Everything you need to know about the channels of communication. All communication takes some way, or passage through some well-defined, easily identifiable stages.
Everyone is familiar with the phrase “through proper channel” that is used in almost all business letters/applications/representations.
It means that the sender of the written communication means to pass it on to the addressee through somebody occupying an important position in the hierarchical system of the organization.
The word ‘channel’ therefore, becomes synonymous with the position or point through which the communication passes. These positions or points exist at different levels in the pipeline.
The channels of communication can be studied under the following heads:- 1. On the Basis of Organisational Structure 2. On the Basis of Direction of Communication 3. On the Basis of Way of Expression.
On the basis of organisational structure, the channels of communication are divided into:- i. Formal Communication ii. Informal Communication iii. Non-Verbal Communication.
On the basis of direction of communication, the channels of communication are divided into:- i. Downward Communication ii. Upward Communication iii. Horizontal or Lateral Communication iv. Diagonal Communication.
On the basis of way of expression, the channels of communication are divided into:- i. Oral or Verbal Communication ii. Written Communication.
Communication Channels: Formal, Informal, Non-Verbal, Downward, Upward, Horizontal, Diagonal and a Few Others
Channels of Communication – Formal Communication and Informal Communication (With Differences)
A channel of communication is a path through which information flows throughout the organisation. The numerous channels used in the organisation constitute its ‘communication network’. The channels of communication include both formal and informal communication.
These are discussed below:
The paths of communication which are officially determined by the management are called formal channels of communication. They are associated with the status or position of the communicator and the receiver. Formal communication enforces a relationship between different positions. It derives its support from scalar chain of organisation. It generally adopts three directions – (i) Downward; (ii) Upward; and (iii) Horizontal. It is significant to point out that the first two channels are vertical in nature.
The important requirements of formal communication network are as follows:
(i) Determining the information to be communicated and the person to whom it is to be communicated,
(ii) Transmitting information accurately and at appropriate time,
(iii) Processing and interpreting the data before giving feedback, and
(iv) Maintaining records or information till required.
Downward communication is used for giving orders and instructions, providing information, or for influencing attitudes and behaviour of the subordinates. Upward communication is used for reporting, informing, requesting and suggesting. It is also used to influence decisions and to protest against certain actions or decisions of the management. Horizontal channels are used for informing and coordinating. All these channels are equally important for the proper functioning of any organisation.
In a well organised communication system, upward communication is given as much importance as downward communication. This is because one of the most crucial factors in the process of communication is information about how people feel about things in the organisation. Unless upward communication is encouraged and taken note of, downward communication is not fully effective. Upward communication gives an opportunity to the workforce to inform management about their feelings and to suggest improvements in the methods of work and also enables management to locate problem areas in the organisation.
When the employees are unable to communicate the required information to higher authorities because of communication barriers, they may resort to informal channels of communication. Distortions may appear in the transmission of such messages through grapevine in the form of rumours and gossips. Such informal channels may be resorted to by the managers when they find that it is not possible to gather information through the established channels in the formal communication system of the organisation.
Informal communication or grapevine arises from social interactions of people. It is the expression of their natural motivation to communicate. Its speed is very fast as compared to formal communication. A study conducted by Keith Davis revealed that wife of a plant supervisor had a baby at 11.00 p.m. and a plant survey the next day at 2.00 p.m. showed that 46% of the management personnel knew of it through the grapevine.
The important point which we must recognise is that grapevine is a natural and normal activity. It is because of the desire of people to communicate without following the formal channels in the organisation. It is an essential part of the total human environment.
There is nothing inherently bad about grapevine. It, as a matter of fact, fills in the gaps existing in the formal communication system. It is does not exist in the organisation, the ability of a manager to build team-work, motivate people and create identification with the organisation would be severely restricted.
The broad features of grapevine are as under:
(i) Informal communication represents natural desire of people in the organisation to interact and communicate with each other and it fulfills the subordinate’s desire to get the latest information.
(ii) Grapevine works with surprising speed and is often faster than official channels; information gets disseminated very promptly.
(iii) Informal communication network offers the managers insight into what the subordinates think and feel.
(iv) Informal network of communication is useful for disseminating certain information which, in the general interest of the organisation, could not be transmitted through the official channels. Thus, circumstances that led to sudden resignation of a manager may be communicated through the grapevine without giving the impression that he was the victim of some unfair top management action.
Merits of Informal Communication:
The informal communication has the following advantages:
(i) It helps in achieving better human relations in the organisation.
(ii) It links even those people who do not fall in the official chain of command.
(iii) Its speed is very fast as it is free from all barriers.
(iv) It serves to fill the possible gaps in the formal communication.
(v) It provides the workers an outlet to freely express their fears, views and thoughts.
Demerits of Informal Communication:
The demerits of informal communication are as follows:
(i) Informal communication is not authentic. The message may get distorted because of different interpretations by different persons.
(ii) Informal communication is oral in nature and it is very difficult to find the responsibility of the communicator for the message transmitted. It may lead to generation of rumours in the organisation.
(iii) Informal channels may not always be active. So, informal communication is not dependable.
(iv) It may lead to the leakage of confidential information.
Differences between Formal Communication and Informal Communication:
1. It is based on formal organisational relationships.
2. The channels of communication are preplanned.
3. It is rigid as deviations are not allowed.
4. It is slow as it has to follow the path laid down by the management.
5. Chances of distortion of information are very few.
6. In case of formal communication, status or position of the parties is very important.
7. Formal communication is authentic.
1. It is not based on formal organisational relationships. It is free from formalities.
2. The channels of communication are not preplanned.
3. It is flexible.
4. It is very fast as it is not supposed to follow a particular path.
5. Chances of distortion of information are very high.
6. In case of informal communication, status or position of the parties has no relevance.
7. Informal message may not be authentic.
Channels of Communication – Formal Channels, Downward Communication and Upward Communication
Formal channels are those established by the organization’s structure.
(i) The Scalar Chain or Line of Command;
(ii) Joint Consultative Committees;
(iii) Discussion Groups;
(iv) Personnel Interviews and Counselling;
(v) Liaison with Trade Unions;
(vi) Company magazines, journals, posters;
(vii) Policy publications.
Formal channels are through lines of command. The effectiveness of these channels is probably measurable by assessing the time factor, the accuracy of the message, responsiveness of the employees and the cost per unit. The amount of response from subordinates depends upon the supervisor’s influence, and power of persuasion and amount of participation and consultation in making decisions, involving a two-way communication. Correct balance must be achieved between speed of transmission, accuracy and effectiveness. Much depends upon particular circumstances.
Employees must be given as much information as possible. Unreliable sources of information may create wrong impressions. Rumours must be swashed by publishing facts and demonstrating the trust by positive actions. Executives must ascertain the exact situation. Authority must not be exercised by withholding information.
Facts should not be concealed from superiors simply because they will be annoyed. Nobody should be taken by surprise. There should be atmosphere of mutual trust and tolerance.
Formal channels can be for either Downward Communication or Upward communication or Lateral and Diagonal Communication.
Downward Communication is used to convey directives from superiors to subordinates.
Daniel Katz and Robert Kahn have identified the five basic purposes of such communication as being:
(1) To give specific job instructions;
(2) To bring about understanding of the work and its relationship to other organizational tasks;
(3) To provide information about procedures and practices;
(4) To provide subordinates with feedback on their performance; and
(5) To provide a sense of mission by indoctrinating the workers as to organization goals.
Certain drawbacks are associated with downward communication, among which the greatest one is that because of distortion, misinterpretation, or ignorance, information is often lost as it comes down the line.
Upward communication channels carry information from subordinates to superiors. However, it has been observed that upward communication is very poor in many organizations.
Lateral and Diagonal Communication:
Lateral communication, also called horizontal, takes place among departments or people on the same level of the hierarchy. Such an interchange of information often serves to co-ordinate activities. Lateral communication also occurs between line and staff departments for the purpose of transmitting technical information necessary to carry out some particular function.
Diagonal communication involves the flow of information among departments or individuals on different levels of the hierarchy. This often occurs in the case of line and staff departments, in which the staff has functional authority. It is also common to find diagonal communication among line departments, again, in which one of them has functional authority.
Since formal communication channels represent only a portion of these channels that exist within the structure, much of the communication taking place is informal in nature; it is not planned by superiors. The term most often used to identify these informal channels is the “Grape-Vine”.
i. The “Grape-Vine”.
ii. Outside services, e.g., newspapers, radio;
iii. Contacts through friends and relatives;
iv. Informal consultation.
The grape-vine can be a source of factual data, although the term carries the connotation of inaccurate information. Grapevine provides people with an outlet for their imaginations and apprehensions.
There is logical pattern in which Grape-vine works. There are certain individuals to whom messages will be deliberately passed and others who will be deliberately by-passed. This is often known as the cluster-chain-channel. It is characterized by selective communication based on the element of trust and confidence in each other.
Keith Davis has noted that there are three other patterns of informal communication as well.
(1) Single strand in which information is passed through a long line of recipients;
(2) Gossip chain in which one person tells everyone else; and
(3) Probability chain – in which information is passed on randomly.
The informal channel operates through all members who indulge in gossips, scandals and rumours. Grape-vine may betray confidential information. This may be due to management’s lack of circumspection, for instance, careless remarks over the telephone, leaving confidential papers lying around, and imparting information to close associates without authority to do so. When used properly. Grape-vine is a quick way of assisting the formal channels and provides a guide to the effectiveness and accuracy of other channels.
One of the greatest advantages of the grape-vine is the rapidity with which it can disseminate information. Another is its potential for supplementing formal channels.
A third is the predictable pattern of informal communication, which Davis has noted in this way:
(1) People talk most when the news is recent;
(2) People talk about things that affect their work;
(3) People talk about people they know;
(4) People working near each other are likely to be on the same grape-vine; and
(5) People who contact each other in the chain of procedure tend to be on the same grape-vine.
Management must recognize that informal communication networks are an inevitable part of the organization and should endeavour to use them in attaining formal objectives.
Channels of Communication – Verbal Communication, Non-Verbal Communication and Communication Networks
Communication channel, formal or informal, requires some subject matter for communication (message, idea, suggestion, complaint, etc.,) in the form of words, signs or diagrams, which are called media of communication. In the organization, the managing director wants to issue directions to different departmental heads then he can convene a meeting, summon them to his room, talk to them over the telephone, or send them a memo.
All these are the media through which the managing director can communicate. The decision regarding the choice of media is dependent upon the nature and urgency of the message and on the other side on the emotional and intellectual level of the receiver. For communication to be effective the sender has to be very careful and judicious in choice of media.
The media of communication can be divided as follows:
I. Verbal Communication:
The communication through words, writing speaking and listening constitute verbal communication.
1. Oral Communication:
Communication with the help of spoken words is known as oral communication. Oral communication may take place in the form of face-to-face conversation and through mechanical devices which include conversation over the telephone, radio broadcasts, interviews, group discussions, meetings, conferences and seminars, announcements over the public address system, speeches, etc.
When the communication is oral the sender can ask questions, describe or can make the receiver understand something that is not clear. There are various forms of oral communication depending upon the situation. These are personal instructions, lectures, meetings and conferences, interviews, social and cultural affairs, union channels etc.
i. Quickness in Exchange of Ideas- The ideas can be conveyed to distant places quickly because this medium does not require message to be written.
ii. Immediate Feedback- Oral communication helps in understanding the extent to which the receiver has understood the message through his feelings during the course of conversation.
iii. Flexibility- Oral communication has an element of flexibility inherent in it. Flexibility means changing ideas according to the situation or changing ideas according to the interest of the receiver.
v. Personal Touch- Oral communication has a personal touch. Both the sides can understand each other’s feelings, being face to face. The conversation takes place in a clean environment, which increase mutual confidence.
vi. Effective Source- Oral Communication leaves much impression on the receiver. It is said that sometimes a thing can be communicated more effectively with the help of some sign. The use of signs or gesticulation can only be made in oral communication.
vii. Saves Time and Increases Efficiency- This communication consumes less time and the superiors can utilize the time saved in some other more important works. As a result of this, the efficiency of sender increases.
Disadvantages of Oral Communication:
i. Unfit for Lengthy Message- Oral communication is profitable in having a brief exchange of ideas only. It is not possible for receiver to remember long message.
ii. Unfit for Policy Matters- Where policies, rules or other important messages is to be communicated, oral communication has no importance.
iii. Lack of Written Proof- In the case of oral communication no written proof is left for future reference. Therefore, sometimes difficulty has to be faced.
iv. Expensive Method- When less important information is sent to distant places through telephone, etc. oral communication proves costly.
v. Lack of Clarity- This is possible when there is little time for conversation. Sometimes wrong can be uttered in a hurry, which can lead to adverse results.
vi. Misuse of Time- Oral communication is considered a misuse of time when during meetings the conversation is lengthened unnecessarily. Parties involved in the communication waste their time in useless talks.
vii. Presence of Both the Parties Necessary- In the oral communication it is essential for the sender and the receiver to be present face to face, it does not mean in physical sense. But in written communication one party is required.
2. Written Communication:
When information is exchanged in the written form, it is called as written communication. It includes personal letters, circulars, memos, telegrams, annual reports, forms and questionnaires, manuals, magazines, newspapers, bulletins, complaint procedures, policy manuals, house journals, trade journals, correspondence, agenda forms, notice board, posters, etc. The limitations of oral communication like the presence of both the parties, lack of proof in the context of future, etc., can be overcome by written communication.
Advantages of Written Communication:
i. Suitable for Lengthy Message- The lengthy message can clearly communicate with the help of written communication.
ii. Written Proof- Some documents with regard to some special facts have to be kept for future reference. This is possible only through written communication.
iii. Clear Message- A message may be long or short, it can be made understandable in a written communication. There is no fear of anything being left out in such a system.
iv. Less Expensive Method- Messages are to be sent to distant places, if there is no urgency involved, it can be sent at a little expense through this method. But if the message is to be sent a distant place quickly, this method is not useful.
v. Time Saving- Under the written communication there is no open conversation with a big human group. Hence, time is not lost in useless talks.
vi. Presence of Both the Parties not Necessary- In this system, it is not necessary that the receiver should be present before the sender.
vii. True and Effective- The written communication is true and hence effective. A sender sends the information after careful consideration because of written proof it carries with it.
viii. Communication at Different Places- When messages have to be sent to different places, written communication proves to be useful.
Disadvantages of Written Communication:
i. Unfit for Uneducated Persons- The written communication has no significance for the uneducated people. They can only be made to understand orally.
ii. Lack of Secrecy- Because of written proof, nothing can remain secret.
iii. Wastage of Time- Because of the organizational constraints it is essential to send less important facts in writing, it shall be the wastage of time, labour and money.
iv. No quick Information about Feedback- Some difficulty is felt when the reactions of the receivers are not known immediately. It also becomes difficult to bring an immediate change in the message.
II. Non-Verbal Communication or Gestural Communication:
It uses gestures for exchange of feeling or information. In this messages are conveyed through body movements, facial expression or gesticulation. For example, saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ by the movement of neck. An efficient manager can quickly get the feedback with the help of facial expressions. If there is face-to-face conversation between two persons, they can better understand the feelings, attitude and emotions of each other. The gestures taken by the listener can help the communicator to know their reactions.
Gestural communication is very important to motivate the subordinates, as for instance, handshake with the subordinate or a pat on the back of the subordinate. In this, we are concerned with body movements, space, time, voice tone/pitch, general characteristics of environment, colour, layout/design, and any other kinds of visual and/or audio signals that the communicator may devise. The different forms of gestural communication are gestural news at television, indication by umpire in sports, to accept honour by waving hands.
Advantages of Gestural Communication:
i. Quick sending of information.
ii. Less expensive system.
v. Time saving.
i. Lack of Secrecy.
ii. Useful for small amount of information.
iii. Gestures can be misunderstood.
iv. It is necessary for both the parties to be face to face with each other.
v. Lack of written proof.
vi. Useful only for small messages.
1. Body Language:
It is reflection of our thoughts, feelings and our position in the organization. Body language works through facial expression, eye contact, gestures, head position, body shape, posture and appearance. Like, if an individual slouches or jiggles his feet, he gives the impression of being indifferent, uninterested or distressed.
This example shows that body language adds intensity to the process of communication. A resourceful manager should make effective use of it. This results in improving the overall atmosphere and looks of the organization.
It means ‘Like’ language. It is concerned with the manner in which a speaker conveys his meanings through words. It tells a lot about a speaker’s educational background, national regional background, his mental state and his place in the organization. Like the word stress makes speech convincing. Proper words stress gives words intended meaning.
3. Sign Language:
Signs, i.e., visual and audio/sound signals have been in use since time immemorial. Visual signals like pictures, posters, photographs, cartoons, maps, diagrams, drawings and lights, etc., economize on verbal communication. These make communication interesting and motivate the receiver of the message. Drumbeats, alarm signals like sirens/hooters, buzzers, bell ringing are the most commonly used sound signals. These sound signals are important in time management.
It is study of space language. The distance between the people tells about their relations. Social space is best used for formal/official purposes. For instance, the people who begin conversation and those who are seated at the front are usually considered as the leaders of the group. People seated around a round/oval table will most likely communicate in the form of conference.
III. Communication Networks:
A proper pattern is followed to carry out activities in the business. The board of directors takes the policy decisions, managing directors executes the policy, the departmental managers issue instructions, supervisors give orders and clerks and operatives actually perform the task. All these parties are connected through some channels of communication. The sum total of these channels is known as communication networks.
1. Formal Communication:
It refers to official lines of communication, which follows chain of command. It is the path of communication, which is institutionally determined by the organization. In this exchange of ideas and information is done under the planned organizational structure. It makes it possible for the information to reach the desired place without any hindrance, at a little cost and in a proper way.
Characteristics of Formal Communication:
i. It can be oral as well as written. Daily works are handled through oral communication, while the policy matters require written communication.
ii. This communication is adopted where the sender and receiver have some sort of organizational relationship.
iii. It is related with the authorized organizational messages only, the personal messages are out of its scope.
iv. Some deliberate efforts are require for the creation of this kind of communication. It is decided in view of the objective of the organization.
v. While moving from one person to another, i.e., from worker to foreman, foreman to manager, this kind of communication has to pass through definite channel.
Advantages of Formal Communication:
i. If helps in maintaining constant relationship between superior and the subordinates as a result of which the dignity of line superiors is maintained. Consequently, it is convenient to control the subordinates and fix their responsibility.
ii. In formal communication both the superiors and subordinates understand the capability and feeling of each other’s as they are in direct contact with each other. The manager, thus, makes the information available to the subordinates, as he is well aware of their requirements. Hence, formal communication is clear and effective.
i. In this kind of communication the messages are routed through definite channels. In big business organization where the number of messages is large this kind of communication consumes much of the times of superiors and as a result of this the important works are left unattended.
ii. This method can be a hindrance in flow of information. If the distance between sender and receiver is big the information will pass through many hands, as a result of this the final receiver receives the distorted information.
Types of Formal Communication:
(a) Horizontal Communication:
It is also known as sideward communication. It refers to transmission of information positions at same levels. The same level officers use it to solve the problem of the similar nature and profit by the experience of the other people.
The subject matter of horizontal communication includes information, requests, suggestions, mutual problems and coordination related information. In the diagram, the communication between a manager and a manager, between a foreman and a foreman and between a worker and a worker is horizontal communication.
(b) Vertical Communication:
It may move both downward as well as upward.
i. Downward Communication:
It represents the flow of information from the top level to the lower level of the organization. The basic purpose of downward communication is to communicate policies, procedures, programmes and objectives and to issue orders and instructions to the subordinates. It can be possible through verbal or written orders and instructions, notices, circulars, letters, memos, posters, periodicals, publications, group meetings, etc.
ii. Upward Communication:
It is communication from the lower level to the higher authorities. The subject matter of this communication is suggestions, reactions, reports, complaints, etc. A clean environment in the organization can be maintained by removing the subordinates’ problems. It helps the superiors in taking the decision. The upward communication is successful when the relationship between superiors and subordinates is good, otherwise the subordinates never prefer to give right information to superiors and the information, which may harm their interest.
2. Informal Communication:
It refers to communication among people through informal contacts. In this case, the position and status of parties have no relevance. The communication is entirely based upon the informal relationships like friendship, membership of the same club, same place of birth, etc.
In this communication, the superiors will get such information which is not possible to collect through the formal channels. Such communication includes comments, suggestions, etc. It takes place through gesticulation, moving of head, smiling and by remaining quite. It is also called as ‘Grapevine Communication’ because there is no definite channel of communication.
Characteristics of Informal Communication:
i. In this kind of communication no superior-subordinate relationship is there. This kind of communication is possible only through social relationships.
ii. It includes the communication of organizational as well as the individual messages. In other words, the information about the work as well as the individual is collected through this kind of information.
iii. It is beyond the restriction of the organization, as it follows no definite channels.
iv. It makes news spread like wild fire. People not only make addition in the existing messages, but also they sometimes change the real meaning of the communication.
Advantages of Informal Communication:
i. In this type of communication the messages move fast and their effect is great on the people.
ii. It is done in a free environment. It means that no organizational pressure is there. The opinion of the people about the organization can be easily collected.
Disadvantages of Informal Communication:
i. This communication is totally unsystematic and the possibility of information to reach the concerned person is very less.
ii. Most of the information collected through this channel is unreliable and no important decision can be taken on its basis.
Types of Informal Communication:
(a) Free-Flow Communication or All Channel Communication:
Under this no restriction is there on flow of communication. Everyone is free to communicate with each other. This communication is unstructured and flexible.
(b) Circular Communication:
In this, the message moves in cycle. Each person can communicate with his two neighbourhood colleagues. The basic disadvantage of this communication is that it is very slow.
(c) Chain Communication:
In this, the message flows in a direct vertical lines along the scalar chain of command. It can flow from top to bottom and bottom top in a line. Thus, the flow of communication takes place through proper channels. No horizontal communication is here.
(d) Wheel Communication:
In this, all communications pass through the manager who acts as a central authority like the hub of a wheel. The subordinates can communicate with and through one manager. All the instructions and guidance will pass through one person.
Channels of Communication – On the Basis of Organisational Structure, On the Basis of Direction of Communication and On the Basis of Way of Expression
Different types of communication channels can be experienced in our activities.
(a) Formal Communication:
Communications which are associated with a formal organisation structure and which are to be sent through the formal or officially recognised channels are called formal communications. Generally, orders, instructions, decisions, of the superior officer, etc. are communicated through this channel.
(b) Informal Communication:
Informal communications are also known as ‘grapevine’ communications. In the case of informal communication, the formal channels of communication are not used. In this channel, very often, a person can obtain information which would take a few days for him to receive through the officially recognised organisational channel. Informal communication may be conveyed by a gesture, nod, smile etc.
(c) Non-Verbal Communication:
This is a type of communication according to which the message will be communicated to the concerned without words. Encoding of thoughts used in this type are facial expressions, vocal tones, gestures, etc. Non-verbal communication method is adopted naturally in all communication systems. Perhaps this is more powerful communication system. Research studies bear testimony to this.
Many decades passed since Albert Meherabian developed a formula which exhibits a relative usage of verbal and non-verbal communication methods. According to this, 0.55 facial expressions, 0.38 vocal tones and 0.07 words are used in a communication process. From this, it can be observed that 0.93 (0.55+0.38) are non-verbal elements of communication system. This clearly indicates that in every communication system, non-verbal factor of communication plays a vital role.
But, the communicators should take care of the fact that both verbal and non-verbal communication methods are properly synchronised in communication process. Both elements (verbal and non-verbal) should give the same message and should not contradict each other. If the verbal message communicates the acceptance of an issue to be communicated, non-verbal system should also give acceptance. Not the non-acceptance.
(a) Downward Communication:
In the case of downward communication, the communication flows from the superiors to the subordinates. Communications sent through this channel are generally directives requiring actions to be initiated by the subordinates. These communications include orders, policy directives, instructions, etc.
(b) Upward Communication:
In the case of upward communication, communication flows from the subordinates to the superiors. It includes reports, suggestions, reactions of workers, proposals, etc. Upward communication enables the management to evaluate the effectiveness with which its orders have been carried out and also to know the grievances or suggestions of the subordinates.
(c) Horizontal or Lateral Communication:
It means communication among the subordinates who are working at the same level of organisation. For example, communication among foremen or superintendents, or functional managers or supervisors is horizontal communication.
(d) Diagonal Communication:
It means communication between people who are neither in the same department nor at the same level of organisational hierarchy. In this type, communication cuts across departmental lines.
(i) Oral or Verbal Communication:
In the case of oral or verbal communication, communication is made direct face-to-face or through telephone or intercom system. Oral communication has some merits.
(a) It saves time and money.
(b) On-the-spot clarification of any doubt is possible.
(c) Because of personal touch between the communicator and listener, communication is more effective.
(d) While communicating, important points can be emphasised by the communicator.
Some of the disadvantages of oral communication are:
(a) There is no permanent record of communication passing through this device.
(b) Oral communication is not suitable for a subject that has to be kept as a record.
(c) There is greater possibility of communication being misunderstood or misinterpreted, if the communicator is poor in vocal expression.
(d) It is suitable only for communications which are not lengthy.
(ii) Written Communication:
Written communications include statements, circulars, letters, reports, memos, manuals etc.
Some of the advantages of written communication are:
(a) Written communications can be kept as a permanent record and it can be referred to by the management whenever it wants.
(b) This method is suitable for communications which are lengthy.
(c) As communication is in writing, there is a lesser chance of missing any points in the communication.
(d) This method is suitable for passing of messages to far-off places.
Written communication, however, suffers from certain limitations.
(a) Generally, written communications are more time-consuming,
(b) If the communication is not clearly worded, it may lead to confusion and misinterpretation.
(c) There is no face-to-face discussion between the parties. Hence, doubts of the receiver of the message may not be clarified.
(d) Maintaining of secrecy is difficult in this type of communication.
Channels of Communication – Classified as Formal Channel and Informal Channel
All communication takes some way, or passage through some well-defined, easily identifiable stages. Everyone is familiar with the phrase “through proper channel” that is used in almost all business letters/applications/representations.
It means that the sender of the written communication means to pass it on to the addressee through somebody occupying an important position in the hierarchical system of the organization. The word ‘channel’ therefore, becomes synonymous with the position or point through which the communication passes. These positions or points exist at different levels in the pipeline.
Channels of communication may be classified into two categories:
A formal channel of communication can be defined as a means of communication that is normally controlled by managers or people occupying similar positions in an organization. Any information, decision, memo, reminder etc., will follow this path.
For example, an executive ‘A’, occupying a top position, passes an order to his immediate subordinate ‘B’ who, after retaining the useful information upto him, passes the desired order to the next man ‘C’ for necessary action and so on. In this way the channel is a formal one. In the same way, communication may travel from below and pass through stages or points, again reinforcing the formal structure or character of the organization.
The formal channels influence the effectiveness of communication primarily in two ways. In the first place, the formal channels cover an ever-widening distance as organizations grow.
For example, effective communication is generally far more difficult in a large retail organization with branches spread far and wide than in a small or big department store located at one place. Secondly, the formal channels of communication can actually inhibit or stand in the way of free flow of information between organizational levels.
For example, in a big factory, an assembly line worker will communicate a problem to a supervisor rather than to the Plant Manager. Higher-level managers may sometimes not even come to know something of vital importance as and when needed. On the positive side, there are many advantages also.
The formal channels, by virtue of their tendency to monitor and filter information, keep the higher-level managers from getting bogged down with it.
By his very nature man cannot always have a highly formalized or regimented living. Logically he cannot and will not always communicate through formal channels alone. Side by side with the formal channel of communication, every organization has an equally effective channel of communication – that is the informal channel.
It is not officially sanctioned, and quite often it is even discouraged or looked down upon. But, then, it is very much there, and has been given the name ‘grapevine’ precisely because it runs in all directions- horizontal, vertical and diagonal. As the management experts put it, “it flows around water coolers, down hallways, through lunch rooms, and wherever people get together in groups”.
It shows that the people are almost always looking forward to an opportunity to get together. Man is essentially gregarious by nature. The lower we go down the pyramid of the organization the more manifest this gregariousness becomes. There are strong socio-psychological reasons for it. The most important reason is the intense, irrepressible desire to communicate, to talk, to share one’s feelings and thought, or just to gossip or to indulge in small talk.
This gossip or small talk may, and very often, does, carry some important information. It may even ‘manufacture’ some piece of information and get the rumour mill working. Every organization has a rumour mill. Every worker, every office-goer and above all every manager has to get used to it.
The grapevine becomes hyperactive when the following factors prevail:
(i) Feeling of uncertainty or lack of sense of direction when the organization is passing through a difficult period.
(ii) Feeling of inadequacy or lack of self-confidence on the part of the employees, leading to the formation of groups.
(iii) Formation of a coterie, clique or favoured group by the manager, giving other employees a feeling of insecurity or isolation.
Any worker operating in such circumstances will be filled with ideas and will at least whisper to like-minded friends at whatever level he finds them. Mostly they find them at their own level, though groupings including other levels are not ruled out. It is a very subtle and interesting phenomenon now being seriously studied and analysed by psychologists and management experts.
Keith Davis has identified four types of grapevine chains that can be enumerated as follows:
(i) Single-Strand Chain:
In this type of chain ‘A’ tells something to ‘B’ who tells it-to ‘C’ and so on it goes down the line. This chain is the least accurate in passing on the information.
(ii) Gossip Chain:
In it one person seeks out and tells everyone the information he or she has obtained. This chain is often used when information or a message regarding an interesting but ‘non-job-related’ nature is being conveyed.
(iii) Probability Chain:
In this type of chain individuals are indifferent to, or not really interested in, the persons to whom they are passing some information. They just tell at random, and those people in turn tell others at random. This chain is found when the information is somewhat interesting but not really significant.
(iv) Cluster Chain:
In this type of chain ‘A’ tells something to a few selected individuals, and then some of these individuals inform a few other selected individuals.
Davis is of the opinion that the cluster chain is the dominant grapevine pattern in an organization. Generally only a few individuals, called, ‘liaison individuals’, pass on the information they have come upon, and then they are likely to share it with the people they trust or from whom they would like favours.
It has been observed that generally the information they pass on is immediately interesting or relevant to them, job-related, and above all, timely. Most of informal communication takes place through this chain.
i. Speedy Transmission:
The greatest feature of the grapevine is that it transmits information at a remarkably fast speed. Everyone knows that a rumour travels, or spreads like wild fire. The moment a worker comes to know that something is labelled as ‘top secret’ or ‘confidential’ he becomes curious to look into it or have a sniff of it and passes it on to his very first close bosom friend.
And then, from him to another, it spreads within minutes. Managers have been known to give out information through planned “leaks” or carefully used “just-between-you-and-me” remarks.
ii. Feedback Value:
It is above all through the grapevine that the managers or top bosses of an organization get the feedback regarding their policies, decisions, memos etc. The feedback reaches them much faster through the informal channel than through the formal channel. Through the grapevine the managers come to know the pulse of the organization.
iii. Support to Other Channels:
The grapevine functions as a supplementary or parallel channel of communication. The officially recognized or sacred or formal channel takes not only more time in carrying information, but also imposes certain constraints on the process of communication. So, whatever is deemed to be unsuitable for official channel can be very successfully transmitted through the grapevine?
iv. The grapevine gives immense psychological satisfaction and strengthens the solidarity of the workers. While the purely formal channel will put them off, the grapevine draws them near to each other, thus keeping the organization intact as a social entity.
i. There is something inbuilt in the very nature of the grapevine that makes it less credible than the formal channels of communication. Since it spreads or transits information by word of mouth it cannot always be taken seriously. On the other hand it is also very likely to be contradicted. So it is not very dependable.
ii. The grapevine does not always carry the complete information. As it is very often based on guesswork or ‘whispers’ in the corridors it may not give the receiver the complete picture of the situation or the whole message.
iii. The grapevine may, and indeed often does, distort the information. As it is entirely unofficial, informal and unauthenticated it may cast aspersion on anybody or impute motives to the most well-meaning of the people. As its origin lies in the rumour-mill it may spread any kind of stories about highly responsible people, even at the risk of spoiling the image of the organization.
iv. The speed with which the grapevine spreads may also at times prove counterproductive. Ideally any message or information or policy decision should take its own course and time. But once it leaks, it may damage the reputation of the organization or upset the plans of the managers.
With the above points in mind one can always realize the urgent need to use the grapevine effectively. After all we have to learn to live with it. We cannot wish it away. So, a tactful manager has to take some positive measures to get the best out of this informal channel of communication.
Given below are a few important points in this regard:
i. In the first place a tactful manager will keep the employees well informed about organizational policy matters, plans and prospects. This will check the tendency of speculation that can sometimes assume dangerous proportions because of the elements of fear and anxiety on the part of the employees.
ii. Fruitful group activities that enhance self-worth and update knowledge should be held as frequently as possible. This will not only boost the morale and self-confidence of the workers but also check their inclination to indulge in small talk.
iii. The manager should, as far as possible, have an open-door policy without giving the impression of cheap popularity or favouritism.
iv. The manager should create a healthy environment where there is room for personal talk. But it must be made clear that work is of paramount importance. Nothing should be allowed to interfere with the progress of the organization. For this purpose regular timings should be fixed up for meetings with the employees.
v. The manager must tactfully identify the leaders and win their confidence so as to feel the pulse of their followers.
vi. As far as possible the employees, through their leaders, should be associated with decision-making. This will frustrate any negative aspect of the grapevine.
vii. The manager must keep trying to get clues about his style of functioning through regular interaction with the employees in as tactful, diplomatic manner as possible.
viii. Rumour mongering aimed at character assassination or maligning somebody in the organization should not be encouraged. Showing distaste for such talk will earn praise for the manager’s leadership qualities.
ix. A manager must learn to be a good listener.
In this connection it is worthwhile to enumerate the four types of listening that are as follows:
(1) Discriminative listening.
(2) Evaluative listening.
(3) Appreciative listening, and
(4) Empathic listening.
Unfortunately empathic listening is the least practised by managers. They may be, and mostly they are, too busy to listen empathically, that means sharing the speaker’s feelings. But they should not forget that this is a ‘relief-seeking’ conversation, and, therefore, very important to build up meaningful human relations.
It does not require any regular training as a psychologist. But today’s manager can always benefit from the insights of modern psychoanalytical research and learn to practise informal empathic listening.