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Organizational communication management

Organizational communication is one of the most important problems in the modern companies, and therefore it is a highly significant matter for each company to work out the best possible communication process in order to make the work process in the given organization as effective as possible.

In the very beginning let me explain a term of communication. It is a process in which information is passed on from one person to the other. People who are leaders, e.g. managers, directors are the same opinion that they spend most of their working time on communication. They should communicate with others in order to pass on their vision, business goals and unit tasks as well as to acquire information from an employee. Communication with e.g. managers is very important to the rank and file employees as it lets them better understand both what is happening in the environment and how they can improve the efficiency in the workplace.

To make the communication more effective the process of sending a message has to be constructed in the way to make the received message have possibly similar meaning as the sent message. The information should be sent and received in as faithful version as possible. In the efficient communication the content should be passed on the way to let the receiver of the message understands it as well as the intention of their interlocutor. Here is an example of how different the messages may be understood, in this case the answers to the question: how was your biology test?

  1. I got 5.
  2. Good.
  3. Victory.

Probably the first answer is the most comprehensible. The second answer may seem to be clear, but a little less clear than the first one, because ‘good’ is relatively vague and may have different meanings for different people. The least intelligible is the third answer which comes from Latin and some people may not understand it. Hence, the content of the message may be misunderstood. Undeniably, the key issue is care for clarity and precision.

The communication is related directly with the basic functions of management including planning, organisation, being a leader or supervision. It is obvious that communication is a ubiquitous element of all managerial activities. A good organizational communication management requires a deep analysis of the given process of communication.

The process of communication begins when a person (sender) wants to convey a fact, idea, opinion or other information to someone else (receiver). These have some meaning to the sender. For instance Anna Kowalska, a marketing representative of ‘X’ company, has entered into a profitable transaction recently and wants to tell her boss about it. The above fact is the content of the information. The next step is to encode the content (meaning) in a form which is appropriate to the situation using words, facial expression, images or physical actions. For example, Anna Kowalska could say: ‘I just entered into a transaction with ‘Y’ company’ or ‘We have got good news from the ‘Y’ company’. She could also make thumbs up gesture or send an e-mail message: ‘Success!’ or do something else. It shows that such situational factors as the content of the information and whether the receiver and sender know each other or not as well as what are their relationships, are quite significant.

The encoded message is transmitted through the proper channel or by means of communication. The most common channels in the organizations are: meetings, minutes, letters, reports, phone calls as well as internet or e-mail. Anna Kowalska chose the verbal form of communication by phone – she left a message on her manager’s voicemail. The received message is decoded by the receiver. Both meanings of the same message may differ. For Anna Kowalska’s manager the message meant ‘a very important event for the company’. He could call her and congratulate her success or leave her a personal thank you note in writing or send her a formal letter (e-mail) with compliments or even praise her in public at the company meeting. In fact, he decided to send her a formal letter with compliments.

The sent message may be distorted by so called information pollution at every stage on its way to the receiver. This pollution may be physical obstacles such as: noise, too quiet voice, static in the receiver. Other disruption may be losing a letter in the pile of incoming letters, unexpected damage of the phone or computer etc. If the manager’s note to Anna Kowalska disappeared she would feel underestimated. Since the note reached Anna, the manager’s action increased Anna’s motivation.

Information pollution may have personal character, that means, it may be a result of our or the interlocutor’s faults, inner barriers, stereotypes, emotional state – we perceive a neutral information completely different when being happy, angry or frustrated.

Management ought to know different ways of communication and use the transmission channels knowingly. Verbal and written communication has an interpersonal character and can be connected. Verbal communication takes place during direct conversation, group discussions, phone calls and in other circumstances, when the spoken word is used to express the content of the message. The meaning of verbal communication is great, as it turns out that e.g. managers spend 50-90% of their working time talking. The advantages of verbal communication (especially direct contact) are as follows:

  • fosters direct reaction/feedback and exchange of thoughts (questions, facial expression, gesture);
  • is easy (the interlocutor is just supposed to speak) and may be performed with a little preparation;
  • the interlocutor does not require any additional attributes such as a pen and paper, computer or other devices.
  • Verbal communication has disadvantages as well:
  • may be inaccurate, if a speaker does not choose their words carefully or omits important details;
  • is exposed to the information pollution;
  • is exposed to inaccuracy if a receiver forgets the message or its part;
  • happens here and now, so there is no time for a considered, thoughtful answer or an introduction of new facts.

Let’s move on to the written communication which uses the written word to transmit the content. These are: notes, letters, e-mails, reports etc. Although many problems connected with verbal communication can be overcome thanks to this form, it is not in common use. The main disadvantages of this form of communication are:

  • prevents feedback and exchange of views;
  • is more time-consuming.

The advantages of this kind of communication are:

  • there is more time to reflect, absorb the information and make corrections;
  • moreover, written communication enables saving contact information, that means, the receiver has a possibility to resume contact information, if necessary.

It is common in organizations to combine both forms of communications, for example by preparing so called ‘minutes’ of the meeting, that is the reports which sum up a discussion, define directions and are an evident trace of verbal communication.

A selection of the appropriate form of communication depends on a situation. Organizations, which have branches in many distant locations, use the electronic communication systems to maintain communication between branches and management. Such solution enables managerial staff to keep in touch with employees. Verbal communication is often preferred when the information is personal, but not routine and concise. The written form is better, when the content of the message is rather impersonal, routine and longer.

Organizational communication may also be classified into vertical and horizontal communication, communication networks and ‘grapevine’ communication. These types of communication include both verbal and written communication. They are described below.

Vertical communication flows up and down the organization’s chain of command, usually along the organizational hierarchy. The communication takes place between managers and their subordinates, and may include a few organizational levels. It is the communication of the organization employees with people at higher and lower levels of that organization.

Vertical communication may be divided into:

  • Upward vertical communication
  • Downward vertical communication

Upward vertical communication consists of messages from subordinates to their superiors, especially to direct superiors and then to the upper levels etc. One by one up the organizational hierarchy. Occasionally it happens that a message bypasses one of the superiors. Typical content of upward communication includes suggestions or requests for information, which is important to higher-ups in the opinion of the lower level employees. Upward communication is more subject to disruptions than is downward communication. The subordinates are likely to withhold or distort the information that presents them in a bad light. The greater the degree of difference in status between the subordinate and their superior as well as the greater degree of mutual distrust, the more likely the information is to be suppressed or distorted.

Downward communication occurs when information flows down the hierarchy from superiors to subordinates. Typical content of downward communication is directives on the job instructions, assign new duties, offer feedback concerning performance as well as the general information, which in the superior’s opinion, may be important to their subordinate.

The vertical communication may and should be two-way to let the superiors and the subordinates carry on a dialog between each other.

While vertical communication includes both a superior and a subordinate, horizontal communication takes place among people at the same level of the organization e.g. colleagues or different departments’ managers who have equal position in the hierarchy. Horizontal communication can be applied for different purposes e.g. facilitating the coordination between independent units, common problem solving and realisation of group goals.

Another form of organizational communication is so called communication networks. There are several standard patterns of communication networks, according to which the communication takes place:

  • ‘Wheel’ in which the whole communication flows through one central person, who is the leader of the group. It is an example of the most centralized network because one person receives and disseminates all messages;
  • ‘Y pattern’ in which two persons are close to the centre (the leader). It is an example of slightly less centralised network.
  • ‘Chain’ in which communication proceeds at the same level from the first person through the next etc. That pattern guarantees more even flow of communication among members of the group.
  • ‘Circle’ in which communication flows from the first person to the next one and finally returns as feedback from the last person to the first one. Communication path is closed in this pattern.
  • ‘All-Channel network’ in which each member is equally involved in communication processes and a leader, if there is one, has not got excessive power. It is the most decentralized pattern.

There are some connections between the pattern of communication and team performance. If the team tasks are relatively simple and routine, then the high centrality patterns of networks tend to perform with highest effectiveness and accuracy. The dominant leader facilitates the highest performance by coordinating of communication flow. In case when tasks are complex and non-routine, the decentralised networks turn out to be most effective, because the open channels of communication let the members of the group interact with each other more, share the useful information effectively as well as exchange their ideas and views.

Leaders in organizations should realise how strongly the communication networks affect the team cooperation as well as performance in the organization and they should structure the networks appropriately.

The next type of communication networks is ‘grapevine’. It is a sort of informal communication network because it takes place among members of the organization; it may permeate the entire organization and it does not always follow the formal pattern of communication channels. These networks are found in all kinds of organizations except for the smallest ones. The most common types of ‘grapevine’ are:

  • the gossip chain, which occurs when one person spreads the message to many other people. Each one may keep this message confidential or pass it on to others;
  • the cluster chain, one person conveys the information to a few selected individuals. Some of them pass the information to a few others, the others keep it to themselves.

The attempts to eliminate the grapevine is often destined to fail, but the managers have a possibility to control it. By maintaining open channels of communication and reacting vigorously to false information, managers can minimize the damage caused by the informal flow of information.

A person aware of the meaning of communication and its presence in the working environment of organization should know how to maximize potential advantages and minimize potential problems. In order to communicate more efficiently, one should be aware of the factors which may disrupt communication and focus on finding out ways to overcome these disruption.

The factors which may disrupt the process of communication or might be a barrier to effective communication are:

  • characteristics of the sender’s;
  • characteristics of the receiver’s;
  • interpersonal dynamic between receiver and sender;
  • Environmental factors.

Effective communication may be distorted by some of the receiver’s characteristics. These can be inconsistent or incoherent signs or lack of trustworthiness. Problems with trustworthiness may arise, if a sender does not have a reputation of a reliable source of information. They may not enjoy trust or be perceived as a person without knowledge in the given field. Similarly, the subordinate may also be reluctant to convey the information upward for fear of negative feedback or because of regarding their effort as pointless.

The receiver’s characteristics, which may block effective communication, are poor listening habit or specific attitude towards the given subject. Some people cannot listen: they retreat into their thoughts, look around, read or listen another conversation instead of listening what somebody says to them. Because they have difficulties in concentrating on the conversation, the content of the message or at least some part of it may escape their attention. The senders often notice that, which arouse their negative feelings. The interlocutor’s firm attitude towards the given question e.g. defensive one, also makes communication difficult. The reason for arising difficulties in communication may be the differences in status and power because people at different levels perceive a given situation differently.

Although the process of communication is disrupted by many factors, there are several methods to improve its efficiency.

The receiver can take advantage of feedback, awareness, sensitivity as well as reliability in order to enhance the efficiency of communication. The feedback gives the receiver a possibility to ask questions, which means, to request for explanation and express their opinion. The opinions help a sender realize whether their message is comprehensible. The sender should understand the receiver’s point of view.

The receivers may apply two particularly good methods of efficiency improvement. These are as follows:

  • careful and attentive listening – to be a good listener, one should try to listen without interrupting the speaker, focus both on words as well as message content, be patient and ask questions if needed;
  • sensitivity to sender’s point of view.

As far as receiver and sender’s methods are concerned both sides may increase the efficiency of communication by:

  • tracking the information – checking if the message is appropriately received and comprehended;
  • regulation of the information flow – receiver or sender takes steps aiming at preventing the possible information overload. It means the sender should be careful not to convey too much information at once. Whereas the receiver should be careful not to require too much information at once.
  • understanding the variety of different means of transmission – using different types of transmission which are adequate to the situation.

Managers in the organization can not only be personally good communicators, but also affect the improvement of communicating system in the organization. It is possible to achieve that by implementing formal information systems as well as by the possibilities offered by electronic communication.

Formal information systems implementation consists in creating a new position of the director/specialist for internal information/communication. A person on this position is responsible for implementing systems facilitating the undistorted and efficient communication in the organization and its processing. The operational approach is aimed at creating one or a few formal information systems connecting all important persons, departments in the organization. The purpose of the effective formal information system is helping to acquire information in a fast and accurate way.

Over the last few years there were dramatic changes in the managerial and organizational communication caused mainly by the achievements in the electronic communication. Presently, it is possible e.g. to organise teleconferences, during which one can communicate with superiors being in distant cities at the same time, only by means of voice and image without leaving one’s place. Large electronic data banks let easily acquire very specific information. These breakthrough achievements resulted in creating new versions of old solutions in the communication environment, particularly in organizations. However, this progress in the communication technology can also give rise to certain problems. Above all, nowadays the common use of the electronic communication can be detrimental to direct, personal contacts and conversations. It hampers building strong culture, developing connections and creating the atmosphere of mutual trust and cooperation. This can also result in information overload, since everyone is available by mobile phones and e-mails, which may cause the information flood.

Summing up, communicating in organizations is a process of the information transmission from one person to another. The effective communication is the process of sending message so that the content of the received message was as similar to the content of the intended message as possible.

Managing the communication process is one of crucial processes in the organization and requires recognizing barriers to the effective communication and understanding, the way it is possible to overcome them. Both sender and receiver can get to know and master effective techniques of good communication. The other highly appreciated factor is motivation of both parties of communication, which is necessary to understand each other and be eager to enter the dialogue and communicate bilaterally.

 

Marta Prokopek-Pyśk

 

Bibliography:

Budyń K., O niektórych warunkach skutecznej komunikacji w ujęciu NPL, ‘Parapsychologia 1999, No. 139.

Griffin R.W., Podstawy zarządzania organizacjami, PWN Warszawa 1996.

Sikorski Cz., Zachowania ludzi w organizacji, PWN, Warszawa 1999.

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