Monday, December 10, 2007

Vertical, Horizontal, and Diagonal Communications

Communication can be characterized as vertical, horizontal, or diagonal. Initially greater emphasis was directed at vertical organizational communication as compared to lateral communication but that is no longer the case. Diagonal communication is an even more recent emphasis in the organizational communication literature.

Vertical Communication: Vertical communication occurs between hierarchically positioned persons and can involve both downward and upward communication flows. Downward communication is more prevalent than upward communication. Larkin and Larkin (1994) suggest that downward communication is most effective if top managers communicate directlywith immediate supervisors and immediate supervisors communicate with their staff. A wealth of evidence shows that increasing the power of immediate supervisors increases both satisfaction and performance among employees. This was first discovered by Donald Pelz (1952) and is commonly referred to as the Pelz effect. Pelz was attempting to find out what types of leadership styles led to employee satisfaction (informal/formal, autocratic/participative, management oriented/front line-oriented). He found that what matters most is not the supervisor’s leadership style but whether the supervisor has power. One way to give supervisors power is to communicate directly with them and to have them provide input to decisions. Ensuring that supervisors are informed about organizational issues/changes before staff in general, and then allowing them to communicate these issues/changes to their staff, helps reinforce their position of power. When the supervisor is perceived as having power, employees have greater trust in the supervisor, greater desire for communication with the supervisor, and are more likely to believe that the information coming from the supervisor is accurate (Roberts and O’Reilly 1974). Jablin (1980), after reviewing almost 30 years of research, pronounced the Pelz effect to be “one of the most widely accepted propositions about organizational communication.”

Downward Communication: is more than passing on information to subordinates. It may involve effectively managing the tone of the message, as well as showing skill in delegation to ensure the job is done effectively by the right person.Although the content priorities of downward communication have not been definitively demonstrated, there is some level of certainty with respect to the best approach to downwardcommunication (Jablin 1980), i.e.,

  • Top managers should communicate directly with immediate supervisors
  • Immediate supervisors should communicate with their direct reports
  • On issues of importance, top managers should then follow-up by communicating withemployees directly

Perhaps the most tried and true rule of effective downward communication is to: Communicateorally, then follow up in writing (Gibson and Hodgetts 1991).

Upward Communication: Even less is known about upward communication. One consistent finding is that employee satisfaction with upward communication tends to be lower than their satisfaction with downward communication (Gibson 1985; Gibson and Hodgetts 1991:221-22). Larkin and Larkin (1994) found low levels of satisfaction with all the strategies commonly used to enhance upward communication, including employee surveys, suggestion programs, employee grievance programs, and employee participation programs such as quality circles and team meetings. Gibson and Hodgetts (1991:268-69) note several management-based reasons for this lack of satisfaction, particularly that these strategies often do not involve two-way communication, are not packaged well, are poorly timed, and are apt to trigger defensiveness on the part of managers. In addition, McCelland (1988) found a number of employee-based reasons why upward communication tends to be poor, including:

  • Fear of reprisal – people are afraid to speak their minds
  • Filters – employees feel their ideas/concerns are modified as they get transmitted upward
  • Time – managers give the impression that they don’t have the time to listen to employees

Lateral Communication: Lateral communication involves communication among persons who do not stand in hierarchical relation to one another. While recent trends to flatten organizations have enhanced the importance of lateral communications, studies on lateral communication still lag behind those on vertical communication. One fairly limited study found rather high levels of satisfaction (85 percent) with lateral communication among human resource managers (Frank1984), but lateral communication across managers of dissimilar functional divisions, while often cited as a major source of organization dysfunction, has not been subject to much empirical research. It has been assumed that lateral communication at the worker level is less problematic, at least within a functional area. However, with the greater importance of teams, more attention is now being directed at communication between team members. Lateral communications between workers in different functional areas is also becoming a bigger concern as greater attention is being directed at increasing the speed of production through simultaneous, as opposed to sequential, work processes. And there is greater emphasis on communication across distributed workers and geographically separated work groups doing similar kinds of work in an attempt to promote learning and the sharing of expertise, best practices, and lessons learned.

Diagonal Communication: Diagonal communication refers to communication between managers and workers located in different functional divisions (Wilson 1992). Although both vertical and horizontal communication continue to be important, these terms no longer adequately capture communication needs and flows in most modern organizations. 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.

References :

  1. Argyris, Chris. 1986. Skilled Incompetence. Harvard Business Review 64(5):74-80.
  2. Blumer, Herbert. 1972. Symbolic Interactionism. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.
  3. Conrad, C. 1994. Strategic Organizational Communication – Toward the Twenty-First Century.Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace College Publishers.
  4. Gibson, J.W., and R.M. Hodgetts. 1991. Organizational Communication – A Managerial
    Perspective. 2nd Edition. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.


lillian said...

Diagonal communication is unofficial channel of communication too

simran said...

its comes under formal communications .
its not unofficial becoz dis done within the origination .

saifullah said...

diagonal is informal for it's not in documented form

garima said...

its a communication among various department/employees of the organisation without any hierarchical system .

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Odia Bailey said...

i am trying to fine the main factors that contribute to effective vertical route of communication can anyone please assist me in getting the information i seek

Suresh Perumal said...

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Daniely Mmbaga said...

Am so greatfull to be in this site ,but I have a question,
What about grapevine as one among the communication route?

Daniely Mmbaga said...

Am so greatfull to be in this site ,but I have a question,
What about grapevine as one among the communication route?

Gieto said...

This text is copied from Organizational Communication by K. Baker. You can find her research here