Communication Patterns

Patterns of Business Communication

Communication patterns consist in ways communication flows in an organization. As communicators endeavor to achieve the four goals of business communication, they send and receive messages that are both internal and external to their organizations. During their communicative event, they send messages, some which are formal; and some informal. Some messages are work related while others are personal.

Internal Communication Patterns

Organizational communicationOpens in new window can flow vertically, horizontally, or through a network, as illustrated in the diagram, below.

fig. illustrating barrier to communication
A diagram showing the vertical, horizontal and network patterns in which communication flows in an organization.
  1. Vertical Communication
    In vertical communication, messages flow upward or downward along a path called the chain of commandOpens in new window. Reports and proposals commonly follow an upward path; policy statements, plans, directives, and instructions typically follow a downward path.
  2. Horizontal Communication
    Horizontal communication flows between workers, departments or units of comparable status within the organizational hierarchy who need to share data or coordinate efforts.
  3. Network Communication
    In network communication, information flows freely among those who have a link that goes beyond the participants’ role or unit within the organization hierarchy. Member’s roles or status within the organization will generally have the greatest influence in vertical communication and the least influence in network communication.
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A network may be a planned part of the business operation or it may arise from informal interactions. An example of a planned network is a project team formed to computerize a process. An informal network could consist of employees who share interest outside the workplace.

Organization-based informal networks, such as company sponsored softball teams, can be powerful. Members can discuss work-related issues outside the traditional communication structure and then combine efforts to influence the direction of the organization.

Personal networks such as those consisting of friends and relatives, classmates and faculty, current and former employers, and current and former coworkers are important sources of professional and personal support.

Regardless of the direction in which communication flows, it may have a formal, an informal, or a serial pattern. For purpose of this discussion, formal and informal refer to the nature of a communication, not the writing or speaking style used to convey a message. However, we discuss them briefly below.

Formal Communication

Formal communication is primarily business oriented. It occurs in written form (e-mail, memo, report, policy, website) or oral form (speech, meeting). Most organizations keep written records of formal oral communication—copies of speeches, minutes of meetings. Formal communication consists in the following:

  • It is planned by the organization.
  • It flows in all directions.
  • It is essential for the effective operation of the business.
Informal Communication

Informal communication relays both business-related and personal information. Sharing comments about a recently announced company expansion and chatting about what happened on a recent episode of a popular TV show are two examples. Most informal communication is oral, but widespread use of technology has made informal written communication via e-mail, texting, tweeting, or instant messaging more popular. Informal communication consists in the following:

  • It is not planned by the organization
  • It flows in all directions.
  • It helps develop and maintain positive human relationships.
Serial Communication

Most information flowing vertically and horizontally within an organization occur between three or more individuals. For example, job instructions are developed by managers and transmitted to the supervisors who report to them. The supervisors, in turn, transmit the instructions to the workers under their direction. This communication pattern flowing consecutively from one person to another is called serial communication.

External Communication Patterns

External communication flows between a business organization and the units with which it interacts. Companies have many external contacts such as customers, suppliers, competitors, the media, governmental agencies, and the general public. These contacts may be domestic or international.

The information that flows between a business and its external receivers can be either written or oral. Letters, reports, orders, invoices, and web pages represent external written communication; telephone calls and radio or television advertisements are examples of external oral communication.

External communication is typically formal, but it sometimes occurs informally as when an employee talks concerning work-related matters to someone not affiliated with the organization.

The external contact could be a neighbor, a friend, someone to whom the worker has just been introduced at a party, or someone who coincidentally overhears a conversation and chirps in a comment.

Employees represent their organizations both on and off the job; hence, they are recommended to demonstrate good communication skills in their professional and social interactions.