This article throws light upon the four main dimensions of communication. The dimensions are: 1. Downward Communication 2. Upward Communication 3. Horizontal or Lateral Communication 4. Diagonal or Cross-Wise Communication.
Dimension # 1. Downward Communication:
Downward communication refers to flow of information from higher to lower levels of the organisational hierarchy. Information flows from top-most authority to the bottom-most persons (workers) through various levels. This flow of information generally prevails where autocratic style of management is dominant.
Contents of Information:
The following information generally flows in downward direction:
1. How to do a job.
2. Rationale for doing those jobs.
3. Policies and practices of organisation.
4. Performance level of employees.
5. The need to develop a sense of mission.
Forms of downward communication:
Downward communication can be oral or written. Oral communication is done through speeches, telephone, face-to-face interaction or meetings. Written communication is done through letters, handbooks, pamphlets, posters, bulletins, annual reports, policy statements, notices, circulars etc. Written form of downward communication is used when confidential matter to be reported requires documentary evidence.
Merits of downward communications:
Downward communication has the following merits:
1. It provides information regarding organisational plans and policies.
2. It informs employees about the rationale of organisational goals and how they can contribute to coordinate these goals with their personal goals.
3. It facilitates employees in knowing their area of discretion. They know what is expected of them and perform within those constraints.
4. It increases employees’ job satisfaction and morale to perform better.
Limitations of downward communication:
Downward communication has the following limitations:
1. Information distortion:
In large-sized organisations, information flows through a number of levels. By the time it reaches the lowest unit in the hierarchy, the message received may be different from what is sent. The message is screened at various levels.
2. Information gaps:
Oral information often gets lost in transit Fart of the information is retained at some level and gets filled by some unintended information at another level. Messages are encoded and decoded according to perception. Researchers have shown that in some cases, information up to about eighty per cent gets lost on the way.
3. Time consuming:
If organisational hierarchy has too many levels, it takes long for information to reach the person concerned. Sometimes, the information reaches after the action has been taken.
4. Incomplete transmission:
Sometimes, managers withhold part of the information and transmit incomplete information so that subordinates remain dependent upon them for required information. Employees cannot perform the tasks effectively with incomplete information. This may affect superior-subordinate relationships. These limitations do not undermine the importance of downward communication. Proper feedback of information from lower to higher levels can overcome the limitations of downward communication.
Dimension # 2. Upward Communication:
Flow of information from lower-levels to higher-levels is known as upward communication. Employees respond to directions and instructions through upward communication. This flow of communication is suitable where democratic or participative style of management is prevalent.
Matters such as subordinates’ work-related problems, suggestions, ideas, opinions, feelings about their superiors and co-workers etc. flow through upward communication.
Contents of Information:
The following information generally flows in upward direction:
1. Reports about subordinates’ work, achievements, progress and future plans.
2. Subordinates’ work problems which need the assistance of superiors.
3. Ideas or suggestions offered by subordinates to improve the working of any unit or organisation as a whole.
4. Subordinates’ perceptions about their work, work environment and co-workers. Forms of upward communication
Upward communication can take place through media like suggestions, appeals, meetings, grievance procedures, open door policy (subordinates can approach top managers directly by-passing some of the hierarchical levels), complaint system, questionnaires, group meetings etc.
Merits of upward communication:
Upward communication has the following merits:
1. It helps to receive feedback from the lower levels that facilitates the controlling function.
2. It helps in knowing attitude of employees towards goals and plans. It facilitates effective implementation of plans.
3. It increases morale and motivation to work. When employees know their grievances, ideas and suggestions are considered by top managers, they feel morally committed to their work.
4. It provides managers with creative ideas and suggestions which they may not have thought of.
5. It strengthens superior-subordinate relationships and creates harmonious industrial relations.
6. It overcomes resistance to change as employees can present their fears and apprehensions upwards.
Limitations of upward communication:
Upward communication suffers from the following limitations:
As in downward communication, substantial part of information gets filtered when it flows upward. In upward communication, each subordinate level filters that part of information which may present unfavourable picture to the superiors.
2. Time consuming:
Too many levels in the official chain of command result in delayed transmission.
1. Fears and apprehensions:
Subordinates do not always report the matters upward the way they want. When they know that the information is not what the boss wants to hear, they may not transmit it at all. They may even distort or edit the information before transmitting it upwards. Thus, the information passed is not what is true but what the superior wants to hear.
2. Attitude of superiors:
Sometimes, superiors do not listen to the juniors. Most of what is said by lower levels goes unheard at the top levels. The very purpose of upward communication, in such cases, gets defeated.
3. Low effectiveness:
When employees approach top managers directly by-passing some links in the scalar chain, it avoids filtration of information but those who are surpassed may feel upset. This strains the superior-subordinate relationships and hampers the effectiveness of further transmission.
Upward communication is an effective dimension of communication. Managers should improve the upward flow of interaction. First and foremost, they should listen to employees. Next, they should specify the type of information that should flow upwards. Every matter should not be reported to top managers.
Only important information that needs attention and action should flow upwards. Informal channels of communication can increase the efficiency of upward communication. Use of suggestion schemes, grievance procedures, periodic reports, committees, open door policy etc. are also helpful in this regard.
Dimension # 3. Horizontal or Lateral Communication:
Flow of information amongst people at the same level is known as horizontal communication. It is interaction amongst peer groups. It involves communication with people at the same level. Most common horizontal communication happens amongst functional heads. Marketing manager and production manager interact with each other to coordinate demand with production schedules.
Marketing manager to production manager:
“Mr. X, there is increasing demand for our product. I hope you can produce additional units on time.”
“Don’t worry, I’ve talked to people of my department. I can manage your requirement. You intimate your requirement three days in advance. However, I need additional funds to procure additional inventory. I will talk to the finance manager.”
“I can provide you funds whenever you need them.”
This communication between production, marketing and finance managers is a form of horizontal communication. It facilitates coordination of interdependent activities and ensures smooth functioning of the organisation.
It takes place between:
1. Members of a particular work group.
2. Members of different work groups.
3. Members of different departments operating at the same level.
4. Members of line and staff.
It does not follow the official chain of command but cuts across it.
Objectives of horizontal communication:
Horizontal communication serves the following purposes:
1. It coordinates work assignments of different departments.
2. It helps in sharing information about organisational plans and policies.
3. It helps in solving organisational problems.
4. It develops understanding amongst all the organisational members.
5. It conciliates, negotiates and arbitrates differences arising on account of cultural and attitudinal factors amongst employees.
6. It develops interpersonal support amongst people of different units.
Forms of horizontal communication:
Horizontal communication can be oral and written. Oral communication takes place amongst people of the same level — when they meet during lunch break, after office hours, meetings and conferences or talk over telephone written communication takes place through reports, bulletins, boards, letters, memos, reports etc.
Merits of horizontal communication:
Horizontal communication has the following merits:
1. It helps in reviewing activities assigned to people working at identical positions.
2. It speeds up the flow of work.
3. It facilitates problem-solving amongst members at their level and integrates the work.
4. It develops trust and confidence amongst people of different departments.
5. It provides job satisfaction to employees and boosts their morale to improve the performance.
6. It relieves top managers of the burden of solving problems at the work place, if workers can solve them on their own. It, thus, settles interdepartmental and intradepartmental differences at the place of origin.
7. It solves common problems of people and creates teamwork.
Limitations of horizontal communication:
Horizontal communication suffers from the following limitations:
1. Personal biases:
Personal likes and dislikes amongst members of work groups can obstruct free flow of information.
In the modern age, functional heads are highly specialised to manage their departments and do not have complete knowledge of other functional areas. This hampers communication at the horizontal level. For example, marketing manager may not be knowing much about sources and uses of funds, financial management and capitalisation. He will not be able to effectively communicate with the finance manager.
3. Perceptions and attitudes:
Differences in perceptions and attitudes of functional heads can be counter-productive in horizontal communication. Functional managers may look at the same problem from different angles. If the CEO of the company directs functional heads to cut costs, finance manager may want marketing manager to cut selling costs, while marketing manager may want production manager to cut production costs. Inter-departmental conflicts can arise and the objective will not be achieved.
These problems should be overcome by supporting heads and members of various work groups to promote healthy communication amongst them. While superiors allow information to flow horizontally in the organisations, they should also ensure that subordinates do not violate their limits of authority. The subordinates should keep the superiors informed of the interaction that takes place amongst the peer groups.
Dimension # 4. Diagonal or Cross-wise Communication:
Flow of information amongst people of different departments at different levels is known as diagonal communication. When regional sales manager talks to workers of finance or production department, diagonal communication is said to have taken place. People who are generally not in contact, come close to each other through diagonal communication.
Forms of diagonal communication:
Diagonal communication can be oral and written. Oral communication takes place in meetings, conferences, project teams etc., and written communication takes place through magazines, bulletins boards, notices, circulars etc.
Merits of diagonal communication:
Diagonal communication has the following merits:
1. It increases efficiency and speed of work. People can directly talk to each other cutting through the formal chain of command.
2. It boosts morale and commitment to work as employees can directly talk to managers.
3. It coordinates the activities of various departments as people can interact with each other.
4. It provides job satisfaction to employees.
Limitations of diagonal communication:
Diagonal communication suffers from the following limitations:
1. Violation of chain of command:
Information cuts across all levels and all departments. There is complete violation of chain of command.
2. Attitudinal problems:
When manager of sales department talks directly with the workers of production department, production manager may feel offended. This can affect relationship with workers of his department. Diagonal communication increases the efficiency of organisational activities as every information cannot be passed through vertical lines of communication.
Best use of diagonal communication can be made by ensuring cordial cross relationships. Subordinates should keep the line superiors informed of their interaction with people of other departments.