What is Communication? Functions, Process, Types and Barriers

Communication is the transfer of information from one person to another person. It is a way of reaching to others by transmitting ideas, facts, thoughts, feelings, and values.

Features of Communication

1. Involves two or more people

That is, one or more receivers are needed for the communication process.

2. Understanding

The main aim of communication is to ensure that the receiver understands the intended meaning of a message.

Functions of communication

1. Control

Communication controls people’s behaviour in an organisation through formal and informal communication.

2. Motivation

When managers provide feedback, set specific goals, or reward employees for their achievements, they motivate people through communication.

3. Emotional Expression

Employees convey their emotions and become aware of others’ emotions through communication.

4. Information

That is, communication provides managers with data for identifying potential problems, evaluating alternatives, and making decisions.

Communication Process

  1. Sender – The sender has an idea that he wishes to convey to another person.
  2. Encoding Process of converting a thought into a message by using symbols.
  3. Message Physical product resulting from the encoding process.
  4. Channel Medium selected by the sender for transmitting the message.
    • Formal channels are established by the organization.
    • Informal channels are spontaneous in nature, and social and personal messages are transmitted through these channels.
  5. Receiver – Target of the message.
  6. Decoding – Process of deriving meaning from a message by translating the symbols in a form that can be understood by the receiver.
  7. Noise Barrier affecting the communication process.
  8. Feedback Receiver’s response to the message. It conveys whether the sender’s intended message has been understood by the receiver.

Organizational Communication

Organizational communication is the information flow within an organization.

There are 5 types of organizational communication, that are:

  1. Downward,
  2. Upward,
  3. Lateral,
  4. Electronic and
  5. Informal communication.

Let’s understand each of these types in detail in the following slides.

Types of Organizational Communication

1. Downward Communication

Information flow is from people with higher authority levels to people with lower authority levels.

Managers use downward communication to:

  • Assign goals
  • Provide job instructions
  • Provide information about organizational policies and procedures
  • Identify problems in an employee’s work that needs attention
  • Provide feedback about performance

Downward communication can be oral, face-to-face, or written through letters or e-mails.

Measures to improve downward communication are

  1. Providing reasons to subordinates and explaining why a decision is made
  2. Encouraging feedback from subordinates

2. Upward Communication

Information flow is from people with lower authority levels to people with higher authority levels.

It provides feedback to authorities and informs them about progress toward goals and current organizational problems.

Difficulties in upward communication

  • Managers are often overburdened and do not have time to communicate with subordinates.
  • Even if they find the time, they may be distracted and inattentive.

Measures to improve upward communication are:

  1. Reduce distractions in communication
  2. Focus on the main issue at hand
  3. Provide evidence and suggest a course of action
  4. Use a well-defined agenda of issues to be discussed

3. Lateral (Horizontal) Communication

Exchange of information is between

  • Managers at the same level in an organization
  • Employees at equivalent or similar levels
  • Members of the same group
  • Members of different work groups but at the same level

Advantage of lateral communication is that it saves times and facilitates faster communication.

Drawback is that if employees bypass their immediate superior and talk directly to higher authorities, those who are bypassed may get upset.


4. Electronic Communication

Examples include e-mail, text messaging, video-conferencing, internet blogs, and networking software.

  • E-mail is a system by which people use a personal computer to send and receive computer-generated text and documents.
  • It allows employees to send a message instantly to a large number of people.
  • Advantages are Speed and Convenience.
  • While, the Drawbacks are Loss of face-to-face contact, absence of emotional cues, and tendency to use acronyms & emoticons owing to which messages can be misunderstood.

5. Instant Messaging and Text Messaging.

  • In instant messaging, messages are sent through a desktop or laptop, while in text messaging, messages are sent through mobile phones.
  • Messages are sent in real time.
  • Advantages are: Extremely fast, inexpensive, and flexible
  • However, drawbacks include: Not effective for sending long messages, distracting, intrusive, and potentially unsecure.

6. Informal Communication

It refers to information shared without any formally imposed obligations or restrictions.

Informal communication occurs through grapevines and rumours.

7. Grapevine

Grapevine is a channel through which unofficial, informal information travels. Communication is based mainly on friendship or acquaintance. Managers may use the grapevine to leak information to make more accurate information available and reduce anxiety, conflicts, and misunderstandings.

8. Rumour

Rumour is merely false information transmitted over the grapevine, without supporting evidence or facts. Rumours flourish in ambiguous and interesting situations.

Barriers to Communication

1. Filtering

  • Sender only provides information that will interest the receiver and make him see the sender favourably.
  • Reduces effectiveness of upward communication.
  • More likely if an organization has many vertical levels.

2. Selective Perception

  • Tendency of a receiver to process information based on his interests, background, experience, and attitude.
  • A person tends to focus only on certain aspects of the message.

3. Information Overload

  • An individual receives more information than he/she can process.
  • He is overburdened with data beyond his processing capacity.

4. Language Barriers

  • Language difficulties occur when
  • Communicators do not have a common language
  • A message contains words with multiple meanings
  • A sender or receiver has poor command over the language used for communication
  • And, Communicating parties belong to different cultures, age groups, etc.

5. Physical Barriers

  • These are Interferences occurring in the external environment, such as loud noise, physical distance between communicators, etc.
  • They can be overcome by ecological control.

6. Personal Barrier

  • Examples include human emotions, values, poor listening skills, difference in education, socioeconomic status, etc.
  • They may also be in the form of psychological distance.
  • The receiver’s mental and emotional state on receiving the information influences its interpretation.