Communication flow and types of communication in organisations

The word “communication” is derived from the Latin word “communis” which means common. There is much similarity in the definition given by various writers. A few definitions of communication are given below:

Joe Kelly(1973) – “Communication is the field of knowledge which deals with the systematic application of symbols to acquire common information regarding an object or event.”

Ivancevish, Donnelly, and Gibson (2003) – “Communication is the transmission of information and understanding through the use of common symbols.”

These definitions have many things in common. Communication is described as a process through which one person transmits information to another person through appropriate medium. Thus five vital components of communication as pointed out by most of these writers are:

The message itself

Receiver of the message

Transmission channel

Reception of the message

The traditional view of communication holds that communication is the transmission of information from one person to another person. In this view, the effort or result of communication is not considered. Hence, this point of view is not adequate for an effective communication to take place. For example:

Transmission Reception

(Sender) (Receiver)

This is an example of one-way communication. The sender of information is not sure whether or not the receiver correctly received the message sent. This view has now been modified. It is now believed that communication process cannot be complete without considering whether the message sent was received and correctly understood. The modified view of communication is as follows:

Transmission Reception

(A message transmitted (It must be received and the

is the first half of receiver must send that the

communication) message has been understood)

Effective communication is, thus the process of sending a message in such a way that the message received is as close in meaning as possible to the message intended (Griffin, 1998).

In context to workplace, Managers spend most of their time communicating than doing anything else. They spend a large part of each day talking and listening. When they are not talking or listening, they are likely communicating in other ways – reading, watching, writing and gesturing. Or perhaps they are just taking the information by seeing and feeling. All those activities are forms of communication. Without communication facts, ideas, and information cannot be exchanged.

Communication is vital to organisational life. In fact, organisations exist through communication. Without communication, there would be no organisations. As Herbert Simon expresses it, “Without communication there can be no organisations, for there is no possibility then of the group influencing the behaviour of the individual.” Therefore without question, communication is the ingredient that makes organisations possible. It is the vehicle through which the basic managerial functions are carried out. Managers direct organisational activities through communication. They coordinate through communication, and they plan, organize, motivate, and control through communication. Virtually all actions taken in an organisation has been preceded by communication. Thus, communication is an essential ingredient of almost everything a manager does.

Communication Flow in Organisations

In an organisation where I work, there are major communication systems. Communication flow downward, upward or horizontally. As these terms are used frequently in organisations, they deserve some clarification which are:

Downward Communication

Downward communication is that from superior to subordinate – from boss to employees and from managers to operating staff. In my work place managers communicate with their employees for job instruction which includes teaching new or current employees how to do a particular task. They pass upon a organisational goals and train employee to achieve those goals. Managers also do communicate with their employees to give them a feedback upon their performance. They also take a role in having appraisal or superior’s evaluation of employee performance. Downward communication flow is, of course, related to the hierarchical structure of the organisation. Messages seem to get larger as they travel downward through successive levels of the organisation. A simple instruction given at the top of the hierarchy, for example, may become formal plan for operation at lower level.

Upward Communication

Upward communication is equally important for effective communication. Upward communication travels from lower to higher ranks in the hierarchy. Various mechanisms are used by organisations to facilitate upward communication. Suggestion boxes, group meetings, grievance procedures, participate decision-making are some examples. This is maintained to get feedback to managers from employees.

In my organisation Employees talk to superiors about themselves, their fellow employees, their job satisfaction, their perceptions of their work, their feelings and opinions about organisational goals and policies. The feedback that the management receives from lower level is, thus, extremely important and it should be encouraged. It should, however, be remembered that if the right climate is not created, employees may not provided their feedback freely and accurately.

Horizontal or Lateral Communication

Much information needs to be shared among people on the same hierarchical level. Such horizontal or lateral communication takes place among people in the same work team. Hence, this form of communication is extremely useful for achieving coordination. In my organisation, Different units coordinate activities by such communication to accomplish task goals. Interdepartmental uniformity to be achieved through lateral communication. Such communication takes place by means of telephone calls, short memos and notes, face-to-face interactions, etc.

Although this type of communication is not often encouraged, it is sure to take place. Workers at the same level tend to talk with one another about their work, their supervisors, and their working conditions. They also talk with one another about various personal and non- work problems. As a result, horizontal communication can contribute to self-maintenance goals as well as to task goals. Horizontal or lateral communication takes place through informal channels.

Types of Communication

In my organisation, information flows in three directions – down, up and sideways – through formal and informal channels. We have already discussed the downward, upward, and horizontal or lateral communication systems in organisation. We will now deal with the other types: (i) formal, (ii) informal, (iii) interpersonal, and (iv) non- verbal communications.

Formal Communication

Formal communication is the official channel of communication. Such communication flows through established line of authority. The formal communication is controlled and regulated by the management of an organisation. The management decides which information to share, with whom, and when. Examples of formal communication include official letters, memos, notices, newsletter, reports, staff meetings, etc.

The forms of formal communication are downward and upward exchange of information. We have already discussed these forms of formal communications. Downward communication deals with instructions, plans, policies, procedures, etc. Upward communication deals with employee, suggestions, grievance procedures, meetings, or problem-solving groups.

In a workplace it follows the authority structure. Organisation structure determines who communicates with whom and for what purpose and in context to my organisation Formality is maintained in such communication. An operative can hardly find opportunity to meet and communicate with the higher-level managers. Information ownership rests only with some persons in the organisation. They have the information and hence they have the power of information. If these persons do not want to disclose information, formal communication cannot take place.

Informal Communication

Informal communication is more unofficial. It occurs outside the formal channels. People gossip. Employees complain about their bosses. They whisper secrets about their workers. The information flowing through this channel is not officially approved and sanctioned. However, much of the communication in organisations takes place informally. Employees communicate with one another to maintain their social relationships and friendship.

Informally communication combines the advantages of both personal and unofficial communications. It has the advantage that is found in all personal communications. It has the credibility of unofficial version of information. Informal sources, because they are in the “unofficial” category, are most likely to be relied upon for information of an evaluative nature. Despite these advantages, there are some problems too. Informal communication depends on “word-of-mouth”, is less controllable, and has some negative consequences.

The most common forms of informal communication include: the grapevine, rumours, and non-verbal communication.

Interpersonal Communication

Interpersonal communication is a two-way communication system. It is the primary means of managerial communication. Interpersonal communication takes place between or among two or more individuals. Interpersonal communication is perhaps the most common type communication in organisations, because it includes all communications among employees, and between management and employees. For example: when a manager asks an employee, to prepare a report on the use of raw materials in his or her section, the request can be classified as an interpersonal communication.

The important methods of interpersonal communication are:

Oral Communication

Oral communication takes place in face-to-face conversations, group discussions, telephone calls, and so on. Managers spent most of their time in oral communication – instructing them or listening to them. Advantages are that questions can be asked and answered. Feedback is immediate and direct. Therefore, oral communication is the essential and most effective form of interpersonal communication. Its major drawback is that the words spoken by the managers may give a wrong message to employees.

Written Communication

Written communication is the most formal and widely used method of interpersonal communication. People prefer this form of communication because written maters are easier to follow. If confusions arise, this can be verified. The advantage of this type of interpersonal communication is that it can be recorded for future reference and evidence. Its drawback is that it inhibits feedback and is more time and resource consuming.

Non-Verbal Communication

Non-verbal communication is that communication that involves neither written nor spoken words. It occurs without the use of words. Body language, such as: eye contacts, gestures, postures, and proximity between individuals as they talk, is an important part of the Complex process of communication.

Interpreting the body language of those with whom the manager works can give him or her important clues as to what they are thinking.


Effective communication is not so easy. There are many blocks and barriers to effective communication. Because of these barriers, effective exchange of information cannot take place. Managers must be aware of these barriers, effective exchange of information cannot take place. Managers must be aware of these barriers and break downs in communication. Barriers to communication can be classified into five groups – process, physical, semantic, psychological, and technological. These barriers cause disruptions in the flow of communication in an organisation.

Effective communication cannot take place unless the barriers are overcome. Although it may not be possible to eliminate the barriers, it is possible to minimize them. For eliminating barriers, formal and rigid organisational structures should be minimized and the use of group activities, such as: teams, quality circles, task forces, committees, etc. should be maximized. These practices bring people together from different levels of the organisation to pursue its goals. Improving communication process, reducing physical barriers, simplifying the language, promoting interpersonal relationship are the methods to enhance effective communication. These managerial strategies facilitate communication within the organisation.

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