1. THE NATURE OF COMMUNICATION
The communication process is often very complex, with success depending on such factors as the nature of the message, the audience’s interpretation of it, and the environment in which it is received. The receiver’s perception of the source and the medium used to transmit the message may also affect the ability to communicate, as do many other factors. Words, pictures, sounds, and colours may have different meanings to different audiences, and people’s perceptions and interpretations of them will vary.
Communication has been variously defined as ‘the passing of information’, ‘the exchange of ideas’, or the process of establishing a commonness or oneness of thoughts between a sender and a receiver (Belch and Belch, 1995, p. 154). These definitions suggest that for communication to occur, there must be some common thinking between two parties and information must be passed from one person to another.
As humans, we communicate through a pattern of speech-listening (oral communication), writing-reading (written communications), nonverbal signals and body language, signs, graphics and pictorials. Communication is channelled through written documents, telecommunications networks via satellite stations, submarine cables, optical fibres and microwave signals, or publishing and broadcasting media.
Communication is used to give and receive instructions, to share information and to report facts and activities. Information is communicated through written documents and spoken exchanges, and a combination of both.
The three main forms which communication takes in business situations are:
Verbal (Linguistic) – verbal communication is in the form of words. It can be in the form of spoken words between two or more people or written words in written communication. Some ways of communicating orally or in spoken words are briefings, telephone conversations, interviews and public speaking. Written communication expresses ideas, thoughts and feelings in writing, for example, in letters and memos sent by a suitable channel such as electronic mail, post or courier.
Nonverbal – nonverbal communication is that communication sent by any means other than words or graphics. Nonverbal components exist in oral, written and graphic communication or, independently of words, in face-to-face contact. Facial expressions, body movement, posture and dress are some of the nonverbal components of oral communication. Format and layout are some of the nonverbal components of written and graphic communication.
Graphic – graphic communication represents ideas, relationships or connections visually with shapes, diagrams and lines. Graphic communication can have both verbal and nonverbal components, for example, some of the ‘no smoking’ signs displayed in public places (Dwyer, 1993, p.7).
The communication process
The communication process takes place in various situations for different reasons with the potential for many interpretations. Over the years, a basic model of communications has evolved of the various elements of the communications process, as shown in Figure 1.1. Two elements represent the major participants in the communications process, the sender and the receiver. Another two are the major communications tools, message and channel.
Four others are the major communication functions and process: encoding, decoding, response, and feedback. The last element, noise, refers to any extraneous factors in the system that can interfere with the process and work against effective communication. Other models also include the context or setting as a variable in the process.
Figure 1.1 A model of the communication process
Source: Belch and Belch, 1995, p. 154.
The seven main elements in the communication process are:
Sender/encoder – the sender or source, of a communication message is the person or organisation who has information to share with another person or group of people. Unique to each individual and integral to all the communication they engage in is a back ground of accumulated attitudes, experiences, skills, cultural conditioning and individual differences that influence how that individual communicates.
The process begins when the source encodes an idea or feeling and then selects the appropriate words, symbols, pictures, and the like to represent the message that will be delivered to the receiver(s).
Message – the message is the ideas or feeling transmitted from the sender to the receiver to achieve understanding. It makes a connection between the sender and the receiver.
Channel – a communication channel is the means or technique used to send a message, for example, a conversation, letter, telephone call, radio or television program. Choose a channel that suits your communication purpose, your needs as the sender and the needs of the receiver.
Receiver/decoder – the receiver is the person or persons with whom the sender shares thoughts or information. Decoding is the process of transforming the sender’s message back into thought. Once again, Belch and Belch (1995) state that this process is heavily influenced by the receiver’s frame of reference or field of experience, which refers to the experiences, perceptions, attitudes, and values he or she brings to the communications situation. For effective communication to occur, the message decoding process of the receiver must match the encoding of the sender. Simply put, this means the receiver understands and correctly interprets what the source is trying to communicate.
Context or setting – context is the situation or setting within which communication takes place or the circumstances that surround a particular piece of communication. The same message can have a completely different meaning depending on the situation since emotions and reactions to ideas and events vary in different situations. For example, communication at a conference, in the lunchroom, at a formal meeting or in the office takes place in different settings. It may use different language, relationships and authority to achieve the different communication purpose in each situation. When people communicate over a pleasant lunch, they are more likely to talk openly and arrive at an understanding than they would in the work environment with the interruptions of the telephone and other people.
Feedback/response – the receiver’s set of reactions after seeing, hearing, or reading the message is known as a response. Feedback is important because it is that part of the receiver’s response that is communicated back to the sender. Feedback, which may take a variety of forms, closes the loop in the communications flow and lets the sender monitor how the intended message is being decoded and received. Check with the receiver to establish that your understanding of their feedback is correct. On occasion you may be wrong. Ask the receiver to rephrase the feedback to check their understanding and to check your own interpretation.
NEXT CHAPTERS 3 AND 4
Noise sources – these are extraneous factors that create unplanned distortion or interference in the communication process and can lead to misunderstanding. Send a message by electronic mail to a person who is afraid of technology and unable to access the computer screen and the likely result is that communication barriers appear through poor choice of channel. Write a memo or business letter to this person and the message is easily understood and accepted.
The scope for such distortion is wide, such as:
Differences in religious and political beliefs of sender/receiver.
Distraction of a television set.
Bad reading habits.
Barriers to Communication
When the message is distorted in some way and poor interpretation of the meaning occurs, direction is lost. In the workplace maintaining effective communication is essential in achieving improvements in quality, productivity, client service and staff morale. Although at times, the structure of an organisation can cause barriers to communication with the poor flow of information within the hierarchy.
Some of the factors that cause communication barriers are:
Inappropriate choice of words;
Lack of courtesy by the sender or the receiver;
Nonverbal communication that does not support the words;
Poor layout and presentation;
Distracting influences like noise, smell or personal appearance;
Withholding some of the relevant information;
Too many links in the chain of communication, i.e. the message going through too many people;
Individual perceptions of the message by the sender or message receiver;
Stereotyping of or by the message sender or receiver;
Prejudices or biases held by the message sender or message receiver, and
Ignoring cultural differences.
MYTHS AND REALITIES ABOUT THE
NATURE OF COMMUNICATION
In the boxes provided place the correct response with a
(M) or (R).
MYTH = M
REALITY = R
r We communicate only when we consciously and deliberately choose to communicate.
r We communicate many times when we are not consciously aware that we are communicating.
r Words mean the same thing to our listeners as they do to us.
r Words do not really have meanings: meanings are in large part determined by people’s experiences and perceptions.
r We communicate primarily with words.
r The majority of the messages we communicate are not based on words but rather on nonverbal codes and symbols.
r Nonverbal communication is the silent language.
r Nonverbal communication is received through all the five senses.
r Communication is a one-way activity.
r Communication is a two-way activity.
r The message we send is identical to the message received by the listener.
r The message as it is finally received by the listener is never exactly the same as the message we originally thought we sent.
r You can never give someone too much information.
r There are times when people can be given too much information and thus suffer from an information overload.
2. ORGANISATIONAL COMMUNICATION
Communication takes place within a company for a number of direct and indirect reasons. Primarily, it is necessary for passing information between people working in the same company and between the company and other organisations. However, communication - written, oral or even nonverbal - is also used by management to direct and motivate employees and to evaluate their performance. Information flow is crucial to any organisation and the better the communication flow, the more successful the company or organisation.
Communication can be used by an organisation’s management as a means of control to get employees to conform to company objectives, directives or work procedures. For this purpose, management may use employee assessment schemes, manuals of work procedure or company plans that set targets for each section. The difficulty is for management to find a balance between control, motivation and efficiency.
An organisation’s management, including supervisors of small groups, can use communication as a tool to motivate employees. When an organisation is willing to acknowledge and provide feedback on the achievements of individuals and groups, job satisfaction and performance are improved. This can involve verbal praise, letters or memorandums that keep people in the organisation feeling that they are an important part of it and that what they are doing is appreciated.
Balancing needs and goals
Communication within the organisation has another important role. The interests and expectations of the organisation and the goals and needs of people working in the organisation need to be balanced. To achieve this balance, both the employer and employee need to understand one another. Good communication is, therefore, essential. When an organisation and its members seek to improve communication skills, the organisation’s capacity to achieve its goals is improved. It becomes a better organisation, more able to respond to change and meet challenges.
The possible differences between the needs of the organisation and the individual are shown in Figure 2.1.
Individual or group goals
Figure 2.1 Differences in organisational and individual goals
Source: Dwyer, 1993, p.97.
Structures in organisations
Business organisations consist of people who work together to achieve common goals. At least that is the theory, but in practice, the organisation may be affected by the failure of everyone in it to agree with or work towards the common objectives. Organisations are the systems by which individuals co-operate so there can be the specialisation of functions and skills to provide goods or services to customers (Dwyer, 1993, p. 497).
The organisation’s framework is developed by the specialisation of functions and the different levels of communication within the hierarchy. An organisation’s structure should suit its purpose and assist in achieving its goals.
While all organisations have a formal and an informal structure, the formal structure is deliberately developed to provide official links between people in the organisation. The better the communication, the stronger and more effective the links.
The formal structure of an organisation can be characterised by three important features:
The level of these three features and the interactions that occur determine the nature of the organisation.
The greater the number of job functions and titles in an organisation, the higher the level of complexity. The more levels within the organisation, the more complex it becomes because there are more levels between the least powerful members of staff and senior management. The two extreme structures are those that are tall and those that are flat. An organisation with a tall structure is one with many different levels of management as illustrated in Figure 2.2.
Tall Structure - large public sector corporations, and large companies. This structure has been established largely because this is how managers think they can retain control over the whole organisation. It also indicates that the organisation is trying to meet the demand of a very large market or public service and that managers believe there are financial and personnel advantages in centralised control.
Figure 2.2 An organisation
with a tall structure
Flat Structure - very few levels of management so that there may be only one or two decision makers to pass through in order to reach the Managing Director. The effectiveness of communication will depend on how well managed the organisation is and on the extent of horizontal links.
Figure 2.3 An organisation with a flat structure and horizontal links.
Formalisation refers to the standardisation of the job and the granted levels of employee independence and discretion in the job that enables a high degree of control over work. High formalisation means little control or independence, therefore, little power. Conversely, low formalisation in a job means that employees have a high degree of independence and discretion in the job.
The effectiveness of communication in an organisation will also depend on how centralised the decision making is and where the decisions are made. Usually ones with tall structures, are highly centralised and where many junior decision makers have to use memorandums, short reports or submissions to ask for a decision. Flat structures are decentralised and decisions are made at lower levels in the organisation.
Formal communication channels
There are four directions in which communication can flow in an organisation:
Downward - flow from the top down. Usually instructions or guidelines to managers and employees at lower levels.
Upward - from the lower levels up. There is a great need for information to be presented to higher levels of management. Often in the form of reports such as production reports, financial information and complaints as well as ideas.
Lateral or horizontal channels - communication flows across the same level. For example, the marketing, production and distribution divisions. Communication channels in organic organisations are predominantly horizontal and tend towards the use of informal networks.
Diagonal channels - flows up and down across the lines of authority. For example, a Head of a Division of a company may agree with a lower level supervisor of another division on something which will then be put to the appropriate Head of Division of that supervisor.
The informal organisational structure
People tend to do the jobs they prefer and to help the co-workers they like. Some people within the group will accept help but will not reciprocate, whereas others will not offer or receive help and prefer to work alone. In any organisation, people establish links or networks of communication with a group or between groups that are not formally recognised and these operate separately from the official lines of communication.
The five advantages of the informal organisational structure are:
Faster action - when an employee in one department needs help to complete a task or solve a problem, members in other sections can use their authority to assist, thus speeding up the communication process.
Higher productivity - if the goals of formal management match the needs of the informal organisation, employees will take the initiative or be more responsive to delegation. This can create trust between management and employees and lead to higher productivity.
More job satisfaction - related to the social environment and can create a climate that fosters morale, job satisfaction and, therefore, productivity.
Easier release of tension - allows employees to release tension and frustration with other members of their informal network without directing this at management and risking their jobs.
Easier feedback - if managers are sensitive to the ‘grapevine’, they can obtain information on how employees feel about the organisation, management and work.
Often the informal links or networks of communication within an organisation are not so clearly defined. The four main disadvantages are:
Resistance to change
Conformity to the informal group’s standards, and
There is no doubt skill in communicating can be increased through training and practice. Dwyer, (1993) states that organisations operating in a stable, highly structured environment make greater use of organisation charts, rules, policies and job descriptions. Such organisations are labelled ‘mechanistic’.
Whereas, organisations operating in a dynamic, highly flexible environment may have no organisation charts and few job descriptions or standing plans. These flexible organisations are labelled ‘organic’. They are able to adapt quickly to meet the demands of the changing business and workplace environment.
When the formal and informal networks combine, communication improves. Managers and employees do not always have the ability to communicate effectively, or the necessary organisational and interpersonal skills to do so. Promoting effective communication within an organisation requires employees who are willing and able to:
facilitate interaction; and
To communicate openly, share your intentions, feelings and needs relevant to your work. Provide feedback that is descriptive and specific. Listen actively, directly confront differences and circulate information (Dwyer, 1993, p. 512).
Assume that you are the sales manager of a company that manufactures and sells office furniture. Describe how you would need to vary your sales strategies depending on whether you are dealing with potential customers with ‘tall’ or ‘flat’ organisational structures.
Choose any working environment you have experienced as a full or part-time worker. Discuss the following aspects of that organisational environment.
The relative importance of formal versus informal communication.
The significance of the grapevine.
The channels used by your superiors to communicate with you.
The channels open to you to communicate with your superiors in the