Channels Of Communication

The direction or path through which the flow of communication takes place is known as the channel of communication. The channels of communication can be divided on the basis of (1) the relationships (2) the direction of the flow and (3) the method used.


Based on Relationships

The direction of the flow is basically governed by the relationships between the parties involved.

Thus, communication may be of two broad types: (1) formal (2) informal


1)    Formal communication : The formal channels of communication are based on organisational relationships established formally by the management of the organisation. Orders, instructions and information which flow through these channels are official communication. In other words, the formal channels of communication are used for the transmission of official messages within or outside the organisation. In every organisation, the lines of communication correspond to the chain of command, that is the superior-subordinate relations in the hierarchy. A superior gives orders to the subordinates directly under his authority but cannot do so to anyone who is more than one level below him in the hierarchy. Similarly, a subordinate cannot report on his performance or seek information from anyone except his immediate superior. He cannot directly communicate with any one who is more than one level higher in the hierarchy. He can do so only through his immediate superior. Formal channels of communications help management in maintaining order and add to the seriousness of purpose of the message transmitted. But, formal communication which is intended to flow through more than one level suffers from delay and chances of distortion.


2)    Informal communication : Communication which takes place on the basis of informal or social relations among people in an organisation is known as informal communication. Such communication does not generally follow the official, formal channels. This type of communication occurs due to the natural desire of human beings to communicate with each  other and is the result of social interaction among people. It may take place between persons cutting across the organisational positions occupied by them and among people working in different work units. The origin and flow of informal communication are difficult to trace. Hence, it is also known as ‘grapevine’. The messages which flow through informal channels are of varied nature. It may be purely personal or related with organisational matters.

The characteristic feature of informal communication is that it spreads very rapidly among people. But at the same time, it may consist of half-truths and rumours passing between members of the organisation. No one can be made responsible for it, nor is it taken seriously. Moreover, it may lead to leakage of confidential information. Sometimes it causes tension. It is also liable to a great deal of distortion as it passes from one person to another. However, management can take advantage of it by maintaining friendly and cooperative relations with others.


Based on Direction of Flow

Whether the communication is formal or informal in nature, channels of communication may be divided according to the direction of the flow. These are: (1) vertical (2) horizontal (or lateral) and (3) diagonal communication.

Let us examine the implication of these types.


1)    Vertical Communication : This type refers to communication that takes place between persons occupying superior and subordinates positions in the organisational hierarchy. Orders and instructions issued by managers to subordinates, and performance reports sent by subordinates to the managers are typical examples of vertical communication.

It may be sub-divided into : (a) downward communication and (b) upward communication.


a)   Downward Communication : Communication which flows from higher-level managers to others in lower-level positions is generally known as downward communication. Thus, messages transmitted from the superior to his subordinates, or from a manager to the assistant manager are downward communication. It also includes directives and messages which are issued by top management and are transmitted down the hierarchy through intermediate levels of management to employees at the lower levels. Such communications may consist of verbal messages conveying orders, policies, procedures, or written matter conveyed through notices, circulars, memorandum, bulletins, handbooks etc.


b)   Upward Communication : This type of communication flows from lower level managers and employees to those in higher level positions. Information and reports communicated by subordinate workers to the foreman, by the manager to the general manager, or by the chief executive to the Board of Directors, are examples of upward communication. The upward channels of communication not only enable higher level managers to get valuable information but also opinions and suggestions from lower levels at the time of making decisions on plans and policies. The op portunity o f upward communication encourages people to transmit their complaints and grievances to superiors, draw the attention of managers to problems and make proposals for improving the efficiency of work performance in the organisation.


2)    Horizontal Communication : Communication that takes place directly between two persons having equal ranks in the managerial hierarchy or between two subordinates under the same manager is called horizontal communication or lateral communication. Thus, horizontal communication consists of interaction between people in the same or different departments. This facilitates coordination of activities which are interdependent. For example, coordination of production and sales activities requires continuous exchange of information between the respective managers of the two departments. The same is true of factory manager and repairs and maintenance manager.


3)    Diagonal Communication : This type of communication implies exchange of information between persons who are in positions at different levels of the hierarchy and also in different departments. This type of communication does not take place except under special circumstances. For example, the Cost Accountant placed in the Accounts Department may want reports from the sales representatives for the purpose of distribution cost analysis. These reports may be sent directly to the Cost Accountant instead of being sent to the sales manager. This is an example. However, formal communications are normally expected to be routed through the manager who is in charge of the department from which the communication is made.


Based on Method Used

On the basis of the methods used for the purpose, communication may be : (i) verbal (ii) written (iii) gesture.


1)    Verbal Communication : When the messages are transmitted orally it is called verbal communication. It is more effective method of conveying ideas, feelings, suggestions, information etc. It gives communication a personal touch. It is especially useful when the manager wants to know the reaction of the other person quickly. It is economical both in terms of time and money. There can be nothing better and more economical than passing a verbal order. Verbal communication includes: face-to-face contact, interviews, joint consultation. However, verbal communication has its drawbacks. It is not useful when the number of persons to be communicated is more and if the communicator and receiver are at places far away from one another. Moreover, when the subject matter of communication has to be kept as a record, verbal communication will not serve the purpose.


2)    Written Communication : In a formal organisation, written communication is the most important media for conveying ideas, information etc. In every such organisation one comes across a variety of orders, instructions, reports and bulletins, serving as the basis of communication. Written communication is permanent, tangible and verifiable. The record is maintained and both the sender and the receiver have access to the records for further clarification. Written communication is advantageous where the subject matter to be conveyed is lengthy or where it is intended to be conveyed to a large number of persons. One fundamental limitation of written communication is that it is usually time- consuming. Written communications tend to be very formal and lack personal touch. It is difficult to maintain complete secrecy about a written communication. Some day or other it is bound to reach those whom it was intended to be kept as a secret.


3)    Gestural Communication : Communication through gestures is often used as a means to make verbal or written communication more effective. One has only to attend meeting addressed by a trade union leader to see how he uses different gestures by hands, movement of eyes to make his point. If sometimes the superior pats his subordinate on his back, it will be considered as appreciation for his work. This will in turn increase the efficiency of the subordinate.

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