Communication performs many different functions within the organisation, ranging from conducting routine transactions through to informing staff about special events (such as relocation or reorganisation). Managers use various channels and modes of communication to gather the information they need for decisions (including information about the external environment), to provide direction for staff, to inform customers and suppliers, to negotiate with partners and to liaise with other departments.
Hitt et al.'s definition of communication, as we saw earlier is: the process of transferring information, meaning and understanding from sender to receiver. Thus, for communication to occur, there has to be: a sender, a receiver, information, a process which transfers the information from sender to receiver [and a medium].
Businesses need managers who are effective communicators and who can use and establish efficient communication channels to move information through the organisation. To enable them to do this, managers need to develop skills in sending out timely, relevant, accessible and appropriate information to others; receiving, analysing and responding to information provided to them and to be able to facilitate communication amongst others within their organisations.
To improve the efficiency and effectiveness of messages they send, managers should ask themselves: what do I wish to communicate, who is my audience and what are their needs, which is the best channel to use, how is it best communicated, when should I send it?
Communication channels are sometimes classified as 'rich' or 'poor'. Rich channels are much more effective at complex communication because they provide a variety of cues and forms of information to help the recipient understand the information. Face-to-face talking provides body language, tone of voice, and the chance of immediate feedback. Poor or lean channels might have only the text of the message, with no supporting cues and no opportunity to interact with the sender. Emails and memos fall into this category. Telephone conversations would fall into an intermediate category. Written messages have the advantage that they are a permanent record and can be referred to later. Complex issues are best supported by written materials—but if it is also an important issue, there should be personal contact first to gain the receiver's attention.
There are often difficulties when people of different cultures communicate. For a start, there are often language barriers: the message may not be in the first language of the recipient—or it may not be the first language of the sender. There is then a high chance that the message will be misunderstood. If you are communicating with someone who is not fluent in your language, use simple words and grammatical structures, speak slowly, and check for comprehension. There can also be behavioural barriers. In many countries it is inappropriate to contradict one's superior; so asking an employee whether they agree with what the manager has just said will always elicit a positive answer. Some methods for improving all forms of communication, including both rich and poor forms, are: Encourage mutual trust, Effective timing, Practice empathy.
Good managers must be good negotiators as negotiation permeates nearly every interaction with superiors, peers and subordinates. Negotiation is the process of making joint decisions when the parties involved have different preferences. There are two general approaches to negotiation referred to as distributive and integrative negotiation. One party wins and the other loses in distributive bargaining. Integrative bargaining emphasises win-win outcomes and considers the interests of all parties. Local decision-making and governance processes, regulatory requirements, behaviours and core beliefs can vary significantly between cultures.
Andrews and Herschel (1996) regard conflict as a potential source of benefit to staff and organisations. In particular, they suggest that:
- Conflict allows issues that might fester to come to the surface for resolution.
- Conflict can relieve tension before it becomes destructive or dangerous.
- Conflict allows ideas and assumptions to be challenged, encouraging change.
- Conflict can open communication channels.
- Conflict can motivate people to find solutions to remove the conflict
Managers can use various behaviours for dealing with conflict, depending on their own personality and the situation. Some of these styles are:
Avoidance—staying neutral, withdrawing from the situation
Accommodation—overlooking differences to maintain harmony
Competition—resorting to win-lose strategies
Compromise—looking for a balanced solution with moderate wins and losses on each side
Collaboration—problem-solving, looking for solutions that suit all sides.