Communication Models: a Guide for Small Businesses

Communication Models: a Guide for Small Businesses

There are numerous models of communication in the modern workplace, but some can be more effective than others. We take a look at the pros and cons of each

By Adam Pescod

Communication is one of the most important skills for any business owner. If you can't engage with customers and employees in a way that makes sense, you'll struggle to steer yourself clear of the competition. However, there's more to communication than a bit of chit-chat with clients and colleagues.

Various models of communication have emerged over time, some of which offer more benefits to businesses than others. However, they all have an important role to play in the modern workplace.

Two-way communication

Communication is always a two-way process on some level, because there’s always some form of feedback or response. If for example you’re a manager criticizing an employee in a private meeting, that employee might choose simply to sit silently. Nevertheless, that’s still two-way communication. By declining to interrupt or contradict you, they’re signalling to you that they accept your criticism, or at least that they’re listening. Their posture, their facial expression and their eye contact will all be providing you with useful feedback about the effectiveness of your communication.

Similarly, when advertising to customers, the response may not be verbal, but will come in the form of sales or enquiries. With all communication, it’s up to you to listen to this feedback and to learn from it.

Circular model of communication

The circular model of communication, developed by Osgood and Schramm in 1954, describes communication as a constant process of exchanging messages between two parties. It adapts the earlier linear model of decode, interpret and encode, but instead of the process happening from a transmitter to a receiver, the process happens continuously, with both parties having equal status as transmitters and receivers of messages.

It also emphasizes a separation between the process of decoding and that of interpreting. The model suggests that even if you fully and correctly decode the language of a message, your personal interpretation will still influence your understanding and, ultimately, your own transmission of information.

Grapevine communication

Grapevine communication is the informal communication network within an organization.The grapevine spreads unofficial information, bypassing the formal communications structure. Just like the plant, it spreads this information randomly and in all directions. Because it’s unofficial, there’s no indication of where the information started from in the first place, and there will be no records kept.

The grapevine is formed by individuals and groups within an organization who have something in common that links them together. It has a number of advantages and disadvantages over other methods of communication.

Advantages of grapevine communication
Disadvantages of grapevine communication
Talking point
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Grapevine communication can create unity between employees, but it can also lead to unhealthy gossip and hostility

Horizontal communication

Horizontal communication, sometimes called lateral communication, refers to the transmission and exchange of information and ideas between people, teams or departments on the same level of hierarchy within an organisation. It’s distinguished from vertical communication, which occurs between different hierarchical levels.

Advantages of horizontal communication

Traditional management and supervision focuses almost exclusively on vertical communication. However, horizontal communication can also be very important for businesses, as it can promote efficiency, cooperation and creativity within an organization.

For example, two different departments working on separate elements of the same project using only vertical communication would just provide feedback about their work to a senior manager. Introducing horizontal communication, as the manner in which the teams communicate with each other, has the advantage of increasing each team’s awareness of the overall scale and aims of the project. This can help to improve employee engagement and motivation. Helping staff to feel more involved can improve job satisfaction and productivity.

On a practical level, horizontal communication can also be a good way of identifying and preventing misunderstandings, finding new efficiencies, and promoting the spread of good practices within a business. Through horizontal communication, the teams may also gain a better understanding of the needs of each other, prompting greater cooperation and assistance within the organization generally.

Disadvantages of horizontal communication

However, there are some risks with horizontal communication. Teams could make and implement decisions outside of management visibility and conflicts may emerge without managers present to mediate. It can also be more time consuming than traditional vertical communication, particularly if meetings are less disciplined than management meetings, and if the decisions made then need to be ratified by managers.

The correct communication model for your business

The only way to determine the best model of communication for your business is by experimenting and measuring its effectiveness. It's also important to involve your employees in the process, as the model you choose will need to suit everybody in the company. The last thing any business wants is a breakdown in communication.