Communication : Functions, Process, Interpersonal Versus Organizational, Barriers To Effective, Leadership

Communication Functions

Communication serves five major functions within a group or organization : management, feedback, emotional sharing, persuasion, and information exchange. Communication acts to manage member behavior in several ways.

Organizations have authority hierarchies and formal guidelines employees are required to follow. When employees follow their job descriptions or comply with company policies, communication performs a management function. Informal communication controls behavior too.

When work groups tease or harass a member who produces too much (and makes the rest of the members look bad), they are informally communicating, and managing, the member’s behavior. Communication creates feedback by clarifying to employees what they must do, how well they are doing it, and how they can improve their performance.

Formation of goals, feedback on progress, and reward for desired behavior all require communication and stimulate motivation. The work group is a primary source of social interaction for many employees. Communication within the group is a fundamental mechanism by which members show satisfaction and frustration.

Communication, therefore, provides for the emotional sharing of feelings and fulfillment of social needs. Like emotional sharing, persuasion can be good or bad depending on if, say, a leader is trying to persuade a work group to believe in the organization’s commitment to corporate social responsibility (CSR) or to, conversely, persuade the work group to break the law to meet an organizational goal.

These may be extreme examples, but it’s important to remember that persuasion can benefit or harm an organization. The final function of communication is information exchange to facilitate decision making. Communication provides the information individuals and groups need to make decisions by transmitting the data needed to identify and evaluate choices.

Almost every communication interaction that takes place in a group or organization performs one or more of these functions, and none of the five (management, feedback, emotional sharing, persuasion, and information exchange) is more important than the others.

To perform effectively, groups need to maintain some control over members, provide feedback to stimulate members to perform, allow emotional expression, monitor the persuasive efforts of individuals, and encourage information exchange.

Communication Process

Before communication can take place, it needs a purpose, a message to be conveyed between a sender and a receiver. The sender encodes the message (converts it to a symbolic form) and passes it through a medium (channel) to the receiver, who decodes it.

The result is a transfer of meaning from one person to another. The key parts of the communication process are:

(1) the sender,

(2) encoding,

(3) the message,

(4) the channel,

(5) decoding,

(6) the receiver,

(7) noise,

(8) feedback.

Communication Process

The sender initiates a message by encoding a thought. The message is the actual physical product of the sender’s encoding. When we speak, the speech is the message. When we write, the writing is the message. When we gesture, the movements of our arms and the expressions on our faces are the message.

The channel is the medium through which the message travels. The sender selects it, determining whether to use a formal or informal channel. Formal channels are established by the organization and transmit messages related to the professional activities of members.

They traditionally follow the authority chain within the organization. Other forms of messages, such as personal or social, follow informal channels, which are spontaneous and subject to individual choice. The receiver is the person(s) to whom the message is directed, who must first translate the symbols into understandable form.

This step is the decoding of the message. Noise represents communication barriers that distort the clarity of the message, such as perceptual problems, information overload,semantic difficulties, or cultural differences.

The final link in the communication process is a feedback loop. Feedback is the check on how successful an individual has been in transferring his/her messages as originally intended. It determines whether understanding has been achieved.

Modes of Communication

Modes of Communication, How do group members transfer meaning among each other ? They rely on oral, written, and nonverbal communication. But the choice between modes can greatly enhance or detract from the way the perceive reacts to the message. Certain modes are highly preferred for specific types of communication.

We will cover the latest thinking and practical application. Modes of Communication : How do group members transfer meaning among each other ? They rely on oral, written, and nonverbal communication. But the choice between modes can greatly enhance or detract from the way the perceive r reacts to the message.

Certain modes are highly preferred for specific types of communication. We will cover the latest thinking and practical application.

Oral Communication

A primary means of conveying messages is oral communication. Speeches, formal one–on–one and group discussions, and the informal rum-our mill or grapevine are popular forms of oral communication. The advantages of oral communication are speed, feedback, and exchange.

We can convey a verbal message and receive a response in minimal time. But one major disadvantage of oral communication surfaces whenever a message has to pass through a number of people : the more people, the greater the potential distortion. Some popular oral communication applications in specific are meetings, videoconferencing and conference calling and telephone.

Written Communication

Written communication includes letters, e–mail, instant messaging, organizational periodicals, and any other method that conveys written words or symbols. Written business communication today is usually conducted via letters, power–point, e–mail, instant messaging, text messaging, social media, apps, and blogs.

Nonverbal Communication

Every time we deliver a verbal message, we also impart an unspoken message. Sometimes the nonverbal component may stand alone as a powerful message of our business communication.

No discussion of communication would thus be complete without consideration of nonverbal communication–which includes body movements, the intonations or emphasis we give to words, facial expressions, and the physical distance between the sender and receiver.

Body language can convey status, level of engagement, and emotional state. Body language adds to, and often complicates, verbal communication. people read much more about an other’s attitude and emotions from their nonverbal cues than their words.

Barriers to Effective Communication

A number of barriers can slow or distort effective communication, barriers that we need to recognize and reduce. In this section, we highlight the most important ones.


Filtering refers to a sender’s purposely manipulating information so the receiver will see it more favorable. A manager who tells his boss what he feels the boss wants to hear is filtering information.

The more vertical levels in the organization’s hierarchy, the more opportunities there are for filtering. But some filtering will occur wherever there are status differences.

Factors such as fear of conveying bad news and the desire to please the boss often lead employees to tell their superiors what they think they want to hear, thus distorting upward communications.

Selective Perception

Selective perception is important because the receivers in the communication process selectively see and hear based on their needs, motivations, experience, backgrounds, and other personal characteristics. Receivers also project their interests and expectations into communications as they decode them.

For example, an employment interviewer who expects a female job applicant to put her family ahead of her career is likely to see that characteristic in all female applicants, regardless of whether any of the women actually feel that way.

Information Overload

Individuals have a finite capacity for processing data. When the information we have to work with exceeds our processing capacity, the result is information overload.

What happens when individuals have more information than they can sort and use ? They tend to select, ignore, pass over, or forget it.

Or they may put off further processing until the overload situation ends. In any case, lost information and less effective communication results, making it all the more important to deal well with overload.


You may interpret the same message differently when you’re angry or distraught than when you’re happy. For example, individuals in positive moods are more confident about their opinions after reading a persuasive message, so well– designed arguments have a stronger impact on their opinions.

People in negative moods are more likely to scrutinize messages in greater detail, whereas those in positive moods tend to accept communications at face value. Extreme emotions such as jubilation or depression are most likely to hinder effective communication. In such instances, we are most prone to disregard our rational and objective thinking processes and substitute emotional judgments.


Even when we’re communicating in the same language, words mean different things to different people. Age and context are two of the biggest factors that influence such differences. One needs to recognize your ARAs (accountability, responsibility, and authority) and measure against them.

Our use of language is far from uniform. If we knew how each of us modifies the language, we could minimize communication difficulties, but we usually don’t know. Senders tend to incorrectly assume the words and terms they use mean the same to the receivers as to them.


It’s easy to ignore silence or lack of communication because it is defined by the absence of information. This is often a mistake–silence itself can be the message to communicate non–interest or inability to deal with a topic.

Silence can also be a simple outcome of information overload, or a delaying period for considering a response. For whatever reasons, research suggests using silence and withholding communication are common and problematic. The impact of silence can be organizationally detrimental.

Employee silence can mean managers lack information about ongoing operational problems; management silence can leave employees bewildered. Silence regarding discrimination, harassment, corruption, and misconduct means top management cannot take action to eliminate problematic behavior.

Communication Apprehension

It means the undue tension and anxiety about oral communication, written communication, or both. An estimated 5 to 20 percent of the population suffers debilitating communication apprehension, or social anxiety.

They may find it extremely difficult to talk with others face–to– face or become extremely anxious when they have to use the phone, relying on memos or e–mails when a phone call would be faster and more appropriate. Oral–communication apprehensive individuals avoid situations, for which oral communication is a dominant requirement.

But almost all jobs require some oral communication. Of greater concern is evidence that high oral–communication apprehensive s distort the communication demands of their jobs in order to minimize the need for communication.

Some people also severely limit their oral communication and rationalize their actions by telling themselves that communicating isn’t necessary for them to do their jobs effectively.

Cultural Barriers

There are a number of problems related to language difficulties in cross–cultural communications. First are barriers caused by semantics. Words mean different things to different people, particularly people from different national cultures. Some words don’t translate between cultures.


The final barrier to effective communication is outright misrepresentation of information, or lying. People differ in their definition of a lie.

For example

Is deliberately withholding information about a mistake a lie, or do you have to actively deny your role in the mistake to pass the threshold ? While the definition of a lie befuddles ethicists and social scientists, there is no denying the prevalence of lying.

People may tell one to two lies per day, with some individuals telling considerably more. Compounded across a large organization, this is an enormous amount of deception happening every day. Evidence shows people are more comfortable lying over the phone than face–to–face, and more comfortable lying in e– mails than when they have to write with pen and paper. the frequency of lying and the difficulty in detecting liars makes this an especially strong barrier to effective communication.

Theories of Leadership

Leadership is defined as the ability to influence a group toward the achievement of a vision or set of goals. But not all leaders are managers, nor are all managers leaders. Just because an organization provides its managers with certain formal rights is no assurance that they will lead effectively.

Leaders can emerge from within a group as well as by formal appointment. Non–sanctioned leadership–the ability to influence that arises outside the formal structure of the organization–is often as important, or more important, than formal influence. Organizations need strong leadership and strong management for optimal effectiveness.

Individuals need leaders to challenge the status quo, create visions of the future, and inspire organizational members to achieve the visions. They also need managers to formulate detailed plans, create efficient organizational structures, and oversee day–to–day operations.

The different theories of leadership are trait theories, behavioral theories and contemporary theories. The following sections describes each type in detail.

Trait Theory of Leadership

Trait theory includes the competency perspective of leadership. Throughout history, strong leaders have been described by their traits. Therefore, leadership research has long sought to identify the personality, social, physical, or intellectual attributes that differentiate leaders from non leaders.

Trait theories of leadership focus on personal qualities and characteristics. Leadership emergence and effectiveness are often evaluated separately vis–à–vis trait studies. Thus, trait theories of leadership are theories that consider personal qualities and characteristics that differentiate leaders from non leaders.

For example, various traits found in leaders are high in assertiveness, has a facet of extroversion, has conscientiousness and openness to experience, has emotional intelligence and similar other traits that can predict leadership qualities in a person.

The emerging work has identified several leadership competencies, that is, skills, knowledge, aptitudes, and other personal characteristics that lead to superior performance.

Behavioral Theories of Leadership

While trait research provides a basis for selecting the right people for leadership, behavioral theories of leadership, in contrast, imply we can train people to be leaders. The most comprehensive behavioral theories of leadership resulted from the Ohio State Studies, which sought to identify independent dimensions of leader behavior.

Beginning with more than a thousand dimensions, the studies narrowed the list to two that substantially accounted for most of the leadership behavior described by employees : initiating structure and consideration. Initiating structure is the extent to which a leader is likely to define and structure his or her role and those of employees in the search for goal attainment.

It includes behavior that attempts to organize work, work relationships, and goals. A leader high in initiating structure is someone who assigns followers particular tasks, sets definite standards of performance, and emphasizes deadlines. Consideration is the extent to which a person’s job relationships are characterized by mutual trust, respect for employees’ ideas, and regard for their feelings.

A leader high in consideration helps employees with personal problems, is friendly and approachable, treats all employees as equals, and expresses appreciation and support (people–oriented). Behavioral perspective of leadership describe the people–oriented and task–oriented leadership styles.

Should leaders be task–oriented or people–oriented ? Recent evidence suggests that both styles are positively associated with leader effectiveness, but differences are often apparent only in very high or very low levels of each style.

Generally, absenteeism, grievances, turnover, and job dissatisfaction are higher among employees who work with supervisors with very low levels of people–oriented leadership. Job performance is lower among employees who work for supervisors with low levels of task–oriented leadership. The results of behavioral theory studies have been mixed.

However, one review found the followers of leaders high in consideration were more satisfied with their jobs, were more motivated, and had more respect for their leaders. Initiating structure was more strongly related to higher levels of group and organization productivity and more positive performance evaluations.

Comparison between Trait and Behavioral Leadership theories

In general, research indicates there is validity for both the trait and behavioral theories. Parts of each theory can help explain facets of leadership emergence and effectiveness. However, identifying the exact relationships is not a simple task.

The first difficulty is in correctly identifying whether a trait or a behavior predicts a certain outcome. The second is in exploring which combinations of traits and behaviors yield certain outcomes. The third challenge is to determine the causality of traits to behaviors so that predictions toward desirable leadership outcomes can be made.

Leaders who have certain traits desirable to their positions and who display culturally appropriate initiating structure and consideration behaviors do appear to be more effective. Beyond that, the determinations are less clear. For example, perhaps you’re wondering whether conscientious leaders (trait) are more likely to be structuring (behavior), and extroverted leaders (trait) to be considerate (behavior).

Contingency Theories of Leadership

Contingency Theories of Leadership are a result of a premise that some tough–minded leaders seem to gain a lot of admirers when they take over struggling companies and lead them out of crises.

Contingency theories of leadership include Fred Fe idler’s contingency model for leadership, Robert House’s path–goal theory of leadership, leader–participation model and Hersey and Blancard’s situational leadership theory. Fred Fiedler developed the first comprehensive contingency model for leadership.

Fiedler contingency model is the theory that effective groups depend on a proper match between a leader’s style of interacting with subordinates and the degree to which the situation gives control and influence to the leader. The least preferred coworker (LPc) questionnaire is an instrument that purports to measure whether a person is task or relationship oriented.

After finding a score, a fit must be found between the organizational situation and the leader’s style for there to be leadership effectiveness. We can assess the situation in terms of three contingency or situational dimensions :

  • Leader–member relations is the degree of confidence, trust, and respect members have in their leader.
  • Task structure is the degree to which the job assignments are procedurized (that is, structured or unstructured).
  • Position power is the degree of influence a leader has over power variables such as hiring, firing, discipline, promotions, and salary increases.

According to the model, the higher the task structure becomes, the more procedures are added; and the stronger the position power, the more control the leader has. Developed by Robert House, path–goal theory extracts elements from the research on initiating structure and consideration, and on the expectancy theory of motivation.

Path–goal theory suggests it’s the leader’s job to provide followers with information, support, or other resources necessary to achieve goals. (The term path–goal implies effective leaders clarify followers’ paths to their work goals and make the journey easier by reducing roadblocks.) The theory predicts :

  • Directive leadership yields greater employee satisfaction when tasks are ambiguous or stressful than when they are highly structured and well laid out.
  • Supportive leadership results in high employee performance and satisfaction when employees are performing structured tasks.
  • Directive leadership is likely to be perceived as redundant among employees with high ability or considerable experience. The match between leadership style and situation can be individualistic and mercurial. Some tasks might be both stressful and highly structured, and employees may have high ability or experience in some tasks and not others.

One more contingency theory we cover argues that the way the leader makes decisions is as important as what he or she decides. The leader– participation model relates leadership behavior to subordinate participation in decision making.

Like path–goal theory, it says leader behavior must adjust to reflect the task structure (such as routine, non–routine, or in between), but it does not cover all leadership behaviors and is limited to recommending what types of decisions might be best made with subordinate participation.

It lays the groundwork for the situations and leadership behaviors most likely to elicit acceptance from subordinates. One of the most popular contingency theories among practitioners is the situational leadership theory (SLT) also called the life–cycle theory of leadership, developed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard. Situational leadership theory (SLT) focuses on the followers.

It says successful leadership depends on selecting the right leadership style contingent on the followers’ readiness, the extent to which followers are willing and able to accomplish a specific task. A leader should choose one of four behaviors depending on follower readiness.

If followers are unable and unwilling to do a task, the leader needs to give clear and specific directions; if they are unable but willing, the leader needs to display a high task orientation to compensate for followers’ lack of ability, and high relationship orientation to get them to “buy into” the leader’s desires.

If followers are able but unwilling, the leader needs to use a supportive and participative style; if they are both able and willing, the leader doesn’t need to do much. SLT has intuitive appeal. It acknowledges the importance of followers and builds on the logic that leaders can compensate for followers’ limited ability and motivation.

Contemporary Theories of Leadership

Leaders are important–to organizations, and to employees. The understanding of leadership is a constantly evolving science. Contemporary theories have been built upon the foundation of the above described theories.

Leader–member exchange (LMX) theory

It is a theory that supports leaders’ creation of in groups and out groups; subordinates with in group status will have higher performance ratings, less turnover, and greater job satisfaction. Leader–member exchange (LMX) theory argues that, because of time pressures, leaders establish a special relationship with a small group of their followers.

These individuals make up the in group–they are trusted, get a disproportionate amount of the leader’s attention, and are more likely to receive special privileges. Other followers fall into the out group. LMX theory proposes that early in the history of the interaction between a leader and a given follower, the leader implicitly categorizes the follower as an “in” or an “out”; that relationship becomes relatively stable over time.

Leaders induce LMX by rewarding employees with whom they want a closer linkage and punishing those with whom they do not. For the LMX relationship to remain intact, the leader and the follower must invest in the relationship.

Charismatic Leadership

Another, charismatic leadership theory is a leadership theory that states that followers make attributions of heroic or extraordinary leadership abilities when they observe certain behaviors. Do you think leaders are born not made, or made not born ?

True, an individual may be literally born into a leadership position, be endowed with a leadership position due to past accomplishments (like CEOs who worked their way up the organizational ranks), or be informally acknowledged as a leader (like a Twitter employee who knows everything because he was “there at the start”).

According to charismatic leadership theory, followers attribute heroic or extraordinary leadership abilities when they observe certain behaviors, and tend to give these leaders power. Charismatic leaders have a vision, are willing to take

personal risks to achieve that vision, are sensitive to follower needs, and exhibit extraordinary behaviors. charismatic leadership increases follower organizational identification (commitment) by building a shared group identity among followers and may predict follower job satisfaction too.

Key characteristics of a Charismatic Leader are :

  • Vision and articulation. Has a vision–expressed as an idealized goal–that proposes a future better than the status quo; and is able to clarify the importance of the vision in terms that are understandable to others.
  • Personal risk. Willing to take on high personal risk, incur high costs, and engage in self–sacrifice to achieve the vision.
  • Sensitivity to follower needs. Perceptive of others’ abilities and responsive to their needs and feelings.
  • Unconventional behavior. Engages in behaviors that are perceived as novel and counter to norms.

Charismatic leadership has positive effects across many contexts. There are, however, characteristics of followers, and of the situation, that enhance or somewhat limit its effects.

Comparison of Theories

Two contemporary leadership theories–charismatic leadership and transformational leadership–share a common theme in the great leader debate : They view leaders as individuals who inspire followers through words, ideas, and behaviors. Charismatic leadership theory relies on leaders’ ability to inspire followers to believe in them.

In contrast, Fielder’s model, situational leadership theory, and path–goal theory describe transactional leaders, who guide their followers toward established goals by clarifying role and task requirements. On the other hand, transformational leaders can have an extraordinary effect on their followers, who respond with increased levels of commitment.

Transactional and transformational leadership complement each other; they aren’t opposing approaches to getting things done. The best leaders are transactional and transformational. Transformational leadership builds on transactional leadership and produces levels of follower effort and performance beyond what transactional leadership alone can do.

But the reverse isn’t true. If you are a good transactional leader but do not have transformational qualities, you’ll likely only be a mediocre leader.

Communication Functions

Communication serves five major functions within a group or organization : management, feedback, emotional sharing, persuasion, and information exchange. Communication acts to manage member behavior in several ways.

Communication Process

Before communication can take place, it needs a purpose, a message to be conveyed between a sender and a receiver.

Modes of Communication

How do group members transfer meaning among each other ? They rely on oral, written, and nonverbal communication. But the choice between modes can greatly enhance or detract from the way the perceive reacts to the message. Certain modes are highly preferred for specific types of communication.

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