Communication is the exchange of messages between people for the purpose of achieving common meanings. In their work, managers use two major types of communication, verbal and nonverbal. Verbal communication is the written or oral use of words to communicate. While written communication occurs through a variety of means, such as business letters, office memorandums, reports, resumes, newsletters and policy manuals, oral communication can take the form of face-to-face conversations, meetings and telephone conversations. Oral is generally more personal, faster and provides immediate feedback.
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Nonverbal communication is communication by means of elements and behaviors that are not coded into words. Important categories of nonverbal behavior include kinesic behavior (body language), proxemics (influence of proximity and space), paralanguage (vocal aspects of communication) and object language (the communicative use of material things) (Bartol & Martin, 1998).
It is important to understand the basic components of the communication process in order to appreciate the challenges of effective communication in organizations. The sender initiates the process, but before the message exchange can take place, he must engage in encoding, which means that he must translate the intended meaning into words and gestures. The outcome of encoding is the message, which consists of the verbal (oral or written) and nonverbal symbols that have been developed to convey meaning to the receiver. The medium is the method used to convey the message to the intended receiver.
The receiver is the person with whom the message is exchanged, who upon receiving the message, translates it into the interpreted message or decodes it. Any factor in the communication process that interferes with exchanging messages and achieving common meaning is called noise. The response which the receiver gives to the sender is known as feedback (Mosley, Megginson, Pietri & Mosley Jr., 2005).
Managers spend most of their time communicating in one form or another. Smeltzer and Fann (1989) conducted a detailed study which showed that four top managers in four different types of organization spent almost 74 percent of their working hours communicating orally with others, through informal and formal meetings, telephone calls and tours of the organization. The executives spent about 50 percent of their time interacting with subordinates. Most of the remaining contact time was spent with the board of directors, peers, trade organizations, clients and suppliers.
Managers serve as communication centers through several managerial roles. They act as monitors, when they seek internal and external information about issues that can affect the organization. They are also disseminators when they transmit information internally which they obtain from either internal or external sources. They act as a liaison, when they maintain networks of contacts outside the work unit who provide help and information. One of the roles they fulfill is also of the spokesperson, that is, they transmit information about the organization to outsiders. Negotiation is a major communication skill required by managers in contemporary management because they need to represent the organization in major negotiations which affect his areas of responsibility (Bartol & Martin, 1998).
In order for managers to be effective communicators in the various settings in which they must function in an organization, it is important that they have strong listening and feedback skills. Since managers rely heavily on the information inputs they receive from oral communication, their listening skills are particularly crucial and they leave themselves at a disadvantage when they are not good listeners. Other interpersonal skills that are particularly important for managers center around the issue of feedback, both giving and receiving.
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Effective feedback has several main characteristics: it focuses on the relevant behaviors and outcomes rather than on the individual as a person, it deals with specific, observable behaviors and perceptions, reactions and opinions are labeled as such, rather than presented as facts. Also, feedback spells out what individuals can do to improve themselves. Being skilled in feedback makes the task of effectively guiding subordinates considerably easier and increases the prospects of mutual success (Bartol & Martin, 1998).
Managers also spend most of their time engaging in vertical communication which involves message exchange between two or more levels of the organizational hierarchy. When vertical communication flows from a higher level to one or more lower levels in the organization, it is known as downward communication and can take the forms of staff meetings, company policy statements, informational memos and face-to-face contact.
These can be job instructions, job rationales, procedures and practices of the organization, feedback or encouragement efforts. When the vertical flow of communication is from a lower level to one or more higher levels in the organization, it is known as upward communication.
The information disseminated through upward communication typically pertains to progress of current work projects, serious unsolved problems and situations requiring help, new developments and suggestions for improvements and innovations. Managers also spend time in horizontal communication, which is lateral or diagonal message exchange either within work-unit boundaries or across work-unit boundaries. This relates mostly to task coordination, problem solving, information sharing, conflict resolution and peer support (Bartol & Martin, 1998).
As the above discussion demonstrates, communication is a critical part of every contemporary manager’s job. Without effective communication, even the most brilliant strategies and the bet-laid plans may not be successful.
Bartol, Kathryn & Martin, David. Management. New York: McGraw Hill, 1998.
Mosley, Donald C., L. Megginson, P.H. Pietri, D. C. Mosley Jr. Management. Mason, Ohio: Thomson South-Western College Publishing, 2005.
Smeltzer, Larry & Fann, Gail. “Comparison of managerial communication patterns in small, entrepreneurial organizations and large, mature organizations.” Group and Organization Studies, 14 (1989): 198-215.