Communication can flow vertically or laterally. The vertical dimension can be further divided into downward and upward directions.
Downward: Communication that flows from one level of a group or organization to a lower level is downward communication. When we think of managers communicating with employees, the downward pattern is the one we are usually thinking of. It’s used by group leaders and managers to assign goal, provide job instructions, inform employees of policies and procedures, point out problems that need attention, and offer feedback about performance. But downward communication doesn’t have to be oral or face-to-face contact. When management sends letters to employees’ homes to advise them of the organization’s new sick leave policy it’s using downward communication. So is an e-mail from a team leader to the member of her team, reminding them of an upcoming deadline.
Upward: Upward communication flows to a higher level in the group or organization. It’s used to provide feedback to higher-ups, inform them of progress towards goals, and relay current problems. Upward communication keeps managers aware of how employees feel about their jobs, coworkers, and the organization in general. Managers also rely on upward communication for ideas on how things can be improved.
Some organizational examples of upward communication are performance reports prepared by lower management or review by middle and top management suggestion boxes employee attitude surveys, grievance procedures, superior subordinate discussions and informal ‘group’ sessions in which employees have the opportunity to identify and discuss problems with their boss or representation of higher management. For example, FedEx prides itself on its computerized upward communication program. All its employees annually complete climate surveys and reviews of management. This program was cited as a key human strengthen by the Malcolm Baldrige National quality Award examiners when FedEx win the honor.
Lateral: When communication takes place among members of the same work group, among members of work groups at the same level, among managers at the same level, or among any horizontally equivalent personnel, we describe it as lateral communications.
Why would there be a need for horizontal communications if a group or organization’s vertical communications are effective? The answer is that horizontal communications are often necessary to save time and facilitate coordination. In some cases, these lateral relationships are formally sanctioned. More often, they are informally created to short circuit the vertical hierarchy ad expedite action. So lateral communications can from management’s viewpoint, be good or bad. Because strict adherence to the formal vertical structure for all communications can impede the efficient and accurate transfer of information, lateral communications can be beneficial. In such cases, they occur with the knowledge and support of superiors. But they can create dysfunctional conflicts when the formal vertical channels are breached when members go above or around their superiors to get things done, or when bosses find out that actions have been taken or decisions made without their knowledge.
How do group members transfer meaning between and among each others? There are three basic methods. People essentially rely on oral, written, and non-verbal communication.
Oral communication: The chief means of conveying messages is oral communications Speeches, formal one-on-one and group discussion, and the informal rumor mill or grapevine are popular forms of oral communication.
The advantages of oral communication are speed and feedback. A verbal message can be conveyed and a response received in a minimal amount of time. If the receiver is unsure of the message, rapid feedback allows for early detection by the sender and, hence allows for early correction.
The major disadvantage of oral communication surfaces in organizations or whenever the message has to be passed through a number of people. The more people a message must pass through the greater the potential distortion. If you volunteer to play the game telephone at a party you know the problem. Each person interprets the messages in his or her own way. The message’s content, when it reaches its destination is often very different from that of the original. In an organization, where decisions and other communiqués are verbally passed up and down the authority hierarchy, there are considerable opportunities for messages to become distorted.