86 Organizational Communication Overview


After reading this chapter you should be able to:

  • Define organizations and organizational communication.
  • Explain how the study of organizational communication developed.
  • Explain the five theoretical perspectives for understanding organizational communication.
  • Understand the challenges to organizational communication.
  • Explain the future directions of organizational communication.

If you have ever worked a part time job during the school year, worked a full time summer job, volunteered for a non-profit, or belonged to a social organization, you have experienced organizational communication. It’s likely that you’ve been a job seeker, an interviewee, a new employee, a co-worker, or maybe a manager? In each of these situations you make various choices regarding how you choose to communicate with others in an organizational context.

We participate in organizations in almost every aspect of our lives. In fact, you will spend the bulk of your waking life in the context of organizations (March & Simon). Think about it, that means you’ll spend more time with your co-workers than your family! At the center of every organization is what we’ve been studying throughout this book – Communication. Organizational communication is a broad and ever-growing specialization in the field of Communication. For the purpose of this chapter, we will provide a brief overview of the field, highlighting what organizational communication is and how it is studied.

What Is An Organization?

Before we define organizational communication let’s look at what an organization is, and how pervasive they are in today’s society. Etzioni states, “We are born in organizations, educated by organizations, and most of us spend much of our lives working for organizations” (1). Simply put, from birth to death, organizations impact every aspect of our lives (Deetz).

Organizational Communication Now

The Half Moon Bay chapter of BNI (Business Network International) meets to promote local businesses and network with other businesses in the area. BNI is the largest business networking organization in the world, and each chapter acts as it’s own organization.

Stephen P. Robbins defines an organization as a “consciously coordinated social unit composed of two or more people, that functions on a relatively continuous basis to achieve a common goal or set of goals” (4). Why have organizations in the first place? We organize together for common social, personal, political, or professional purposes. We organize together to achieve what we cannot accomplish individually.

When we study organizational communication our focus is primarily on corporations, manufacturing, the service industry, and for profit businesses. However, organizations also include not-for-profit companies, schools, government agencies, small businesses, and social or charitable agencies such as churches or a local humane society. Organizations are complicated, dynamic organisms that take on a personality and culture of their own, with unique rules, hierarchies, structures, and divisions of labor. Organizations can be thought of as systems of people (Goldhaber) who are in constant motion (Redding). Organizations are social systems (Thayer; Katz & Kahn) that rely on communication to exist. Simon puts it quite simply: “Without communication, there can be no organization” (Simon 57).


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