomes generalized. Each engaged in the conversation of gestures can now take the attitude of what Mead calls the generalized other. Eventually, individuals develop the capacity to take the attitude of the whole group, or what Mead calls the game or the social attitude. The whole of society, in a generalized form, then enters the mental processes of each interdependent person. In a fundamentally important way, this constitutes a powerful form of social control through self-control. The result is much more sophisticated processes of co-operative interaction. There is now mindful social behavior with increasingly sophisticated forms of co-operation.

Process of self --
In understanding self-consciousness Mead talked about processes in which a person takes the attitude, the tendency to act, of the generalized other, or the group, to himself as an 'I', where that attitude is the 'me'. It is important to bear in mind that Mead was saying something more than that the self arises in the attitude, the tendency to act, of specific others towards oneself. Mead was talking about social, generalizing processes where the 'me' is generalized tendencies across a whole community or society to act to me as a person. For example, what it means to be an individual, a person, a man or a woman, a professional, and so on, does not arise in relation to a few specific people but in relation to a particular society in a particular era. We in the West think of ourselves now as individuals in a completely different way from how people in the West thought of themselves four hundred years ago and in a different way from people in other cultures. In what Mead called the `I-me' dialectic, then, we have processes in which the generalizing of the 'me' is made particular in the responses of the 'I' for a particular person, at a particular time, in a particular place. For example, I may take up what it means to be a man in my society in a particular way that differs in some respects from how others see themselves as men in my own society, in other societies and at other times.

What is happening here is the linking of the attitude of generalized other, of the whole group, organization or society, with a 'me' in becoming an object to oneself. The 'me' is one's perception of, one's feelings towards, the configuration of the gestures-responses of the others/society to one as a subject, or an 'I'. A self, as the ongoing relationship between 'me' and 'I', as well as an awareness of that self, that is, self-consciousness, emerges in a life history of social interaction, which includes organizational interaction, and continues to evolve throughout life. Mead argues, very importantly, that the responses of the 'I' to one's perception of the attitude of the group to oneself (the 'me') are not givens but are always potentially unpredictable in that there is no predetermined way in which the 'I' might respond to the 'me'. In other words, each of us may respond in many different ways to our perception of the views that others have of us. Mead's argument, therefore, is not a form of social determinism because the possibility of individual spontaneity means that the response of the 'I' is not given. The response is simultaneously called forth by the gesture of the generalized other and selected or enacted by the responder on the basis of past history reconstructed as the present, always with the possibility of spontaneous variation. In other words, the response of the 'I' is both being called forth by the other and being enacted, or selected by the history, biological, individual and social of the responder. Society's gesture, as 'me', calls forth an 'I' response, but only a response I am capable of making and that depends upon my history. There is a tension of movement in the response, a tension of selection/enactment and evocation/provocation at the same time. The process is one of emergence in which the future of my self is being perpetually constructed and it does not ultimately locate the source of personal change in the individual alone.

Mead's concept of the 'I' is sometimes interpreted as the spontaneous impulse of the body (Joas, 2000). However, in complex responsive processes terms, the 'I' is no less social than the 'me' simply because they cannot be separated from each other. The dialectical `I-me' process evolves - it has a history. This means that in any present, the 'I' response reflects a history of social engagement. It is the capacity for imagination and reflection that brings small differences in the 'I' response to the 'me' gesture from one present to another and it is the amplifying propensity of nonlinear interaction that escalates these small differences into transformations of the self.

It is essential, if we are to understand the important point Mead makes, not to split the 'I' and the 'me'. They are inseparable phases of one act. The self then is understood as an ongoing activity, an ongoing temporal process of 'I' responding to `me'. It is not that there is a true self called 'I' which is seen in the mirror of the social `me' or that the 'I' engages in some kind of conversation with the 'me' as the voices of other people. In Mead's formulation there is no given, true self. Instead a self is continually iterated, continually emerges in interaction with others and oneself. This self is truly social through and through (Foulkes, 1948). Mead is not denying unique individuality but explaining how such uniqueness emerges in social processes of interaction. What he is clearly denying is any notion of an autonomous self. Elias said much the same when he claimed that the individual was the singular of interdependent people while the social was the plural.

The social, in human terms, is highly sophisticated processes of co-operative and competitive interaction between people in the medium of symbols in order to undertake joint action. Such sophisticated interaction could not take place without self-conscious minds but neither could those self-conscious minds exist without that sophisticated form of co-operation. In other words there could be no private role-play, including silent conversation, by a body with itself, if there was no public interaction of the same form. Mind/self and society are all logically equivalent processes of a conversational kind. The result is self-referential, reflexive processes of sophisticated co-operation and competition in the medium of symbols that constitute meaning. These processes, always involving the body and its feelings, both enable and constrain human actions. All of these interactions, private and public, are processes in which humans act within a physical, non-human environment using tools and technology in a co-operative manner. In so acting within the context, humans affect that context, which simultaneously affects them, enabling them to do what they do, and constraining them from doing other things. Individual selves/minds emerge between people, in the relationship between them, and cannot be simply 'located' within an individual. In this way of thinking, individual minds/ selves certainly exist, and very importantly so, but they emerge in relationships between people as iterated processes rather than arising within an individual. The notion of conceptual space with a mind inside a person and society outside is completely avoided in this way of thinking.

What relevance does this view of mind and self have for organizations and the activities of strategizing? Organizations and the work activities of their members are social activities which play a very important part in the lives of all of their members. Organizations are ongoing patterns of relating between people in which their very minds and selves are sustained and continue to evolve in important ways. If one thinks in this way then it becomes very difficult to regard people in organizations as its 'human resources', on the one hand, or as autonomous individuals for whom the organization should provide special opportunities for their self-actualization, on the other. People's selves are sustained and evolve in the ordinary, everyday work activities they undertake in their local interactions with each other. Changes in hierarchical reporting structures, divisional or subsidiary company groupings, procedures for accountability, control systems, objectives and targets, performance appraisal systems, to name but a few, will all have implications for how people experience their selves. Changes in how one experiences one's self are bound to be highly emotional and anxiety provoking and this is highly likely to lead to responses which are difficult to understand and may even seem to be bizarre. There are many practical questions which this view raises for managing change and managing people.

See the living present, communicative interaction, and complex responsive processes for related information.