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An Introduction to Organizational Communication Research Paper

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The definitions of communication (verbal and non-verbal) largely reflect the perceptual subjectivism of those who come up with them. This explains the fact that, as of today, there are at least seven different definitions of the process in question, concerned with organizational theory:

Cybernetic – communication is the process of informational transactions being processed, for the purpose of increasing the measure of the organization’s systemic integrity.

Socio-cultural – communication is the instrument of helping employees to grow emotionally comfortable with what happened to be the predominant socio-cultural discourse within the organization.

Phenomenological – communication is the tool of prompting employees to experience the unfamiliar mental states, which in turn increases their ability to adequately react to the externally induced stimuli – hence, making the concerned individuals more professionally valuable.

Socio-psychological – communication is the process, concerned with the organization’s managers trying to influence the workings of their subordinates’ unconscious, as the mean of helping employees to improve their professional performance.

Semiotic – communication is the process of designing the would-be communicated messages to be fully understood by the ‘end receivers’. This is being commonly accomplished by the mean of endowing these messages with the strongly defined symbolical (and therefore universally recognizable) sounding.

Critical – communication is yet another strategy, deployed by managers, within the context of how they go about ensuring employees’ consent with the organization’s corporate values.

Rhetorical – communication is the process that makes it possible finding a common ground between managers, on the one hand, and their subordinates, on the other (Karen, Boynton & Mishra, 2014).

The definitions of communication also depend on what happened to be the specific organizational theory, through the conceptual lenses of which the concerned notion is being assessed. Nowadays, there are three discursively legitimate outlooks on organizational communication: Linear, Interactional and Transactional.

The proponents of the first of them define communication, as the process of information being channeled from point A to point B. In its turn, this makes it possible to discuss the Linear mode of organizational communication within the so-called

SMCR (source, message, channel, receiver) model of what defines the structural specifics of informational inflows/outflows within the organization (Berlo, 1960).

The advocates the Interactional outlook define communication as the instrument of ensuring the synergistic integrity of organizations.

The reason for this is that, according to them, the communicational process within the organization is being rather ‘circular’ than ‘linear’ – after having been exposed to a specific message, its ‘end receivers’ provide their feedback to the message’s initiators. Another notable aspect of this specific outlook, is that it emphasizes the importance of the non-verbal forms of organizational communication.

The paradigm of Transactional communication, on the other hand, is concerned with the assumption that, during the course of communicational processes between ‘senders’ and ‘receivers’, informational messages and feedback are being initiated independently of each other, and that there is the never-ending (circular) continuity to how they are being consequentially inter-exchanged, within the context of a particular organization remaining fully operational (Barnlund, 1970).

We can also discuss the purpose of organizational communication, as such, that is being reflective of the provisions of the Post-positive, Interpretative, Critical and Post-modern models of an organization.

For example, the adherents of the Post-positive model believe that this purpose is strictly instrumental. The reason for this is that post-positivists regard an organization as the spatially extended and objectively existing entity, which in turn implies that the extent of a particular employee’s professional adequacy positively relates to his or her ability to embrace the organization’s corporate culture.

This, of course, predetermines such a state of affairs when communication is being mainly used, as the instrument of helping employees to live up to what it being expected of them by their superiors. In its turn, this is supposed to increase the measure of the concerned organization’s overall effectiveness (Donaldson, 2003).

Those who favor the Interpretative model could not disagree more. After all, the main theoretical premise of this particular model is concerned with the assumption that there is nothing truly objective in how organizations function. This is why it is wrong to believe that by making an analytical inquiry into this functioning, one would be able to grasp the actual essence of just about any organization, as a ‘thing in itself’.

What it means is that, the actual purpose of communication within the organization is providing the affiliated top-managers with the opportunity to interpret the professionally relevant implications of how their subordinates tend to perceive the surrounding social/professional reality. In plain words – communication is ultimately concerned with allowing employers to read the minds of their employees.

Consequently, this is expected to substantially empower managers, within the context of how they go about ensuring employees’ high commitment to the values of the organization’s corporate culture (Mumby & Clair, 1997). The reason for this is that empowered managers, in this respect, would be much more likely to choose in favor of the proper set of performance-stimulating incentives, in regards to every particular employee.

Moreover, the practical implementation of the Interpretative model is also expected to help the process of employees coming to realize what accounts for their ‘corporate identities’. As a result, the number of the potentially conflicting situations between employees should be reduced rather considerably.

The proponents of the Critical model believe in something entirely different. According to them, the ultimate purpose of communication within the organization is to guarantee that, for as long as this organization remains fully operational, hired employees may never cease associating their personal job-related interests with those of the organization’s main owners/stakeholders.

The above-described process is being usually referred to in terms of reification – providing employees with the chance to attain the state of self-actualization, by the mean of growing thoroughly comfortable with the managerial agenda of its workplace superiors, while expecting that this would help to sharpen the organization’s competitive edge.

As Islam pointed out, “The notion of reification explicitly elaborates an important link between employee self-conceptions and the ways that products and selves are created at work” (2013, p. 237).

In its turn, this can only be achieved if the concerned stakeholders deploy the discursively sound strategies of psychological manipulation, entirely consistent with what happened to be the concerned employees’ professionally relevant unconscious anxieties.

The Post-modern model of organizational communication presupposes that the activity in question serves the purpose of providing a ‘soundboard’ for what happened to be the contesting discourses within the organization.

In its turn, this point of view reflects its advocates’ assumption that the very notion of ‘organization’ is utterly subjective and that it cannot be discussed outside of what happened to be the systemic subtleties of just about any organization’s structural elements (such as employees).

As Cooper and Burrell, “The Post-modern approach sees the ‘organization’… less the expression of planned thought and calculative action and more a defensive reaction to forces extrinsic to the social body which constantly threaten the stability of organized life” (1988, p. 91).

As practice indicates, the Post-modern model of organizational communication is now being commonly used, within the context of how organizations go about providing employees with the opportunity to celebrate ‘diversity’.

Organizational communication can also be typified as Downward, Upward and Horizontal. Downward communication (DC) refers to the process of the messages being communicated from the organization’s hierarchic top down to the bottom. The best example of this type of communication can be well named the practice of managers passing down their executive decisions to be implemented by the subordinated workforce.

Most commonly, this type of communication is being deployed when it comes to providing employees with the job-related instructions. In addition, managers often resort to DC, while striving to ensure that employees remain fully committed, in the professional sense of this word.

This, of course, suggests that the Downward type of organizational communication is ultimately concerned with indoctrinating employees, in order to increase their synergistic value (Katz & Kahn, 1966).

Upward communication (UC) refers to the informational transactions from the organization’s hierarchic bottom up to its top. In essence, it is about the process of employees (which have been previously exposed to a particular managerial message) sending their feedback to where this message has initially been initiated.

There are four main functions that the mentioned type of communication appears to serve:

  1. Providing managers with the opportunity to assess the effectiveness of the previously communicated messages to the ‘end recipients’.
  2. Making it possible for the organization’s low-ranked employees to partake in the executive decision-making. As Hirokawa noted, “Upward communication… allows subordinates to participate in the decision-making process, also facilitates the acceptance of those decisions which they had a part in making” (1979, p. 86).
  3. Allowing employees to actively contribute to the affiliated organization’s well-being.
  4. Empowering managers, in the sense of making them aware of what may be the actual consequences of implementing a particular policy, within the organization.

Horizontal communication (HC) is the process of information being intercommunicated between managers/employees, which in the hierarchical sense of this word remain on a same level. To exemplify this type of organizational communication, we can refer to the practice of messages being exchanged between the organization’s departments/subdivisions that exist semi-independently of each other.

The most immediate effects of this type of communication are:

  1. HC helps the organization’s sub-divisions/departments coordinate their operational activities.
  2. HC often proves an indispensable tool, within the context of how managers go about trying to solve the so-called ‘inter-managerial’ problems.
  3. HC lessens the amount of time, required by a particular organization to be able to adequately react to the externally induced stimuli.
  4. HC lessens the acuteness of conflictual situations, which involve managers/employees that are not being formally subordinated to one another.

The main reason why the notion of communication ethics is indeed discursively sound, is that the very mechanics of how people’s mind operates create the objective preconditions for the communication-related processes within organizations to be primarily concerned with managers landing their subjective judgments on the subordinated employees, and vice versa (Johannesen, Valde & Whedbee, 2008).

Nevertheless, it is still possible to ensure the ethical soundness of a particular communication-strategy (deployed within the organization) by the mean of adjusting it to be consistent with the following set of suggestions:

  1. Ethical communication is pervasive and not coercive. What it means is that, while communicating a particular message to employees, managers must refrain from using threats/foul language, as the way of encouraging the latter to remain professionally committed.
  2. Ethical communication is nurturing, in the sense that it encourages employees to be willing to invest in increasing the level of their professional adequacy.
  3. Ethical communication presupposes that those who indulge in it (managers and ordinary employees), understand the importance of remaining thoroughly truthful with each other, throughout the process’s entirety.
  4. Ethical communication is unobtrusive. That is, its participants cannot be required to disclose any personal information, in order to be considered fully adherent to the organization’s corporate values.
  5. Ethical communication is transparent, in the sense of not containing the elements of secretiveness/psychological manipulativeness. As practice indicates, however, this can hardly be referred to as a ‘real-life’ case scenario.

The importance of non-verbal communication in organizations can hardly be underestimated, as well. The reason for this is apparent – as many studies indicate, at least a half of the whole volume of messages that people convey to each other, while socializing, are distinctively non-verbal (Jehiel, 1999).

Among the most widely used no-verbal communicational methods can be well mentioned one’s posture, eye/head movements, facial expression, appearance, way of walking, etc. It is understood, of course, that when assessed through the conceptual lenses of the Positivist theory of organization, the non-verbal forms of communication may appear rather inconsistent with the very idea of organization, as a rationale-driven system.

However, the objective realities of how organizations operate, point out to something entirely different – it is not only that non-verbal communication remains the integral part of the informational transactions between managers and employees, but this also will continue to remain the case into the future.

The rationale behind this suggestion is as follows: As psychologists are being well aware of, it is specifically the emotionally charged messages, which appear to be the most ‘action-inducing’. What it means is that, by intentionally adding the element of emotionalism to how they communicate with employees, managers are able to ensure that their subordinates react to what is being conveyed to them in the timely manner.

Yet, nothing helps increasing the emotional undertones of a particular message than making at least some of its semiotics being expressed non-verbally. After all, the non-verbally conveyed message directly targets the deep-seated unconscious anxieties, on the part of the intended ‘end recipients’.

What has been said earlier implies that the factor of ethnic diversity plays rather important role in how organizational communication is being conducted, as well.

The reason for this is that the very definition of ‘communication’ suggests that the informational transactions that take place within organizations only then make sense when the semiotic significance of the inter-exchanged messages is being properly interpreted by every of the process’s participants.

However, the fact that, as of today, organizations continue to become ever more ethically/culturally diverse, creates certain difficulties, in this respect. After all, there are indeed many good reasons to believe that the specifics of one’s ethnocultural affiliation do affect the manner in which the concerned individual perceives the surrounding reality and its place in it.

For example, as Bower observed, “Asians make little use of categories and formal logic and instead focus on relations among objects and the context in which they interact… Westerners, on the other hand, adopt an ‘analytic’ perspective. They look for the traits of objects while largely ignoring their context” (2000, p. 57).

In its turn, this cannot result in anything else but in establishing the objective prerequisites for managers to strive to adjust their communicational approaches to be fully observant of this fact. It is understood, of course, that this can only be accomplished if managers continue applying an exponentially increased effort into becoming ever more mulitculturally aware.

Given the fact that just about any organization can be well discussed in terms of a thermodynamic system, it represents the matter of a crucial importance for managers to ensure the spatially stable networks for the informational transactions (communication) that take place within organizations.

These networks can be categorized in a variety of different ways, such as formal/informal, centralized/decentralized, traditional/technologically advanced, etc. For example, among the most commonly utilized formal communicational networks we can well name the organization’s newsletters and memos.

The most popular informal networks, on the other hand, are concerned with channeling information on a ‘circular’ basis – often contrary to what happened to be the enacted managerial policies, in this respect.

To exemplify this type of communicational network, we can refer to the practice of spreading rumors about their superiors, on the part of employees. One of the notable characteristics of communicational networks in just about any modern organization is that, as time goes one, the boundary between the mentioned approaches to communicating the ‘networked’ messages becomes increasingly thin.

The validity of this statement can be illustrated, in regards to the fact that nowadays, the communicational medium of email is now being used for simultaneously both: allowing managers to keep employees thoroughly updated, as to the changes in the organization’s corporate policies, and making it possible for workers to reflect upon these policies informally.

The mentioned state of affairs appears to have been predetermined by the very fact that the ongoing progress in the field of informational technologies, alters even the most fundamental aspects of just about any organization’s functioning.

One of the best examples of what happens when an organization begins to neglect the importance of applying a continual effort into maintaining the discursive adequateness of its approaches to communication, is the case of Microsoft Corporation.

After all, it does not make much of a secret that, as of today, Microsoft experiences nothing short of a systemic crisis – even though the Company continues to be considered one of the world’s most profitable, the days of its former glory are long gone.

Partially, this can be referred to is the direct consequence the fact that, throughout the last decade, Microsoft had ceased being considered the most desirable company to work for by the highly skilled IT professionals.

As Keeffe and Darling noted, “Recently… the perception that Microsoft is the premier employer of the best high-tech talent has diminished among current Microsoft employees and the best graduates of university programs, with many of these individuals migrating to other high technology firms” (2008, p. 46).

In its turn, this situation can be theorized as such that has been caused by the fact that ever since the beginning of the new millennium, the Company’s top-managers decided in favor of parting away with the previously deployed Transactional model of communication while choosing to adopt the Linear one instead.

Before this particular development, Microsoft used to be known for providing its employees with not just the right to voice their opinions, in regards to how the Company is run, but also to act as the actual participants of the corporate decision-making process.

The validity of this suggestion can be easily illustrated, in respect to the Company’s former reputation of having been a particularly ‘ employee-friendly’, in the sense of allowing its low-ranked software designers to go as far, as defying the direct orders of their superiors. That is, of course, if the concerned employees could prove the discursive appropriateness of such their defiant stance.

This allows us to conclude that Microsoft was initially affiliated with the Post-modern and Interpretative models of organizational communication – something that can be easily illustrated, in relation to the fact that in the not so distant past, the Company’s top-officials would never think of the notion of organizational communication as something rather instrumental.

The reason for this is that, unlike the Company’s current CEO Steve Ballmer, Bill Gates understood the importance of using communication for the purpose of strengthening the systemic integrity of Microsoft. Apparently, he was well aware that, “The absence of socio-emotional exchange between employees may inhibit the achievement of shared values and understandings” (Souder, 1977, p. 595).

This is exactly the reason why, under Gates, Microsoft employees used to enjoy the unprecedented amounts of personal freedom, while on the line of taking care of their professional duties – the Company’s top-officials deliberately strived to encourage the affiliated software designers to indulge in the specifically transactional (bi-directional) forms of communication with each other and with their superiors.

This, of course, suggests that back then, these officials considered communication to be the actual source of the Company’s greatness. The reason for this is quite apparent – Gates knew that just about any organization can be well discussed in terms of a thermodynamic system.

As such, the organization’s proper functioning is not only the consequence of its integral components (such as employees) remaining well in their sub-functional places but also the indication that they happened to be well interconnected, in the communicational (informational) sense of this word.

Unfortunately, after Steve Ballmer was appointed the CEO, Microsoft started to grow increasingly affiliated with the Post-positive (outdated) model of organizational communication. As the proof that this was indeed the case, we can refer to the Company’s ongoing ‘rationalization’, associated with the process of its employees being encouraged to adopt individualistic approaches towards tackling a particular professional issue.

For example, for the duration of the last decade, Microsoft employees continued to be ‘stack-ranked’, in the manner that is supposed to reflect the ‘objective’ measure of their professional worthiness.

This process, on their part, mostly involved being subjected to a number of different IQ tests, “Stack-ranking… (is when) managers across a company are required to rank all of their employees on a bell curve, has been a controversial management technique since then GE CEO Jack Welch popularized it in the 1980s” (Nissen, 2013, para. 1).

In its turn, this was expected to contribute towards making Microsoft more systemically ‘wholesome’. After all, there are indeed many reasons to believe that the mentioned evaluation of employees, undertaken at Microsoft, should have resulted in increasing the extent of the Company’s systemic resilience.

The rationale behind this suggestion is quite apparent – by being thoroughly aware of what accounts for the actual ‘worth’ of every individual employee, managers would be much more likely to assign him or her with the most suitable professional duties – hence, adding to the overall measure of the Company’s systemic stability.

However, the undertaken initiative did backfire rather miserably. It is not only that, in the aftermath of its implementation, Microsoft did not become more operationally efficient, but rather vice versa – it began to lose its competitive edge.

The explanation to this seemingly unexplainable phenomenon can be well conceptualized within the discursive framework of organizational communication. Because of having been provided with the incentives to grow progressively individualistic in their professional attitudes, Microsoft employees simultaneously ended up preferring the introverted (as opposed to extroverted) methods of addressing challenges at the workplace.

This, of course, could not result in anything else but in causing the Company’s employees to become progressively less communicable, in the transactional sense of this word.

Thus, it is indeed fully appropriate to suggest that the process of the Company’s formerly active communicational networks growing operationally stagnant has triggered the current systemic crisis of Microsoft. As Groysberg and Slind pointed out, “At Microsoft… leaders established ‘a corporate culture that by 2001 was heading down the path of self-immolating chaos’.

Central to that culture were practices that effectively obstructed the free flow of information” (2012, para. 5). This, of course, can be interpreted as yet additional confirmation that it is specifically the Post-modern model of organizational communication, concerned with the promotion of ‘horizontal’ informational exchanges within organizations, which appears to be the most conceptually legitimate.

Apparently, it never occurred to the Company’s current top-officials that communication is not merely the tool of helping organizations to reach their operational goals – it is the actual realm, in which organizations exist. This especially happened to be the case with those organizations that remain on the cutting edge of the ongoing technological progress, such as Microsoft.

The reason for this can be outlined as follows: To be a skilled software designer, one must be above all a creative individual. Yet, the fact that IT technologies continue to develop in the exponential progression to the flow of time presupposes that, in order for a particular software designer to be able to take advantage of its creativeness, he or she must be thoroughly informed, as to what is going on in the industry.

Consequently, this calls for such a designer to be provided with the opportunity to indulge in transactional (horizontal) communication with its colleagues/superiors. That is, for as long as Microsoft employees are being concerned, the notion of ‘communication’ cannot be discussed outside of how these individuals go about trying to attain self-actualization.

Therefore, meddling with the Company’s previously established communicational networks, on the part of Ballmer, could not result in anything good for Microsoft, by definition.

Quite to the contrary – it is because the Company’s new top-officials applied a great effort, while trying to turn Microsoft into yet another ‘rationale-driven’ organization, where communication is being looked upon as the instrument of coercing employees to act in one way or another, that this company can no longer be considered an undisputed leader in the field of IT.

What is particularly interesting, in this respect, is that ever since having been introduced in 2001, the Company’s ‘stack-ranking’ policy continued to be criticized, due to a variety of different reasons. Most commonly, its critics used to point out that this policy is inconsistent with the dogma of political correctness, which even today continues to enjoy the semi-official status in the West.

However, it remains largely overlooked that the policy’s main counter-beneficiary effect has very little to do with the fact that it indeed parts away with the tradition of tolerance.

What is truly ‘intolerable’ about it, is that, as it was shown earlier, it prevents Microsoft from being able to guarantee its employees that they would be provided with the chance of ‘self-actualization through communication’, while remaining thoroughly loyal to the Company.

Yet, it is specifically for the purpose of being able to realize their full existential potential (self-actualization) that the highly educated IT-specialists seek employment with the companies such as Microsoft, in the first place.

This once again illustrates that the issue of communication is probably the most important of all organizational issues. The very realities of a post-industrial living create the fully objective prerequisites for it to be the case. I believe that this conclusion is fully consistent with what has been said in this paper about organizational communication, in general, and about different approaches to conceptualizing it, in particular.


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