Managing Organizational Communication

Many of the ideas described in this chapter pertain to barriers to communication and how to overcome them. Exhibit 13.9 lists some of the major barriers to communication, along with some techniques for overcoming them.

1. BARRIERS TO COMMUNICATION

Barriers  can be categorized  as those that exist at the individual  level and those that exist at the organizational level.

Individual Barriers. First, interpersonal barriers include  problems with emotions and perceptions held by employees. For example, rigid perceptual labeling or stereotyping prevents people from modifying or altering their opinions. If a person’s  mind is made up before the communication starts, communication will fail. Moreover, people with different backgrounds or knowledge may interpret a communication  in different ways.

Second,  selecting the wrong  channel or medium for sending a communication  can be a problem. When a message is emotional, it is better to transmit it face to face rather than in writing. E-mail can be particularly  risky for discussing difficult issues because it lacks the capacity for rapid feedback and multiple cues. On the other hand, e-mail is highly efficient for routine messages.

Third, semantics often causes communication  problems. Semantics pertains to the meaning of words and the way they are used. A word such as effectiveness may  mean  achiev- ing high production to a factory superintendent,  but to a human resources staff specialist, it might mean employee satisfaction. Many common  words have an average of 28 defini- tions; thus, communicators  must take care to select the words that will accurately encode ideas.81  Language differences  can also be a barrier  in today’s organizations. This chapter’s Spotlight  boxed feature offers some guidelines for how managers can better communicate with people who speak a different  language.

Fourth, sending  inconsistent cues  between verbal and nonverbal communications will confuse the receiver. If a person’s facial expression does not reflect his or her words, the communication will contain noise and uncertainty. The tone of voice and body language should be consistent with the words, and actions should not contradict words.

Organizational Barriers. Organizational  barriers pertain to factors  for the organization  as a whole.  One of the most significant barriers relates to status and power differences. Low-power  people may be reluctant to pass bad news up the hierarchy, thus giving the wrong impression to upper levels.82 High-power people may not pay attention or may think that low-status people have little to contribute.

Second, differences  across departments in terms of needs and  goals interfere with communi- cations. Each department perceives problems in its own terms. The production department is concerned with production efficiency, whereas the marketing department’s goal is to get the product to the customer in a hurry.

Third, the absence of formal  channels reduces communication effectiveness. Organizations must provide adequate upward, downward,  and horizontal  communication  in the form of employee surveys, open-door  policies, newsletters, memos, task forces, and liaison person- nel. Without these formal channels, the organization  cannot communicate as a whole.

Fourth, the communication flow may not fit the team’s or organization’s task. If a central- ized communication structure is used for nonroutine tasks, not enough information  will be circulated to solve problems. The organization, department, or team is most efficient when the amount of communication flowing among employees fits the task.

A final problem is poor coordination,  so that different parts of the organization are work-ing in isolation without knowing and understanding what other parts  are doing. Top executives are out of touch with lower levels, or departments  and divisions  are so poorly coordinated that people do not understand how the system works together as a whole.

2. OVERCOMING  COMMUNICATION  BARRIERS

Managers  can design the organization to encourage positive, effective communications. Designing involves both individual skills and organizational actions.

Individual Skills. Perhaps the most important individual skill is active listening. Ac- tive listening  means asking questions, showing interest, and occasionally paraphrasing what the speaker has said to ensure accurate interpretation. Active listening also means provid- ing feedback to the sender to complete the communication loop.

Second, individuals  should select the appropriate channel for the message. A compli- cated message should  be sent through  a rich channel,  such as face-to-face  discussion or telephone. Routine messages and data can be sent through memos, let- ters, or e-mail because the risk of misunderstanding  is lower.

Third, senders and receivers should make a special effort  to understand each other’s perspective. Managers can sensitize themselves to the infor- mation receiver  so they can better target the message, detect  bias, and clarify misinterpretations. When communicators understand others’ per- spectives, semantics can be clarified,  perceptions understood, and objec- tivity maintained.

The fourth individual skill is management by wandering  around. Man- agers must be willing to get out of the office and check communications with others. Glenn Tilton, the CEO of United Airlines,  takes every op- portunity to introduce himself to employees and customers and find out what’s on their minds. He logs more airplane time than many of his com- pany’s pilots, visits passenger lounges, and chats with employees on con- courses, galleys, and airport terminals.83  Through direct observation and face-to-face meetings, managers like Tilton gain an understanding of the organization  and are able to communicate important ideas and values di- rectly to others.

Organizational  Actions. Perhaps the most important thing managers can do for the organization is to create a climate of trust and openness.  Open communication and dialogue can encourage people to communicate honestly with one another. Subordinates will feel free to transmit negative as well  as positive  messages without fear of retribution. Efforts to develop interpersonal skills among  employees can also foster openness, honesty, and trust.

Second, managers should develop and use formal information  channels in all directions. Scandinavian Design uses two newsletters to reach em- ployees. Dana Corporation has developed  innovative  programs  such as the “Here’s  a Thought” board-called   a HAT  rack-to get ideas and feedback from workers. Other techniques include direct mail, bulletin boards, and employee surveys.

Third, managers should encourage the use of multiple channels, includ- ing both formal and informal communications. Multiple communication channels include written directives,  face-to-face  discussions, MBWA, and the grapevine. For example, managers at GM’s Packard Electric plant use multimedia, including  a monthly newspaper, frequent meetings of employee teams, and an electronic news display in the cafeteria.  Sending  messages through multiple channels increases the likelihood that they will be properly received.

Fourth, the structure should fit  communication   needs. An  organization  can be designed to use teams, task forces, project managers, or a matrix structure  as needed to facilitate the horizontal flow of information for coordination and problem solving. Structure should also reflect information  needs. When team or department  tasks are difficult, a decentralized  structure  should be implemented   to encourage discussion and participation.

A system of organizational feedback and learning can help overcome problems of poor coordination. Harrah’s created a Communication  Team as part  of its structure at the Casino/ Holiday Inn in Las Vegas. The team includes one member from each department.  This cross-functional team deals with urgent company problems and helps people think beyond the scope of their own departments to communicate with anyone and everyone to solve those problems.

Source: Daft Richard L., Marcic Dorothy (2009), Understanding Management, South-Western College Pub; 8th edition.

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