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Communication in OB: Functions, Process, Types, Network, Barriers, Overcoming, Issues

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Concept and Meaning of Communication in Organizational Behavior (OB)

The word communication is derived from Latin word "communis" which means "in common". This meaning gives the concept of communication as the means of sharing ideas, views, opinions, facts and information which are common to the concerned individuals or groups or organizations. Communication is an indispensable element in human behavior. People in organization interact with each other through communication. Either to command or to report, either to seeking information or to share, either for discussion while making decisions or to deliver the decision, either to deal with client or share ideas, in each case, people from different responsibilities, communicate each other in the organization.

Communication is one of the most important basic function management. It is one of the most frequently discussed dynamics is the entire field of organizational behavior as it is one of the indicator of human behavior in the organization. It is one of the requisite for employee satisfaction. "Perfect communication, if it existed, would occur when a thought or idea was transmitted so the receiver perceived exactly the same mental picture as the sender". It should sum sum up of all things what a person (sender) want to create understanding (message) in the mind of other person (receiver). It consists of systematic process of telling, listening and understanding.


Communication has special purpose to control member's behavior, to foster motivation, to influence emotionally, to provide information and to attain information.

Function of Communication in OB

Communication is the organization has some specific objectives as it is one of the basic function of management. Without communication, organizations cannot attain goals. Communication has following functions within a group or organization.

1. Control

One of the major function communication in a group or organization is to control the behavior of members. Control function is carried out by means of authority-responsibility relationship in the organization. Members need to follow formal chain of command for grievances or queries. Immediate supervisors are required to listen complaints are obliged to communicate formal command. Such provisions of formal communication help to control the behavior of members. Informal communication can also be used to control informal behavior in the organization.

2. Motivation

To motivate employees to attain group or organizational goals, formal as well as informal communication are required. Communication makes the goals clear and instructs regarding what to do by each member to attain such goals. Various provisions for improving performance of employees need to be communicated. Feedback on progress towards the goals attainment and rewards for desired behaviors motivate employees. For all the these things, there must be provision of proper communication system in organization.

Also read: Organizational Behavior (OB): Motivation Theories

3. Emotional expression

Many communication interactions in group or organization provide the emotional expression of feelings and fulfillment of social needs. Such interactions within group or organization provide sufficient evidences for satisfaction as well as frustration. Satisfaction and frustration are the emotional expression of feelings.

4. Information

Communication facilitates information required for decision making by group of organization. Senior managers provide required organizational information to departmental managers provide required organizational information to departmental managers or supervisors to help them for decision making. Similarly, operating level level employees, supervisors and departmental managers provide information regarding their area of operation which facilities for making right decision. Thus, communication aims to get information and share information required to make decision at different levels.

Process of Communication OB

Communication is process of transiting information from sender to receiver. It is a two way process in which a sender of message and receiver of message and receiver of message exchange their information and meaning of message. This process, basically involves eight elements i.e. sender, encoding, message, channel, decoding, receiver, noise and feedback. This process can be shown as follows:

1. Sender

Sender is the main source of information. The person who sends the message commonly is known as sender. He generates message to convey to receiver, encodes the message in understandable form and selects media for its transmission. The sender may be departmental manager, supervisor or department or whole organization itself.

2. Encoding

It is the act of changing information into code in order to make it understandable. Encoding is done in different forms like words, symbols, voices or in other forms to which receiver could understand. Encoding is done by sender.

3. Message

It is the subject matter of communication i.e. message. It consists of facts, opinions, ideas etc. of the sender formed into a package. It is prepared in clear and understandable form as far as possible. It is the fact that receiver understands. Thus, encoded information is known as message.

4. Channel

Channel is the medium through which the message is transmitted. Proper media or channel is selected by sender through which message is conveyed. Channel can be formal or informal. Formal channels are established by organization for transmitting formal i.e. organizational message to employees. But, informal medium are set by individual employee to convey personal information or message. Audio-visual, print media, electronic media, personal medium, symbol, etc. are different channels used in organization to transmit message.

5. Receiver

Receiver is a person or group of people to which the message is directed. The receiver may be listener, reader or viewer. The receiver decodes i.e. translates message in understandable form. It enables receiver to understand the meaning of message.

6. Decoding

Decoding means to receive message conveyed by sender and translating that message into own meaning or language. Wrong interpretation of message creates misunderstanding between the encoder and decoder causing false meaning.

7. Noise

Noise is barrier for communication process which distorts the flow of message. Noise reduces clarity of message. Perceptual problems, information overload, semantic barriers, or cultural differences are the source of noise.

8. Feedback

Finally, the effectiveness of communication is measured through feedback. Feedback is the mechanism of providing response whether the message is understood properly or not. Positive response indicates the communication is successful. If the response is not appropriate, then the sender has to change the message or the channel so as the message can be understood properly.

Types of Communication in OB

Communication can be different types on the basis of classification as follows:

a. On the basis of Network

Communication network is simply a connection of people in the communication i.e. flow diagram of the message. Network is formed with the relationship among number of members involved in communication and nature of channel used. On the basis of network, there can be mainly two types of communication:

i. Formal communication

Message is given through the formally designed channel or network in organization under formal communication. It is designed, controlled and regulated by top management. Formal communication can be horizontal, vertical and diagonal.

  • Horizontal Communication: Horizontal communication is the flow of information between departments or people of same level in organization. When the production manager communicates with the human resource manager for hiring some employees in vacant position, production manager communicates with marketing managers, or supervisor A communicates with marketing managers, or supervisor A communicates with supervisor B of the same department, the flow of communication is horizontal. The objective of horizontal communication is to coordinate the efforts of different departments or persons.
  • Vertical Communication: The communication in which information is either transmitted from top to the bottom or from bottom to the top in organizational hierarchy is a vertical communication. Vertical communication may be of two types as i. downward and ii. upward communication. Downward communication is a type of communication that flows top of the organization to the bottom through formal lines of authority. The most common downward communications are made for job instruction, official memos, policy statements, procedures, manuals, and company publications. In such communication, top managers communicate with their immediate subordinate (managers) and immediate supervisors communicate with their direct subordinates. Communication that flows from lower level of organization to top of the organization is known as upward communication. This is done to provide feedback on the extent of effectiveness of work in progress. It is also a means of informing the management about the viewpoints, reactions, feelings, and state of employee morale.
  • Diagonal Communication: Diagonal communication is the exchange of messages between managers and employees who are neither in the same department nor on the same level of organizational structure. It cuts formal chain of command of departmental lines. Diagonal communication becomes important in the situations in which members cannot communicate effectively through vertical or horizontal channels. The concept of diagonal communication was introduced to capture the new communication challenges associated with new organizational forms, such as matrix and project-based organizations. 

ii. Information communication

In informal communication, no fixed channels are designed to flow the message. In this communication, any member from any level of hierarchy can communicate the message to anyone in the organization. Normally, members from informal group in organization formed with special interest, use this type of communication. They share their ideas, views, opinions, and other information through such informal communication. There will be no control over communication by formal organizational structure. Normally, rumor and grapevine in organization are the result or objectives of informal communication.

b. On the basis of direction

Direction of communication is the flow of message from sender to receiver. It can be horizontal, vertical or diagonal communication on the basis of direction. Each of them is discussed in previous section.

c. On the basis of Methods

On the basis of receivers, nature of message, distance between sender and receiver, purpose, etc. communication can be of different types. Such methods can be combined in some cases. Such different types of communication are discussed below:

i. Oral communication

In oral communication, sender communicates the information through oral means i.e. by speaking. In this method, sender and receiver become face to face or they have to use mechanical device. This method is more reliable as sender can get the feedback quickly.

ii. Written communication

In written communication, information is shared to the receiver by writing or drawing. It is the formal means of communication. Normally, information that should be kept for long time for future reference, are transmitted by means of written communication. Lengthy message is better to communicate in written form. In this communication, it is hard to get quick feedback and the chances of being misunderstanding remain always high.

iii. Non verbal communication

Non verbal communication is the means of communicating by means of facial expression, body movement, physical contact, gesture, etc. like shaking hands, blinking eyes, smiling, clapping, etc. It is the communication in which both written and oral means are not used. It is the most powerful means of communication.

Communication Network in OB

Communication network refer to a combination of sender and receiver in their role of transmission of message. Communication networks make the communication interesting, quicken the flow of information, and increases the effectiveness of communication. Depending upon the nature of message, urgency, organizational culture and size of the organization, different communication networks can be used. Basically there are five types of communication network as follows:

Diagram of Communication Network

1. Wheel Network

It is a pattern of communication network in which a single person as pivotal, supplies message to other members. It is centralized communication network. Here, the group idea is probably the main source of communication.

In the above diagram, 1 (manager) is the main source of information and he passes the information to the other group members, 2, 3, 4 and 5. In this type of network, only the manager communicates to subordinates but subordinates are not allowed to communicate with others i.e. member 2 cannot communicate with 3 and others.

2. Y Network

It is the pattern of communication network in which top leaders or managers communicate to the person closed to them. Then the message is communicated in downward direction in hierarchy. 

3. Chain Network

It is a pattern of communication network in which a person can communicate with immediate superior and subordinate in hierarchy. In the diagram, 1 can communicate with 2, 2 with 3, and 3 with 5 in downward communication where information can flow from from bottom to top and top to bottom. It is more suitable when authority and responsibility are clearly defined among the group or team members.

4. Circle Network

It is a pattern of communication network in which message is communicated in circle, i.e., each person can pass the information to his/her adjoining two person right or left. For example, in above diagram, 2 can communicate information to 3 and 1 and similarly 3 can pass to 2 and 4 but cannot pass the information to 3 or 4.

5. All channel Network

It is one of the most decentralized type of communication network. In which, all the members of group or team share their ideas, views and suggestion to all the members without any restriction. Here, each of the member has right to communicate with any other person in the group without any restriction and boundaries.

Barriers to Effective Communication in OB

Communication is one of the bases of employee's behavior in the organization. It is source of employee satisfaction, means of coordination, leadership, supervision, direction and control. Thus it is essential for effective management and success of organization. Several obstruction, bottleneck hurdles or blockades hinder the process of communication which reduces effectiveness of communication. These hurdles or obstacles for effective communication are the barriers to communication. There can be following types of barriers to effective communication:

1. Physical

The greater distance between the sender and the receiver reduces the effectiveness of the communication. Similarly, noise and environmental disturbances are also common physical barriers.

2. Individual

Individual factors like personal, judgment, emotions and social values create a psychological distance between the sender and the receiver. The other personal factors like prejudice, inferiority/superiority complex, attitude, time pressure also affect interpretation of messages. Likewise, differences in mutual trust and confidence between sender and receiver also effects effectiveness of the communication.

3. Filtering

"Filtering refers to a sender's purposely manipulating information so the receiver will see it more favorably. A manager who tells his boss what he feels the boss wants to hear is filtering information." Such tendency of individual increases the chances of communication ineffectiveness. Individual can choose filtering to distort information because of various reasons like pleasing boss, fear of conveying bad news, etc.

4. Language

People may have different interpretation of same word and symbols in terms of their own experience and thinking. When the sender and the receiver interpret differently, this creates misunderstanding. Thus, harsh language, difficult and double meaning words, and more technical words reduce the effectiveness of communication.

5. Selective perception

Receiver may have limited attention i.e. selective perception as on their needs, motivations, experience, and personal characteristics. Interpretation of the message in such selected attention may have incomplete or wrong.

6. Status

Status is the organizational hierarchy is also one of the important fundamental barriers of free flow of information. Most of managers may provide only the selected information to their subordinates so as to maintain status difference. This also reduces effectiveness of communication.

7. Emotions

People often interpret message according to their emotions. They interpret positively if they are happy but negatively when they are sad or angry. Individual in positive moods are more confident about their opinions after reading a persuasive message, so well-crafted argument have stronger impacts on their opinion.

8. Organizational Structure

Long and complex organizational structure may breakdown or distort the message. Due to lengthy communication network, flow of information gets delayed and distorted. 

9. Premature evaluation

Some of the receivers may be habitual of making judgment before reading or listening the message completely. Such premature evaluation regarding message also distorts message completely. Such premature evaluation regarding message also distorts message and decreases the understanding. 

10. Communication apprehension

It is the tendency of experiencing anxiety or tension in oral communication, written communication or both. They feel uncomfortable in taking with other or may become extremely anxious while making a memo while phone call becomes easy and faster. Studies show oral communication anxious, frightful and uneasy or avoiding situations, but for some cases such as teaching, oral communication is a dominant requirement. 

11. Information overload

Individual has limited capacity to capture information within the fixed time under certain situation. But, if they get more information than their capacity, situation becomes information overload. In this situation, individual mostly does not understand the information completely or skips the information. This also leads for communication ineffectiveness. 

Overcoming Communication Barriers (Methods of Securing Effective Communication) in OB

Effective communication is the minimum requirement to have good human relation in organization. Effective communication means understanding the complete meaning of message by the receiver what the sender intended to deliver. The easy answer of the question how communication can be effective is that we should remove the barriers of effective communication. This means that to improve the effectiveness of the communication, there should be no any barriers of communication. Following methods can be suggested to secure the effective communication. 

1. Culture of open communication

Open communication between managers and employees is the best way to improve quality of communication. There should be two way communication. Receivers should feel comfortable to share their feeling openly. Any suggestions or complaints should be welcomed by managers in the organization. Openly door policy encourages employees to be participated in communication process. 

2. Reducing physical barriers

Physical distance between sender and receiver need to be reduced. Managers must consider the effect of noise in the communication process. Problems in mechanical devices must be removed timely. These efforts reduce the chances of distortion of message by physical barriers so that the effectiveness of communication can be improved. 

3. Use of information technology

Means of information technology facilitate in communication. Telephone, e-mail, and internet have changed the speed and involvement of person in communication. Use of internet is being popular means of communication in the organization both for formal and informal communication. Such communication can be more beneficial in case receiver and sender cannot meet face to face. Thus, by using information technology, effectiveness of communication can be improved. 

4. Improving climate of trust

For effectiveness of communication, receiver and senders should trust to each other. This increases the chances of effective listening. This further improves the climate of openness in communication. Structural barriers must be reduced to create trust in the organization. 

5. Employee participation

Participating employees in the decision making also reduces the barriers in communication. This helps to encourage employees for participating actively in communication process. They listen other ideas and information and share their. This facilitates in making communication a two way communication.

6. Employee counseling 

Counseling to employees is the process of psychotherapy. Employees try to change the mentality through this process and try to be more open to express their feelings. 

7. The ombudsperson

This is a very rarely used technique to participating employees specially who are treated unfairly. This technique provides means i.e. outlet for such persons to communicate their feelings. This improves the upward communication.

Also read: Organizational Development in OB: Characteristics, Values, Objectives, Goals, Prerequisites, Process, Interventions

8. Getting the message across

Sender must be concerned regarding making the communication more effective. For this, senders must consider the receivers. They must think the ability of receivers to understand and their feelings. For this, sender must have the sense of humor to understand receivers. Sender must empathize, repeat message, use timing effectively, and should focus on problem. This helps to make downward communication more effective. 

Current Issues in Communication in OB

Change in communication system, means of communication, innovation and development in communication technology have increased the complexities in organization. Different issues have been emerged in communication. Some of them are discussed below:

1. Women are more effective than men

Men and female differ in communication. Men prefer to their status but female concentrate in connection i.e. closeness. Here, men intended to communicate for satisfying their ego needs while female communicate to satisfy their social needs. Most of the organizations are focusing their interest on female for effective negotiations. Women criticized men for direct communication and inability of listening power. At the same time, men always criticize women as women always expect apologies all the time. 

2. Politically correct communication

Several issues have been emerged in the rights and protection. Political world has accepted the existence of every one either minority in terms of number of differently able in various mental as well as physical aspects. Thus, while communicating either in formal or in informal issues, everyone needs to be careful about other's feeling, prestige and interests. Words having dual meaning should not be used. For example, the word 'disabled' is politically wrong. Instead of this, we need to use 'differently able' as politically correct word.

Also read: Conflict in OB: Outcomes or Consequences, Nature, Transitions, Process, Sources, Types, Dynamics, Approaches

3. Cross cultural Communication

Globalization has increased complexities because of diversity in human resource. Human resources from different social, cultural and economic background have different way of interpretation and understanding the message. They have different way of dealing with issues. Some of the issues created by means of cross-culture are discussed below:

  • Semantic barriers: Different words are understood with different meaning in different cultures. Some words may have completely different meaning, some words have no translations. Some of the different words may have same meaning but may not understand by employees. Thus words create complexities in communication. 

  • Tone difference: People from different culture used to have different tone structure while communicating. Many people may change the tone even with context of message and people with whom they are talking. Because of lacking in understanding, serious problems have occurred. So managers need to be more conscious while communicating with employees. 

  • Perception barriers: Different people from different culture may have different perceptions about event, words, and management practices. Some of the people desire open communication while some do not. Perception regarding religion, cast, communication channel and network. 

4. Excessive use of e-media

With advancement in internet technology, mode of communication has been changed. Mobile phone, e-mail, voice chat, video conferencing, etc. are being common in communication. All these things are making communication easier but at the same time, this has reduced the privacy of individual. 


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