Challenges in Organizational Communication

As you continue your education in college, you’ll continue to understand the need to be prepared for a perpetually evolving, increasingly diverse, and unpredictable global workplace. The key to organizational success, both for you and the organizations with whom you are involved, is effective communication. As you have probably experienced in both your personal relationships and organizational relationships, communication is not always successful. If you have ever worked on a group project for one of your classes, you have likely experienced many of the communicative challenges organizations face in this increasingly fast-paced and global world.

Case In Point
The Ant Colony and Organizational Communication

The YouTube video ‘Inside the Colony’ shows the system in which ants use to communicate and live. What are some things we can draw from their lives into daily lives using organizational communication? Write bullet points on your ideas and pick the top on to discuss in class.

Ineffective communication can cause many problems that can impact relationships, productivity, job satisfaction, and morale as we interact in organizations. Gerald Goldhaber summarizes Osmo Wiio’s “laws” of communication that are good to remember as you interact in increasingly complex organizations. Wiio pessimistically warns that: 1) If communication can fail, it will fail, 2) If a message can be understood in different ways, it will be misunderstood in the manner that does the most damage, 3) The more communication there is, the more tricky it is for the communication to be successful, and 4) There is always someone who thinks they know better what you said than you do.

One of the greatest challenges facing organizations is the practice of ethics. Ethics are a basic code of conduct (morals) that individuals and groups use to assess whether something is right or wrong. How ethical are you as an organizational participant? Do you always make ethical personal and professional decisions? Have you ever withheld a bit of truth to lessen the impact of revealing the whole truth? What if you accidentally overhear that an individual who is up for a promotion has been stealing from the organization? Do you tell your boss? Or, on a greater scale, what if you discover that your organization is withholding vital information from consumers, or violating lawful practices? Do you blow the whistle or stay loyal to your company? When you write your resume, how accurately do you describe your work history? Each of these scenarios deals directly with ethical considerations and ethical communication.

Case In Point
Ethics

A good example of an ethical dilemma that occurs in the workplace happened to me when one of my co-workers, who is also my good friend, was putting down more hours on her time card than she was actually working. This upset me, because I worked the exact same amount of time as her, yet I was being paid much less. Because our boss was so busy all the time, she never noticed this unfair violation of lawful practices. I had to choose between remaining silent which would prevent my friend from getting in trouble, or speaking out against the injustice in order to sustain a fair workplace.

-Anonymous Coworker

Many organizations practice a climate of “survival of the fittest” as individuals scramble their way up the ladder of success at any cost. Comedian Jimmy Durante posited this advice: “Be nice to people on your way up because you might meet ‘em on your way down.” Obviously, not every organization has this type of cutthroat culture, but with an inherent hierarchy and imbalance of power, organizations are ripe for unethical behaviors. Because of the competitive nature of many business climates, and the push for profits, organizational and individual ethics are often tested.

Do organizations have a moral responsibility to act ethically outside of their capitalistic and legal obligations? “Since 1985, more than two-thirds of Fortune 500 firms have been convicted of serious crimes, ranging from fraud to the illegal dumping of hazardous waste” (Eisenberg & Goodall 337). The Chevron Corporation, the second largest oil company in the U.S., is just one example of an unethical organization. Tax evasion and several environmental infractions, including dumping over 18 billion gallons of toxic waste into the Amazon rainforest, are examples of their ethical behavior (Sandhu, 2012). Other unethical practices common in organizations include exploiting workers, tax loopholes, overbilling, and dumping toxins. Despite these unfortunate, immoral practices, all of us have an obligation to communicate ethically in all aspects of our lives, including organizations.

Case In Point
The Case of Hills Pet Nutrition, Inc.
In 2007 several major brands of pet food were recalled due to a contaminant in the food. As a result of the poisoned food, thousands of dogs and cats developed renal failure and many died. Many upset customers asked the pet food companies to take financial responsibility for the costs that were incurred while seeking vital veterinary care for their sick pets. Some companies responded ethically with financial settlements; others failed in their ethical responsibility. Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Inc. (the maker of Science Diet) was one such company. In a letter sent to a customer seeking reimbursement for treating their sick cat, Hill’s wrote a one sentence letter stating, “. . . it appears we are unable to settle your claim for Oscar’s future medical expenses.”

Thinking of this incident in ethical terms Kreps’ three principles of ethical communication are of relevance. He states ethical treatment should 1) Tell the truth, 2) Do no harm, and 3) Treat people justly. Has Hills, Inc. engaged in ethical communication? How could they have done so?

Differences in perception and the failure to clarify communication can lead to miscommunication at interpersonal as well as organizational levels. Organizationally, communication failure occurs due to information overload, communication anxiety, unethical communication, bad timing, too little information, message distortion, lack of respect, insufficient information, minimal feedback, ineffective communication, and even disinterest or apathy. To be successful in our organizational environments, we need to be earnest participants, as well as active listeners, to ensure effective communication and mutual satisfaction. Organizations cannot successfully operate without effective communication at every level.

Future Directions

As with many other specializations in the field of Communication, the area of organizational communication is changing faster than organizations, individuals, and scholars can adapt. It is difficult for organizations to anticipate and keep in front of the changes they encounter. What worked during the industrial age may no longer be relevant in the 21st century. In fact, what worked ten years ago likely does not work today. A sense of urgency, a fast pace, inconsistency, information overload, regenerating technology, and constant change characterize the dynamic changes as organizations move from operating in the industrial age to the information age. When this book was first published, for example, iPhones were just coming on the market. We referred to cds, dvds, and palm pilots in the original text. That was only eight eight years ago, and now we don’t use many of those technologies. Miller identifies four elements of the changing landscape for organizations: 1) Organizations are becoming more global, 2) Images and identity are becoming increasingly important, 3) There is a shift to a more predominant service economy, and 4) The changing workforce is highlighted by the “disposable worker” (Conrad & Poole), downsizing, early retirement, and temporary workers.

As a result, new directions of research are emerging. These changes are forcing those of us in organizational communication to reexamine existing communicative practices relative to the changing dynamics of organizations. For example, can a person lead without any personal, face-to-face contact? How do organizational values impact ethics, and what is the attitude towards ethical communication in this increasingly competitive age? How should work-life issues such as working parents, affirmative action, and drug screening be handled? With increasing diversity in the workplace, what is the role of intercultural communication? In this age of elevated tensions, how do stress and emotions communicatively manifest themselves in the workplace? What is the impact of our social media postings on our work lives?

Organizational Communication Now
Leadership in the Social Age

This article is about leadership and their ability to be flexible in work place. “Today’s leaders face challenges related to business disruption, ambiguity, complexity, widely connected constituencies and how to communicate with multiple constituencies simultaneously”. This ties into how work is different now than it was 10 years ago.
1. Leadership is about who, not what.
2. Leadership is personal.
3. Make experiences true learning experiences.

Scholars are continuing to communicatively adapt and respond to the changing landscape in terms of what we teach, research, and practice. Expect to see a variety of approaches and distinctively unique research agendas that will likely highlight the ways in which you will spend your life working in organizations that are different from today.