Importance of Communication in the Organization

Importance of Communication in the Organization

Communication has been derived from the Latin word ‘communis’, meaning to share. It is considered to be the exchange of an information, thought and emotion between individuals of groups. It plays a fundamental role in balancing the objectives of the employees and the organization. It consists of the activity of conveying information. Hence, it requires a sender, a message, and an intended recipient, although the receiver need not be present or aware of the sender’s intent to communicate at the time of communication. Hence, communication can occur across vast distances in time and space.

Communication requires that the communicating parties share an area of communicative commonality. The process of communication (Fig 1) is complete once the receiver has understood the message of the sender. Feedback is critical for effective communication between the sender and the receiver of the message. Organizational communication is one of the important segments of the communication.

Fig 1 Process of communication

The two most common definitions of communication are (i) communication is sending and receiving of messages by means of symbols and in that context organizational communication is a key element of organizational climate, and (ii) communication is transfer of information from sender to receiver under the condition that the receiver understands the message. Communication is a process which is transactional (i.e., it involves two or more persons interacting within an environment) and symbolic (i.e., communication transactions ‘stand for’ other things, at various levels of abstraction).

An organization involves a social collectivity (or a group of persons) in which activities are coordinated in order to achieve both individual and collective goals. By coordinating activities, some degree of organizational structure is created to assist employees in dealing with each other and with others in the larger organizational environment. Organizational communication involves understanding how the context of the organization influences communication processes and how the symbolic nature of communication differentiates it from other forms of organizational behaviour.

An important part of the work of the organizational employees is communication. Employees spend majority of their time in communicating. Employees, who communicate in positive ways, are more productive and feel more positive about their work. Being a positive communicator means offering recognition, support, feedback, praise, and encouragement. Today, there is a sea-change in communication technologies which has contributed to the transformation of both work and organizational structure. For these reasons, communication practices and technologies have become very important in the organization.

Organizational communication is the process whereby employees gather pertinent information about their organization and the changes occurring within it. Generally organizational communication has two objectives. The primary objective is to inform the employees about their tasks and the policy issues of the organization. In this context, the organizational communication is defined as transmitting news about the work from organization to the employees and through the employees. The second objective of organizational communication is to construct a community within the organization. Meaningful communication informs and educates employees at all levels and motivates them to support the organizational strategy.

During the process of the organizational communication, an organizational stakeholder (or group of stakeholders) attempts to stimulate meaning in the mind of another organizational stakeholder (or group of stakeholders) through intentional use of verbal, nonverbal, and/or mediated messages. The process of organizational communication indicates that there are neither distinct beginnings to communication nor ends. The process consists of a series of interactions which alter with time and produce changes in those involved in the interactions. Under organizational communication, employees develop ritualized patterns of interaction in an attempt to coordinate their activities and efforts in the ongoing accomplishment of personal and organizational goals. Organizational communication has five critical features which are (i) existence of a social collectivity, (ii) organizational and individual goals, (iii) coordinated activity, (iv) organizational structure, and (v) embedding of the organization with an environment of other organizations.

The impact of good and bad communication revolves around three variables namely (i) employee job satisfaction, (ii) health complaints, and (iii) incidence of accidents. Good communication entails honest and transparent information. Such information gives employees reaction time. Bad communication entails the opposite, allowing the rumour mill or grapevine to run riot. While the effect of communication upon job satisfaction is fairly obvious, it has been found that the stress generated by bad communication has an impact on the levels of health complaints and even the levels of accidents. It is interesting to note that employees at differing levels of hierarchies have radically different views of just how effective (or ineffective) communication from the top of an organisation actually is.

The field of organizational communication is highly diverse and fragmented. It spans (i) communication at the micro, meso, and macro levels, (ii) formal and informal communications, and (iii) internal organizational communication practices (newsletters, presentations, strategic communications, work direction, performance reviews, and meetings) as well as externally directed communications (public, media, inter-organizational). Innovation, organizational learning, knowledge management, conflict management, diversity, and communication technologies are also parts of the organizational communication. Organizational communication is to develop and convey some sense of coherency across these many areas.

Oral communication primarily refers to spoken verbal communication. It can also employ visual aids and non-verbal elements to support the conveyance of meaning. Oral communication includes speeches, presentations, discussions, and aspects of interpersonal communication. As a type of face-to-face communication, body language and voice tonality play a significant role, and can have a greater impact upon the listener than informational content. This type of communication also gathers immediate feedback. Nonverbal communication describes the process of conveying meaning in the form of non-word messages.

The workplace communication channels are memos, email, voicemail, instant messaging, formal and informal meetings, noticeboards, suggestion boxes, 360 degree feedback, focus groups, plenary briefings, supervisor or team leader briefings, closed-circuit telecasts, video recordings, newsletters, charts and posters, management by walking around (MBWA), the grapevine or rumour mill, position papers, ombudsmen, blogs, and websites etc. These communication channels have strengths and weaknesses. These different channels, pathways or media can offer one-way, two-way or multi-directional communication which may be mediated or non-mediated, synchronous or asynchronous, involving individuals or groups. Meaningful communication informs and educates employees at all levels and motivates them to support the strategy.

Communication within the organization is classified into two groups as ‘formal’ and ‘informal’. Formal communication is a systematic and formal process of information transmission in spoken and written form planned in advance, and adjusted with the needs of the organization, while informal communication does not follow the line determined in advance, but there is an undisturbed communication between particular groups within the organization. The types of formal communication are ‘vertical’ (up to down or down to up), ‘horizontal’, and ‘cross’ communication.

The formal communication helps in understanding the organization and the patterns of communication within it. It describes the critical concept of directionality. Vertical communication refers to sending and receiving messages between the levels of a hierarchy, whether downward or upward. Horizontal communication refers to sending and receiving messages between employees at the same level of a hierarchy.

Downward communication is used mainly to communicate messages from the more powerful to the less powerful. It is perhaps the most common form of communication in the organization. Such communication involves instructions, approvals or non-approvals of proposals, policy statements, variations in standard operating procedures and notification of other changes, general announcements, briefings, and expression of goals, objectives and mission statements etc. These messages can be transmitted via memos, email, notices and other individual-to-group or individual-to-individual channels, or can be conveyed indirectly, passed on by others in the hierarchy. There is possibility that during the transfer, the original message may get edited, augmented, reduced, explained or distorted.

Time and again, however, top-down communication attempts fail, and that failure is often not grasped by those who are at the top of the hierarchy. It is very often that the perception of the top management of getting messages from the lower level of employees is wildly at variance with the perceptions held by the employees at the lower levels.

Upward communication can in some circumstances be even more important than the downward communication. Upward communication channels convey data about and from customers, data about production of goods and services, and the intelligence which is needed for the day-to-day operation of the organization. This intelligence can be gathered if those at upper levels of the organization are skilled in listening and gathering feedback, and are committed to ‘strategic listening’ to customers and to organizational transparency. If there is no commitment to such approaches, then a ‘culture of silence’ and/or a ‘culture of silos’ usually prevail in the organization and this can well have serious consequences on the performance of the organization. This result with no early warnings of impending disaster and it can even result in large-scale crisis. In such situations, no news is definitely bad news, and bad news is no news. Employees at lower levels are reluctant to give bad news which can be vital for the survival of the organization. If bad news are not to be listened to, or worse, attract criticism then there is a ‘shoot-the-messenger’ culture or ethos in the organization in which those who point out truths are punished for their efforts gets developed.

Upward communication can also be a rich source of new ideas and creative problem solving, primarily because employees in the lower levels of a hierarchy are closer to specific problems and can be more aware of practical solutions than the persons further up the hierarchy.

Lateral or horizontal communication takes place primarily at one level of the organization such as within teams, among heads of departments, among others in coordination and liaison roles, or among virtually everyone at the lower levels of the pyramid structure in the organization. It is sometimes quicker and more effective for messages to travel horizontally than upward, downward or across the organization. Nevertheless, good horizontal communication is often impaired by rivalry, territorial behaviour and over-specialization of job functions, which erects barriers leading to in-group/out-group exclusion, the use of jargon and other excluding codes, and a reluctance to share information.

Diagonal communication cuts across vertical and horizontal dimensions. As an example, a junior employee can ‘go over the head’ of his immediate superior and telephone, email or visit a senior technical expert in another area to get information. In particular these interactions often take place in the informal organization. In low-performing organizations, employees use diagonal communication to seek information on the proper application of existing job procedures, while in high-performing organizations, employees use diagonal communication to seek information needed to solve complex and difficult work related problems. While diagonal communication can be a sign of flexibility, it obviously causes problems and perhaps chaos if taken to extremes.

Besides above mentioned ways of communication, there are channels through which information flow. These channels are very important for analyzing the communication as the element of organizational behaviour, and those are formal small group network and informal group network.

There are three forms of network in small formal groups (Fig 2). These are (i) chain network, (ii) circle network, and (iii) wheel network. The differences between these networks are in the basic features of each network. Chain network of formal small groups mainly follows the formal chain of command, whereas the circle network has the group leader as the central person for conducting all communications within the group.

Fig 2 Three forms of network in small formal groups

As opposed to chain and circle network, wheel network is characterized by openness which enables the joint communication of all members of the group. If one compares the networks in small groups having in mind certain criteria as speed, accuracy, leader emergence and member satisfaction, then in order to come to a conclusion, he has to wisely choose a particular form of the communication network depending on the aim he wants to achieve. If he needs accuracy, then the chain network is to be used. The small formal groups circle network is to be used if the aim involves some of its features such as great speed, accuracy and high emergence of the leader. Wheel network is fast and enables high member satisfaction.

Informal communication in the organization, also known as ‘grapevine’, is secondary and very complicated communication network which is based on personal contact, and opposed to the system of formal communication since it does not follow a particular line settled in advance. Since grapevineis not a less important source of information, the organizational management is to acknowledge also the informal communication system in the organization, and use it for the welfare of the organization. Informal communication reflects the employees’ perception concerning the organization. It often carries or asks for information which the management, accidentally or deliberately, has not formally disclosed. Grapevineconsists of three main features. These are (i) it is not controlled by the management, (ii) most of the employees consider it more feasible and more reliable than the official notifications provided by the top management, and (iii) it is mostly used for the self-interest of the people within it.

Public communication is that communication by which employees working for the organization routinely communicate with the outside world, and that these communications are often part of what is, and is not, communicated within the organization. Such external communication can be official, such as press releases, letters or boundary spanning, or unofficial, such as whistle-blowing (making public the details of unethical practices), industrial espionage or websites run by disaffected ex-employees.

Communication is the key factor for the success of the organization. When it comes to effective communication, there are certain barriers which the organization usually faces. Normally it is felt that communication is as easy and simple as it sounds. No doubt it is, but what makes it complex, difficult and frustrating are the barriers which come in its way. Barriers to successful communication include message overload (when a person receives too many messages at the same time), and message complexity. Some of these barriers are described below.

Physical barriers – Physical barriers are often due to the nature of the environment. As an example, a natural barrier exists, if employees are located in different buildings or in different locations. Likewise, poor or outdated equipment, particularly the failure of management to introduce new technology, can also lead to physical barrier. Employees’ shortage is another kind of physical barrier which frequently causes communication difficulties in the organization. Another kind of physical barriers can be distractions like background noise, poor lighting or a working environment which is either too hot or too cold. These distractions can affect employees’ morale and concentration, which in turn interfere with effective communication.

System design -System design faults refer to the problems with the structures or systems in place in the organization. The structure of the organization can be unclear and hence it makes it confusing to know who to communicate with. Other example can be inefficient or inappropriate information system, a lack of supervision or training, and a lack of clarity in roles and responsibilities which can lead to employees being uncertain about what is expected of them.

Attitudinal barriers -Attitudinal barriers crops up due to the problems with employees’ behaviour in the organization. These behaviours can be due to many reasons such as poor management, lack of consultation with employees, personality conflicts which can result in people delaying or refusing to communicate, the personal attitudes of individual employees which can be due to lack of motivation or dissatisfaction at work, brought about by insufficient training to enable them to carry out particular tasks, or just resistance to change due to the entrenched attitudes and ideas.

Ambiguity of words/phrases -Words or phrases sounding the same but having different meaning can cause communication issues since they convey a different meaning altogether. Hence the communicator is to ensure that the receiver receives the same meaning. However, it is always better if such words can be avoided by using alternatives.

Linguistic ability – Linguistic ability of an individual is important for effective communication. The use of difficult or inappropriate words in communication can prevent the employees from understanding the message. Poorly explained or misunderstood messages result into confusion. There can be situations where the employees listen to something explained but cannot grasp. Such type of communication only causes confusion which in turn results into failure in communication.

Physiological barriers – These have an adverse effect on the communication. Physiological barriers can result from individual employees’ personal discomfort which can be caused because of ill health, poor eyesight or hearing difficulties.

Presentation of information – It is an important aspect which helps the receiver in understanding the communication. The communicator is required to consider the audience before he presents the information. If the communicator does not know the audience, then he is to try to present the information by using simplified vocabulary so that majority can understand.

Importance of effective communication

 No matter how brilliant and invaluable is an idea or information; it is worthless unless it can be shared with others. For this reason, effective communication is crucial at every level of the organization. However, the ability to communicate effectively does not come easily to many employees, and it is a skill which needs practice.

Hence the organizational management is to ensure that the employees’ skills have matured to the point that they become excellent communicators. The employees reach this point when their interactions with others consistently use the following principles.

Not to use a forked tongue while speaking – In most cases, an employee does not open up to those employees whom he does not trust. When employees have a sense a manager is worthy of their trust they invest their time and take risks in ways they never would if their manager had a reputation built upon poor character or lack of integrity. While employees can attempt to demand trust, it rarely works. Trust is best created by earning it with right acting, thinking, and decision taking. It is to be kept in mind that employees forgive many things where trust exists, but rarely forgive anything where trust is absent.

Get personal – Classic organizational theory tells that management is to stay at arm’s length with the employees. However, in practice, the management can stay at arm’s length only if it wants to remain in the dark receiving only highly sanitized versions of the truth. If the management does not develop meaningful relationships with the employees then it can never know what is really on the mind of the employees until it is too late to do anything about it.

Organizational conversations – Management, which relies lesser on issuing of corporate communications and more on organizational conversations, takes the organization on the path of higher performance. Such managements believe in dialog not monologue. The concept is that the larger the number of employees engaging the conversation, the more effective is the communication. There is great truth in the following saying that ‘people do not care how much you know until they know how much you care’. Hence, the caring management develops an effective communication in the organization.

Get specific – Being specific is many times better than being ambiguous. The communication in the organization is to be carried out with clarity. Simple and concise communication is always better than complicated and confusing communication. Being brief and specific saves on the time, which is a precious commodity.  Hence, it is critical that both the management and the employees learn how to cut to the chase and hit the high points while communicating. Without understanding the value of brevity and clarity it is unlikely that the management can ever afford the opportunity to get to the granular level as the employees lose patience before the communication is not understood by them. The objective of the communication is to weed out the superfluous and to make the communication which has clarity and concise.

Emphasis on the leave-behinds and not take-aways – A good communicator is not only skilled at learning and gathering information while communicating, but also capable of transferring ideas, aligning expectations, inspiring action, and spreading their vision. The key is to approach each interaction with a follower’s heart. When the communicator truly focuses on contributing more than receiving, then he has accomplished the goal. Even though this may seem counter-intuitive, by intensely focusing on the other party’s wants, needs and desires, he learns far more than he ever would by focusing on his agenda.

To have an open mind – It is often said that the rigidity of a closed mind is the single greatest limiting factor of new opportunities. Management takes its plans to a new level the moment it willingly seeks out those who hold dissenting opinions and opposing positions with the goal not of convincing them to change their minds, but with the goal of understanding what is working in their mind. A good communicator is not fearful of opposing views. In fact, he is genuinely curious and interested. Open dialogs with those which confront the communicator, challenge him, stretch him, and develop him are useful. It is required to be remembered that it is not the opinion which matters, but what matters is the willingness to discuss it with an open mind and learn.

Speak less and listen more – Good communicator knows when to dial it up, to dial it down, and to dial it off (mostly down and off). Simply broadcasting his message repeatedly does not has the same result as engaging in meaningful conversation, but this assumes that the communicator understands that the greatest form of discourse takes place within a conversation, and not by a lecture or a monologue. When the communicator reaches that point when the light bulb goes off, and he begins to understand that knowledge is not gained by flapping his lips, but by removing his ear wax, ha has taken the first step in becoming a skilled communicator.

Replace ego with empathy – A good communicator does not let his ego to overtake him. He is aware of his talent. When communication is done with openness, empathy, and caring and not with the prideful arrogance of an over inflated ego, then good things begin to happen. Empathetic communicator displays a level of authenticity and transparency which is not present with those who choose to communicate behind the carefully crafted facade propped-up by a very fragile ego. Understanding of this principle of communication helps turning the anger into respect and doubt into trust.

Read between the lines – A good communicator takes a moment and reflects back what comes to his mind. He finds that he is very skillful at reading between the lines. He has the natural ability to understand what is not said, witnessed, or heard. Being a manager is not to be viewed as a license to increase the volume of speech-making. Rather shrewd manager knows that there is far more to be gained by surrendering the floor than by speaking at inordinate length. In this age of instant communication, everyone seems to be in such a rush to communicate what is in his mind that he fails to realize everything to be gained from the minds of others. By keeping the eyes and ears open and the mouth shut and a person is amazed at how his level or organizational awareness is raised.

While speaking to know what one is talking about – A good communicator develops a technical command over his subject matter. If he does not possess subject matter expertise, he let other people the time of day. Most successful people have little interest in listening to those individuals who cannot add value to a situation or topic, but force themselves into a conversation just to speak. There is the saying ‘it is not what you say, but how you say it that matters’. While there is surely an element of truth in this saying, but in good communication it matters very much what is being said. A good communicator addresses both the ‘what’ and ‘how’ aspects of messaging so that he does fall prey to becoming the smooth talker who leaves people with the impression of form over substance.

Speak to groups as individuals – A communicator does not always have the luxury of speaking to individuals in an intimate setting. A good communicator can tailor a message such that he can speak to a number of people in a conference room or a very large number of people in an auditorium and has them feel as if he is speaking directly to each one of them as an individual. Knowing how to work a room and establish credibility, trust, and rapport are keys to successful interactions.

Bonus – A good communicator is always prepared to change the message if needed. Another component of communications strategy which is rarely discussed is how to prevent a message from going bad, and what to do when it does. It is called being prepared and developing a contingency plan. Again, a good communicator must keep in mind that for successful interactions to occur, his objective is to be in alignment with those he is communicating with. If his expertise, empathy, clarity, etc. does not have the desired effect, which by the way is very rare, he needs to be able to make an impact by changing things up on the fly. He is to use great questions, humour, stories, analogies, relevant data, and where needed, bold statements to help connect and engender the confidence and trust that it takes for the communicator who wants to engage. While it is sometimes necessary to ‘shock and awe’ but this tactic is to be reserved as a last resort.

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