‘Communication’ already has over 100 definitions (Wrench, 2013). Despite the
seemingly divergence in these numerous definitions, common themes abound
in the analysis of 95 of them, thus explaining communication as a continuous
process that enable people to modify their behaviours by inciting actions,
feelings and thoughts, and reducing uncertainties through the use of verbal
and non-verbal means to represent things, assign meanings to other’s
thoughts, and enables interaction and establishment of relationships (Dance
1970, cited in Wrench 2013). The purpose of this essay is threefold. Firstly, to
explain the process of workplace communication – using communication
research theories and models, and its importance to organisational growth.
Secondly, to address likely communication problems and factors that led to
them. Thirdly, discuss how to enhance effective communication in the
Workplace interdependency, interaction and leadership create room for
communication in organisations (Wrench, 2013). How this is created depends
on several factors such as having the right communication plan in place,
ensuring that staffs understand the ethics of effective communication through
training, and encouraging them to make adequate use of available channels
of communication (Torrington & Taylor, 2005). Accordingly, Jones and
George (2016) posited that the organisational building blocks comprises of
groups and teams such as: cross-functional teams, top management teams,
command groups, self-managed work teams, and task forces. These building
blocks define the process of communication within the organisation. The
likelihood that each of these building blocks will create communication
bottlenecks is obvious. Hence, Mumby (2013) suggested that communication
is used to continually reorganise the organisation. This foreseeable influence
of communication on the organisation might be the reason why managers
spend about 70-90% of their time communicating (Schnake, Dumler, Cochran
& Barnett, 1990). What could managers be communicating that takes 70-90%
of their time? The answer lies in the fact that managers need to keep
reinforcing the goals of the organisation (Neves & Eisenberger, 2012;
Wrench, 2013). These goals include profitability and sustainability (Gross,
1969), workforce health, stable sociocultural work environment, religious
tolerance, and healthy psychological dispositions among the workforce
(Wrench, 2013).
As a result, organisational communication as a concept is defined from
two main approaches: The ‘container approach’ explains that the leadership
structure defines the communication path (Axley 1984, cited in ‘The
WorldBank’). In contrast, the ‘social constructionist approach,’ explains that
communication determines and creates the flow in the organisation (Smith &
Turner 1995, cited in ‘The WorldBank’). Most significantly, both approaches
explain that communication is a factor that creates the flow in the
Consequently, the importance of organisational communication is
evident from the following researches. Essentially, communication positively
influences job performance (Pettit, Goris & Vaught, 1997, cited in Mohamad,
Bakar, Halim & Ismail, 2014), job satisfaction (Pettit et al., 1997, cited in
Mohamad, Bakar, Halim & Ismail, 2014), and employee productivity (Clampitt
& Down 1993, cited in Mohamad, Bakar, Halim & Ismail, 2014).
Also, communication shapes organisational governance and
empowerment (Mustaffa, Mohamad & Halim, 2014), and influences the
coordination of factors of production (Nebo, Nwankwo, & Okonkwo 2015).
Above all, a study carried out among port workers concludes that effective
communication is a major factor that can help reduce accidents and improve
health of workers (Motter & Santos, 2017). This last benefit of organisational
communication is significant because, positive safety record paints
organisations in good light before the public.
According to McLean and Moman (2012), the following forms of
communication are unarguably present in the workplace – including
Intrapersonal, Interpersonal, Group, Public, and Mass communication. These
forms of communication enhance the vertical, horizontal and transversal
information flow in the organization (Greenbaum, Clampitt, & Willihnganz,
1988). While Intrapersonal communication refers to the discourse within the
individual, Interpersonal communication occurs between two persons either
through face-to-face or mediated settings (Sun, Hullman & Wang, 2010).
Though, it is argued that the benefits of Interpersonal communication have not
been adequately explored (DeKay, 2012), its importance in management
decision-making process cannot be overemphasized (Mumby, 2013).
In contrast to interpersonal communication, Group communication is the
exchange of information among three to eight individuals who have a common
cultural, linguistic, and/or geographical identity (McLean 2005, cited in
McLean & Moman, 2012). The question here is if people can really
communicate effectively in a group without a prior interpersonal relationship
among the individuals making up the group. This question was answered in a
study carried out by Anderson and Martin (1995, cited in Sun, Hullman &
Wang, 2010) where they concluded that the level of interaction in groups is
dependent on the interpersonal motives of the individuals in the group. The
importance of group communication is easily seen in how it is used to
coordinate the activities of teams such as differentiation of tasks and
functions, and the creation of interdependency within the organisation
(Torrington & Taylor, 2005).
While different from Group communication based on the expected level
of interaction, Public communication involves one person speaking to a large
group (Miller, 2015). This is the case when someone delivers a keynote
address in the public, for instance.
Lastly, Mass communication within the organisation involves sending a
single message to a group of employees, as seen in management multimedia
presentations or to the larger public using news mass media such as
television, radio, and newspaper.
However, the emergency of the Internet and the subsequent evolvement
of social network platforms have further complicated the diverse nature of the
above forms of communication, in terms of how relationships are built within
the organisation. Therefore, it is expected that the information richness and
the level of confidentiality would vary from one form of communication to the
other, along with their associated ethical issues (Jones & George, 2016).
Furthermore, various models have been developed from research
findings that discuss the practical communication process which people faces
in organisations (Miller, 2015). In 1949, Shannon and Weaver developed a
communication model that created a structured path through which a
message flows. Their model was simple: a Source (usually a person) who
creates a Message that carries the expected action, Transmits (encodes) the
Signal (carrier) through a Channel (pathway – verbal or non verbal), where it
possibly experiences Noise (interference, e.g. cross-cultural differences), and
finally the message is Received (through a receptive facility, e.g. the ear) by
the Destination (to respond as expected). It was a simple linear model of
communication (see figure 1).
However, the linear model fell short of the interaction between the Source and
the Destination. As a result, it was corrected with the inclusion of a Feedback
path, initiated by the receiver, given birth to the Interactive model as shown in
figure 2.
Figure 1: Shannon & Weaver’s Linear Model of Communication (Wrench, 2013)
Figure 2: The Interactive Communication Process (Jones and George, 2016, p. 479)
The Schramm’s Model in 1954 is the earliest known interactive model (Jones
& George 2016). Yet, one drawback of the interactive model include slow and
delayed feedback because, the sender and receiver are not simultaneously
engaged in the communication process. Consequently, the interactive model
finally approximates to a linear model if the receiver did not respond.
Moreover, to correct the anomaly in the interactive model, a
contextualised model was developed that explains the practical interaction
among the participants in the communication process (Gumperz, 1982).
Hence, the essential components of communication now include: Source,
Message, Channel, Receiver, Feedback, Environment, Context, and
Interference (Mclean and Moman, 2012). The inclusion of ‘Environment’ and
‘Context’ shows that communication is an adaptive and contextualized
process (Dimbleby & Burton, 1998).
Additionally, Craig (1999, cited in Miller 2015) analysed seven domains
of communication theories and their inherent problems as follows: ‘Rhetoric
theory’ sees communication as a practical act of discourse, but problem
arises when a collective deliberation and judgement is required. Another is
‘Semiotic theory,’ which explains communication as the inter-subjective
mediation of signs, though with the problem of people likely to derive different
subjective meanings from the intended message. Next is ‘Phenomenological
theory.’ Although it is concerned with otherness and dialogue, the process
may lead to people not building sustained relationships as they only argue
with dissimilar interests. Another is ‘Cybernetic theory,’ which sees
communication as information processing. Here, there is the likelihood of
interference and information overload. Next is ‘Socio-psychological theory.’ It
is about maintaining relationships through communication. However, this
interest could lead to people being manipulated to toe unethical line of action
as the case with ENRON – a US energy firm that went bankrupt in 2001 partly
because, its managers communicated unethical behaviours that earned the
company higher profits (Prentice, 2003), and employees who did not toe their
unethical values were ranked low and fired (Johnson, 2003). Again there is
the ‘Sociocultural theory’ that explains communication as that which produces
a social order, but it did not consider the likelihood of lack of coordination in
the event of conflicts arising from misaligned views (Miller, 2015). Lastly, the
Critical theory sees communication as discursive reflection, but this could be
undermined by hierarchical imposition of ideologies and unrealistic speeches.
The above theories have also led to the development of other models of
communication such as the Transactional and Constructivist communication
model. Both have also been adapted to explain the modes of communication
within the organisation.
In the Transactional model both the sender and receiver performs the
same role in a reverse alternating mode. It is used primarily in interpersonal
communication where feedback is simultaneous and dynamic (Bhatnagar, &
Bhatnagar, 2011). Unlike the linear and interactional models, non-verbal
communication such as body language and gestures are perceived feedbacks
(Keltner, 2014). One drawback of this model is that the variables – people,
environment and medium, are always changing (McLean & Moman, 2012).
Hence, to minimise misunderstandings due to the presence of interference
the receiver must be attentive (Miller, 2015). Transactional models include the
Barnlund’s Transactional Model and Becker’s Mosaic Model (Bhatnagar, &
Bhatnagar, 2011).
While different from the transactional model, the Constructivist model
explains that individuals construct or derive their own meaning from the
message communicated (McLean & Moman, 2012). This is partly from the
individual’s cognitive development and understanding of the message (Delia,
O’Keefe, & O’Keefe, 1982), as a result of cultural differences (Schein, 2004).
Moreover, the selection of a suitable media for any organisation
depends on some proposed media theories namely: The Media Richness
Theory, Channel Expansion Theory, and Cognitive-Based Media Choice
The Media Richness theory proposes that a medium can only process
and transmit a certain amount of information known as the ‘threshold
information’ that will enable both the sender and receiver to reach a common
understanding (Jones & George, 2016). Interpersonal (face-to-face)
information is adjudged to be high in information richness because of the
ability to interpret each other’s non-verbal signs (Robert & Dennis, 2005). In
contrast, emails, voice mail, memo, and fax are low in social and media
presence (Robert & Dennis, 2005).
Another way to address communication media in the workplace is the
Channel Expansion theory. Here the end result of the communication process
is determined by the knowledge and experience of the participants within the
organisational context (Carlson & Zmud, 1999). Hence, the information
richness here is a function of how the line between knowledge and experience
is drawn.
Also, another media theory is the Cognitive-Based Media Choice theory
developed by Robert and Dennis (2005). It is a theory founded on the premise
that cognitive foundations can strengthen social interaction, and concludes
that employee motivation and the capacity to process messages are inversely
dependent on one another (Robert & Dennis, 2005). Here, emphasis is on
using a media that gives room for deeper processing and reflection of the
However, there are times when organisations experiences
communication breakdown. According to Ashkenas (2011), this occurs when
the messages lacks context, or questions and dialogues that supposed to give
employees sense of belonging. One noticeable psychological sign of
ineffective communication is from employee’s ‘body language’ (Phillips &
Pittman 2009, p137).
Admittedly, communication barriers are impediments that distort the
intended meaning of a message (Bhatnagar, & Bhatnagar, 2011). For
example, studies have shown that almost half of maritime accidents have
been caused by ineffective communication (Mockel et al., 2014, cited in John,
Brooks & Schriever, 2017). Also, poor communication is said to have caused
the deaths of between 44000 and 98000 patients in America (Taran, 2011;
Kohn, Corrigan, & Donaldson, 2000). Obviously, this last figure adds a
quantitative perspective to what ineffective communication could lead to: loss
of man-hour, loss of human resources, loss of per capital income, loss of
reputation, etc.
As a result, research has shown that there are communication barriers in
the workplace. One of these is Semantic Barriers. Semantics involves the use
signs and symbols in communication (Mclean & Moman, 2012). Speech
varieties are influenced by people’s sociological background and geographic
origin (Giles, 1970, cited in Mai & Hoffman 2014). Hence, the nature of
homophones, homonyms, and homographs, makes certain words and
symbols prone to misinterpretation and misrepresentation (Falaye & Olaosun,