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Communicating at Work: Principles and Practices for Business and Professions, 7/e
Ronald B. Adler
Jeanne Marquardt Elmhorst

Communicating at Work

Chapter Overview

No matter what the job, communication is both a frequent and a critically important process. It occupies more time than any other activity and often makes the difference between success and failure for the organization as a whole and for its individual members.

Communication, as the term is used in this book, is a process in which people who occupy differing environments exchange messages in a specific context via one or more channels and often respond to each other's messages through verbal and nonverbal feedback. The effectiveness of communication can be diminished by physical, physiological, or psychological noise, which can exist within either the sender, receiver, or channel. Communication is an unavoidable, irreversible process. Although it is vitally important, it is not a panacea that can solve every personal and organizational problem.

Attending to the fundamental elements of the communication process can improve the chances of success: choosing the most credible sender, picking the optimal receivers and attending to their needs, developing messages strategically and structuring them clearly, minimizing communication noise, and taking advantage of feedback to clarify confusing messages.

Formal communication networks--which can be pictured in flowcharts and organizational charts--are management's way of establishing what it believes are necessary relationships among people within an organization. Formal communication flows in several directions: downward from superiors to subordinates, upward from subordinates to superiors, and horizontally among people of equal rank. Formal communication structures are necessary as a business grows and its tasks become more complex, but they must be handled carefully to avoid problems.

Unlike formal relationships, informal communication networks consist of interaction patterns that are not designed by management. Informal networks can be based on physical proximity, shared career interests, or personal friendships. An informal network can be quite small or a large grapevine that connects many people. Informal networks serve many purposes: they can confirm, expand upon, expedite, contradict, circumvent, or supplement formal messages. Because these functions are so useful, it is important to cultivate and use informal contacts within an organization.

In business, communicators can exchange messages via a number of channels, some oral and others written. The channel used to deliver a message can have a strong influence on its effectiveness. Each channel has both advantages and drawbacks. The best choice in a given situation depends primarily on the nature of the message and the desired relationship between the sender and receiver.