Importance of Communication
Communication is vital for the functioning of organizations. In the absence of channels of communication, supervisors will not be able to give instructions to employees and employees will not be able to understand what the management expects of them. Employees can perform well and be involved in their work only when they understand their job duties and responsibilities. The absence of communication can threaten the very survival of organizations. When software companies reduced the salaries of their employees to cope with the slowdown in the IT industry, their managements had to communicate to employees that the reduction was temporary and that salary cuts had been made to avoid layoffs. If this had not been communicated to the employees, they would have become hostile towards management. In the absence of such communication, management would not have been able to carry out its basic functions of planning, organizing, directing and controlling.
In the early stages of the industrial evolution, information was tightly controlled by top level managers in organizations. However, the managers of modern organizations have realized that it is more beneficial to have open communication than restricted communication within organizations. Unless the organization’s key goals, values and strategies are communicated to employees, they will not work in that direction. Some managers hold back negative feedback because they fear it will have a negative impact on employee morale. However, withholding such feedback prevents employees from improving themselves and harms their personal development as well as organizational development in the long-run. Some managers try to hide organizational problems from employees because they do not want to demoralize their workforce. But if they shared information and discussed problems with employees, the employees would be motivated to extend their cooperation and help the organization solve the problems and overcome the threats. Open communication of problems and difficulties can help organizations muster the support of employees.
Managers have to interpret the information they receive and communicate the same to employees. To do so, managers should have good communication and interpretation skills. Consider the case of the manager of a department who receives a lengthy report on certain changes that have been implemented in the organization by the top management. Instead of circulating the report among all the employees of the organization, the manager could prepare a one or two-page summary of the report and circulate the same among the employees. However, doing so has its drawbacks. The employees’ interpretation of the report depends on how correctly the manager has been able to understand and interpret the original report and how well he has been able to communicate it.
Managers often need to take decisions that have a major impact on the organization and its employees. The availability of accurate and timely information helps them make sound decisions. The presence of several links in the chain of communication increases the time it takes for information to reach managers. And the distortion of information at any of these links affects the accuracy of the information being communicated. The probability of distortion increases with the length of the communication chain. Many organizations have reduced the number of managerial levels in the organizational hierarchy (due to economic recession and for competitive pressures), especially at the middle management level. This reduction in levels has decreased the number of links in the communication chain, thus improving communication within organizations.
The Two Way process of Communication
The two-way communication process involves the transmission of a message from a sender to a receiver and back. Communication may take place through speech, hand signals or other form. All communication involves eight steps, regardless of the form used.
Developing an Idea
The sender should perceive that he has some important message to be conveyed to the receiver. The sender should have a clear idea of what he wants to communicate to the receiver.
Encoding the Message
The sender codifies the message. He selects appropriate words, charts or other symbols in this step, to convey his idea as clearly as possible. He also decides on the medium of transmission so that the words and symbols constituting the message can be arranged in a suitable manner.
Transmitting the Message
This step involves the transmission of the message using an appropriate medium of communication such as memo, phone call or personal interaction. While transmitting the messages, the sender tries to ensure that the timing of the message is right. The sender also takes care that the transmission of the message doesn’t encounter any barriers or interference which may impede the flow of communication. Ensuring that the communication channel is free from barriers or interference increases the chances of the message reaching the target audience and holding its attention.
Reception of the Message
In this step, the receiver, the person for whom the message is intended, receives the message. If the message is communicated orally, the receiver has to be a good listener to avoid loss of information during the transmission of the message.
Decoding the Message
In this step, the message is decoded and understood by the receiver. The receiver has to understand the message exactly as intended by the sender. The communicator of a message can make the receiver listen to him, but understanding has to be achieved by the receiver alone. This aspect of understanding is referred to as “getting through” to a person.
Acceptance or Rejection of the Message
The receiver is free to accept or reject a decoded message. The receiver can not only choose whether to accept a message, he can also choose whether to access the message in toto or in part. The acceptance decision of the receiver is influenced by factors such as his perception regarding the accuracy of the message, the authority of the sender, and the implication of accepting the information.
Using the Information
This step involves the use of information by the receiver. The receiver may use the information, discard it, or store it for future.
Feedback occurs when the receiver sends back some response to the sender or acknowledges the receipt of the message. The communication loop is complete only after feedback has been provided.
Feedback is essential for finding out whether the message has been properly received, decoded, accepted and used by the receiver. The two-way communication process can be compared to the back-and-forth pattern of play in tennis and badminton. The players adjust their shots depending on the response of the opponent. Similarly, as communication progresses, the sender adjusts his or her message according to the previous response of the receiver. Two-way communication leads to the accurate transmission of information and improves the quality of the decisions and actions dependent on that information.
Problems associated with two way communication
Two-way communication may result in friction, especially when two people hold different views on the same subject. At the same time, two-way communication can help people understand each others viewpoints.
This type of communication can also lead to cognitive dissonance. When people receive information that questions their value systems, decisions, or judgments or contradicts other information they received earlier, they experience internal conflict and anxiety. This is referred to as cognitive dissonance. People try to eliminate or minimize the discomfort caused by dissonance by obtaining new information, interpreting the information in a different way, reversing their earlier decision, or by compromising their values.
The sender should be very careful when communicating a message since communication is a form of self-revelation. When a person speaks, people not only try to understand the content of the speech but also try to assess his personality. A person unable to deliver his message in an appropriate way loses credibility. Therefore, a person involved in the communication process always seeks to preserve his self-image. While communicating, people try to preserve their self-image. The self-image of a person is threatened when he receives communication that may be verbally abusive. Although the sender may have unintentionally conveyed such a message, such communication usually generates bad feelings towards the sender. These negative feelings strain the relationship between the sender and the recipient and cause it to deteriorate.
Non Verbal communication
A message need not always be conveyed in the verbal forms; it can be sometimes expressed without the help of words. Nonverbal communication is the process of communicating without the use of words. According to Don Hellriegel, John Slocum, Jr. and Richard W. Woodman, nonverbal communication can be defined as “non-word human responses like facial expressions and gestures and the perceived characteristics of the environment through which the human verbal and nonverbal messages are transmitted.” Nonverbal communication is also known as ‘silent language.’ It involves the use of cues, gestures, vocal characteristics, facial expressions, and spatial relationship between the sender and the receiver to convey a message. For instance, a smile, glance, stare or a frown convey different meanings.
Body Language and Paralanguage
Nonverbal communication takes many forms. The most common form of nonverbal communication is the use of body language. The study of body movement is known as kinesics. Body movements include gestures, facial expressions and other physical movements. Every body movement conveys a certain meaning. For example, raising an eyebrow conveys disbelief, rubbing the nose indicates puzzlement and shrugging shoulders shows indifference. When a person is eager to hear something, he sits with his feet under the chair, toes pressed to the ground, and leans forward on the desk; when a person is listening carefully, he maintains eye contact and frequently nods his head and so on. Body language coupled with verbal communication gives more meaning to a message.
Dress and physical appearance are other important forms of nonverbal communication. It is believed that physical appearance determines the success a person will attain at every stage of his life.
Other important forms of nonverbal communication include the attitude toward time and the spatial relationship maintained between people.
Cultural norms affect nonverbal communication. In some cultures, it is considered rude to arrive ahead of time while in other cultures it indicates politeness and a positive attitude. In some countries, close physical distance may mean aggressiveness or sexual interest, while in some countries maintaining a close distance may be essential to appear business-like.
Paralanguage refers to the voice quality, volume, pitch, speed and nonfluencies (like ‘ah’, ‘um’, or ‘uh) used to convey a message. It helps to convey information about the attitude of the speaker. Sometimes there may be a contradiction between what a person says and what his actions indicate. In such cases, the person’s actions can be regarded as a truer picture of his feelings and ideas.
Barriers of effective communication
A number of obstacles may restrict the receiver’s understanding of a message. These interruptions act as barriers to communication, which may totally prevent communication, or delete a part of the message, or convey the wrong meaning. Some of the barriers to effective communication are discussed below:
This refers to the manipulation of information by the sender so as to obtain a favorable opinion from the receiver. An employee is said to have filtered information when he updates his superior about the projects in which there is significant progress but does not inform him of the projects that are lagging behind. Information is condensed and synthesized at different levels in an organization before it reaches senior executives. This is done to ensure that the top personnel are not overburdened with information. The process of filtering information takes place at each level in the organization and may sometimes affect the quantity as well as the quality of information that reaches the top management. The amount of information that gets filtered increases with the number of vertical levels in the organizational hierarchy. Filtering may lead to problems in the long-term. As only pleasant information is allowed to pass up (unpleasant information is withheld at lower levels), the top management may not come to know about a problem till it assumes serious proportions.
A person perceives information on the basis of his needs, values, experience, and background. His personal interests and expectations influence the way he decodes information. For instance, if an interviewer believes that women give more priority to their family than their professional career, he is likely to perceive this characteristic in all female applicants, regardless of whether the applicants feel that way or not.
People intentionally attempt to block communication when they feel that the other person is threatening their self-image and prestige. They react in a defensive manner by making sarcastic comments, by passing judgment on others, or by questioning the motives of the other party. This type of defensive behavior impedes effective communication. Take the case of a meeting being held between workers and managers to negotiate a wage-hike. At the negotiation table, the workers may threaten to go on an indefinite strike if their demands for a pay-hike and reduction in daily production targets are not met. The manager may become defensive and attribute the workers’ demands to their laziness and their desire to get more pay for less work. Such comments by the manager could disrupt the communication and hence affect the negotiation.
Words convey different meanings to different people. Age, education and cultural background are the major factors that influence the use of language by people and the meanings they associate with words. For example, the language of an illiterate person will differ from that of a sophisticated businessperson. Again, the language spoken by a scientist differs from that of a manager in an organization. The words used by a poet and a newspaper reporter to describe the same situation (such as drought) will be entirely different.
Organizations consist of employees from varying backgrounds. Each employee may have a different meaning or pronunciation for the same word. The business units of a company operating in different geographical territories may also use terms and phrases in a unique way. Language problems may also arise due to the presence of different levels in the organizational hierarchy. People at one level in the organization may develop a common jargon which may be totally unfamiliar to people at a different level. For example, the shop floor workers may not understand the management jargon of the top executives. Hence, the sender has to modify the style of communication depending on the people he is addressing (workers, clients or business partners).