Chapter 8 Organizational Communication

8.0 Organizational Communication

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Learning Objectives

  • Define organizations and organizational communication

If you have ever worked a part time job during the school year, worked a full time summer job, volunteered for a non-profit, or belonged to a social organization, you have experienced organizational communication. It’s likely that you’ve been a job seeker, an interviewee, a new employee, a co-worker, or maybe a manager? In each of these situations you make various choices regarding how you choose to communicate with others in an organizational context.

We participate in organizations in almost every aspect of our lives. In fact, you will spend the bulk of your waking life in the context of organizations (March & Simon). Think about it, that means you’ll spend more time with your co-workers than your family! At the center of every organization is what we’ve been studying throughout this book – Communication. Organizational communication is a broad and ever-growing specialization in the field of Communication. For the purpose of this chapter, we will provide a brief overview of the field, highlighting what organizational communication is and how it is studied.

What Is An Organization?

Before we define organizational communication let’s look at what an organization is, and how pervasive they are in today’s society. Etzioni states, “We are born in organizations, educated by organizations, and most of us spend much of our lives working for organizations” (1). Simply put, from birth to death, organizations impact every aspect of our lives (Deetz).

When we study organizational communication our focus is primarily on corporations, manufacturing, the service industry, and for profit businesses. However, organizations also include not-for-profit companies, schools, government agencies, small businesses, and social or charitable agencies such as churches or a local humane society. Organizations are complicated, dynamic organisms that take on a personality and culture of their own, with unique rules, hierarchies, structures, and divisions of labor. Organizations can be thought of as systems of people (Goldhaber) who are in constant motion (Redding). Organizations are social systems (Thayer; Katz & Kahn) that rely on communication to exist. Simon puts it quite simply: “Without communication, there can be no organization” (Simon 57).

What Is Organizational Communication?

Like defining communication, many definitions of organizational communication exist. Deetz argues that one way to enlighten our understanding of organizational communication is to compare different approaches. However, for the purpose of this class, we want to provide a definition of organizational communication so you have a frame of reference. Our definition is not definitive, but creates a starting point for understanding this specialization of communication study.

We define organizational communication as interactions among a stable system of individuals who work together to achieve, through a hierarchy of ranks and divisions of labor, common goals. This definition includes the following  key features of organizations that affect communication:

  1. Organizations are systemic: They are large, have many parts, and have both internal (e.g., employees) and external (e.g., customers, competitors, vendors) constituents.
  2. Organizations are hierarchical: Because of their size and complexity, organizations have identifiable reporting structures.
  3. Organizations have divisions of labor: Organizations hire individuals to do jobs related to the mission of the organization.
  4. Organizations must have collective action by employees: The employees’ and their jobs must all work together to perform the business of the organization.
  5. Organizations have layers of goals: Organization have mission statements, policies and procedure to help with collective action, departmental goals, and even personal goals set during employee annual performance reviews.

Organizational communication helps us to 1) accomplish tasks relating to specific roles and responsibilities of sales, services, and production; 2) acclimate to changes through individual and organizational creativity and adaptation; 3) complete tasks through the maintenance of policy, procedures, or regulations that support daily and continuous operations; 4) develop relationships where “human messages are directed at people within the organization-their attitudes, morale, satisfaction, and fulfillment” (Goldhaber 20); and 5) coordinate, plan, and control the operations of the organization through management (Katz & Kahn; Redding; Thayer). Organizational communication is how organizations represent, present, and constitute their organizational climate and culture—the attitudes, values and goals that characterize the organization and its members.

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Comm 101 (Dutton) by [author removed at request of original publisher] is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.