Organizational Communication

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last updated 1/21/2015

Barriers to Vertical Communication

Structural Barriers to Vertical Communication
These factors cause information to be inaccurately transmitted upward or downward

    1. Structural Distortion of Information
    2. (in serial transmission of messages)
      1. condensation - information is left out of the message or becomes more abstract
      2. accent - information in the message is simplified into (all) good or bad, richness of experience and subtlety is lost
      3. assimilation - information is turned into what is familiar to the sender (and receiver, novelty is lost
      4. whitewashing - key information in the message is made to fit the interpreter's needs
      5. reductive coding - information is combined with other information causing loss of key details and subtlety
    3. Trained communication incapacity (caused by organizational role or profession/training)

      1. perceptual sets - people in specific roles or from particular professions have ways of "seeing" things particular to the role, profession or discipline (e.g accountants tend to focus on different issues in product development than engineers.
      2. language barriers - roles and professions often have a vocabulary that is not accessible to non-experts.
    5. Number of links in communication chain - the more people a message must pass through the more chance for distortion
    6. Size of the organization - bigger organizations have less shared context and more opportunity for confusion and misunderstanding
    7. Problems in timing of message flow - if a message arrives to soon or too late it may be ignored or be irrelevant.
    8. Written language problems - varying levels of literacy and fluency can cause messages to fail to have the desired affect

Interpersonal Barriers To Vertical Communication
These relational factors cause information to be inaccurately transmitted downward and, especially, upward

    1. Power/status differences between senders and receivers
    2. mistrust between senders and receivers
    3. subordinates mobility aspirations
    4. inaccurate perceptions of others information needs
    5. norms that discourage clarification efforts
    6. sensitivity of topics (e.g., questionable conduct, legal concerns, personnel issues, etc.)

Some consequences of vertical communication problems in classical organizations

  • subordinates usually feel under-informed - supervisors want to give the minimum amount of information usually
  • some supervisors withhold information intentionally since knowledge is power
  • subordinates tend to mirror superiors communicative behaviors -- for good or being open or closed

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