In all organizations, individuals and groups attempt to exchange ideas, feelings and emotions. This communication is essential for sharing information and coordinating action. Communication is essential for achieving managerial and organizational effectiveness. Without communication, employees will not be aware of what their co-workers are doing, will not have any idea about what their goals are, and will not be able to assess their performance. In the absence of channels of communication, supervisors will not be able to give instructions to their subordinates and management will not receive the information it requires to develop plans and take decisions. In other words, the basic management functions of planning, organizing, directing and controlling cannot be carried out without communication.
The objective of this research paper is to discuss the importance of interpersonal communications to survive in today’s corporate environment. Good communication helps employees become more involved in their work and helps them develop a better understanding of their jobs. Clear, precise and timely communication of information also prevents the occurrence of organizational problems. Effective communication is essential for achieving organizational goals, but ensuring such communication is still a major problem to many organizations even today.
Definition of Communication
Although the word “communication” is often used, there has been no consensus among communication experts regarding the definition of communication. In general, communication may be defined as the process by which information is exchanged between individuals. The process includes the use of written messages, spoken words and gestures. The field of organizational behavior seeks to examine the impact of communication on the behavior of employees within the organization.
Simple nonverbal communication falls at one end of the communication continuum while sophisticated communication technology falls at the other end. Interpersonal communication occupies the middle ground. This increasing degree of sophistication in the communication process makes it possible to study communication under three categories namely non-verbal communication, interpersonal communication and communication technology.
Historical Background of the role of communication
Classical management theorists did not completely integrate communication with management theory. They examined only formal one-to-one communication between the superior and the subordinate based on the principle of ‘chain of command.’ Communication along the chain of command can, however, lead to restricted communication. In addition, if an organization strictly adhered to this approach to communication, the message may not reach its intended audience. For example, let us consider an organization, which has a general manager at the top level of management, a production manger, a marketing manager and a personnel manager at the second level of the management; a deputy production manger, a deputy marketing manager and a deputy personnel manager at the third level of the management; a production executive, a marketing executive and a personnel executive at the fourth level of management; and, finally supervisors and the workers at the lowest level of the organization. According to the principle of chain of command, the superior must pass on information to his subordinate. If the general manager conveys a piece of information to the production manager, he will pass it on to the deputy production manager, who will, in turn, pass it on to the supervisor and the production employees. Thus, even if the GM wanted the information to be conveyed to the marketing executive, the information would not reach the marketing executive until the GM conveyed it to the marketing manager. Chester Barnard, one of the famous management theorists, attempted to provide a solution to the problem of such restricted communication.
Chester Barnard’s Contribution to Communication
Chester Barnard felt that communication played an important role in shaping organizations. According to him, communication forms one of the three primary elements of an organization, the common goals and willingness to serve customers being the other two elements. Communication links the members of an organization with the organization’s goals and facilitates and enhances cooperative action among the individuals and departments of the organization. Communication, whether written or oral, helps an organization attain its goals, but it can also give rise to problems. For instance, if a particular message is misinterpreted, an inappropriate decision may be taken. This decision may result in losses to the organization in the long-run.
Barnard related communication to the concept of authority. According to him, for authority to be delegated from a manager to a subordinate, all communication originating from the manager should try to understand the meaning of the message before communicating it his subordinates. Barnard identified seven, communication factors that help establish and maintain objective authority in an organization:
i. The members of an organization should be aware of all the available channels of communication.
ii. Every member of an organization must have access to a specific formal channel of communication.
iii. Communication with an organization must follow the shortest and most direct path.
iv. All communication should involve the use of the entire, formal line of communication
v. Competent persons should serve as communication centers.
vi. There should be no interruption in the line of communication during the functioning of an organization, and
vii. All communication should be authenticated.
The Modern Perspective
Although many articles and books have dealt with interpersonal and organizational communication, most of them are not based on any systematic research findings. However, “The Real Managers Study” which was conducted by Fred Luthans, Richard M. Hodgetts and Stuart A. Rosencrantz is based on original research in communication. The researchers observed managers at work in various organizational settings and also studied self-reports submitted by them to understand the process of communication in organizations. Then, with the help of mangers, they prepared reports on the ways in which they tried to communicate in various situations. They developed the managerial communication model to explain the different styles of communication used by managers and to provide a framework for understanding how managers communicate in organizations.
Importance of Communication
Communication is vital for the functioning of organizations. In the absence of channels of communication, supervisors will not be able to give instructions to employees and employees will not be able to understand what the management expects from them. Employees can perform well and be involved in their work only when they understand their job duties and responsibilities. The absence of communication can threaten the very survival of organizations. When software companies reduced the salaries of their employees to cope with the slowdown in the IT industry, their managements had to communicate to employees that the reduction was temporary and that salary cuts had been made to avoid lay-offs. If this had not been communicated to the employees, they would have become hostile towards management. In the absence of such communication, management would not have been able to carry out its basic functions of planning, organizing, directing and controlling.
Mangers have to interpret the information they receive and communicate the same to employees. To do so, managers should have good communication and interpretation skills. Managers often need to take decisions that have a major impact on the organization and its employees. The availability of accurate and timely information helps them make sound decisions.
Interpersonal communication is nothing but the communication that takes place among peers in organizations. In the organizational context, interpersonal skills refer to a person’s ability to interact effectively with other members of the organization like subordinates, peers, and superiors. For example, a manager would have to interact with employees, who report directly to him or her. In various job situations like providing training, directing, commending a good performance, giving a warning, taking a decision, solving a problem, etc, the manager would require better interpersonal communication skills. An employee with good interpersonal communication skills would essentially have the following qualities (Kurui, 1991 ).
· Ability to treat everyone in the organization with respect
· Ability to get along with others
· Readiness to share knowledge with others
· Willingness to train others in the organization
· Good negotiation skills
· Ability to resolve conflicts in time
· Readiness to accept feedback
· Ability to learn from mistakes
· Readiness to accept responsibility for self actions
· Ability to manage behavior in personal interactions
A team usually contains members who are from diverse backgrounds and who have diverse values. To succeed in team-based organizations, it is important to have good interpersonal communication skills. Besides, the increasing use of information technology in modern organizations makes the role of interpersonal communication even more important. Various tools are used for communications in modern organizations like e-mail, video conferencing, voice mail, etc. In many of these tools, facial expressions and gestures cannot be used to reinforce the idea expressed through oral communication. This makes it all the more important to acquire interpersonal communication skills to deal with both personal and virtual interactions (Argyle, 1972 (p: 243-269)).
Dynamics of Group Formation
People form groups for several different reasons. The classical theories of group formation attempt to explain why people form groups ((ICMR), 2003). According to the theory of propinquity, people associate with one another due to geographical proximity. That is, people who are located close to one another tend to form a group. The propinquity theory provides only a very simple, basic explanation of group formation; it does not explain the complexities that are involved in it.
Yet another theory that is popular with respect to group formation is the exchange theory. According to this theory, the reward-cost outcomes of interaction serve as the basis for group formation. The exchange theory states that affiliation or association takes place when the reward-cost equation has a positive outcome. Costs make people anxious, frustrated, and embarrassed, whereas rewards from interactions gratify needs like companionship, esteem, security and social needs, and make people happy. The employees of an organization form groups for economic, security and social reasons.
Stages of Group development
In olden days, it was believed that groups followed a specific sequence in their formation. However, it was later revealed that groups do not follow a standard pattern of development.
According to the five-stage model, all groups pass through five stages namely forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning. The duration of time that each group spends at each of the above mentioned stage varies. Some groups may even get stalled at a particular stage.
Forming – At this stage, the individuals that comprise the group are uncertain about the group’s purpose, structure, tasks and leadership. In this stage, members try to identify what behavior would be acceptable to others in the group and try to mould their own behavior accordingly. This stage is considered to be complete when the members begin to consider themselves as part of a group.
Storming – This stage is characterized by conflict and confrontation within the group. In this stage of group development, although the members acknowledge the existence of a group, they may resist the constraints imposed by the group. Disagreements about the leadership position in the group also give rise to conflict among group members. The completion of this stage is marked by the emergence of a relatively clear hierarchy of leadership within the groups.
Norming – This stage is characterized by the development of close relationships and cohesiveness within the group. Members develop a strong sense of group identity and camaraderie. This stage is completed when a common set of expectations defining appropriate behavior has been developed.
Performing – In this stage, the group becomes fully functional and involved in activities aimed at achieving the goals defined in the norming stage. Although the members may be involved in independent activities, they are committed to the achievement of group goals. The productivity of the members is at its peak during this stage. For permanent work groups, the last stage in group development is the performing stage.
Adjourning – This is the last stage of group development for temporary groups that have only a specific task to perform. In this stage, the members of the group are concerned with finishing their activities i.e. priority is not given to high task performance. The feelings of members vary at this stage. While some may be happy about the group’s accomplishments others may be depressed that they would be losing their friends after the group is disbanded.
It is presumed that the effectiveness of a group improves as it progresses through the first four stages of group development. However, this may not always be the case since group effectiveness depends on many complex factors. A certain amount of conflict is essential for improving the performance of the group. Also, it is not always necessary that a group should necessarily progress from one stage to another in the sequence defined by the model. A group may simultaneously go through more than one stage or in some case, even revert back to a previous stage.
Factors Hampering Interpersonal interactions
There are many hindrances to effective interpersonal interactions. And understanding of these will go a long way in developing interpersonal skills. The most common causes are:
· Poor listening
· Emotional arousal
· Lack of time
· Differences in objectives
Essential Interpersonal Competencies for Managers in an Organization
Managers need to have good interpersonal communication skills if they are to be successful. The following are some of the essential interpersonal competencies that are required for mangers to survive in today’s Corporates.
Self-awareness – In normal situations, all the activities of managers are oriented towards optimum business performance. For this, they have to be aware of their own qualities – their strengths and weaknesses. Some of the weaknesses that managers often exhibit are the incapability to understand the viewpoint of others and the inability to motivate the employees. Some of them may find it difficult to take decisions in critical situations. Some managers may try to hide their weaknesses from others, but this may prove detrimental to the interests of the organizations. Whatever the weaknesses, having an awareness of them is the first step of overcoming them.
Control – The ability to control is an important factor in interpersonal communication skills. Many managers may believe that they are able to maintain adequate control in the organization, but their staff may not think so. It is important for these mangers to know if they are losing control over certain situations. In such a case, it is important for them to step back a little, contemplate the situations, and see if they have behaved in an extreme manner. They need to do a rethink on their leadership and interpersonal abilities.
Motivation – Motivation encompasses optimism and determination. For any situation, it is possible to take either a pessimistic view or an optimistic view. For managers, as in the case of any person, it is extremely important to always take an optimistic view. The optimism exhibited by managers trickles down to the subordinates and motivates them to better performance. If the manger does not exhibit optimism, it adversely affects subordinates, and ultimately the performance of the organization. Determination is another important aspect of motivation.
Communication skills – Managers should be able to adapt the way of communication to suit each situation. For example the way they communicate with peers will be different from the way they communicate with subordinates. This is because – subordinates may hesitate to seek clarifications or to dispute any opinion given by the managers. This may lead to miscommunication in some cases.
Interpersonal Communication Strategies
Developing Assertiveness – This is yet another strategy that can help improve interpersonal communications. Assertiveness can be defined as the ability to state your point clearly without being aggressive. Assertive people are able to engage in discussions where they respect the viewpoints of others without losing their own point of view. People who fail to use their assertive skills are likely to be manipulative and try to make others do what they do not really want to do. Others may be extremely aggressive and tend to provide over-directions in the workplace. Still others may adopt passive positions at the workplace just to avoid confrontations. But assertive people would be able to take a middle path in such situations (Schuller, 2003).
Assertiveness is essential for a manager to work effectively in an organization. It helps a person to cope effectively with uneasy people and uneasy situations. Assertiveness is essential in solving problems in organizations in such a way that all the parties concerned are able to come out of the situations reasonably satisfied.
Managers who want develop assertiveness should think about how they would want to be treated by other at the workplace and try to treat all others in the organization in the same way (Taylor, 2000). When trying to communicate assertively, their body language is very important (Munter, 1993). It should not give the impression that they are aggressive. What they are trying to say should correspond with how they are saying it. If they are anxious, it affects the way they put across things. They should avoid all disturbing gestures while they communicate and should try to look friendly. The tone of their voices should be appropriate to what they are trying to communicate.
Accepting Responsibility – Accepting responsibilities can help people advance their careers. In organizations, the responsibilities that a person usually has to perform include those which are part of the job, those which the person voluntarily takes up, and those which arise out of certain situations (Hall, 2007). For example, if the HR manager of a particular branch takes up the task of conducting a photo exhibition in a particular branch office, it is a responsibility which the HR manager takes up voluntarily. If the GM of the branch goes on a vacation; the HR manager may have to take up the additional responsibility of managing the branch in the absence of the GM. This is a responsibility which arises out of a particular situation. These additional responsibilities are to be performed in addition to the regular duties which the HR manager has as the branch HR manager.
In most cases, people are told what their responsibilities are at the time of joining an organization. In case of any doubt, they have to seek clarifications. In case they make a mistake, they should be ready to take the responsibility for it rather than try to put the blame on somebody else. Similarly, if a co-worker points out mistakes in the way in which they are performing a certain task, they should acknowledge the given suggestion cheerfully. This kind of behavior shows maturity on one’s part.
In many organizations, employees are asked to take up additional responsibilities which may not be a part of the job description. Taking up additional responsibilities helps them to learn new additional skills which could prove beneficial to them in career advancement.
Managing Conflicts – Conflicts often arise when there is opposition to ideas or when there is miscommunication. They are inevitable to the working of any organization, but they can be managed properly without causing harm to the organization. Sometimes personal conflicts occur in organizations and these are often detrimental to the proper functioning of the organization. Such conflicts can occur as a result of factors like stress, depression, miscommunication, selfishness, poor working conditions, unattainable work expectations etc (Scott, 1999).
It is very clear from the above presented discussions that, the important pre-requisite for survival in today’s Corporates is to have very good interpersonal communication skills. In order to achieve this, individuals should be aware of their qualities, strengths and weaknesses and also they need to know the individual members of the group and their personalities so that it can help in having a good understanding of the behavior of the members thereby ensuring effective communication which translates to less conflicts and high organizational performance.
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