What is Downward Communication?
Downward communication refers to the messagesOpens in new window and information that proceed vertically down the chain of command from managers who communicate in a downward direction with employees that report to them.
In other words, downward communication flows from individuals in higher levels of the organization to those in lower levels. It is arguably the most familiar and obvious flow of formal communication.
A diagram of upward communication looks like this ...
Downward communication is used by group leaders and managers to assign goals, provide job instructions, inform employees of policies and procedures, point out problems that need attention, and offer feedback about performance.
A communicationOpens in new window from the general manager of a company to the branch managers is an example of downward communication.
Important to point out is that downward communication does not occur only in format of oral or face-to-face contact; it also spread in written format.
When management sends letters to employees’ homes to advise them of the organization’s new sick leave policy, it’s using downward communication. Another example of downward communication in written format is an e-mail from a team leader to the members of her team, reminding them of an upcoming deadline.
Although downward communication provides employees the information necessary to do their jobs, but in some cases such information is late in coming or totally lacking.
Reports have shown that only 20% of an intended message sent by top-level management is intact by the time it reaches the entry level employee. Usually information as it comes down the chain of command across several levels is prone to distortion. Thus the directives are not understood or even read.
The following are some other obvious pitfalls of downward communication:
- It is based in one-way structure—generally, managers inform employees but rarely solicit their advice or opinions.
- It often does not meet the expectations of employees.
- Too much downward communication tends to lead to reaction from subordinates and can hamper better employee-employer relationship.
- Managers tend to rely too heavily on written channels; thus an avalanche of written materials may cause the overloaded employee to ignore some messages.
Nothwithstanding the above pitfalls, downward communication is a very powerful medium through which top managers defines the goals of the organizations and tells the lower level staffs what is expected from them. The decisions, job descriptions, policies, publications are communicated to lower level employees through this channel.