Communication in the Workplace

Posted January 7, 2014 by Marie Arcidiacono in On the Ladder

One of the lectures I give near the end of my Interpersonal Communication course centers on how we communicate in the workplace. While Organizational Communication is the field of the communication discipline that focuses on workplace communication, I think it’s important to cover a unit on it in my class.

As I explain to my students, it is imperative that we learn how to communicate in the workplace. We’re going to spend A LOT of time there, so we might as well learn how to be effective communicators, right?

When it comes to the basic types of communication that occur in the workplace, we can break it down into four categories: Horizontal Communication, Upward Communication, Downward Communication and Outward Communication.

Let’s start with Horizontal Communication:

Horizontal Communication occurs when we are communicating with our “equals/peers” in the workplace, possibly someone with a similar title. Horizontal communication is tricky because of a funky little thing called, seniority, which can lead some people to believe that they are “above” someone who is actually their workplace “equal/peer” when it comes to job qualifications and duties. It’s important to remember that when you are communicating with your “equal/peer” in the workplace that you are cognizant of the fact that you both have the right to share your opinions and be heard. Where this gets messy is when one person thinks they have the right to boss the other around, just because they have been there longer. Seriously, don’t be that co-worker. I understand that you have seniority and I value the concept of seniority, but it doesn’t mean you need to go around flaunting it.

Now let’s look at Upward Communication:

How comfortable are you with talking to your supervisor/boss? Does your supervisor/boss have something that resembles an “open door policy” when it comes to communication? If you have a supervisor/boss that listens to your ideas/comments/concerns regarding the workplace, consider yourself lucky. Think about it: If you feel like you can talk to your supervisor/boss you probably like your job just a little bit more than if you felt like you couldn’t communicate with them.  It’s even better if you feel like your supervisor/boss can make a change in the company. Check out a concept called, The Pelz Effect.

Speaking of supervisors/bosses, let’s talk about Downward Communication:

I’m sure that there are some us reading this article who are “in charge” of employees and while that can seem like the dream it also comes with unique communication challenges. Downward communication occurs whenever a supervisor/boss has to communicate information (or directions) to their employees. This might seem like an easy task, you just tell your employees what to do and they do it, right? If that’s true, teach me your ways! If only it was that simple. GOOD supervisors/bosses understand the idea behind Leader-Member Exchange Theory, which basically boils down to the fact that a supervisor/boss realizes that there are times when they need to adjust the way in which they communicate with their employees (this is where interpersonal communication comes into play). Am I saying that every supervisor/boss should drive themselves crazy trying to adjust their communication style for every employee? No. What I’m saying is you might want to pay a little more attention to the results you get when you communicate down to your employees one way versus another.

And last but certainly not least, Outward Communication:

Outward Communication occurs when a company communicates, you guessed it, outward to their consumers. Can anyone say advertising, public relations and marketing? Depending on your position, you may or may not be actively involved in your companies outward communication strategies, but guess what? Actively involved or not, you are still representing your company in some way. Here’s a Ms. A-ism for you: Read your companies HR policies regarding when and how they expect you to represent their brand to consumers. Social media policies are something to check up on as well.

How we communicate at work, whether we’re employees or supervisors/bosses can make or break our work-life experiences. I encourage each of you to pay a little extra attention to how you communicate at work.

Share with me: Your most embarrassing workplace communication snafu.

About the Author

Marie Arcidiacono

Marie is a Speech Communication professor who also coaches a debate team. She truly loves what she does and hopes to continue to teach for decades to come. In her "free time" she is an avid runner. Marie enjoys running a variety of distances, including the Half Marathon. She is dedicated to living as healthy a lifestyle as she can while balancing a very busy schedule. Marie loves to network and share ideas so writing for Career Girl Network is perfect for her. You can also read about her adventures on Why Not Girl!.