Effective Communication – a Tool for Organizational Success
Effective Communication – a Tool for Organizational Success
Communication is the process of sharing ideas, information, and messages with others in a particular time and place. It includes writing and talking, as well as non-verbal communication (such as facial expressions, body language, or gestures), visual communication (the use of images or pictures, such as painting, photography, video or film), and electronic communication (telephone calls, electronic mail, cable television, or satellite broadcasts). Communication is important in an organization where employees are to regularly interact with each other for carrying out organizational activities.
Communication can be stated as a process of transferring information from one person to another. It is normally defined as ‘the imparting or interchange of thoughts, opinions, or information by speech, writing, or signs’. It is a two way process in which there is an exchange of information towards a mutually accepted goal or direction. Organizational communication is a channel for flow of information. This includes activities of sending and receiving messages through various layers of authorities using different message systems and discussing various topics of interest with the employees of the organization.
Communication is very important for the efficient functioning of the organization as well as for its success. The executives of the organization traditionally spend the majority of their time in communicating in one form or another such as face to face discussions, meetings, inter-office memos, letters, and reports etc. In the present day scenario, the necessity of effective communication is felt more since this necessity has engulfed most of the employees in the organization. The need of communication has increased in recent times because of the work processes of the present day which emphasize greater teamwork amongst the employees. Also, for the achievement of the short and long term objectives, the organization has to meet the challenges of the communication.
Effective communication is all about conveying of the messages to other people clearly and unambiguously. It is also about receiving information with as little distortion as possible which others are sending. For effective communication, efforts are needed from both the sender of the message and the receiver of the message, since communication is a process which can be loaded with error, with messages muddled by the sender, or misinterpreted by the receiver. When this is not detected, it can cause tremendous confusion, wasted efforts, and missed opportunities. In fact, communication is only successful when both the sender and the receiver understand the information in a same way.
Effective communication is fundamental to the success of the organization. This is because communication establishes relationships and makes organizing possible in the organization. Every message has a purpose or objective. The sender intends, whether consciously or unconsciously, to accomplish something by communicating. In the organizational contexts, messages typically have a definite objective such as to motivate, to inform, to teach, to persuade, to entertain, or to inspire. This definite purpose is, in fact, one of the principal differences between casual conversation and communication. Effective communication centres on well-defined objectives which support the organizational goal, mission, and objectives.
Communication can be internal communication or external communication. In case of internal communication, communications takes place between employees of the organization. Hence, communication links together all the different activities involved in the organization and ensures all employees are working towards the same goal and objectives of the organization. Communication therefore links together all the different activities involved in the organization.
In the organization, employees are also required to communicate with outside people or the other organizations. Such external communication can take place, with customers, suppliers, statutory authorities, local community, financial institutions, and share-holders etc. This type of communication is known as external communication and also has a high importance for the organizational success. Fig 1 shows various tools used for communication in the organization.
Fig 1 Tools for communication in the organization
Organizational communication establishes a pattern of formal communication channels to carry information vertically and horizontally. The organization chart normally displays these channels. For ensuring efficient and effective accomplishment of organizational objectives, information is needed to be exchanged. Information is passed upward from employees to the line managers and laterally to adjacent departments. Instructions relating to the performance of the department and policies for conducting of the organizational activities are conveyed downward from the management to the employees. The organization carries information from within the department back up to top management.
Communication is important in an organization where employees are required to interact with others. It is one of the most important tools of the organizational management for the achievement of the organizational performance. As a management tool, communication intends to establish good interpersonal relationships, non-confrontational behavioural of the employees for achieving of common goals. Communication and management are complementary to each other for getting the success.
One of the most important things the employees do at work is to communicate with each other. Whether with words, gestures, body language, or even silence, employees are always communicating. Employees communicate face-to-face or on the telephone, communicate via computers, faxes, or radios, read and write messages, handle requests, process paperwork, respond to calls, and deal with employees of other departments. Hence, communication is the essential function in the organization. Without communication, organizational activities cannot take place. In particular, effective team-based communication can help buffer many of the safety, productivity, and morale issues caused by co-employees use and abuse of various issues.
Communication takes place when people interact. Every organization is basically people centric and needs communication for its functioning. In fact, nothing can be achieved without effective communication between management, employees, customers, suppliers, and other external agencies. Management to be effective is required to master the art of communication. A well managed organization demands skillful handling of thoughts, feelings, and emotions to secure high productivity. Effective organizational communication plays an important role in meeting this challenge. Lack of effective communication can result into certain issues in achieving the organizational objectives.
Communication is needed in the organization for the flow of information, resources, and even policies. Organizational communication is the communication among the organizational employees in the context of the organization. This communication includes activities of sending and receiving message through various layers of authority, using various message systems, and discussing various topics of interest in the group to which the employees belong to or the department in which they work.
For effective communication, it is necessary to build and to maintain relationships in the organization. Although managers and the employees of the organization spend most of their time communicating (sending or receiving information), it cannot be assumed that meaningful communication takes place in all the exchanges. Once a memorandum, letter, fax, or e-mail has been sent, many are inclined to believe that communication has taken place. However, communication does not occur until information and understanding have passed by the sender and received as intended by the receiver.
To make oneself understood as intended is an important part of the communication process. A receiver can receive a message from a sender but still not understand what the message of the sender means. Being constantly engaged in encoding and decoding messages does not ensure that a person is an expert in communication. Understanding is a personal matter between people, and different people can interpret messages differently. If the idea received is not the one intended, communication has not taken place and the sender has only spoken or written. Fig 2 shows the communication process in an organization.
Fig 2 Communication process in an organization
There are a number of conditions which are necessary for effective communication in the organization. These conditions are (i) a concise and precise formulation of the message which can be easily and completely understood, (ii) rapid transmission of the message, (iii) fluency and assurance of reversibility of the communication, (iv) use of a common language by the sender and the receiver, (v) simplifying of the communication channels, and (vi) ensuring flexibility and adaptability of the communication process which can used in any situation. A very effective process of communication can enable the successful completion of these requirements, which are necessary for the management of the organization.
Listening is an important aspect of communication. It is the foundation of effective communication. Effective listening leads towards effective speaking. If nothing else, it helps the employees to avoid jumping to conclusions. It is a skill which when practiced more leads the employees towards the better communication. Further, learning to listen better can help reduce stress and confusion in most of the situations in the organization.
The managerial communication has a triple role consisting of (i) interpersonal role in which the executives act as leaders of the organization, interacting with peers, subordinates, and outside personnel such as customers and suppliers, (ii) informational role in which executives collect information from colleagues, from subordinates, and through other contacts, try to keep themselves informed about things which can affect their work and responsibility, and (iii) the role of decision-making in which the executives take important decisions based on informations available. These roles highlight the importance of communication in the organization.
Modes of communication
The different modes of communication are (i) monologic and dialogic, (ii) written and spoken, (iii) verbal, visual, and multi modal, (iv) synchronous and asynchronous, (v) face to face and meditated, and (vi) formal and informal.
There are basically two types of communication which is taking place in the organization. These two types of communication are (i) formal communication, and (ii) informal communication.
In the formal communication, messages flow along the official paths prescribed by the chain of command which is normally shown by the organizational chart. Formal messages flow downward, upward, and horizontally.
In the downward communication, formal messages flow from the management to lower level of control as per hierarchy. Downward communication includes such things as job instructions, job rationale, policy and procedures, employee performance appraisals and motivational appeals etc. Though the downward communication is important, it can lead to information overload. Also, it is frequently in written form and there are several issues which are associated with the written messages such as (i) they are normally brief and can omit needed details, (ii) because of the need for brevity, memos normally do not include the job rationale (why a specific task is important and how it relates to the other tasks in the organization, (iii) frame of reference differences (between a sender and the receiver) make interpretation of the messages difficult and the messages are frequently differently interpreted since the receiver views the things in different manner than the views of the sender.
In upward communication, formal messages also can flow upward from lower level to higher level of executives. Example are reports, achievements and progress, outlines of work which needs to be solved, suggestions for improvements within the department, or how employees think and feel about their job, associate organizations. These messages are valuable when upwardly communicated. On the other hand, if all information reached at the top management level then information overload can hamper the management decisions. For upward communication to be effective, it is to be accurate. However, lower level of executives tends to conceal or distort upward communication to protect them and, make messages more acceptable to higher levels. Upward messages are also more likely to be distorted or withheld when the lower level of executives do not trust the higher level executives or when the lower level of executives wish upward mobility or recognition.
In horizontal communication, messages flow laterally between people who are at the same level. It is important for coordinating tasks (with employees or departments) and for solving problems, sharing information and resolving conflicts. Horizontal communication is especially important for unusually difficult or complex problems.
In the organization, normally all the messages do not flow along the official channels prescribed by the organizations chain of command as per the organizational chart. Several messages flow along an informal communication network normally known as grapevine. Formal communication networks allow people to handle predictable, routine situations but they are inefficient means of meeting unanticipated communication needs for managing crises, for dealing with complex or detailed problems, for sharing personal information, or for quick exchange of information, Although many people view grapevine as unimportant, various studies have indicated the following.
- The type of information the grapevine carries indicates the breath of the organization. If the higher level of executives is fairly open with the lower level of executives and sends all the necessary information through the formal channels then the grapevine normally carries only personal interest items or gossip. Gossip is normally necessary for the maintenance of the grapevine as without it, network is expected to dry up.
- Information carried by the grapevine is 75 % to 90 % accurate.
- Grapevine messages are frequently more accurate than normal messages since status, power, rank differences seem less important.
- Information carried by grapevine travels fast.
- Effective higher level executives use grapevine. Those who listen carefully to this information communication network find it a useful source of information about employee concerns and problems. In fact, some executives leak new ideas or proposals to the grapevine to test the response of the employees. If the idea is greeted with hostility, they drop it, but if it is received positively, they introduce it through official channels.
In a study of bureaucratic organizations, two main advantages have been found with regards to the use of the informal communication networks. These are (i) people can get advice and information without formally having to admit that they need it, and (ii) people can think out loud about problems thus increasing their self-confidence and problem solving ability.
However, the nature of organizational communication is highly diverse. The communication in the organization spans at the micro, meso, and macro levels. The communication practices in the organization include formal and informal communication, internal communication (meetings, work directions, reviews, presentations, internal correspondences and newsletters etc), externally directed communication (annual reports, press releases, interactions with stakeholders such as investors, customers, suppliers, social groups, statutory and public bodies etc), organizational learning, knowledge management, industrial relations, conflict management and use of information technologies.
In small organizations the communication can be informal but in large organization a lot of formal communication has to take place. In fact, the communication in large organizations is far more complex and varied. It is the central binding force which causes coordination amongst the employees and thus allows for organized behaviour of the employees.
Effective communication in an organization is very important in the present environment because of several reasons namely (i) work processes are very complex which need close coordination among the employees, (ii) the pace of work is very fast, (iii) employees are lesser and distributed, (iv) distributed work processes are more common, (iv) knowledge and innovation are more critical to the competitive advantage of the organization, and (v) use of information technology has become essential for the structure and strategy of the organization.
Key distinctions with respect to communication in an organization involve (i) levels (ii) formal versus informal (iii) direction (vertical, horizontal and diagonal) and internal versus external focus.
Levels – Communication is normally divided into various levels which include (i) interpersonal communication (ii) group level communication (iii) organizational level communication (iv) inter organizational level communication, and (v) mass communication. Interpersonal skills of all the employees of the organization are important if the organization is to improve its communication base.
Further the skills needed for receiving messages are as important as skills associated with sending messages. There is a shift taking place in the organizational communications which consists of increasingly getting focused on meso (group, team, organizational and inter organizational) level of communication in place of micro level. Further since the computer based communication has flaming potential, it has resulted into negatively charged communication exchanges since senders are ignorant of ‘the social context and free to express themselves’ while the receivers do not have this advantage.
Formal versus informal communication – In the past the major focus of the organizational communication used to be formal top down communication especially in large bureaucratic organization. At that time informal communication, normally associated with interpersonal and horizontal communication was seen as a potential hindrance to the effective functioning of the organization. This thinking changed with time and now dynamic and non formal, if not informal, communication has become more important for ensuring the effective functioning of the organization. The organizational culture and climate is managed to avoid any opposition between formal and informal communications. More recently, organization communication focuses on the growing dependence on dynamic computer facilitated communications which are neither formal nor informal. These days formal and informal methods of organizational communication are becoming less important since many newer channels of communication are now available to the organization which are neither totally formal nor totally informal.
Direction – Organizational communication is characterized as vertical, horizontal or diagonal. During earlier days more emphasis was given to vertical communication. Soon the emphasis shifted to lateral or horizontal communication. Diagonal communication in the organizations is a later development.
Vertical communication occurs between hierarchically positioned persons and can involve both downward and upward communication flows. Downward communication is more prevalent than upward communication flow. However, downward communication results into low level of satisfaction amongst the employees. Upward communication causes even lesser level of employees’ satisfaction since the employees have the fear of reprisal and have feeling that their idea / concern gets filtered as it is transmitted upward. Also in upward communication, managers give impression that they do not have time for the employees.
Lateral communication involves communication amongst employees who do not stand hierarchical relation to one another. The recent trend of flattening of the organization has enhanced the importance of the lateral communications. However with growing importance of the teams in organizations, more attention is now being directed at communication between team members.
Diagonal communication refers to communication between employees located in different functional areas. Although both vertical and horizontal communication continue to be important, these terms no longer adequately capture communication needs and flows in the present day organizations. The concept of diagonal communication has been introduced to meet the new communication challenges associated with new organizational forms.
Externally oriented organizational communication is the exchange of information and messages with those entities that are outside the organizational formal structure. These entities can be public, customers, suppliers, local bodies, statutory authorities, community organizations and investors etc. The external communication can be through normal formal channels or through informal contacts. The goals of the external communication are to facilitate cooperation with the external agencies. It is important to the organization since it determines the public image of the organization. A variety of communication channels are used for external communication and these include face to face meetings, electronic communication technologies as well as print and broadcast media.