Communication in Organisational Behaviour

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The purpose of this report is to understand the concepts of communication in organizational behaviour and afterwards evaluate an article based on the current understanding of the subject.

The term ‘communication’ refers to the transmission of information and exchange of meaning between at least two people with the aim of having an impact on the recipient.

What is the need for effective and appropriate communication?

Communication affects the performance and individual performance within an organisation as well as the overall performance. As many people do not work alone, managers interact with many people which takes up a great deal of their time. Society today is very diverse and multi-cultural, due to this sensitivity of other cultures is crucial to achieve effective cross-cultural communication.

Every important thing that happens within an organization involves some degree of communication. Some of these include purchasing supplies, providing feedback, hiring/ training staff, customer service, strategy, meetings and overcoming problems. As communication is crucial to these operations , interruptions to this can have detrimental effects. These interruptions include hierarchies, power differences , the nature of employment and rules.

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.

Cultural differences

Non-verbal and verbal communication differs from culture to culture. In japan, the gestures of smiling and nodding show an understanding but not necessarily agreement. In various Asian cultures, it is impolite to give superiors direct and prolonged eye contact; a bowed head shows deference and not a lack of self-confidence or defensiveness. In Australia, when people raise the pitch of their voice at the end of a sentence, it signifies openness to a challenge or question. Northern European cultures like a lot of personal space and rarely touch each other. In contrast to this, Italians and Latin Americans stand closer together and touch more to indicate friendship and agreement. There are many other variations within other cultures.

When cultural differences are understood, it is easy to make people feel included/engaged as well as making sure the information you are giving them is not misunderstood.

Vertical Communication

Vertical communication happens between people in hierarchy positions and can involve downward and upward communications. Larkin and Larkin (1994) suggest that downward communication is more effective when top managers communicate with immediate supervisors and immediate supervisors communicate with their staff. A range of evidence shows that that increasing the power of immediate supervisors increases both satisfaction and performance among employees. This was proposed by Donald Pelz (1952) and is referred to as the Pelz effect.Jablin (1980), after looking at 30 years of research, pronounced the Pelz effect to be “one of the most widely accepted propositions about organizational communication.”

Downward communication

This is more than just sending information to subordinates. It can involve managing the tone of the message and showing skill in delegation to make sure the job is done well by the right person. There is a degree of certainty that the best approach to downward communication (Jablin 1980 ) is:

Top managers should communicate directly with immediate supervisors. Immediate supervisors should communicate with their direct reports. With issues of importance, top management should follow up by directly communicating with staff.

Upward Communication

Less is known about upward communication, however one finding that’s consistent is that staff satisfaction with upward communication is lower that their satisfaction with downward communication.

Larkin and Larkin (1994) discovered a low level of satisfaction with all the methods used to improve upward communication. These methods included staff surveys, grievance programs and staff participation programs.

McCelland (1988) found a number of employee-based reasons why upward communication tends to be poor, including: fear of reprisal, filters and time.

Lateral communication

Lateral communication entails communication with people who don’t belong in a hierarchical relation to each other. Studies regarding lateral communication are still behind those studies of vertical communication.

It is thought that lateral communication at the employee worker level have less problems, at least within a functional area. However, with more importance on teams, extra attention is now being aimed at team members communicating. Lateral communications between workers in different functional areas is also becoming a greater concern as more attention is being directed at increasing the speed of production through simultaneous, as opposed to sequential, work processes.

Diagonal Communication

Diagonal communication is where information is sent between two employees of different departments and different levels. Some experts in this area define diagonal communication as the method of sharing information between various structural levels in an organization.

Verbal communication relies of spoken or written words to pass on information with others. It is a process where people have a discussion and are exposed to new information

Verbal communication:

Verbal communication refers to oral or written responses, which are both contrasted to non-verbal communications. The way people get the information they need during verbal communication is through various questioning techniques:

Open – This technique introduces a subject to enable a further discussion

Closed – To retrieve factual information in the form of yes/no

Probe – This follows an open question to retrieve more information

Reflective – This is used to display concern/interest

Multiple – This technique gives the listener a choice of questions to respond to

Leading – To get the answer that you expect to hear

Hypothetical – This technique encourages creative thoughts

By using and understanding these range of techniques it is easy to analyse techniques used by others and put across your response more effectively.

Non-verbal communication :

When people communicate face to face, signs, expressions, gestures, postures and vocal mannerisms are constantly sending and receiving messages. Factual information is mainly coded and transmitted by verbal methods. Feelings and emotions as well as the strength of these feelings are coded and transmitted through non-verbal communication.

A more popular term for non-verbal communication is ‘body language’

Maureen Guirdham (1995, p.165) lists 136 non-verbal communications in 9 categories: mouth behaviour, eyelids/eyes, eyebrows, gaze, facial expression, head movements, hands/arms, lower limbs and trunk movements. The mouth category has 40 behaviours (grin, yawn, smile, sneer etc.)

The technical terms for non-verbal communications are:

Occulesics –eye behaviour

Kinesics – Body and limb movements

Proxemics – the use of space

Paralanguage – the tone and pitch of voice

Facial expression


Chromatics – use of colour

Chronemics – use of time

Haptics – bodily contacts

Overall the following channels are in order from lean to rich. Rich meaning a higher personal presence:

Intranet/shared drive



Voice mail



Instant message

Phone call

Face-to-face (two people)

Teleconference (internal and external participants)

Videoconference (internal and external participants)

Meeting (entire team)

Formal communication:

messages that are being transferred on regulated, preset channels, of an organization is formal communication. The content of the communication is related to the organization’s activity, to the work and to anything which is related to those. formal communicationcan contain a verbal or nonverbal message, written, under the shape of letters, telephone messages. There can also be gestures within formal communication. The messages are sent by the authorized people: via official channels.

Normally, formal communicationsis recorded and kept within an organization. Copies of these are kept by the transmitter, by the receiver, by all of the desks from the organization which need to know and keep the information.

Informal communication:

Informal communication comes from all the channels that exist outside of the formal channels, also knows as a grapevine. It exists around the social affiliation of people from the organization. Authority lines do not follow informal communication where they do with formal communication

Due to the individual needs of people from an organization informal communication takes place. Normally this communication is oral and may be express via a simple glance, sign or silence. It is spontaneous, multi-dimensional, diverse and implicit. It usually works in groups of people where one person has some interesting information; they then pass it on to their informal group and so on.

Organizations can use informal channels efficiently to fortify the channels or communication. It acts as an effective way of expressing specific information that can’t be transferred via formal channels.

This satisfies peoples desires to identify what is happening in an organization and provides opportunities to express worries, dreads and complaints. Informal communication also facilitates to ameliorate managerial decisions as more people are involved in the process of decision-making.

Impression management

In an organisation it is very important to control the image and impressions that others perceive, this can be achieved through impression management.

Paul Rosenfeld (2001) observed that impression management methods include: what we do/how we say it, what we say/ how we say it, the furnishings and arrangements of offices, physical appearance, facial expressions and posture.

To achieve good impression management, it involves always being aware of cues that are sent through verbal and non-verbal communication.

How to choose an appropriate channel

There are many channels available for communication but to choose an appropriate one it is important to understand a few factors

Firstly you should consider the elements within the message you wish to send. If the message is personal then a channel such as a telephone call or face to face should be chosen. If it is informal then it is appropriate to use email or a letter.

Secondly speed of feedback should be considered. If a fast reply is required then use a telephone call or instant message. If it is not important then use an email or arrange a meeting.

Thirdly if a permanent record of communication is needed (mainly for a business purpose) then a message should be given via email, memo or letters.


Language – It can be within just one country where language/accent variations make communication more difficult

Differences in gender – communication styles are different between men and women

Physical surroundings – the size/layout of rooms affect the ability to see other people and readiness to partake in conversations

Cultural diversity – cultures have different expectations towards formal and informal communication; a lack of these understandings can cause misunderstanding

Power differences – employees distort upward communication, also those higher up the hierarchy have a limited understanding to those in lower ranks.

How to improve communication

Face to face – When someone is able to talk to somebody directly, feedback can be used to check the coding and decoding processes, and to correct mistakes and misunderstandings.

Place & time – If a message is given at the wrong time or the wrong place it is likely to not be interpreted correctly, or could be ignored. So the time and place should be chosen with care.

Reality check – people should not assume that others will understand messages in the way others intend, it should also be checked how messages have been interpreted.

Empathetic listening – It is important to see and understand other peoples points of view

The article recommends the following points to improve organizational communication

Shared purpose – The purpose of an organisation is to ‘express the company’s primary value. It is the end to which the strategy is directed ‘ (Ellsworth 2002) therefore it is important to establish what employees understand their organisations purpose.

If employees have a shared purpose they all know what they are striving towards and feel closer to higher management as they are working towards the same goal. Whereas management don’t usually understand the roles of those lower in the hierarchy, this will help to resolve this as they have a common goal; making communication easier.

Where management and employees are brought closer together due to a shared goal, this helps to overcome the barrier of power differences described earlier.

Where organisations do not have this shared sense of purpose and make decisions in private with just the highest management it is unlikely to reach other employees , resulting in a breakdown of communication.

Due to this a shared purpose does show to improve communication

Engage your people -

This verdict and definition forwarded by Institute of Employment Studies gives a clear insight that employee engagement is the result of two-way relationship between employer and employee pointing out that there are things to be done by both sides. Furthermore, Fernandez (2007) shows the distinction between job satisfaction, the well-known construct in management, and engagement contending that employee satisfaction is not the same as employee engagement and since managers can not rely on employee satisfaction to help retain the best and the brightest, employee engagement becomes a critical concept.

Managers should promote two-way communication. Clear and consistent communication of what is expected of them paves the way for engaged workforce.

Development Dimensions International (DDI, 2005) states that a manager must do five things to create a highly

engaged workforce. They are:

Align efforts with strategy


Promote and encourage teamwork and collaboration

Help people grow and develop

Provide support and recognition where appropriate

After surveying 10,000 NHS employees in Great Britain, Institute of Employment Studies (Robinson et al., 2004) points out that the key driver of employee engagement is a sense of feeling valued and involved, which has the components such as involvement in decision making, the extent to which employees feel able to voice their ideas and have better communication, the opportunities employees have to develop their jobs and the extent to which the organization is concerned for

employees’ health and well-being.

Cultural differences should also be taken into account to make sure all employees achieve effective communication and therefore feel more engaged, some of these cultures are described earlier.

Consider your channels – the article in question suggests that considering channels is important in improving overall communication. Referring to the theory mentioned earlier it is important to recognise what you want to get from a conversation/discussion. If you are seeking information then you should use the appropriate questioning techniques.

By considering channels, messages can be successfully coded and decoded between the sender and receiver. Information will not be misinterpreted or ignored and can be passed on effectively. This all improves communication

Measure communication

measurement is possible with some discipline before a project begins and after it is completed.

Award-winning business communicator, Ann Wylie, says an alternative to proving cause and effect is to demonstrate a correlation between our efforts and the company’s success by establishing that communication was received, believed and acted upon.

There are several ways to quantify a communication effort. One is to establish clear goals at the beginning of the project: “Active participation in Open Enrollment will increase by 30 percent”; or you could conduct a content analysis. Wylie recommends using a matrix to determine the percentage of your publication’s content devoted to a particular message in order to get to quantitative data about the number of times the message was created and delivered.

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Argyris, C. (2011). Organizational traps: Leadership, culture, organizational design. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Canary, H. (2011). Communication and organizational knowledge: Contemporary issues for theory and practice. Florence, KY: Taylor & Francis.

Greenberg, J., & Baron, R. A. (2010). Behavior in organizations (10th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.

Jablin, F. M., & Sias, P. M. (2001). Communication competence. In F. M. Jablin & L. L. Putnam (Eds.), The new handbook of organizational communication: Advances in theory, research, and methods (pp. 819-864). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.