Noise is anything that interferes with the reception of or distracts someone from a message. Noise essentially introduces information that is wholly separate from a message and, as such, imposes some degree of uncertainty into the message. Noise, then, is something not formally part of a message, but it has an effect on and distracts from a sender’s message shared with an audience because the noise is present during the communication act. This entry describes the types of noise, the results that can come from noise, and the management of noise for and during communication acts.
Noise can be present in several different forms, and all of them can be accounted for in corporate reputation contexts at any level—from the personal to the organizational. Physical noise involves something from the immediate environment that commands the attention of one or more of the five senses, away from the message. An explosion, an insect, an odor, and other stimuli are examples of noise that can interrupt message reception. Another type of noise is physiological, and it involves limitations on a receiver’s own ability to receive messages. Examples are visual impairment, auditory impairment, and memory loss. Psychological noise involves mental or interior interference in senders or an audience that distracts them from a message. Examples are attitude, bias, mood, emotions, extraneous thoughts or ideas, and so on. Textual or semantic noise involves problems between a sender and an audience in understanding messages as given because of differences in meaning systems. Examples include different languages, technical jargon, abstract terms, ambiguity, and others. Secondhand noise involves messages added into the environment by people who, without the consent of the sender or audience, want to adversely affect the audience’s reception of and thinking about a sender’s communication act, the subject of that act, and the sender itself. Examples are activist groups’ protests, public demonstrations or rallies, and publicity events or stunts to gain media attention. The last type of noise is strategic noise, which is an anticipatory and preemptive approach to intentionally influence stakeholders’ and audiences’ impressions about an organization and a situation it faces. Examples include releasing information about other organizational events prior to or in the midst of a disruptive situation, controversial issue, or negative news.
Noise is an inhibitor of communication. Noise gets results, and they are most often not positive. Noise of any of the types described earlier can lead to distortions of what was meant by magnifying, minimizing, or otherwise altering some or all of a message to make it different from what the sender intended. Blockages of communication are noise that cause messages to not be received at all from the sender, which effectively stops communication. Other noise can serve to negate, change, or confuse or add bias, errors, or extraneous material to the sender’s message such that meaning and information are rendered increasingly uncertain.
In the management of corporate reputations, multiple sources can contribute to any or all of these categories of results. The proliferation of digital communication technologies enables people anywhere at any time to say anything that they feel has a bearing on any organization or subject. The cacophony of noise that emanates from social media can easily distort, block, confuse, and otherwise affect corporate messages. Even some of the most respected channels of communication can impose noise about an organization—for example, the stock market. The variability and volatility of stock markets produce vast amounts of information that may or may not be useful to investors as they evaluate the stocks. The effects of one stock market can easily affect others worldwide, contributing intense noise around corporate messages. Another example of the results of noise includes broad-based reports about particular issues or trends that directly affect or even name organizations, such as Fortune’s “Most Admired Companies” and “100 Best Companies to Work For” lists, and so on. These reports add information into the environment that results in augmented, diminished, or otherwise compromised corporate messages that already exist or may be planned.
Noise is something that must be identified and handled well. People are inundated by thousands of messages from numerous sources every day, which suggests that there is a profound demand on people’s attention and, consequently, the requirement to deal with competing and cluttered messages. So people assess messages for their importance and relevance on both personal and organizational levels. In this way, people must be adept at being able to know the difference between noise, which adversely affects a message in a communication act, and feedback, which is meant to give a sender information about an audience’s response to a message. Professional communicators, then, must be able to successfully classify messages as noise or feedback so that they may be used appropriately in an organization’s effort to reduce its own adverse effects in its communication with audiences and publics.
The impact of noise on messages cannot be understated. Knowing the types of, results from, and management of noise is instrumental in managing corporate reputation messages. Attentive and astute communication professionals can make a difference in making sure that intended and ethical messages are received and understood by their organizations’ audiences.
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