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The report aims to provide a detailed analysis of the need for managers to consider effective communication as an important aspect of the organizational strategy. The report will first provide explanation of personal and interpersonal communication. This would include communication used for persuasion and influencing others. In addition, the report will highlight the personal communication networks and grapevines used by organization behaviour for communicating. Further, the formal communication channels of the organization and the ways to maintain those channels shall also be discussed. It will also include the upward, downward and horizontal communication patterns followed in an organization. Thirdly, the report will include an explanation and discussion of crisis communication and provide strategies to safeguard the organization’s reputation in times of crisis. The analysis of the various aspects of communication will help in understanding the need for managers to prioritize effective communication.
Personal and interpersonal aspects of communication
Communication has many types among which are the personal and interpersonal forms or aspects. Personal communication may refer to the aspect of communication where the communicators engage in colloquial or informal conversation. Personal communication could be seen in contrast to professional communication because professional communication requires the communicators to use words and sentences carefully. Interpersonal communication on the other hand, refers to the communication process that takes place between two individuals. The process could be undertaken either face-to-face, through telecommunication channels or via online platforms.
Personal communication, as mentioned above, is the opposite of professional communication and takes place commonly between family and friends. It can be intense at times but mostly casual and casual communication might also happen with people who are not part of the family of friend circle. Personal communication takes place using numerous methods starting from written such as letters, verbal such as face-to-face and the more recent, online methods. Communicating through letters used to be the old, traditional methods, which gradually were replaced by methods like emailing and messaging through Facebook and such. Park, Reber and Chon (2016) note that the newer methods of personal communication have changed the way people actually behave while communicating. However, it must be noted that one form of personal communication has remained the same and will continue to be the same – the face-to-face communication. It is also one of the most effective forms of personal communication as it allows the communicators to understand not only the tone but also the body language of each other. In the context of business, personal communication has equal importance, as does the professional communication. Jameson (2014), talks about the blurring of boundaries between personal and professional communication in the age of Twitter and Facebook. The author suggests that business communicators must realize and utilize the benefits of integrating personal communication into professional communication because it is the age of technology and social media platforms are the most dominant forms of communication.
Interpersonal communication, as previously mentioned, takes place between two individuals. Although interpersonal communication traditionally meant face-to-face communication only, its connotations changed to non-verbal and other forms involving two individuals. Many definitions and perceptions of interpersonal communication have been developed over the years. Some regard it as the “process of exchanging messages between people whose lives mutually influence one another in unique ways relating to social and cultural norms” (Berger 2014). In others’ views, it does not have to have people with mutual connection, interpersonal communication take place without people having any relation with each other. Lolli (2013) however, has found that majority of college graduates “tend to be deficient in interpersonal skills when entering the business world” despite knowing that it is crucial to become a successful leader. Therefore, it is important that the managers prioritize the interpersonal aspect of communication.
Practicingthe art of persuasion – key points
Personal and interpersonal communication if done effectively could enable individuals to persuade or influence others. The art of persuasion, as Mai and Hoffmann (2014) hold, is the key to effective communication especially in business. It refers to the ability of a person to influence others to see or perceive things as he or she perceives. A powerful interpersonal communication could benefit the communicator to persuade the receiver. Business leaders utilize this art of persuasion almost every day to influence customers into buying or opting for the products or services over others. However, one must possess certain qualities to be able to influence or persuade people. Jensen et al. (2013) view that establishing credibility at first is important before attempting to persuade people, which include the relationship one has with others and the experience or expertise one possesses. In addition, persuading others require the individual to establish a common ground from where the persuader could successfully convey the benefits of the message to both. To acquire these skills, it is important for communicators to have a strong hold at the various aspects of interpersonal communication. In the absence of effective interpersonal communication, people could not persuade or influence others to think or do, as they want them to. Personal networks and grapevinecommunications are two of the most effective tools that could enhance the art of persuasion.
Grapevine communication emerged from the personal and interpersonal aspects of communication. It is defined as an informal communication undertaken in an organization where managers and workers engage in social interaction. Several theorists and experts have defined grapevine in different ways but the fundamental meaning has remained the same. According to Bovee, grapevine refers to the informal or casual “interpersonal channel of information not officially sanctioned by the organization” (Ejem and Ejem 2014). R.W. Griffin defines grapevine as the informal network of communication that can pervade an organization. Newstrom and K. Davis however define the concept as the informal system of communication that “arises from the social interaction of the organization” (ati Wulandari 2014). Chan and Lai (2017) have identified four fundamental types of grapevine communication. These include:
1. Single strand chain– It involves passing of information via linear process from one person to another until it reaches the ultimate recipient.
2. Gossip chain – In this type, the information transmission occurs amongst a group of people. Here, one person stays at the center and passes the information to everyone.
3. Probability chain – The probability chain involves passing of information randomly as per the laws of probability. One person randomly passes the information to another and that person carries it forward.
4. Cluster chain – Here, one person decides to pass the information to some selected individuals who in turn, might relay it to other selected persons.
In the views of Erden (2013), “power distance in organizations increases the amount of grapevine through perceptions of uncertainty in workers”. The authors’ views demonstrate that perceptions of uncertainty amongst workers lead to grapevine communication. It is therefore important for managers to consider the criticality of grapevine communication and take steps accordingly.
It is thus clear from all these definitions that the common theme in grapevine communication is its informality. Prior to the emergence and popularity of the online social networking sites, grapevine communication used to occur face-to-face. Singh (2013) explains that the modern-day grapevine communication through online sites have been both a blessing and a disguise for managers. The managers feel that internet familiarity has allowed the workers to stay anonymous while spreading false news about the organization or earn recognition while praising it. The ease of access to such technology has made grapevine communication as one of the most influential aspects of communication in organizations today. Personal networks, on the other hand, are the contacts built by humans with whom they interact at different intervals of life. These contacts are built throughout the course of life by people with the help of persuasion through personal and interpersonal communication. This process of forming personal networks has been modified by the new age technology that includes the social media networks. Similar to grapevine, people now build personal networks by creating Facebook groups or pages and inviting people who share similar interests.
Grapevine and personal networks are two of the most important points for practicing the art of persuasion. The workers within an organization with the capability of persuasion could spread rumors about the management, which might lead to fault perceptions and failure of the organization. The art of persuasion could benefit the organization if it is channeled in the right direction. One must remember that it is persuasion, which attracts the customers to a particular product or service endorsed by the organization. Grapevine and personal networks take place within an organization amongst the workers. Other key points such as identifying the goals clearly, determining the approach, being prepared with evidence and using compelling language are effective in persuading potential customers.
Therefore, it is clear from the above discussion that the personal and interpersonal aspects of communication that encompass influence and persuasion through personal networks and grapevine, are important for the smooth functioning of an organization. Managers must give equal attention and importance to these aspects of communication as they give to other strategies. Communication is the most vital component of marketing and any wrong move could cost heavily to the organization. The discussion revealed that personal communication is the opposite of professional communication where the interaction is informal while interpersonal communication could be both personal and professional. The discussion also highlighted the influence of technology on the personal and interpersonal aspects of communication. It has blurred the boundaries between personal and professional communication.
Channels of communication – downward, upward and horizontally
The communication patterns however, depend on the structure of an organization. The structure depends on relationships patterns that exist amongst different units of an organization. Each member of the organization is responsible or accountable to the member higher in rank. In any organization, the communication channels are mostly formal that take place in either upward or downward or horizontally as the figure below shows.
However, informal communication channels are also present within organizations examples of which include grapevine communication and personal networks, as mentioned in the above section. The manager holds the key in the communication that flows within an organization. The following sections shall discuss the establishment and maintenance of formal and informal communication of an organization as a whole.
Formal communication channels
The communication channels that transmit information that include the policies, goals and procedures of an organization are referred to as formal communication channels. Messages in formal communication channels pursue a sequence of command. It means that the information passes on to the manager and the manager in turn passes it on to his subordinates and the process continues. One example of formal communication is an organization’s newsletter that provides both employees and clients an idea of the organization’s vision and goals(Koc 2013). Apart from that, the formal communication includes transmission of information in terms of the memoranda, directions, reports and planned meetings. Formal communication channels also include business plans, annual reports, employer’s manual, customer satisfaction survey and review meetings. Sisko et al. (2014) shed light on the use of digital communication to strengthen the formal communication channels in multinational corporations. The authors have found that the role of digital internal communication (IC) especially in multinational organizations as formal communication channels has increased. On the other hand, Berger and Iyengar (2013) have found that formal communication channels “shape interpersonal communication and the psychological drivers of word of mouth more broadly”. These facts reveal that formal communication channels have undergone many changes over time from face-to-face to written and digital.
Informal communication channels
It has been found that within the overly formal organizational environment, there is always a presence of informal communication channels. It is not possible for the stringent hierarchical communication web to function effectively alone and that is the reason why a communication channel outside this stern web exists. It refers to the informal communication channel, which involves the casual conversation between workers in the workplace. The manager has the responsibility to strike a good balance between the formal and informal communication channels as the informal network might disturb the chain of command. Employees talking over lunch in the cafeteria in a comfortable atmosphere are an instance of informal communication channel. In addition, managers implementing a hands-on approach to handle queries of employees while walking around also associate with informal communication channel. Other activities outside the chain of command like quality circles, training programs, teamwork and so on also come under the informal communication channel category. In case of informal communication channels as well, the influence of technology is clearly visible. As Sutton et al. (2013) observe, “Informal online communication channels are being utilized for official communications in disaster contexts”, they further add, “Channels such as computer networked microblogging enable public officials to broadcast messages as well as engage in direct communication exchange with individuals”. This observation made by the authors show that the emergence of online communication platforms such as Twitter has had a huge influence on informal communication channels. Bloom et al. (2014) however, assert that informal communication is mostly mediated by physical proximity and it is vital for coordination to take place. While shedding light on the importance of informal communication channels, the authors further argue that the absence of informal communication would result in the failure of numerous collaborations. It then causes people to break up even before succeeding.
After understanding the formal and informal communication channels, it is now important to discuss the directions of communication that include upward, downward and horizontal communication in the organizations. Both formal and informal communication channels take place in the three directions as mentioned previously. It is the responsibility of the manager to establish and maintain these channels of communication through the three different directions. Debates surrounding the effectiveness of the three directions of communication have been influencing the decision of the managers regarding the implementation of these communication forms. While some experts encourage upward communication, others support downward communication. Some, on the other hand, opt for horizontal communication.
Downward communication refers to the formal messaging conveyed to employees following a chain of command. The messages relayed downwards are authoritative and commonly include information concerning procedures and policies of the organization, notices and other official information. It has been the most dominant form of communication in organizations that flows from the higher management to the subordinate workers. Other than relaying information about the common purposes of downward communication, include job instructions and rationale, goals, strategies and objectives implementation, performance feedback and so on. As Raina and Roebuck (2016) note, the problem with downward communication is that “much of the information is lost as it is passed from one person to another”. This happens especially in cases where the distance is greater between the sender and receiver.
While downward communication is an aspect of formal communication channel, upward communication mostly involves informal communication. Behaviorists mostly emphasize the implementation of upward communication. According to them, upward communication culture helps motivate employees as it makes them feel valued. The upward flow of communication opportune the employees to share their feedback regarding any process or culture of the organization to the upper management. Upward communication is one of the key indicators of a strong level of engagement with employees. When communication flows from the lowest level to the highest level of management, it encourages an environment where employees could come to managers to resolve any issue they face. Organizations that value culture employ upward communication because it makes the employees feel involved in achieving the goals and objectives. Spaho (2013) states that upward communication is important “not only to determine if members have understood the information sent downward but also to meet the ego needs of the staff”. The types of information that are communicated upward include grievances and disputes, improvement suggestions, problems and exceptions amongst others. It is however difficult to implement upward communication because the information flow is not as smooth upwards as it is downwards. Certain barriers to upward communication may be noted as follows:
1. Failure of higher administration to respond to the problems or information brought up by members
2. Less than perfect actions taken by higher administration and being defensive about it makes the members withhold the information
3. Lack of attention and concern of the higher administration while listening to the queries or information conveyed by the members
4. Physical barrier such as separating the administrator from other employees also inhibits upward communication
5. The excessive gap in time between the communication done and action taken further obstructs upward communication
In both upward and downward direction of communication, the information flow is generally hierarchical – coming from the top to bottom or the other way around. In contrast, horizontal communication involves flow on information from amongst same level or similar ranked people within the organization(Voinea et al. 2015). In other words, horizontal communication refers to a paralleled flow of information. Horizontal communication is mainly used to coordinate activities that concern various departments of the organization. The medium used for communication is mostly oral or verbal. Kim, Magnusen and Andrew (2016) observe that one of the strongest points of this form of communication is that it is free from distortion as the messages are relayed instantly and between people within close distance. Further, it is also important to note that horizontal communication is an aspect of informal communication channel. Managers must understand the effectiveness of horizontal communication. The important ways to ensure effective horizontal communication include:
1. Recognizing the importance and usefulness of horizontal communication
2. Considering horizontal communication as a type of emergency communication to resolve quickly any problem or issue
3. Understanding the abilities clearly of horizontal communication as a functional aspect of the overall communication process
4. Making the organizational structure adjust to horizontal communication to ensure communication within different departments
Crisis communication and development of strategies to resolvecrisis
Organizations create a special wing, which deals with safeguarding the reputation of not only the organization but also the individuals. This special wing is referred to as crisis communication, a communication form that aims at protecting and maintaining an organization’s public image. As the name itself suggests, crisis indicates an unwanted incidence at the workplace that leads to major unrest and disturbances amongst workers. Factors such as government investigations, media enquiry and criminal attacks blemish the image of the organization. Crisis communication comes into play in these situations. It reflects the effort an organization takes to communicate with its stakeholders and the public during a crisis that negatively influences an organization. In such communications as well, the role of social media is crucial especially in the contemporary business environment. Utz, Schultz and Glocka (2013) however note that traditional crisis communication theories emphasize the interplay between crisis type and communication strategy rather than emphasizing the medium. The authors while researching the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear crisis found that the medium is more influential in today’s world than the type of crisis. Further, Timothy Coombs and Jean Holladay (2014) mention that monitoring stakeholders’ reaction in the social media to the crisis of an organization helps managers use it as “barometers of the effectiveness of an organization’s crisis response”.
Some might argue that there is not much need of a special crisis communication wing since an organization already has different departments that look after such situations. However, it must be noted that the presence of a strong crisis communication team saves the company from further harm and that too without wasting much time. One of the first aspects that are put at stake during crisis faced by the organization is the brand identity. In a study conducted by Blombäck and Scandelius (2013), it was revealed that corporate heritage presence in corporate social responsibility (CSR) communication enhances brand image. Nonetheless, the study further reveals, “corporate heritage identity on its own does not influence positive consumer perception on responsibility, unless it is liked to CSR communication” (Blombäck and Scandelius 2013). Here, it should be stated that CSR communication could be regarded as a part of crisis communication. The presence of crisis communication thus ensures protection of the brand identity and maintenance of the organization’s stern stand within the industry.
Experts in handling crisis are appointed by organizations to manage the unwanted situation. Prior to creating a plan, it is important that managers should take note of certain elements that the crisis communication strategy must have. These include media relations, financial communications, policy and government affairs, internal communications and community affairs. Managing the crisis is not a matter of just one phase or one plan; it requires critical planning at every stage and every minute detail has to be considered.
Communication strategies to managecrisis
While devising communication strategies for an organization in crisis, managers must keep in mind the pre-crisis phase. The pre-crisis phase involves creating a plan for managing crisis, selecting the crisis management team, training them, and performing tasks to test the effectiveness of the team and the plan. According to Linsley and Slack (2013), organizations that annually update their crisis management plan and test the crisis management team, are best at handling crisis and protecting their reputation.
The communication strategy must include a strong crisis management model that incorporates all the requirements of handling the crisis.
Respecting media’s role – Media have a crucial role to play in communicating the messages of the organization in times of crisis and hence must not be treated as enemies. Instead of avoiding the media, managers should use them as an instrument to correspond key messages. Here, preparing a statement beforehand becomes crucial. The statement must include confirmed facts. Providing background information about the company and communicating the activities of the company should also be done through the media. With the popularity of social media, it has become easier for the organizations to communicate effectively during crisis (Latonero and Shklovski 2013). Jin, Liu and Austin (2014) mention that the social media plays a huge role in helping the organizations protect or mend their reputation. They suggest the social-mediated crisis communication (SMCC) model to respond to crisis.
The SMCC model must be given due attention while devising the communication strategy for an organization in crisis. As per the model, multiple audiences or ‘publics’ exist in the social media world that have a role to play in the crisis. One section of the audiences are called the ‘influentials’ who create the information that people access(Olsson 2014). The second section involves ‘followers’ who as obvious follow the influentials. They access the information and disseminate it to others. The third and last section of the audiences are the ‘inactive members’ who although do not have direct access to the information but access it indirectly through the social media. vital to this model is the direct and indirect distribution of information throughout the social media platforms and across the traditional media as well. Due to this nature of the model, it proves to be beneficial for communication efforts especially in times of emergency.
1. Communicating continuously– As obvious, the main communication strategy in times of crisis is to communicate as much as the organizations can. The early phase of the crisis is crucial because communication at this stage sets the tone for the rest of the stages. The media are most likely to ask basic questions initially like “What happened?” “Where?”, “Who’s’ to blame?” and so on. The managers must be as forthright as possible and let the media have the information and at the same time be prompt to correct any misinformation. A great example of crisis communication could be given of Pepsi-Cola “syringe hoax” of 1993 (Koku 2017). The management launched an extensive communications response to restore confidence of the consumers. Strategies included media relations and interviews, video news releases, third-party endorsement and consumer hotlines.
2. Taking responsibility– Another key communication strategy to protect organization’s reputation in crisis is to take the responsibility. The strategy might be controversial and at many times, risky but extremely effective. However, it must be clear in the manager’s mind that taking responsibility is different from taking the blame. It means communicating the steps taken by the organization to rectify the situation. A recent case involving the fast food giant KFC presents greater insights into the way organizations should take the responsibility. In February 2018, the fast food chain had to shut over 900 of its units in the United Kingdom owing to the shortage of chicken (Theguardian.com 2018). The news went viral on both mainstream and social media and customers started showing their frustration through these platforms. The company had to face widespread criticism and ridicule. The actual reason for the shortage of chicken was the delay caused by DHL, the chain’s new contract due to some ‘administrative problems’ (Theguardian.com 2018). KFC, while struggling to protect their reputation from further damage launched an apology advertisement. It switched the entire scenario in favor of the company. The advertisement was funny and targeted towards the younger consumers that form the core of the company’s consumer base. They took the entire responsibility of the crisis and apologized to the consumers, which was applauded across the media. This episode teaches the lesson that organizations must take the responsibility of the situation and convey it keeping in mind their chief stakeholders.
3. Communicating with employees – While pondering over the things to do in a time of crisis, the management must not forget the employees. Although communicating to the clients and customers through the media in the first priority, communicating to the employees is equally important. As Heide and Simonsson (2014) note, “employees are the front-line ambassadors in times of crisis”. Communicating all the activities that the organization is undertaking to deal with the crisis to the employees would ensure that there is no confusion. When employees are not involved in the communication process, they might relay false information to the media, which might further damage the reputation. Managers therefore involve every employee in the communication process to ensure that the organization deals with the situation as a team.
Using research to decide the responses – Market research, focus groups and polling provide significant insight into the scale of the crisis and the attitudes of the public regarding it. Hence, including it in the strategy is a necessary thing to do for the managers. Monitoring the internet, the blogs and chat rooms also provide crucial information regarding the crisis.
Communication, as evident from the above discussion, holds key to the better functioning of an organization and managers must realize it. Communication has various types and takes place in different directions, as the discussion revealed. It is the responsibility of the manager to ensure that communication within the organization flows smoothly and is given due importance. The discussion revealed that communication has personal and interpersonal aspects that could be used to influence or persuade people. Personal networks and grapevine communication are examples of personal and interpersonal communication taking place within an organization and that blur the boundaries between personal and professional communication. Further, the report highlighted the formal and informal communication channels and the ways to establish and maintain these. The report also found that formal and informal communication could be done in three directions – upward, downward and horizontal. It revealed that upward communication is followed by most organizations today. Lastly, the report provided a discussion on crisis communication and the strategies organizations should prepare to protect their reputation during crisis.
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