Communicatn in Organizatn Hdbd

9780029267202: Communicatn in Organizatn Hdbd

Effective advice on communication at every level in an organization, by the author of "Communications Strategies for Family Planning".

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About the Author:

Everett M. Rogers is Professor of Communication at the Institute for Communication Research at Stanford University, and the author of Communication Strategies for Family Planning and co-author, with F. Floyd Shoemaker, of Communication of Innovations.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1

The Nature of Organizational Communication

"In any exhaustive theory of organization, communication would occupy a central place."

Chester I. Barnard

"All human action takes place in a cross-fire of information."

Torsten Hägerstrand

"Communication is a good deal more talked about than understood."

Lee Thayer

The purpose of this book is to familiarize the reader with the main concepts, viewpoints, and research findings and applications in the field of organizational communication. Our focus in this book is on the ways in which organizational structure affects communication behavior, and vice. versa.

We discuss, for example, how structure can restrict communication flows, leading to problems of distortion and omission, and how solutions to these difficulties can in turn lead to information overload. The existence of informal communication behavior, typified by rumors, and of informal communication roles, such as liaisons and gatekeepers in communication networks, suggests that the formal structure in an organization far from completely determines communication behavior. Furthermore, such approaches as "office landscaping" imply that communication behavior can occasionally determine organizational structure. Instead of viewing an organization as a completely stable structure, we show how external communication across its boundary with the environment is essential to its functioning, and especially to the innovation process. Our use of open system theory directs us to emphasize information exchange with the organization's environment, as well as communication flows within the organization.

So this book is about communication, but about a rather special kind of communication, viz., that occurring in highly structured settings. Generally, communication scholars have avoided studying the way in which structure affects human interaction. Perusal of communication research literature, at least prior to the 1970s, would almost lead one to assume that social structure does not affect human communication. For example, communication theorists who postulated the S-M-C-R (Source-Message-Channel-Receiver) model and similar models of communication did not accord much importance to the nature of the social relationships between source and receiver. Perhaps this shortcoming stems from the largely psychological backgrounds of early communication scientists, who emphasized intraindividual aspects of human communication in their choice of concepts, units of analysis, and paradigms. In any case, most communication research has been conducted in a way that artificially "destructures" human behavior. The present volume seeks to correct this bias by summarizing what is presently known about communication in organizations.

The research approach of communication scientists in the past has seriously underestimated the impact of social structure on communication behavior. Social structure has often been regarded as an extraneous, bothersome influence in studies of communication behavior, and structural variables have simply been ignored. For example, in most laboratory experiments relative strangers are brought together in a transitory and artificial setting for a brief encounter. The full impact of the social relationships among participants in more real-life communication exchanges is hardly replicated. The effects of social structure on communication that were observed in laboratory studies need to be tested in organizational settings before they can be accepted as appropriate principles of organizational communication (Chapter 5).

In survey research on communication, the role of structure is usually depreciated by the research methods used. The individual is usually the unit of response and is often the unit of analysis (Coleman 1958). Such an atomistic approach ignores the relational nature of human behavior. Most communication is reciprocal and transactional, not a unidirectional flow, as most overly simplified models of human communication would seem to imply (Rogers and Bhowmik 1971).

Organization scholars, for their part, have recognized the crucial significance of communication in understanding organizational behavior, but they are more expert in studying organizational structure itself than in understanding the effects of this structure on communication (or vice versa). The intellectual separateness of communication and organization scientists has discouraged the development of organizational communication as an integrated mode of inquiry.

Our purpose here is to accord organizational communication its rightful place as a serious field of study after many years of "stepchild" treatment by communication, as well as organization, scholars. Our assumption throughout this work is that the behavior of individuals in organizations is best understood prom a communication point of view.

Communication behavior has been investigated in many kinds of organizations, ranging from industrial plants to government agencies to universities and military units, and we shall draw on research findings from these various studies in the present book. We also present a series of illustrative readings about communication behavior in organizations. The following reading shows how inadequate communication between officials and resident families helped contribute to the failure of a showcase housing project. The Pruitt-Igoe project constituted an organization by the definition we present in a following section: it was a stable system of individuals working together through a hierarchy of ranks and division of labor, and with common goals. We feel it is useful to analyze the following case from the viewpoint of communication in an organization.


Public housing for the poor is one of the most controversial social issues in the United States, ranking in the same category as racial busing of school children and welfare programs. Nowhere is the controversy better illustrated than in St. Louis's massive Pruitt-Igoe public housing project.

The project was initially conceived in the 1950s as a means of removing the poor blacks of St. Louis from their vicious cycle of unemployment, crime, poverty, disease, and rundown housing. The federal government gave $20 million toward the $36 million cost of providing the finest low-rent housing that money could buy. Minoru Yamasaki, one of America's most promising architects, was employed to design the massive project of thirty-three ,apartment buildings, each eleven stories high. Pruitt-Igoe (named after a black war hero and a local congressman) was hailed as the most progressive poor people's housing project in the United States.

Yamasaki designed the project as a series of tall brick apartment buildings with 200 feet of open space between each of them, in which children could play and adults could stroll. Each building had a series of elevators that were designed to stop only at the fourth, seventh, and tenth stories, where long galleries or walkways were located. The architect expected that these galleries would be used as community centers, for lounging and socializing and for children to play inside.

A manager/mayor was appointed who had been an army psychologist. Pruitt-Igoe was ready for business.

In October 1954, the first family, a Mr. and Mrs. Green and their four children, took up their residence. Monthly rental was only $37. Mr. Green told a newspaper reporter: "Pruitt Homes will be a swell place to live." More of the 12,000 residents began to move in. Each apartment came equipped with electric refrigerator, gas stove, and lavatory, "luxuries" unavailable to most of the new residents in their previous dwellings.

The central assumption of Pruitt-Igoe was that if an individual's environment were changed from slum conditions to a new, modern apartment complex, the individual's behavior would change accordingly.

Architect Yamasaki began to win lavish praise for his design. Architectural Forum predicted that Pruitt-Igoe would change the public housing pattern in all other cities. The skip-floor elevators and the galleries were lauded as creating "vertical neighborhoods." In the face of such praise, it was easy to forget that the residents had not been consulted at any stage in the architectural planning.

Actually, some residents, especially women, were beginning to see the galleries as "gauntlets" through which they had to pass from the elevator to their apartment door. Housewives had to survive a torrent of abuse, spitting, touching, teasing, and taunting. It was an intimidating experience for the toughest of women.

The elevators started to become very dirty. A lack of public bathrooms on the ground floor prompted hundreds of children to have "accidents" in the elevators. Youths would follow old men onto the elevators and rob and beat them, leaving their bleeding victims inside.

Rent collection became a dangerous calling, and so rents went uncollected. By 1960, St. Louis department stores refused to deliver purchases to Pruitt-Igoe residents. Western Union also refused to deliver telegrams in the project, the only address in America to be so treated. City policemen were ordered not to use their sirens in Pruitt-Igoe out of fear of a violent reaction. The open spaces between tile buildings began to fill up with broken glass and abandoned cars. Bands of razor.wielding youths roamed the area. Delivery men were fatal victims; nurses and welfare workers were raped and brutalized. Hundreds of windows were smashed, but city workmen dared not venture to repair them. During one typical 180-day period in 1968, the project had 2 murders, 10 rapes, 50 robberies, 45 cases of aggravated assault, and 103 burglaries.

Junkies tore the Copper sheeting from the building roofs to sell it to scrap dealers in order to support their drug habit. In the winter of 1971, rain from the leaking roofs froze the pipes, which then burst, leaving hundreds of apartments inches deep in ice. The stairwel...

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