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Formal vs. Informal Communication Org...
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Formal vs. Informal Communication

Organizational communication can flow in many different directions and can take on various ways of being communicated through formal or informal channels. To illustrate this further, Chapter One of your textbook discusses formal and informal channels of communication. Provide an example of formal communication and an example of informal communication. Which type of communication do your prefer in a work environment? Why?

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@@@Support your claims with examples from required material(s) and/or other scholarly resources, and properly cite any references.
COM425_Ch01.pdf

Chapter 1

Introduction to the Process of
Organizational Communication
Learning Objectives
What We Will Be Investigating:
Examine the role of human communication in modern organizational life.
Understand the ways in which effective communication encourages coordination and cooperation with others in organizational life.
Examine the need for strategic organizational communication to achieve important organizational goals.
Recognize the complex and fragile nature of human communication.
Examine the evolutionary nature of organizing.
Understand the hierarchical levels of organizational communication, building from intrapersonal to interpersonal to group to multigroup levels of interaction.
Understand the hierarchy of power in organizations as displayed by the formal organizational
chart.
Recognize the differences between formal and informal communication in organizational life, as
well as ways in which formal and informal communication systems influence one another.
Examine strategic organizational communication competencies.
Preview the topics covered in the following chapters in the book.

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CHAPTER 1

Introduction

Chapter Outline
1.1 ommunication in Modern
C
Organizational Life
1.2 Organizations and Organizing
1.3 Hierarchical Levels of Organizing
Levels of Communication Approach
Power Approach

1.4 nterdependence and Synergy in
I
Organizational Life

Communication
works for those who
work at it.

1.5 ormal and Informal Channels of
F
Organizational Communication
Formal Communication: Downward Communication
Formal Communication: Upward Communication
Formal Communication: Horizontal Communication
Informal Communication

1.6 trategic Communication Processes in
S
Modern Organizational Life

John Powell

The Perceptive Organizational Communicator
The Relationally Competent Organizational
Communicator
The Team-Building Organizational Communicator
The Culturally Sensitive Organizational
Communicator
Strategic Leadership in Organizations
Strategic Use of Media and Technologies in
Organizational Life
Strategic Organizational Development
Strategic External Organizational Communication

Introduction
Human communication is the lifeblood of any organization. Indeed, the interactive social
process of communication is what enables organizational participants to elicit cooperation from others. Although eliciting cooperation from others is essential for accomplishing goals, such cooperation does not happen automatically. Each person has unique goals
and needs that drive his or her actions. Agreements about goals and needs must often
be negotiated. Strategic communication, communication that is carefully planned and
competently performed, enables such negotiations and is needed to encourage others to
cooperate with us. This book is designed to help you become a strategic organizational
communicatoran informed and aware organizational participant who communicates
intelligently, sensitively, and competently to accomplish important goals.

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Section 1.1 Communication in Modern Organizational Life

CHAPTER 1

1.1 Communication in Modern Organizational Life

T

o be successful in our interactions with others, we must provide clear and compelling information about what we want from them and why it is in their best interest to
cooperate with us. We depend on timely, accurate, and effective human communication to
accomplish just about all the challenging and important tasks we confront. In fact, it has
been observed that there is very little we can accomplish by ourselves in modern organizational life. We all depend on cooperation with others to accomplish our goals, and communication is the critical human process we use to promote such cooperation.
To illustrate the role of communication in eliciting cooperation in organizational life, imagine what might happen in a relatively simple situation in which a customer wants to buy a
book from a bookseller. How does communication facilitate this relatively straightforward
transaction for both the customer and the bookseller? The customer depends on her ability
to communicate to the bookseller which book she wants to purchase:
The customer could request the book in person, using face-to-face interpersonal
communication.
The customer could request the book by phone, using mediated interpersonal
communication.
The customer could send a written book request to the bookseller, using mediated
written interpersonal communication.
The customer could also request the book online, using computer-mediated
communication.
Yet requesting the book is only the first step in the transaction. Perhaps the customer isnt
sure exactly which book she wants to purchase. She might have to engage the bookseller
(or others) in conversation to identify the right book for her needs. Even if the customer
knows which book she wants, she will likely need to explain to the bookseller how she
wants to receive the book. The customer could pick up the book in person, have it sent
through the mail, or have it delivered by another shipping service. There are likely to be
several shipping options, with different delivery dates and costs, which may also have to
be discussed. Does the customer want the book wrapped in gift paper? Does she want it
shipped to an address other than her own?
The bookseller must also locate the book, determine how much it costs, arrange delivery,
collect payment from the customer, record the transaction, and provide change or at least
a receipt to the customer. The bookseller may have to order the book from a book distributor, arrange to have the book delivered to the store, and then inform the customer when
the book arrives at the store. Communication is likely to be involved in each of these steps
as well.
As you can see, even in this relatively simple transaction, effective communication is critical. A breakdown in communication at any step in this process will make it difficult, even
impossible, for the customer and the bookseller to accomplish their shared goals.
In more challenging organizational situations, such as negotiating a corporate merger,
communication is likely to be much more complex, fragile, and critical. Participants must
be skilled and sensitive communicators to elicit cooperation in challenging situations and

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CHAPTER 1

Section 1.2 Organizations and Organizing

to work through disparate (sometime diametrically opposed) positions, needs, and expectations to establish common ground and a shared framework for cooperation. Strategic
organizational communicators develop the ability to perceptively examine the communication demands of complex situations. Based on their analysis of the situation, they use
competent and adaptive communication skills to build cooperative communication relationships with the people with whom they work. This book (and the course it is being used in)
is designed to help you analyze the communication demands of complex and challenging
organizational situations and to develop strategic communication skills and competencies
to respond effectively.
Communication is a deceivingly complex and fragile human process. We often assume
incorrectly that communication is easy to do well. Although engaging in communication
is easy to do (all of us engage in communication all the time), it certainly is not easy to
communicate well. There are multiple opportunities in the process of communication for
misinterpretations of messages. Think about how often you have misinterpreted messages others have sent to you and how often you have been misinterpreted. In addition,
it is not always easy to get others to do what we want them to do. Establishing and
maintaining long-term satisfying interpersonal relationships can be a major challenge.
Yet as weve made clear, the organizing process depends on effective communication.
In this chapter and the chapters that follow, we will explore the unique communication
demands of organizational life and explore strategies for communicating effectively as an
organizational participant.

1.2 Organizations and Organizing

W

e all live in a complex and multifaceted organizational world, one in which we participate in a wide array of organizations:

We may be hired by work organizations, where we pursue jobs and build careers.
We may enroll in educational organizations, where we study, learn, and earn academic degrees.
We may belong to religious organizations, where we seek and share spiritual support and guidance.
We may recreate in social organizations, where we socialize, unwind, and have fun
with friends.
We may volunteer for service organizations, where we provide our time and efforts
to help others.
We are most likely members of family organizations, where as fathers, mothers, sons,
daughters, and so on we provide mutual support and often help raise children.
We are likely to perform many different roles in these organizations, as workers, managers, students, teachers, congregation members, spiritual leaders, organizers, followers, and
so on. These roles often change over time, as new organizational needs arise and as our
organizational abilities evolve, demanding that we develop different skills and expertise.
Likewise, each role we perform demands a different set of communication competencies.

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CHAPTER 1

Section 1.2 Organizations and Organizing

As you will learn throughout this book, strategic
organizational communicators develop appropriate communication skills to effectively perform
their different roles and to adapt to new situations.
Organizations are not static. Organizations are constantly changing and evolving as the societies
in which they reside evolve (Weick, 1979). New
organizational needs, new workers, and new
products, services, regulations, technologies, and
customers constantly force and enable organizing
processes to evolve. Sometimes it appears that the
common notion we have of an established, solid,
and stable organization is merely a stereotype, a
convenient way to describe a one-point-in-time
view of ongoing organizational processes. The
truth is that the organization we see at one point
in time is likely not the same organization we see
at another point in time.

Do you belong to any organizations?
How do you use communication skills
to effectively perform your role within
those organizations?

Lets take an example. Although the bank you use
may seem the same every time you visit it, many
changes occur within the bank that you just dont
notice. There are likely to be new personnel working at the bank, due to the retirements
and relocation of older personnel. Bank policies change, interest rates change, and the
technologies that bank workers use are regularly updated. And in recent years we have
gone through a period of bank mergers and buyouts, which has dramatically changed
the nature of banking. Meanwhile, more banking activities are being handled online than
ever before, which is also changing the experience of banking. So, although you might
think of your local bank as a solid, permanent, and unchanging organizational entity, the
reality is that your bank is in the process of evolution, illustrating the process of organization as much as the state of organization.
The true nature of organizational life becomes especially clear when we view dramatic
changes such as bankruptcies, mergers, acquisitions, downsizing, leadership transitions,
and rapid expansions. As strategic organizational communicators, we must be especially
aware of the importance of monitoring changing organizational demands and developing new strategies for addressing these demands through adaptive communication. For
example, say you are the chief information officer (CIO) for an accounting firm, and you
need to make sure you are aware of new accounting regulations. Changes in the regulatory environment may mean that you must use new accounting processes and forms. You
may also need to adhere to new deadlines and formats for submitting financial information. In turn, you may have to purchase new computer equipment, install and update
new software, and hire and train personnel to meet the new demands. Changes like this
happen regularly in modern organizational life. Strategic organizational communicators
gather information to monitor ever-evolving organizational demands and to coordinate
with others to adapt processes to meet these demands.

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CHAPTER 1

Section 1.3 Hierarchical Levels of Organizing

1.3 Hierarchical Levels of Organizing
There are two different ways to view the hierarchical nature of organizational life:
1. The first approach to organizational hierarchy is the levels of communication
approach. This hierarchy describes the encompassing communication roles that
organizational participants perform in organizing. In this book we will describe
the hierarchical levels of intrapersonal, interpersonal, group, multigroup, and
interorganizational communication as increasingly more complex levels of organizational communication (Kreps, 1990).
2. The second approach to organizational hierarchy is the power approach (Kreps,
1990). This hierarchy describes the successive levels of formal influence and
control that are dictated by the design of the organization. This formal design is
often illustrated through organizational charts. Figure 1.1 provides an example of
a typical organizational chart.
Both the levels-of-communication approach to hierarchy and the power approach to hierarchy perform important roles in organizational life. Lets look at both in more detail.

Figure 1.1: Sample Organizational Chart
CEO
J. Smith

Exec. Secretary

Vice President
of Marketing
J. Gomez

Public &
Community
Relations
Department

Vice President
of Sales
T. Lee

Product &
Services
Marketing
Department

Vice President
of Production
P. Connors

Manager

Manager

Manager

Manager

K. Poole

Manager

Manager

L. Jiminez
T. Washington

Manager

W. Allen
P. Lloyd

Manager

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CHAPTER 1

Section 1.3 Hierarchical Levels of Organizing

Levels of Communication Approach
The levels of communication approach to organizational hierarchy may be best illustrated
from the bottom-up. The most basic communication activities of organizing often begin
with individual organizational actors who participate in the accomplishment of basic
organizational tasks through intrapersonal communication. Intrapersonal communication
occurs when communicators interact with themselves to make sense of organizational
demands. They do so by attending to and interpreting key messages while also developing strategies to communicate messages to others.
These individual organizational participants in turn use interpersonal communication
to establish relationships with other organizational participants to accomplish complex
organizational tasks. Interpersonal communication is interaction between two different
individuals who use communication to establish interpersonal relationships.
These relational partners often work
together in organizational work groups,
where they engage in group communication. In turn, these groups coordinate
activities with other work groups, using
multigroup or organizational communication, ultimately building to divisions,
organizations, and even interorganizational collaborations.
Each of the higher levels of organizational
communication are built upon the lower
levels. Intrapersonal communication is
What levels of communication are taking place
the foundation upon which interpersonal
in this photo?
communication is built. For individuals to
engage in interpersonal communication,
they each must be able to interpret messages into meanings and create messages from
meanings using intrapersonal communication. Group communication is composed of
multiple interpersonal communication relationships. Similarly, multigroup communication is built upon group interactions.

Power Approach
The power approach to organizational hierarchy may be best described from the top-down.
Executives (presidents, chief executive officers, and board chairs) typically sit at the top
of the power hierarchy, as shown in Figure 1.1. These executives direct the activities of
upper management personnel (vice presidents, division heads, and others), who direct
the activities of middle management personnel (managers, supervisors, group leaders),
who in turn direct the activities of main-line workers and support personnel. Formal communication travels both vertically (downward and upward) and horizontally. We will discuss vertical and horizontal formal communication in more detail later in this chapter
when we examine channels of communication.

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Section 1.4 Interdependence and Synergy In Organizational Life

CHAPTER 1

1.4 Interdependence and Synergy In Organizational Life

T

he basic processes of organizing, in which communication is used to elicit cooperation and coordination, takes place at each of the multiple hierarchical organizational
levels. As noted above, it begins with the individual organizational participant (such as an
employee). It then moves up to work groups (departments), on to multigroup units (divisions), on to organizations, and even on to groups of connected organizations.
At the individual level, each organization member is responsible for accomplishing specific assigned tasks, such as delivering internal mail, maintaining equipment, keeping
employment records, selling products, and so forth. This necessitates that individuals
demonstrate personal organization and coordination with other organizational participants (such as coworkers, supervisors, customers, and others). These individual tasks are
connected to other individual tasks within the organization, combining to help accomplish organizational activities and goals. This connection between activities is referred to
as interdependence. The different organizing activities performed within organizations
are interdependentthey work togetherand the individuals who perform these activities are mutually dependent on one another as well.
Even when you are driving your car, you engage in interdependenceyou depend on
other drivers to follow traffic signals and to stop at stop signs and red lights. These other
drivers also depend on you to follow traffic signals. If either of you fail to follow the
rules of the road, you are likely to have an accident. Similarly, members of organizations
depend on one another to work cooperatively to accomplish important goals. Organizational units are also dependent on the interdependent performance of activities by other
organizational units. The more effectively these individuals and organizational units can
coordinate the performance of interdependent activities, the more efficient and productive
the organizing process becomes. High levels of coordination inevitably lead to enhanced
outcomes, a process referred to as organizational synergy.
Lets look a little more closely at interdependence and synergy. In any organization, individuals are typically situated within work groups such as departments, where they must
work in concert with other group members. To be effective, these interdependent organizational members must be able to coordinate their activities within these work groups.
Communication between these interdependent workers is clearly an essential part of
promoting coordinated activities. Different work groups (such as the production department, the shipping department, the accounting department, the sales department, the
quality control department, and so on) also must coordinate activities to achieve shared
organizational goals. For example, if members of the sales department solicit 1,000 new
orders for a company product, sales department personnel need to inform the production
department personnel about the new orders, so the production department can build at
least 1,000 products to deliver to customers. Members of the production department must
communicate with personnel in the shipping department to let them know these products
are ready to be delivered and where the products should be delivered. The accounting
department must be informed about these new sales so they can record the financial information. The better these interdependent departments are at sharing relevant information
and coordinating activities, the more effectively the organization will operate, exhibiting synergy. Each department depends on the communication and organizing activities

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Section 1.5 Formal and Informal Channels of Organizational Communication

CHAPTER 1

between interdependent individual workers, and the organization depends on effective
communication and organizing activities between interdependent departments.
To extend the issue of interdependence within hierarchies further, consider how interdependent work departments typically combine to compose larger divisions or even whole
organizations where organizing activities also must be coordinated. Active lines of communication between these units are essential to promoting needed coordination. These
divisions or organizations must communicate to share information with other interdependent divisions or organizations. The basic processes of communication to promote
coordination occur at each of the multiple hierarchical levels of organization.

1.5 Formal and Informal Channels of Organizational
Communication

T

here are numerous formal and informal patterns for organizational communication.
Formal patterns of organizational communication follow the power hierarchy within
organizations, whereas informal patterns of organizational communication do not necessarily follow along power hierarchy lines. Lets look at examples of both formal and
informal communication.

Formal Communication: Downward Communication
The most common formal organizational communication pattern is downward communication.
Downward communication takes place when
organizational leaders communicate down the
power hierarchy to subordinate organizational
members. Downward communication is essential
in organizations to provide members with direction, information about the organization, and
evaluative feedback about their performance. Typically, such downward communication messages
carry job instructions, directives, and information
about organizational policies and procedures.
There are several problems associated with downward communication:

Why is effective downward communication so important in organizations?

1. There are often too many downward
messages for organization members to
pay attention to, leading to information overload, which well discuss in more
detail later in this book.
2. Sometimes there are conflicting directives from different organizational leaders
and even conflicting directives from the same leaderthat place followers in a
double-bind. Which directive(s) should they follow?

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Section 1.5 Formal and Informal Channels of Organizational Communication

CHAPTER 1

3. Downward messages are not always clear, so workers are not sure exactly what
they are being directed to do or how they are supposed to accomplish the activities they are being directed to accomplish.
4. Workers sometimes interpret downward messages as being delivered in an alienating, insulting, or condescending way. Organizational leaders must take care to
communicate clearly and sensitively so that their directives are understood and
are likely to be accepted.
When misunderstanding of downward communication messages is likely, managers
should provide lower-level employees with the opportunity to get feedback and clarification. However, as well see next, in many organizations employees do not feel comfortable
questioning their managers, and managers do not solicit comments and questions from
their employees.

Formal Communication: Upward Communication
Communication that travels up the power hierarchy is known as upward communication.
As noted, such communication and feedback is important for both workers and management. Upward communication enables workers to express their concerns and ideas, to
provide and ask for feedback, and to seek clarification from their managers. The opportunity to provide feedback to managers can relieve tension for workers, help them gain a
better understanding of what they are supposed to be doing, and help them understand
the importance of their role in the organization. Upward communication is also important
for managers as it allows managers to learn what their employees are thinking, what the
employees experiences are, and when the employees...

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Formal communication refers to the communication, either spoken or written, for the purpose of
sharing ideas or exchanging information in the proper organizational hierarchy. This
communication is...

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