A major shift in organizational communication

At Penn State Lehigh Valley, I usually teach Communication Arts and Sciences 100, Effective Speech, but this semester I am teaching a course I only teach occasionally, Communication 352, Organizational Communication.  It has been at least three years since I taught the course and I am struck by one major change in communication in organizations in that brief time.  I should have figured it out, afterall, I am a Facebook user, a Tweeter and well, you are reading it now:  I blog.  And yesterday when I was at Lehigh Valley Mall with my daughter I was offered a free belt at the store Charlotte Russe just for “liking” the company on Facebook. 

That the nature of organizational communication has changed so fundamentally in such a short time is notable.  In fact, it is downright bloggable!

Of course one major  tenet of organization  has not changed a bit.  It was as true when the course started at Penn State decades ago as it is now:  Communication skills are essential to our success in the workplace. Employers are frustrated by the poor communication skills of many employees, so communicating well gives you a significant advantage.

Now, however, technology influences virtually every aspect of business communication today. And communication is more interactive than ever. To benefit from this technology, however, you need to have at least a basic level of skills. If your level of technical expertise doesn’t keep up with that of your colleagues and coworkers, the imbalance can put you at a disadvantage, jeopardize your contribution to your organization and complicate the communication process.

 Today’s businesses rely heavily on technology to facilitate the communication process.  Even my children’s former orthodontist in on Facebook! And why not?  It is a fun, inexpensive and pervasive way to perpetuate his brand.  In short, to stay fresh and competitive, all organizations need to jump on the technology train.

However, one caution:   E-mail, IM, Twitter, Facebook, and other technologies are key parts of what has been called the “information technology paradox,” in which information tools can waste as much time as they save.  It’s too easy to send too many messages and to subscribe to too many blogs and other information sources.

  • The flood of messages from an expanding array of electronic sources can significantly affect employees’ abilities to focus on their work.
  • Personal use of technological tools can reduce productivity.

 Users need to recognize the limitations of technology and remember the benefits of face-to-face communication.

 Communication technology has three potential shortcomings that can and do hamper communication. First, technologies such as e-mail and instant messaging are unable to convey the full richness of human communication, particularly nonverbal signals. For instance, e-mail messages can come across as blunt or overly harsh simply because the medium lacks a practical and effective way to convey emotional nuances. Second, technology can’t replace human planning and oversight. Spellcheckers that correct spelling but “approve” poor word choices or nonsensical phrases are a common example of this flaw. Third, even the best technologies are rarely 100 percent reliable, and if people come to depend on technological channels too heavily, they can be cut off from one another whenever these systems fail.

  A lack of shared experience between the sender and receiver increases the odds of communication failure because the decoding of incoming messages depends heavily on perception, and perception is shaped by experience. In other words, people with different life experiences tend to view the world in different ways, and these differing perceptions will naturally affect the meanings that these people extract from messages they receive.

 To embrace the new technologies to the fullest, communicators need to recognize the limitations of  technology, carefully monitor the time spent on the new technologies and consider the impact of the messages to the vast audiences the messages reach. 

If we do these things, we are likely to enjoy the impact and fun of Internet communication and add to our organization with a consistent effort to communicate with all the available means of persuasion!

6 Responses to “A major shift in organizational communication”

  1. January 27, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    Employers are particularly frustrated about the perceived lack of communications skills in recent graduates, as revealed in the NACE Job Outlook 2010 Survey, which I discussed on December 14, 2010 in my Joyful Public Speaking blog.

  2. November 16, 2012 at 1:51 am

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