Today’s organizations are multifaceted communal structures which cannot effectively function without meaningful communication between its employees. Communication is the process by which all employees within an organization are connected. Communication within an organization flows mainly in three different directions – downward, upward and horizontal.
Upward communication originates from the subordinate level and continues to flow up to the organizational hierarchy to those superior in the organization. It is an upward flow of information from employees at the operational level to top executives. Upward communication can occur through suggestion systems, appeal and grievance procedures, group meetings, the practice of an open-door policy, morale questionnaires and exit interviews.
In order to promote effective upward communication, the upper level of management must create a working environment in which subordinates feel at liberty to communicate.
Pros and Cons of Upward Communication
- Managers can obtain specific knowledge about every situation in the organization. This type of communication assists management in comprehending the performance of employees, the problems of employees, and the results of decisions they have made.
- Upward communication helps the organization to implement innovative techniques developed by the lower level employees.
- Employees are enthusiastic because they feel they are an essential part of the organization.
- The process of downward communication is facilitated as good listening becomes a two-way channel.
- Employees hesitate to communicate bad news for fear that it will make them appear incompetent.
- The valuable time of superiors may be wasted in listening to trivial matters of subordinates.
- Superiors often listen only to what they feel is important and may be ignoring other important information.
- Superiors are often too busy to listen to subordinates.
Communication that streams from employees at higher levels to those at lower levels in the organizational chain of command is referred to as downward communication. Oral downward communication may take place by means of instructions, meetings, the telephone, loudspeakers and even the grapevine. Written downward communication engages the use of memorandums, letters, handbooks, pamphlets, and policy and procedure statements.
Pros and Cons of Downward Communication
- Assists employees in gaining support from their superiors by providing job instructions, rationale and feedback.
- Makes employees aware of the organization’s policies, procedures, objectives and programs.
- Facilitates understanding of employees’ responsibilities and helps them achieve their goals.
- It is a time-consuming process that may frustrate top level managers.
- Lack of knowledge on the part of the subordinates may cause misunderstandings and create conflicts.
- The message may lose its accuracy because it becomes complicated. Lack of trust between superiors and subordinates can cause the message to become distorted.
Horizontal flow refers to the flow of information among employees at the same or similar organizational levels, who have no direct reporting relationships. It can take place orally during informal meetings or over lunch. It can also take place during formal conferences and board meetings. The company newsletter and bulletin board notices are the usual mediums for the written form of horizontal communication.
Pros and Cons of Horizontal Communication
- Facilitates understanding between employees at same hierarchical level by allowing them to share information to achieve organizational goals.
- Assists in solving conflicts among employees working in a department.
- Provides social, psychological and emotional support to each other.
- Since the horizontal form of communication does not follow any particular chain of commands, problems may arise between employees at various levels and between various departments of the organization.
- May waste time on matters that are unproductive.
- May cause disharmony among employees as too much personal information is shared.
Effective communication is a necessary component in the planning and implementation of managerial activities. It functions as the basis for efficient leadership. The communication process is complex and often unpredictable. There may exist barriers to communication such as cultural misunderstandings, inattention and premature evaluation, impersonal communication, information overload, and lack of trust in the communicator. The communication process can be enhanced by improving effective listening skills and providing proper feedback.
By Shirley J. Caruso, M.A., Human Resource Development