Receiver listening empathyThe Receiver is the person (or people) we are addressing with our communication. Empathy is the best skill to apply when considering our audience, and is defined as the ability to understand a perspective or point of view different from our own. This should not be summarily confused with sympathy or compassion: we are not required to agree with, or justify something to understand it.

There is a famous quote in The Art of War:

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

The same quote may be applied to communication, where the Receiver is not necessarily our enemy, but certainly an audience which could potentially become hostile if its expectations and needs are ignored. These could be as simple as an understanding of the language being used, or more complex as in the case of situations where contextual elements have the power to alter the meaning of our message. A simple phrase like “I wouldn’t do that” may be completely innocent or ominous according to how the context influences the receiver interpreting it.

The Conative Function

Any communication wishing to influence the behavior of the receiver is defined by Roman Jakobson’s Theory of Communication as performing the Conative Function, and the focus of the communication is on the receiver. Examples of this function vary enormously, from something as blunt as a direct order (e.g. “Sit down!”), to the more subtle approach of a brand slogan (e.g. I’m Lovin’ It).

McDonald’s slogan is a particularly interesting example because its function is clearly to induce customers to buy their burgers, but the communication is in the first person. Rather than addressing a potential customer directly with a hard sell methodology, providing reasons to buy their food, McDonald’s chooses the soft sell approach, establishing a relationship with their prospect. The attention of the Addresser is clearly on the receiver, since the slogan acts as a trigger for the most important part of the message, which happens in our head.

In the Mind of the Receiver

We receive a positive image of appreciation whose purpose is to trigger mirror neurons in our brain, which will react as if we were experiencing something positive ourselves. The result is that the received message is something like “They loved it, so will I”. The fact that children are trained through positive reinforcement (toys in the Happy Meals) to consider eating at McDonald’s a treat also contributes to McDonald’s branding activating reward mechanisms in our brain.

Even when the purpose of a communication is to inform, rather than persuade, keeping the receiver in mind will greatly improve the effectiveness of our communication and the entire interaction, in terms of User Experience.