Businesses thrive on communication for efficiency, productivity and accomplishment. When the right information is passed from the right designation in the organization, it promotes positivity and clarity. Formal channels of communication, the officially assigned paths for information flow, exchange messages like letters, instructions, reports, training programs, interviews and more among the employees.
These channels are planned, disciplined and regulated by the organization and are associated with the organization structure. Information may flow from top to bottom level when announcements and decisions need to be shared or from bottom to top to communicate complaints and feedback to the management.
Depending on how the information flows within the organization, there are several different types of internal communication methods. In this guide, we take a closer look at the different directions and channels of communication that we can generally find in any establishment.
All the communication taking place within an organization is categorized as vertical, horizontal and diagonal. Vertical communication is the flow of information between the managers and lower-level employees to help them exercise control over the company and improve co-ordination. It allows management to decide what information flows throughout the organization.
Horizontal communication, on the other hand, is when the flow of information is between employees on the same level in the organization. This type of communication helps share information and ideas between colleagues. It also helps ensure co-ordination among departments and promotes a sense of understanding.
While these two forms of communication are unidirectional, diagonal communication is a multi-directional communication that involves the use of several methods including horizontal, upward and downward. It is healthier for the company as it allows the employees to provide complete expertise and knowledge as compared to single directional communication that limits the potential.
Communication within an organization can take one of the four routes – downward, upward, lateral and diagonal. The exact direction in which the information flows depend on the nature, size and structure of the organization.
In traditional or established organizations, most of the information flows in a vertical direction, either upward or downward. However, for start-ups, information often flows diagonally or horizontally.
This is when the managers and supervisors share information with their subordinates in the company. Downward communication does not involve response unless included as a part of the message. The best example of this type of communication is an announcement of a new employee or a notice of a merger. Some other kinds of downward communication include videos, podcasts, blogs and speeches.
The most popular type of communication in this form is the everyday directives given to the employees by their managers. They can be verbal or even in the form of handbooks and manuals. This kind of communication generally delivers information that updates the people about important changes, goals and strategies, coordinate activities, improve consumer relations or give feedback.
When the information passes from lower-level employees to their superiors, it is called upward communication. An example of this route is a supervisor reporting to a department head. Some of the most common types of information shared through this mode include complaints, budget estimates, suggestions, progress reports, project proposals and more. A downward communication, at times, requires an upward response, like a manager asking for a replacement recommendation.
Today, managers aim to encourage voluntary upward communication in the organization without having to ask. To make this possible, some companies even organize contests and give away rewards for creative ideas and suggestions. Another example is the installation of hotlines to let the company members report illegal, unethical or harmful activities anonymously.
Lateral communication is often termed as the backbone of any organization. It is also known as horizontal communication and generally takes place between departments at the same level in the organization. It is important for sharing information, ideas and thoughts between colleagues and even facilitates coordination between departments. While this form of communication usually suits large enterprises, it can be easily implemented by small and medium scale organizations.
Diagonal communication, on the other hand, refers to the exchange of information between different levels within an organization. It takes place between employees without any consideration of the hierarchy or reporting chain. It generally happens as informal conversations aimed to improve inter-departmental coordination and boost employee morale.
While lateral communication aims to coordinate activities between departments, diagonal communication intends to pass instructions from superiors to subordinates. Lateral communication facilitates clarification, mutual understanding, relationship and coordination among departments while diagonal communication fosters the relationship between different levels of employees, reduces the workload and motivates the workers.
There are risks like rivalry and hostility with horizontal communication, diagonal communication can damage careers and create trust issues if the employee fails to inform his superior of the arising problems. It can also give rise to unhealthy competition and wastage of time in the organization.
The two main forms of communication in any organization are horizontal and vertical. While horizontal communication refers to the exchange of information between employees, departments and teams within the same level on the organization structure, vertical communication is the information transmission between various levels.
The main difference between the two types of communication lies in their designated purpose. When an organization operates with horizontal communication, it aims to achieve the coordination of activities of different departments. When used effectively in a workplace, this type of communication can improve productivity by smoothening problem solving, conflict resolution, collaboration and information sharing.
On the other hand, the purpose of vertical communication system is to exercise control over the information flow and decision making. When this form of communication happens in a downward direction, it often includes decisions, orders and instructions while upward flow consists of opinions, feedback and suggestions from the employees.
The flow of information in horizontal communication is between people of the same rank in the company while vertical communication has information flowing from superiors to lower-levels and vice-versa. Moreover, a vertical form is generally more formal in nature as compared to horizontal. Another difference lies in the medium used for communication. While horizontal communication is often done orally, vertical type of information flow mostly happens in the form of written media like policies, handbooks, manuals and more.
When the information is conveyed through horizontal communication, it is generally free of any distortion. However, the information passed through vertical communication can be affected by distortion, specifically when conveyed orally. It is possible that the information is altered by the personality, body language and nuances of the speaker.
As horizontal communication involves just the sender and receiver of the information, the communication channel is shorter. Vertical communication, on the contrary, generally passes through a longer channel as it goes from directors to the managers and then to the subordinates. Moreover, a horizontal form can need a response at times while vertical communication is often one-way and the superior may not expect a response.
When information is passed through the horizontal communication method, there is a danger from rivalry or hostility between people. It is possible that the information gets intentionally hidden by some managers that think they should not share it with others. In the case of vertical communication, it is difficult to hide the information in this way because the movement is slow and reaches the lower levels after a few days.
Messages shared through horizontal communication intend to coordinate tasks, solve issues, resolve conflicts and encourage collaboration. On the other hand, a vertical communication channel aims to use the information for addressing complaints, explaining vision, mission or strategy, invite suggestions and introduce new regulations.
The best example to understand horizontal communication is the managers discussing about coordination of different departments. Vertical communication can be best explained as the directors asking their managers to implement specific measures.
Let us take a look at some of the main advantages of horizontal communication.
As it is the communication system of the same status level, they can easily exchange ideas, thoughts and knowledge. This gives rise to a friendly, informal relationship.
To achieve the organizational goals, it is important that departments maintain co-ordination which is a part of horizontal communication.
Horizontal communication has minimum chances of misunderstanding among employees. It helps the management improve mutual relationships and co-operation.
With this type of communication, there is an increased dynamism among employees.
A big advantage of horizontal communication is improved job satisfaction in the organization. With a favorable atmosphere and upliftment of the morale, it changes the way employees feel about their jobs.
As horizontal communication occurs among same level employees, information is passed directly between employees. This way, it prevents the messages from getting distorted or misinterpreted.
This type of communication allows speedy transmission of messages and helps solve any issues within the organization.
While there are several advantages of horizontal communication, it has some drawbacks as well.
This type of communication involves too much sorting thereby wasting the time of higher-level employees.
As information is less processed in this communication, it requires sorting through too much of data, leading to overload.
When organizations lack uniformity within departments, the problem of specialization generally occurs. Overspecialization can result from horizontal communication when different procedures are used by different departments.
When different levels of the organization don't co-operate well, there are chances of conflicts. Rivalry and hostility can sometimes rise to an extent that people start hiding information intentionally from the other party.
As same level members exchange information, there is a lack of communication and co-operation with other levels in the hierarchy.
Sometimes, the members are not motivated enough to make the extra effort horizontal communication needs. This can make it a failure.
Organizational members may not be willing to put in the additional effort, wasting valuable time of managers and lowering the overall productivity.
Horizontal communication often happens between the department heads in the organization who are responsible for decision-making. The heads constantly interact with one another to ensure the smooth function of the entire company.
To understand this form of communication, consider an organization where the head of the sales department always makes sure there is sufficient stock available for the sales team to take customer orders. This means he should keep communicating with the stores manager to assure this. The stores manager, in turn, remains in constant touch with the finance head to ensure that all orders are paid on time.
Further, the finance department head follows up with the collection head to make sure there is enough capital available for the needs of the purchase department. This type of communication taking place between employees in the same level within the organization is known as horizontal communication.
Any modern business setup needs an organizational structure to develop and implement effective communication. A regulated flow of information between different structural positions in the organization helps the company overcome the challenges like language differences, unhealthy relationships and inefficient business processes. Communication processes differ from one organization to another. However, vertical, horizontal and diagonal communication modes are integral to any establishment for smooth operation and productivity of the company as a whole.