Management and Communication

Downward Communication

Downward communication is managers communicating to their subordinates.

Learning Objectives

Justify the process and benefits of effectively communicating to employees in the workplace

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Downward communication is the flow of information and messages from a higher level inside an organization to a lower one.
  • Effective downward communication is crucial to an organization’s success.
  • Creating concise communications and maintaining a respectful tone help ensure effective downward communication; making sure that employees clearly understand the information is also crucial.
  • Differences in experience, knowledge, levels of authority, and status can lead to misunderstandings and misinterpretations.

Key Terms

  • internal: Concerned with the non-public affairs of a company or other organization.

When leaders and managers share information with lower-level employees, it is called downward, or top-down, communication. While downward communication may sometimes invite a response, it is usually one-directional rather than reciprocal–the higher-level communicator does not invite or expect a response from the lower-level recipient.

Examples of downward communication include explaining an organization’s mission and strategy or explaining the organizational vision. Effective downward communication gives employees a clear understanding of the message they have received. Whether informative or persuasive, effective downward communication results in the recipients taking action or otherwise behaving in accord with the communicators’ expectation.

In the workplace, directives from managers to employees are the most basic form of downward communication. These can be written manuals, handbooks, memos, and policies, or oral presentations. Another example of downward communication is a board of directors instructing management to take a specific action.

Business communication experts John Anderson and Dale Level identified five benefits of effective downward communication:

  • Better coordination
  • Improved individual performance through the development of intelligent participation
  • Improved morale
  • Improved consumer relations
  • Improved industrial relations

Ensuring effective downward communication is not necessarily an easy task. Differences in experience, knowledge, levels of authority, and status can make it more likely that sender and recipient do not share the same assumptions or understanding of context, which can result in messages being misunderstood or misinterpreted. Creating clearly worded and non-ambiguous communications and maintaining a respectful tone can overcome these issues and increase effectiveness.

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Internal communication: Managers need to effectively communicate information to their subordinates; they do this through downward communication.

Upward Communication

Upward communication moves from lower to higher levels within an organization.

Learning Objectives

Evaluate the value created through ensuring upwards communication is accessible and encouraged by upper management

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Upward communication is the transmission of information from lower levels of an organization to higher ones.
  • Upward communication often comes in response to downwardly communicated requests for information, opinions, or actions.
  • The channel used to share upward communication (e.g., face-to-face, over the telephone, writing) can influence its effectiveness.
  • Upward communication can be an important source of information that informs management ‘s decision -making.

Key Terms

  • subordinate: Someone or something placed in a lower class, rank, or position.
  • upward communication: The flow of information from lower levels of a hierarchy to higher levels.
  • vigilance: Close and continuous attention to someone or something.

Upward communication is the transmission of information from lower levels of an organization to higher ones; the most common form is employees communicating with managers. Managers who are open to and encourage upward communication foster cooperation, gains support, and reduces frustration among their employees. The content of such communication can include judgments, estimations, propositions, complaints, grievances, appeals, reports, and any other information directed from subordinates to superiors. Upward communication is often made in response to downward communication; for instance, employees answering a question from their manager. In this way, upward communication indicates the effectiveness of a company’s downward communication.

The communication channel, or mode of sharing information, strongly influences the upward communication process. Information sharing can be face-to-face, over the phone, or in writing. Subordinates should make an effort to identify the preferred means of receiving communication from their manager or other higher-ups. For instance, sending a written report to someone who prefers to receive information in the form of a concise email is less likely to bring about the desired effect.

The availability of communication channels affects employees’ overall satisfaction with upward communication. For example, an open-door policy sends the signal to employees that the manager welcomes impromptu conversations and other communication. This is likely to make employees feel satisfied with their level of access to channels of upward communication and less apprehensive about communicating upward.

For management, upward communication is an important source of information that can inform business decisions. It helps to alert management of new developments, levels of performance, and other issues that may require their attention. Whistle-blowing involves upward communication when employees communicate directly with top management about matters requiring attention or discipline (e.g., harassment from another employee), including perceived ethical or legal breaches.

Horizontal Communication

Horizontal communication is the flow of messages across individuals and groups on the same level of an organization.

Learning Objectives

Justify the value of promoting internal communication between employees occupying the same functional areas and levels

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Horizontal communication refers to the flow of messages across functional areas on the same level of an organization.
  • Effective use of horizontal communication in the workplace can enhance productivity by making information sharing, problem solving, collaboration, and conflict resolution more efficient.
  • Problems with horizontal communication can arise from territoriality, rivalry, specialization, lack of motivation, and rivalry.

Key Terms

  • lateral: Situated at the side of or next to something else.
  • horizontal communication: The flow of messages across functional areas on the same level of an organization.

Horizontal communication, also called lateral communication, involves the flow of messages between individuals and groups on the same level of an organization. Horizontal communication does not involve relaying information up or down across levels. Sharing information, solving problems, and collaborating horizontally is often more timely, direct, and efficient than up or down communication. Horizontal communication can produce a higher quality of information exchange since it occurs directly between people working in the same environment. Communication within a team is an example of horizontal communication; members coordinate tasks, work together, and resolve conflicts. Horizontal communication occurs formally in meetings, presentations, and formal electronic communication, and informally in other, more casual exchanges within the office.

Challenges of Horizontal Communication

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Horizontal communication: Horizontal communication refers to any communication between employees at the same level of an organization

Some barriers to horizontal communication are differences in style, personality, or roles amongst co-workers. According to Professor Michael Papa, horizontal communication problems can occur because of territoriality, rivalry, specialization, and simple lack of motivation. Territoriality occurs when members of an organization regard other people’s involvement in their area as inappropriate or unwelcome. Rivalry between individuals or teams can lead to reluctance to cooperate and share information. Specialization is a problem that occurs when there is a lack of uniform knowledge or vocabulary within or between departments. Finally, horizontal communication often fails simply because organization members are unwilling to expend the additional effort to reach out beyond their immediate team to others at the same level.

An organization that has relied on rigid, formal styles of communication in the past may find it difficult to switch to more employee-directed, horizontal communication. Lingering expectations from the old system can significantly inhibit the implementation of horizontal communication. For example, employees may be reluctant to initiate communications if they are used to conversations being started only by management. Finally, corporations that operate in different geographic locations, particularly internationally, may struggle with horizontal communication across time zones as the confront the barriers of local idioms, customs, and languages.

Informal Communication

Informal communication occurs outside of an organization’s established channels.

Learning Objectives

Explain the role and benefits of informal communication within an organization

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Informal communication occurs outside an organization ‘s established channels of sending and receiving messages.
  • Informal communication frequently crosses boundaries within an organization and is commonly separate from work flows.
  • Informal communication has become increasingly important in maintaining the interpersonal relationships and networks that facilitate getting work done.

Key Terms

  • informal: Not formal or ceremonious; casual.
  • interpersonal: Between two or more people.
  • communication channel: The method or medium by which one conveys information; e.g., through the exchange of thoughts, messages, or information via speech, visuals, signals, writing, or behavior.

Informal communication occurs outside an organization’s established channels for conveying messages and transmitting information. While formal communication follows practices shaped by hierarchy, technology systems, and official policy, informal communication faces fewer restrictions. Formal communication usually involves documentation, while informal communication usually leaves no recorded trace for others to find or share. Informal communication frequently crosses boundaries within an organization and is commonly separate from work flows. That is, it often occurs between people who do not work together directly but share an affiliation or a common interest in the organization’s activities and/or a motivation to perform their jobs well.

In the past, many organizations considered informal communication (generally associated with interpersonal, horizontal communication) a hindrance to effective organizational performance and tried to stamp it out. This is no longer the case. The maintenance of personal networks and social relationships through information communication is understood to be a key factor in how people get work done.

Formal communications in traditional organizations are frequently “one-way”: they are initiated by management and received by employees. Their content is perceived as authoritative because it originates from the highest levels of the company. Informal communication, on the other hand, can occur in any direction and take place between individuals of different status and roles.

While informal communication is important to an organization, it also may have disadvantages. When it takes the form of a “rumor mill” spreading misinformation, informal communication is harmful and difficult to shut down because its sources cannot be identified by management. Casual conversations are often spontaneous, and participants may make incorrect statements or promulgate inaccurate information. Less accountability is expected from informal communications, which can cause people to be careless in their choice of words, indiscreet, or disclosing sensitive information.

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People talking: Casual conversation represents a form of informal communication.