Q. Write short notes on (a) Upward communication (b) Downward communication (c) Horizontal communication.
A formal communication network is one which is created by management and described with the help of an organizational chart. An organizational chart specifies the hierarchy and the reporting system in the organization. Therefore, in a formal network, information is passed on only through official channels such as memos, bulletins and intranet (email within the organization).
The organizational chart implies that information can flow in any of three directions – vertically, i.e., upward or downward, and horizontally.
1. Upward Communication:This may be defined as information that flows from subordinates to superiors. Some of the reasons for upward communication include discussing work related problems, giving suggestions for improvement and sharing feelings about the job and co-workers.
This type of communication has both benefits and disadvantages. One of the biggest benefits is problem-solving. Once a subordinate has brought a problem to his superior’s notice, chances are that the problem will not recur, since the subordinate learns from his superior how to tackle it the next time. Thus, his ability to solve new problems and therefore his managerial ability, improves. Another benefit that could arise from upward communication is that valuable ideas and suggestions may sometimes come from lower level employees. Therefore organizations should encourage this kind of communication.
A third benefit is that employees learn to accept the decisions of management and thereby work as a team.The biggest problem associated with this type of communication is that it may lead to “handing down” of decisions by superiors. When subordinates frequently seek the superior’s guidance, the latter may adopt an authoritarian approach and merely give instructions, disregarding the subordinate’s opinion completely.
2. Downward Communication:This may be defined as information that flows from superiors to subordinates. The most common reasons for downward communication are for giving job instructions, explaining company rules, policies and procedures and giving feedback regarding job performance. A number of studies have indicated that regular downward communication in the form of feedback given to employees is the most important factor affecting job satisfaction. Therefore organizations today are trying to encourage more of this type of communication.
There are both benefits and disadvantages associated with this type of communication. Downward communication that provides regular feedback will be beneficial if the feedback or review of performance is constructive. A constructive review is one where a manager “counsels” an employee, or advises him on how to improve his performance. On the other hand, a destructive review can destroy employee morale and confidence. Regular downward communication also creates a climate of transparency or openness, where information is passed on through official channels, rather than through rumors.
Thirdly, downward communication boosts employee morale, since it indicates that management is involved in their progress.
The problems with this type of communication are the danger of doing destructive reviews, as mentioned, and that of “message overload.” This means that superiors many sometimes burden their subordinates with too many instructions, leading to confusion.
3. Horizontal Communication: This type of communication is also known as “lateral” communication. It may be defined as communication that takes place between co-workers in the same department, or in different departments, with different areas of responsibility. For example, Sales Managers and Advertising Managers in the Marketing department, or Marketing Managers and Finance Managers.
The reasons for this type of communication are for coordination of tasks, sharing of information regarding goals of the organization, resolving interpersonal or work related problems and building rapport.
The biggest potential benefit of horizontal communication is the sense of teamwork that is created. Regular communication of this type ensures that all co-workers work together towards achieving a common goal in the overall interest of the organization. The biggest potential problem is that conflicts such as ego clashes are bound to arise, when co-workers at the same level communicate on a regular basis.
In spite of these problems, horizontal or lateral communication has become more important in today’s business scenario than upward or downward communication. This is because the “organizational pyramid” indicating the different hierarchies or levels in an organization has flattened. This is illustrated by the diagrams given below.
Compressed Organizational Pyramid
The first diagram illustrates the previous organizational pyramid which was a “multi-layer” pyramid. In this type of pyramid, vertical, i.e., upward and downward communication still plays an important role. This is still the case in many traditionally run organizations today.
However, this has been replaced by a “compressed” or flattened pyramid where the hierarchy has diminished, as shown in the second diagram. Thanks to technology and computers which help in faster decision making, a manager today has a larger span of control. He or she can supervise and control more number of people than before. This in turn has led to greater “empowerment”, which means that even lower level employees are now being given decision making authority. Therefore, in the absence of several layers, there is greater lateral communication than before.