SDSU Communication Case Study

Final Case Study Film- Chapter 10: Conflict

The Devil Wears Prada (2006)


10-12 pages, double spaced and a

powerpoint presentation: The final presentation is an opportunity to share your ideas with the class and gather feedback. You will present your case study in class, identifying the key concepts and theories, and describing 2-3 examples from your analysis and application.

  • A case study requires you to explore one organization and the communication that constitutes it, analyze examples using course concepts, and propose ideas and strategies for improving communication. A case study focuses on one primary research question and one organizational communication phenomenon.
  • For your final case study, you will choose an organization from a film, documentary, or your own personal life experiences to analyze. There is a list of options on Canvas, but you may choose another film, provided there are relevant examples of course concepts. You will analyze the organizational communication you’ve observed in a final case study by defining and describing examples of key concepts and theories. You should focus on one or two critical issues (or chapters) identified in your research question. For example, if you are analyzing your own personal experiences with workplace relationships at X company, you might apply concepts primarily from Chapter 5 & 6. You might ask, “How are gendered scripts reinforced in virtual work teams at X company?” In this example, “gendered work scripts” would be the communication phenomenon in question, and X company is the organizational context for the case study. You should provide enough detail and background information that someone unfamiliar with the organization or film will be able to understand the examples. Use proper APA in-text citations and references when reviewing course concepts. In this course, you do not need to use in-text citations for your personal experiences.

    Section 1: Introduction & Research Question

    Describe the importance and/or significance of the organizational communication phenomenon.

  • Research question is stated clearly and concisely, and corresponds with the analysis. The RQ should specify the organizational communication phenomenon and context.
  • Which organization is the focus of this case study? Describe the goals and functions of the organization. Why is your organization an appropriate or important site to study this phenomenon?
  • 2-3 pages, double-spaced

    Section 2: Review of Literature

    Research is synthesized thematically, not summarized individually.

    10 articles from peer-reviewed communication studies journals are cited and summarized. You can cite the textbook, which will count as one of these citations.

    in an Age of
    Issues, Reflections, Practices
    George Cheney
    Lars Thøger Christensen
    Theodore E. Zorn, Jr.
    Shiv Ganesh
    Second Edition
    in an Age of
    Second Edition
    in an Age of
    Issues, Reflections, Practices
    Second Edition
    George Cheney
    Kent State University
    Lars Thøger Christensen
    University of Southern Denmark
    Theodore E. Zorn, Jr.
    University of Waikato
    Shiv Ganesh
    University of Waikato
    Long Grove, Illinois
    For information about this book, contact:
    Waveland Press, Inc.
    4180 IL Route 83, Suite 101
    Long Grove, IL 60047-9580
    (847) 634-0081
    Cover image © 2010 Dean Ritz/PhotograFlux
    Copyright © 2011 by Waveland Press, Inc.
    10-digit ISBN 1-57766-640-2
    13-digit ISBN 978-1-57766-640-0
    All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or
    transmitted in any form or by any means without permission in writing from the publisher.
    Printed in the United States of America
    7 6 5 4 3 2 1
    This book is dedicated to our parents:
    Mary and George Cheney
    Elsa Palsov† and Svend Thøger Christensen
    Patricia DeAntonio Zorn and Theodore E. Zorn, Sr.
    Indu and Ravi Ganesh
    Preface xv
    1 Introduction
    How We Think and Talk about Organizations 2
    Popular Prescriptions 2
    Refining Perspectives 3
    Making the Invisible Visible 3
    Assessing Metaphors 4
    What Is Communication? 5
    Organizations as Communication 7
    Expanding the Boundaries 10
    Why Theory? 11
    Thinking Critically 13
    Notes 14
    2 Organizational Structure and Process
    Defining Organizational Structures 18
    Key Elements of Organizational Structure 20
    Hierarchy 20
    Differentiation and Specialization 21
    Formalization 23
    Time Orientation 23
    Advantages and Drawbacks 24
    Putting Structure and Process Together 25
    Systems, Structures, and Processes 26
    Bureaucracy: The Structure We Know Best and Like the Least 29
    Types of Authority 30
    Key Elements of Bureaucracy 31
    Advantages of Bureaucratic Structure 33
    Disadvantages of Bureaucratic Structure 33
    Searching for Alternative Organizational Structures 35
    Emergent Structures and Self-organizing Systems 38
    Snapshot Synthesis 41  Key Concepts 41  Notes 42
    viii 
    3 Rationality, Decision Making, and (Ab)Uses of Information
    The Idea of Rationality 45
    Making Management Systematic and Scientific 47
    Scientific Management 48
    Efficiency 49
    Efficiency Reconsidered 49
    Effectiveness and Efficiency 50
    Searching for “the Human Dimension” 52
    Theory X and Theory Y 52
    Decisions, Decisions 53
    Information Processing 54
    Limitations to Rationality 56
    Flow of Information 57
    Models of Group Decision Making and Communication 59
    Functional Theory 60
    Additional Perspectives on Group Decision Making 61
    Constructing Rationality 61
    Equivocality, Enactment, Selection, and Retention 62
    Garbage Can Model of Decision Making 64
    Organizational Goals and Ways to Achieve Them 64
    From Rationality to Rationalities 66
    Emotionality in Organizational Life 69
    Snapshot Synthesis 70  Key Concepts 71  Notes 72
    4 Culture, Subcultures, and Organizational Socialization
    Defining Culture 76
    Organizations as Cultures 78
    Studying Culture 80
    Thick Description 80
    Language and Narratives 83
    Culture and Communication in Organizations 86
    The “Functionalist” Perspective on Organizational Culture 86
    The “Symbolist” Perspective on Organizational Culture 88
    On Doing Culture: Reproducing and Altering Culture 92
    Organizational Climate 94
    Socialization 96
    Snapshot Synthesis 101  Key Concepts 101  Notes 102
    5 Communicating Identity Individually and Collectively
    Defining Organizational Identity 107
    Identity in Historical Context 110
    Organizational Identification 111
    Creating Identities with the Organization 112
    Unintended Consequences of Identification 115
    Multiple and Conflicting Identifications 117
    Contents 
    Challenges to Organizational Identity 120
    Struggling Just to Be Heard 120
    Blurred Boundaries 121
    Growing Stakeholder Scrutiny 123
    Managing Organizational Identity 125
    The Pursuit of Integration 126
    Organizational Identity Programs 127
    Ironies and Paradoxes in Corporate Identity Management 129
    Integration without Voice 129
    External Involvement 132
    Auto-communication and Corporate Self-absorption 132
    Snapshot Synthesis 134  Key Concepts 135  Notes 136
    6 Connecting through Social Relationships and Networks
    Workplace Relationships 141
    Social-Historical Trends in Relationships and Networks 143
    Key Elements of Relational Interaction 146
    Varieties of Organizational Relationships 152
    Changing and Reframing Relationships 160
    Communication Networks 160
    Network Analysis 161
    Communities of Practice 163
    Interorganizational Relationships 163
    The Network Organization 167
    Core Competencies 167
    Communication in Interorganizational Relationships 170
    Snapshot Synthesis 173  Key Concepts 175  Notes 176
    7 Leadership Old and New:
    Direction, Coordination, Facilitation, and Inspiration
    The Importance of Leadership 181
    What Is Leadership? 183
    The Confusion about Leadership 185
    “Visions” of Leadership in Recent History 187
    The Traits Approach 190
    Styles Approach 191
    Contingency and Situational Approaches 194
    The Constitutive Approach: Social Perception and Managing Meanings 195
    Characteristics of Contemporary Social Life and
    Their Implications for Leadership 202
    Framing: Vision, Values, and Symbolism 204
    Leadership Alternatives 207
    Snapshot Synthesis 210  Key Concepts 210  Notes 211
    x 
    8 Participation, Teams, and Democracy at Work
    A Broad Democratic Trend? 215
    Defining Our Terms 218
    Employee Participation 221
    Labor Organizing and Employee Participation 222
    Managerially Driven Programs of Employee Participation 225
    Teamwork 232
    Teams versus Groups 232
    Making Teamwork Work 233
    Supervision versus Facilitation 234
    Differences among Teams 235
    Participation: Civil Society and Volunteerism 236
    Democracy and Participation in Alternative Organizations 239
    A Case for Consideration 243
    Ironies, Paradoxes, and Limits of Work Participation and Democracy 245
    Snapshot Synthesis 247  Key Concepts 247  Notes 248
    9 Power and Control in Organizational Life
    Encountering Power 254
    The “Who” of Power 255
    The “How” of Power 257
    Sources of Power 258
    Knowledge as a Source of Power 260
    Relationships and Power 261
    Getting a Handle on Power 263
    Negotiating Power 264
    Implicit Messages about Power and Authority 264
    “Sovereign-centered” and Strategic Visions of Power 265
    Power in Messages, Interactions, and Patterns of Talk 267
    Power and the Elements of the Communication Situation 268
    Systems or Patterns of Control in the Organization 272
    Resistance 278
    Overt Forms 278
    Subtle Forms 280
    Control and Resistance as Dialectical 281
    Snapshot Synthesis 281  Key Concepts 282  Notes 283
    10 Encountering, Interpreting, and Managing Conflict:
    Harmony and Discord in Organizational Life
    The Nature of Conflict 287
    Explaining Conflict 288
    Attributions and Conflict 289
    Accounts and Conflict 292
    Discourses and Conflict 294
    Contents 
    Sources of Conflict and Communication 295
    Individual or Group Sources 295
    Macro or Cultural Sources of Conflict 296
    Conflict as a Process 297
    Ambiguity and Misunderstandings in the Conflict Process 297
    Phases of Conflict 299
    The Context of Conflict 300
    Managing Conflict 301
    Styles of Conflict 301
    Negotiation Strategies 304
    Principles and Tactics of Competitive Negotiation 305
    Collaborative Strategies 308
    Intergroup Conflict 309
    Stress, Burnout, and Support 310
    Defining Burnout and Stress 310
    Two Models of Social Support 311
    Employee Assistance Programs and Organizational Support 313
    Interorganizational Conflict 315
    Snapshot Synthesis 318  Key Concepts 319  Notes 320
    11 Organizational Change and Change-Related Communication
    What Is Change? 325
    The Ambiguity of Multiple Meanings 325
    The Dialectic of Change and Stability 326
    The Social-Historical Context of Change 327
    A Model of the Change-Related Communication Process 328
    Dimensions of Change 333
    Magnitude 333
    Type (or Substance) 333
    Intentionality 335
    Timing 336
    Impetus 336
    Popularity 336
    Control 337
    How Do We Judge the Success of Organizational Change? 338
    Communicating and Managing Change Effectively 340
    Managing Change: An Adaptive Approach 341
    Communicating Change to Employees 342
    Communicating Change to Stakeholders 344
    Strategies for Encouraging Innovation 346
    Networking and “Weak Ties” 346
    Group Process Procedures that Promote Creativity 346
    Characteristics of Organizational Culture that Encourage Innovation 347
    Responding to Change Initiatives 348
    Snapshot Synthesis 353  Key Concepts 353  Notes 354
    xii 
    12 The Meanings and Uses of
    Organizational Communication Technologies
    Understanding Communication Technologies 360
    Definitions and Etymologies 361
    Contemporary Communication Technologies 362
    Features of Communication Technologies 364
    Synchronous and Asynchronous Technologies 365
    Monitoring and Surveillance 366
    Interactivity 367
    Using Communication Technologies 369
    Perspectives on Communication Media Usage 370
    Other Influences on Media Use 372
    Interpreting the Effects of Organizational Communication Technologies 375
    First-level and Second-level Effects 377
    Other Effects: Personalness, Impersonality, and Democracy 381
    New Organizations? 383
    Snapshot Synthesis 386  Key Concepts 387  Notes 388
    13 Communicating in Global and Multicultural Contexts
    Confronting and Defining Globalization 395
    Historicizing Globalization 395
    Confronting Globalization 399
    The Global and the Local (and in between) 401
    Forces of Convergence 403
    External Forces 404
    Institutional Isomorphism 405
    Pressures (and Desires) toward Divergence 406
    Global Trends in Tension and Perspective 406
    Expanding our Ideas about Globalization 409
    A Global Reflexivity 409
    Interdependence and Risk 410
    Intercultural Communication and Diversity in Organizations 413
    Parochialism 414
    Competence 416
    Celebration of Diversity 420
    Snapshot Synthesis 420  Key Concepts 421  Notes 421
    14 Speaking of Ethics and Values in Organizations
    Coming to Terms with Ethics 429
    Why Ethical Reflections Matter 431
    Articulating Basic Values 432
    Varying Standards 434
    Ethics as a Requirement and as a Trend 435
    Ethics as a Contemporary Issue in the Communication of Organizations 437
    Teleological and Deontological Ethics 444
    Ethics of Compassion 445
    Contents 
    Thinking about and across Different Ethical Perspectives 445
    What Can Communication Add to
    Our Understanding of Ethics at Work? 448
    Language as an Ethical Choice 449
    The Role of Values in Ethics 450
    Levels Linking Communication and Ethics 451
    Postmodern Challenges to Ethics 453
    Organizational Culture and Ethics 454
    Snapshot Synthesis 456  Key Concepts 456  Notes 457
    15 Analyzing Organizational Communication
    What’s in “Communication”? 462
    Dimensions of Organizational Messages 464
    Language and Other Symbols 466
    Some Purposes/Reasons for Analyses of Communication 469
    Data Gathering 472
    Artifacts 472
    Surveys 472
    Interviews 474
    Observation 475
    Other Ways of Gathering Messages 477
    Importance of Choices in Data Gathering 480
    Data Analysis 480
    Reading Messages as a “Text” 480
    Content Analysis 482
    Features of the Language Itself 486
    Analyzing Discursive Strategies 488
    Overall Research Orientations 489
    Epilogue 492
    Notes 495
    Name Index 499
    Subject Index 503
     Why and How Did We Write This Book?
    We wrote this second edition of our text not only because the world has changed
    in many ways over the past few years but also because thinking and research about
    organizational communication have changed. Recent political, economic, and social
    events have called into question some prevailing ideas about globalization and,
    indeed, about the meanings of democracy and the market.
    As an area of study, organizational communication has rapidly expanded in the
    past two decades: in communication and sociology departments, in management
    schools, in journalism programs, and in other contexts. While the area explicitly designated “org. comm.” has had a U.S. base as well as a U.S. bias for most of its 60-year history, today many other countries are pursuing the study. Part of our enthusiasm about
    writing this textbook together came from the fact that we live in three different parts of
    the world. This gives us the opportunity to make the book truly international in scope.
    We view organizational communication as both a subdiscipline of communication
    studies and as an exciting arena for multidisciplinary investigation, recognizing influences from and on disciplines as diverse as anthropology, marketing, and literary criticism. We draw from a variety of different resources while focusing on some central
    problems and questions, such as how to develop sound and ethical leadership strategies that are inspirational and effective for both employees and external constituencies
    of a firm, agency, or social movement.
    Five overarching themes were woven through the chapters of the first edition. The
    second edition gives special attention to each of the themes in light of recent trends:
    • global and multicultural perspectives on organizational communication,
    • the interdependence of internal and external forms of organizational communication,
    • the unity of theory and practice in organizational communication,
    • critical thinking in the analysis of organizational messages and discourses, and
    • the “disciplinarity” and multidisciplinarity of organizational communication.
    We have deliberately departed from the typical chronological structure of textbooks in organizational communication; we also deviated from restricting theory to
    separate chapters. Instead, we have adopted a topical structure, where important issues
    xvi 
    in organizational communication (and the study of organizations generally) are
    addressed, with history and theory interwoven throughout the topical discussions. For
    example, our chapter on rationality (chapter 3) deals with the rise of efficiency as an
    overarching goal in industrial societies, while it also considers various theories of rationality from Weber to contemporary critiques. This is but one case where it makes little
    sense to divorce what goes on “inside” organizations from the larger cultural contexts
    in which they operate and to which they contribute. That same chapter, like the others,
    is organized around what we see as key issues or concerns in the study and practice of
    organizational communication. Likewise, we have tried not to compartmentalize issues
    of “difference”—for example, race, class, religion, gender, and sexuality. Rather, we
    bring those concerns to the forefront of discussion as valuable examples of real-world
    experiences of the issues raised. Of course, in some cases, the adoption of a gendered, or
    culturally conscious, or class-based point of view may completely reconfigure an “old”
    issue or bring an entirely new issue into view—as we explain in chapter 14 on ethics.
    When we talk about the unity of theory and practice, we really mean it. Students
    often treat “theory” as a scary word, and they’re not entirely to blame for this. In general, scholars have often failed to demonstrate just how practical theories can be and
    how practice itself contributes to theoretical development. All of us carry around theories in our heads (such as the assumptions we have about human nature), but we seldom recognize those assumptions as theories. Some of our greatest experiences in the
    classroom have been when students really engage a theory, testing it against their own
    experiences and other data, or trying to develop new theories from their lived experiences or the experiences of others. In our treatment of change, for example, we deliberately raise questions about the effects of the increasing pace of work/life on health,
    relationships, and ethical practice (see chapter 11). If we really want to understand the
    potential for new organizational forms, for example, we need to put real cases in dialogue with existing theories of organizational structure and process and then see what
    the conversation produces.
    The term “practical” also merits a bit of attention here. We hear the word all the
    time, but it’s hardly ever the case that anyone examines the different ways in which we
    mean it. Here, we’d like to suggest three levels of practice, all of which are relevant to
    the study of organizational communication. Being practical includes: (1) the development of specific, concrete skills, such as interviewing, public speaking, and smallgroup discussion; (2) the refinement of analytical and critical abilities—to solve problems successfully or to construct an effective persuasive campaign; and (3) the fostering of positive social change—for example, at the level of personal vocation, at the level
    of organizational restructuring or reorientation, or at the broader level of social betterment. This textbook is most concerned with the second and third meanings of “practical” mentioned above. However, in our discussions you will also find lots of tips and
    tools relevant to the day-to-day work of organizations. And, you can visit our Web site
    for even more of these suggestions:
    Across all of these ideas and discussions, our primary aim is to stimulate critical thinking about contemporary work and organizational life.
    “Critical thinking” appears frequently as an element in general education requirements at many universities, but few people take the time to explain what they mean by
    that term. As with communication and organization, there are multiple meanings and
    differences of opinion about its definition. For us, critical thinking means getting beyond
    the taken-for-granted assumptions about communicating with others at work and about the way
    Preface 
    we do things in organizations. We invite students to render unfamiliar what is familiar—
    like, for example, the way their university or college is structured—and to consider different, perhaps more imaginative, even more noble, ways of getting work done
    together. Despite all the emphasis on innovation, change, and cutting-edge organizations today, we find a great deal of conformity out there. We urge you to ask probing
    questions about so-called common sense, to consider your own cultural assumptions
    as strange, to treat your knowledge as hypotheses, and to investigate issues about
    work and life of interest to you. In terms of communication, critical reflection means
    looking at multiple levels of messages. For instance, we can look at a meeting in several
    ways: in terms of the agenda, what is said, what is not said, how people relate to one
    another interpersonally, how nonverbal aspects of interaction fit or don’t fit with verbal
    ones, group-level system dynamics, meeting process, and even the fact of the meeting
    itself as a “message” for those involved. Through critical reflection, a course in organizational communication can be practical in the highest sense of the word—helping all
    of us to be better citizens of this complex, crazy, delightful, and troubling world.
    We conclude our discussion of organizations with an analysis chapter that references a number of topics previously explored in the textbook. Its primary purposes are
    (1) to offer a wide perspective on methods for research and practical intervention and
    (2) to present a “tool kit” of strategies and techniques for the reader/user of this text.
    You’ll notice that we have written much of this textbook in a conversational,
    accessible style, making use of contractions, colloquial expressions, and even some
    incomplete sentences (on that last point, please do as we say and not as we do!). This
    strategy is used deliberately so that the book prompts oral presentation and discussion. When we introduce theoretical concepts and terms, we include definitions and
    illustrations so that the conversation incorporates the theory as another tool in the
    analysis. Along these lines, we welcome your suggestions for the third edition!
    Rather than proceeding historically, or geographically, or treating different perspectives, we have tried to distill what we think are the most important topics in the
    study, understanding, and practical engagement of organizations today. The introduction lays out some of our assumptions in greater detail than we have here. Subsequent
    chapters address the following issues:
    • Organizational Structure and Process
    • Rationality, Decision Making, and (Ab)Uses of Information
    • Culture, Subcultures, and Organizational Socialization
    • Communicating Identity Individually and Collectively
    • Connecting through Social Relationships and Networks
    • Leadership Old and New
    • Participation, Teams, and Democracy at Work
    • Power and Control in Organizational Life
    • Encountering, Interpreting, and Managing Conflict
    • Organizational Change and Change-Related Communication
    • The Meanings and Uses of Organizational Communication Technologies
    • Communicating in Global and Multicultural Contexts
    • Speaking of Ethics and Values in Organizations
    • Analyzing Organizational Communication
    xviii 
    In keeping with some our most cherished values—such as putting theory into
    practice and an invitational, participatory approach to communication—we have
    decided to create and offer a Web site as a forum for exchanging ideas about teaching
    and learning about organizational communication. Again, we encourage you to visit
    our Web site at Our goal is for this
    Web site to facilitate a community of practice among organizational communication
    students and teachers—both a discussion forum and a clearinghouse of tools that can
    be used in the classroom. It will also serve many of the functions of a traditional
    instructor’s guide with the added advantage of being updated continually and
    enriched by contributors.
     Acknowledgments
    George is deeply grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with Lars, Ted, and
    Shiv—and others who assisted us. Although much of our interaction was virtual, it
    was nevertheless engaging and stimulating. Also, I am grateful for many enriching
    conversations with teachers, peers, and students over the past three decades (unfortunately too numerous to detail here). In various ways, those interactions have helped to
    shape my thinking about organizational communication, and my contributions to this
    text are surely the better for them. Finally, let me offer deep thanks to Sally Planalp for
    her supreme patience as well as her love and support.
    Lars is happy to have been part of a truly interdisciplinary project that has helped
    him supply flesh and blood to the idea that internal and external forms of organizational communication really are interdependent. Working within the field of marketing and management, I am grateful for the freedom that my departments have
    provided me over the years to explore the other sides of the marketing institution,
    including its interplay with dimensions of organizational life such as identity, leadership, (ir)rationality, and change management. In addition to George, whom I’ve
    enjoyed working with on numerous projects over the years, I would like to thank my
    other great co-authors, Ted and Shiv. Finally, I’d like to thank Jette Brockstedt for her
    sweetness and support.
    Ted thanks his co-authors for the intellectual stimulation and good humor; in particular, he thanks George for coordinating and gently pushing the project along. I would
    like to thank Shiv and Lars for a fantastic week at the beach where we completed a substantial portion of our revisions. I would also like to thank my many students over the
    years for their insights and challenges and my colleagues in the Department of Management Communication at the University of Waikato for creating a wonderfully collaborative and supportive workplace that allows us to focus on work and to strive for
    excellence. Thanks most of all to Brenda and Andrea for their support and for keeping
    me grounded.
    Shiv would like to thank George, Lars, and Ted for pushing him over the years to
    think and write about scholarship and teaching and the role it plays in the world
    around us. My work on this project has helped me to appreciate how important it is to
    raise questions about the audiences we should address and how we should address
    them when we write as scholars and intellectuals. I would also like to thank my supportive colleagues at the Department of Management Communication for understanding and acknowledging the value of this project. Additionally, I’d like to
    Preface 
    acknowledge the role that a grant from the Marsden Foundation has played in pushing my understanding of relationships between organizing, advocacy and global justice, some of which I hope is evident in this second edition. And finally, I’d like to
    thank Luke van Helden for his support and companionship and for being one of my
    major links to a social world outside academics.
    We would also like to celebrate the contributions that a range of scholars actively
    engaged in studying and teaching organizational communication all over the world
    have made to this project. Most of those colleagues are acknowledged explicitly
    within the text. If we forgot anyone, please accept our apologies (and do let us know
    before the third edition!).
    We thank Dan Lair who is largely responsible for the methods chapter and who
    has contributed to the book in other ways. For the second edition, we received helpful
    suggestions from a number of colleagues, including Brenda Allen, Tim Dun, Susan
    Hafen, Greg Larson, John Llewellyn, Mary Simpson, Cynthia Stohl, and Heather Zoller. Thanks to Brenden Kendall for his careful reading of the entire manuscript before
    it went to press. His suggestions helped us to maximize the pedagogical potential of
    the text.
    Finally, we wish to say that working with Carol and Neil Rowe has been a joy,
    even when we severely challenged their concept of a deadline. Their good humor
    and encouragement as well as meticulous work provide a model of professionalism
    with grace.
    Austin, Texas, USA
    Odense, Denmark
    Hamilton, New Zealand
    • In the late 1990s, The Body Shop (a London-based company) determined that it
    had lost part of its “marketing edge.” Its emphasis on corporate social responsibility (CSR) was no longer a distinguishing feature because so many other organizations were presenting themselves exactly the same way. More recently, the
    company has been criticized for being a false leader in the CSR movement.
    • In 2000, a number of high-tech companies in India began retraining their customer service representatives in the “appropriate kind of techie talk” so that
    they would sound appealing and credible to potential clients in other countries.
    In late 2007, India began outsourcing to Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe
    some of the high-tech and customer service jobs they had secured, adding
    another twist to the intersecting issues of economy, identity, and globalization.
    • From 2003 through this writing, the growing number of private contractors
    engaged with the U.S. war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan have been embroiled in
    controversy over the question of whose interests they represent. This situation and
    many others like it call into question the boundaries between sectors of society.
    • A project team from the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation—the philanthropic
    arm of the huge pharmaceutical firm—was set up to deliver HIV medicines in
    an African village. Finding that malnutrition was preventing the drugs from
    working properly, the team then set about figuring out how to grow food at
    their project site.1
    What do these examples from three different continents have in common? In each
    case, we can see boundaries of work and organizations shifting and members of organizations choosing new ways to communicate with outside audiences and with each
    other. Organizations are changing. Some are becoming flatter and less hierarchical;
    some are becoming more responsive to their markets. Some are linking up with other
    organizations to form strategic alliances or flexible manufacturing networks. And
    some are just plain new—or so they seem—as when we look at so-called “virtual organizations.” Some organizations have become in a sense “boundaryless.”
    To understand work and organizations in today’s changing global environment,
    we must look both at what’s going on inside the organization and at the larger culture
    in which an organization operates: the economy, the current business culture, changing lifestyles and expectations, the family, consumption, and technology. In general,
    we have to get beyond the idea of an organization as something that simply “contains”
    2 
    Chapter One
    people, technologies, and work.2 In a number of respects, organizations have fluid
    boundaries, and people’s lives flow through those boundaries. So, we can’t talk about
    organizations as if they were islands and their members and activities as set apart from
    what’s going on in the larger society. The study of work and organizations becomes
    also the study of public life, the study of experience in our personal lives, and the
    study of how societies are changing—and not changing.
     How We Think and Talk about Organizations
    We know that things are not always what they seem, yet sometimes we forget how
    complex organizations are in our desire to try to put them into understandable models
    or molds. For example, it’s common today to say that we are “beyond bureaucracy”
    and that those kinds of organizations are history. We tend to look back on bureaucracy
    as some quaint relic of the past—a past when we were less enlightened than we are
    now. Bureaucracy has become such a “devil term” that no one can imagine a successful
    candidate for public office, anywhere in the world, who would argue “What we need
    is more and better bureaucracy!” Condemning bureaucracy has become so accepted
    that we’ve completely forgotten its good sides or why it developed in the first place.
    Elements of bureaucracy appeared in ancient China about 5,000 years ago, with the
    first use of written records (forerunners to our personnel files); bureaucracy gradually
    became the dominant form of organization by the middle of the twentieth century.
    Something with so lengthy a history must have satisfied some needs. At a minimum,
    we should consider its advantages while we complain about its disadvantages.3
    Bureaucracy was celebrated in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries
    for initiating standards to replace arbitrary decisions about work processes and personnel. In other words, bureaucratization was all about eliminating the roles of individual biases, whims, and uninformed preferences. But those very standards have
    their downsides: rigidity, depersonalization, and the diffusion of responsibility. When
    we look closely at what’s happening today in supposedly post-bureaucratic organizations, we find that bureaucracy continues—though perhaps in new forms or under
    new guises. For instance, newly formed teams in organizations will often reproduce
    some of the very aspects of bureaucracy that they’re trying to eliminate.4
    Popular Prescriptions
    Popular books on organizations sell best when they simplify an idea or promote
    catchphrases like teamwork, flexibility, or high-speed management.5 We all want to
    find the “Peak Performing Organization” or the “Secrets to Effective Leadership.” We
    feel a strong need to cut through all the complexity and sum up what’s going on in a
    few simple principles. We seek to be the “transformational leader” or a manager who
    “drives value.” And why not? After all, we’re awfully busy these days, and we certainly support the idea of excellence. Moreover, we have to have some guiding vision,
    some models, and some ways of organizing the zillions of priorities we face. In the
    process, we end up aligning ourselves with one trend or another—to simplify our
    decision making and to announce to the rest of the world that we’re up to date. So,
    yesterday’s corporation that pursued management by objectives and quality circles
    may well be today’s corporation that pursues enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and customer relationship management. Popular books, videos, and training
    Introduction 
    seminars keep us current with the techniques of the times. But, in an effort to be brief
    and clear, such resources often oversimplify things, and then the ideas get further simplified as they are put into practice.
    When we take a good, long look at ourselves and the organizations we’ve made, we
    find that we’re not as rational as we’d like to think we are. The customer-oriented organization may be serving customers, but it may also be fooling itself when it simply
    projects its own plans on consumers through surveys.6 There’s a lot to learn from reflecting on the ironies and contradictions associated with some dominant trend. Just because
    everyone’s jumping on a bandwagon, like reengineering in the 1990s or electronic commerce in the early 2000s, doesn’t mean your organization ought to go there. And, even if
    it does, you would do well to consider the particular circumstances of your work, your
    product or service, your goals, and the kind of organization you want to be. In trying to
    make a university more efficient by creating lots of large lecture classes and reducing the
    size of faculty and staff, we may make it dramatically less effective in terms of offering
    highly personalized educational opportunities to students. Under the slogan of “more
    competition,” a company may actually work to limit competition and to gain monopolistic control of an industry. The worker cooperative that began as fully democratic may
    find itself confronting authoritarian behavior from its leaders as they attempt to direct
    employees’ values.7 Similarly, the new computer-mediated communication practices in
    organizations can be simultaneously liberating and constraining, enabling democratic
    participation but also fostering centralized surveillance and control.8
    Refining Perspectives
    What all this suggests is that we should look at each organization and organizational problem on multiple levels and from multiple perspectives. We can take a government agency’s commitment to innovation and change seriously, but at the same
    time we can see how some of the organization’s activities seem to contradict that commitment. Alternatively, we may find that parts of the organization are changing a lot
    while others are staying pretty constant.9 In addition, we may reflect on how that
    organization’s plans and slogans are part of a larger movement that celebrates change
    over stability.10 This multidimensional view helps us understand better how change
    really operates and how our very messages about change make a difference.
    Going even further, we can consider how our ideas about change have themselves,
    well, changed. That is, how do we think about change in organizations, as compared to
    the ways previous generations thought about the same issue? If we then make comparisons across cultures, we can learn more about what we’re doing by studying the perspectives of others who might be quite different from us. Could it be that we are so
    dazed by change today that we’ve forgotten the values of continuity, loyalty, and stability? At the very least, asking this question helps us to locate our own point of view
    on the spectrum of viewpoints. After confirming, denying, or perhaps refining our
    own perspective, we can better define a problem and possible approaches to it. This is
    the practical “payoff” of critical thinking, regardless of whether we are “movers and
    shakers” or feel that the decisions that shape our lives are basically out of our hands.
    Making the Invisible Visible
    Much of this book is about getting beyond the taken-for-granted—and that
    includes not taking our own critiques for granted. When George visited Denmark in
    1993 to teach a graduate seminar on organizational communication, he assumed that
    Chapter One
    the concept of “efficiency” had a perfect corresponding translation in Danish and in
    other Nordic languages. But that was not the case. Throughout Scandinavia and in
    Finland, writers and speakers on management have simply adopted the English term.
    That led George to look a little deeper into the history of efficiency in the United States
    and elsewhere to explore both the specific meanings and the ambiguity of the term.
    Something that seemed so basic in one culture had no equivalent in another.
    When something is very familiar to us, it can become transparent. We may look
    right through it, just as we sometimes don’t see what a partner wants because we take
    him or her for granted. When a new technology is introduced into a society, it is not
    transparent. The first users of the telephone in the 1880s looked at it and were at a loss
    for what to say. Conventions for talking on the phone gradually developed around the
    world, and people forgot about the medium through which they were talking. Similarly, people would gather around the first televisions, just after 1950, sometimes
    intrigued even by the test pattern. Today, computer-mediated technologies are still a
    bit like the telephone and the TV in their early days. In the early part of the twentyfirst century, we are still “looking” at online conferencing, as customs are still emerging for its use. We’re still trying to figure out appropriate contexts and means for this
    new way of interacting; we don’t yet take it for granted.11 At the same time, certain
    norms and customs have emerged for the early adopters—those who have been using
    “social media” applications (such as blogs and wikis) on the Internet. The implementations of new media are now so rapid that the phase of strangeness and wonder is
    often quite brief.
    Assessing Metaphors
    Commonly used metaphors are another example of invisibility. As we become
    accustomed to their usage, we begin to overlook the significance of the representation.
    “Skyscraper” in English is a dead metaphor, simply because a building scraping the sky
    is no longer a novelty. “Running out of time” slips off the tongue when we’re busy or
    feel pressed by an impending deadline, yet we seldom give thought to what the meta-
    “If you’re going to go down that road, be prepared for two-way traffic.”
    © William Haefeli/The New Yorker Collection/
    4 
    Introduction 
    phor implies about time as a resource.12 Many of our metaphors—and their associated
    assumptions about life and people—go unnoticed.13
    Take, for example, the ingrained ideas of “up” and “down” in organizations.
    Think about phrases such as the “career ladder” or “her power rose yesterday.” We’re
    so accustomed to thinking in terms of up and down that we have a difficult time modeling an organization any other way—say, for example, with concentric circles. Stop to
    think about the implications of other metaphors that frequently pop up in board meetings, appraisal interviews, or hallway conversations at work: “deadwood,” “price
    war,” “reengineering,” and “whistle-blower.” What all metaphors have in common is
    that they help us to understand one thing in terms of something else.14 But every metaphor is like a flashlight beam—it illuminates some parts of a darkened room and
    leaves other areas obscured.
    Because organizations are so complex, we need metaphors to describe them. By
    far the most commonly used metaphor to characterize an organization is the machine.
    However, the organization-as-person, -as-team, -as-organism, -as-system, and -as-culture have also made their way into popular usage (see box 1.1). If your boss at work
    describes your department as “running like a well-oiled machine,” does that expression influence how he or she relates to employees and how they treat each other?15 A
    machine usually has replaceable parts, lacks feeling, isn’t very adaptable or changeable, and doesn’t have the capacity to think for itself (although recent developments in
    computer technologies challenge these assumptions somewhat). Yet, it’s easy to see
    why we find the machine metaphor appealing for organizations, and the metaphor
    fits well with the model of bureaucracy described by Max Weber at the beginning of
    the twentieth century.16 Several years ago, one of our students pointed out a real
    advantage of the machine metaphor at work for the employee who doesn’t want to get
    too involved with the organization. The machine metaphor suggests that the personas-part can be left alone, as long as she is doing her job—unlike the family metaphor
    that implies a constant bond. A machine part isn’t bound to the organization in a deep
    or lasting way. This implication of the machine metaphor is often overlooked.
     What Is Communication?
    We use metaphors to describe the communication process—often to simplify our
    understanding of it—but useful simplifications can also get us into trouble. Think of
    how often we conceive of communication in terms of the simple transmission of information, as if we were packaging up ideas and then giving them to others like a
    present.17 We use this metaphor for communication when we talk about “getting my
    idea across to her” or “sending them some information.” The transmission-oriented
    view of communication makes good sense, and it does explain an important aspect of
    our dealings with others. But it does not account for the subtleties and complexities of
    the larger process by which we make sense of our world, relate to one another, exert
    influence, maintain cultures, and sometimes affect the course of human events.
    Today’s leaders in business, government, and the nonprofit sector see communication as important—even if they have dissimilar definitions of the term. A 2004 Watson Wyatt Worldwide survey made an interesting observation. It concluded that
    “communication is like . . . exercise” in that it has to be maintained to be effective and
    make a difference. The report highlighted the following benefits of improved communication in an organization:
    6 
    Chapter One
    • Employees feel connected to the business and understand how their actions can
    support it.
    • New employees exhibit solid connections to the company culture from their initial days on the job.
    • Communication quickly connects employees to changing business challenges,
    facilitating quicker adjustments to fluctuating market conditions.
    • Management effectively connects with employees through strong leadership
    during organizational change.18
    Box 1.1
    • Standard metaphor—one whole in terms of another whole (“the human machine”; “the corporate jungle”; “time is money”; “my boss is a snake”)
    • Synecdoche—a part for the whole or the whole for a part (“the White House announced today”;
    “the hospital failed to revive him”)
    • Metonymy—reference to something by naming an attribute or associated item (“hungry
    mouths to feed”; “the ham sandwich is waiting for his check”; “she likes to read J. K. Rowling”)
    • Personification—attributing human qualities to an abstraction (“life has cheated me”; “the
    company is kind”; “corporate character”)
    Metaphors commonly applied to organizations are:
    • The organization as an organism (which is actually the root of the term organization)
    • The corporation as a person (that is, its legal status in many industrialized nations, since the 1880s)
    • The organization as a machine (the most common metaphor in theories and writings about
    • Business as war (common practice)
    • A profession as a game (a cynical way of talking)
    • The world of work as a network (emphasizing strategy and connections)
    • The office as a family (highlighting intimacy and interdependence but perhaps also control)
    • Corporate culture (popular since the early 1980s)
    • Team (all the rage in the 1990s)
    Some alternative metaphors for organizational life include the following. What are the advantages and disadvantages of seeing an organization this way?
    Political Arena
    Story, Narrative, or Saga
    Expeditionary Team
    Spider Plant
    Garbage Can
    Think of your own metaphor for organizations. What kinds of organizations or situations does
    your metaphor help to explain best? What does your metaphor overlook? How might your metaphor
    be useful in a practical way—say, for example, in a meeting?
    Introduction 
    Box 1.2
    Metaphors for Communication19
    There are a number of ways to conceive of that thing we call “communication.” In part, we
    need metaphors to describe it because it’s so complex. Also, we are surrounded by communication and are to some extent products of communication. To talk about communication is like asking a fish to comment on the water! Still, it’s interesting to see how we try to capture
    communication and what various metaphors we use to tell us about ourselves and our relationships to others.
    Some of the metaphors we use to describe organizational communication, along with their
    associated terms, are:
    • conduit (e.g., container, transmission, line, tool, object)
    • lens (e.g., eye, scanning, filtering, distortion)
    • linkage (e.g., relationships, connections, networks, patterns, cliques, isolates)
    • performance(e.g., drama, episode, display, ritual, role, audience, actor)
    • symbol (e.g., representations, artifacts, narratives, shared meaning)
    • voice (e.g., chorus, expression and suppression, participation)
    • discourse (e.g., language, conversation, text, “reading”)
    Some of these metaphors (like “voice”) appear explicitly in everyday talk, but others (like “discourse”) may not. Still, every one of them is reflected to some extent in the way people treat communication in organizations. Consider, for example, how a union’s request for representation on a
    particular management committee embodies the “voice” metaphor for communication. Or, think
    of how a company picnic can be an important symbol of camaraderie at work.
    Can you identify other examples of the various metaphors from your own organizational experience?
    Think about the seemingly simple process of sending a memo. We often forget
    that the memo can only be understood in terms of a larger context of messages and
    that the persons sending and receiving the memoranda may well bring their own histories to bear on the situation. So, what the sender thinks is a simple matter of, say,
    introducing an idea for a new project may be perceived by the receiver as an attempt
    to take control of the situation and thus increase the sender’s power. If the message is
    transmitted by e-mail and copied to the whole department—as George found to be
    common practice with reprimands in a city government organization a few years
    ago—the process becomes more complicated. Some of the receivers may ignore the
    sender’s request for further discussion. This leads the sender to talk up her idea even
    more, and the spiral continues. This is just one example of how our everyday understanding of communication needs to be broadened beyond simple transmission in
    order for us to get a grip on all that’s going on when people relate to one another at
    work and in other organizational settings.
    Organizations as Communication
    When we really come to terms with what an organization is, we find that much of
    it is communication. In a sense the organization exists as a pattern or network of energies and interactions—not only the identifiable memos or meetings but also an entire
    fabric of relationships. In fact, when we speak of organizational communication, we
    8 
    Chapter One
    mean to include a whole array of things, such as symbols, messages, interactions, relationships, networks, and larger discourses. The communication of an organization is
    something we “step into” like the flow of a river but also contribute to as we affect that
    flow or throw something into the stream. (Notice how we cannot escape metaphor!)
    This understanding of communication is exactly why management theorist Chester Barnard chose to define the organization as “a system of consciously coordinated
    activities or forces of two or more persons.”20 Organizations are not simply things
    (like a corporation’s headquarters) or abstractions (like the idea of a multinational
    governmental agency, such as the World Trade Organization), although organizations
    have both of these elements. So, a university is neither the actual, physical campus
    where many classes are held nor is it the sum of the people who work in it. Instead, it
    is a complex system of symbols, messages, efforts, and activities—a network of contributions from its members and from people and groups outside of its boundaries.
    An organization’s efforts are directed at specific goals—such as making cars, educating students, providing sound health care, serving the needs of disadvantaged segments
    of society, governing a nation, matching up singles, selling magazine subscriptions, creating new software, coordinating a sports league, and so on. In all these cases, a network
    of relationships and messages enables those specific goals to be achieved.
    Organizations are all around us, and we are often working with them and through
    them. We are used to big corporations and government agencies, to political parties and
    religious denominations, to health clubs and labor unions, to charities and social movements. It’s natural to see organizations as solid—that is, as discrete, definable things,
    having boundaries we can see and touch—because that’s the way they appear to us
    much of the time and that’s the way any self-interested organization wants to be seen.
    When the Wizard of Oz is revealed near the end of the film by the same name, he says,
    “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain! I am the great and powerful Oz!” He’s
    asking Dorothy and her friends to focus on the image of something bigger—and, in a
    way there is something bigger because people have been acting on that assumption. So
    it is with organizations. Banks have traditionally built solid, heavy stone buildings in
    antique architectural styles to create the appearance of permanence and stability.21
    But, here’s the rub: once we get together to form a club, or a corporation, or a religion, we create something new. We have both an easy and a hard time comprehending
    organizations because, on the one hand, they are products of our efforts and, on the
    other hand, they take on lives of their own (see box 1.3). When we form a new campus
    club, we want it to have influence, and we hope to see it last. But if the organization
    starts to drift away from our original purposes or take on trappings of formality and
    status that we founders don’t like, we say that “the club is no longer ours”; that “things
    aren’t what they used to be”; that “it’s time to move on to something else.” This problem points to one of the most basic issues in the social sciences and humanities: how to
    reconcile large-scale social forces with individual capacities to act in a certain way.22
    The picture becomes even more complex when we think about the effects of new
    technologies on organizations. Individuals now have the tools to accomplish what
    previously required the resources of an organization. Collecting signatures for a petition used to require an organized plan for sending personnel to blanket a geographic
    area. When was the last time you signed up for something after personal contact? In
    contrast, when was the last time you received an e-mail about an issue important to a
    friend or checked Web sites about topics that interest you? Individuals can perform
    more and more tasks formerly associated with organizations using new communica-
    Introduction 
    tion technologies—such as disseminating information or collecting online signatures—because it costs less and takes less effort. What then happens to organizations
    themselves? Do they die, or do they change into something completely different?
    Box 1.3
    The Power of Metaphor in Practice: Corporations: Just Like You and Me?23
    Dean Ritz
    Two court decisions in the U.S. radically altered the traditional view that corporations were creations of state legislation—legal fictions granted privileges yet existing under strict public control.
    The first decision declared corporate charters to be contracts between a state government and
    the human incorporators and thus protected by the Contracts clause of the U.S. Constitution and
    no longer subject to unilateral modification by a legislature. The second decision granted corporations legal personhood.24 Together these had profound implications for the power dynamics
    between people, governance, and corporations. Over time, U.S. corporations relied on these two
    court victories to win additional Constitutional rights including equal protection, due process,25
    search and seizure protections,26 free speech,27 and even negative free speech.28
    The logic asserted by corporations was that the Constitutional rights of individual persons do
    not vanish when they act in groups of persons. Therefore, denying them to corporations is tantamount to denying them to their constituent parts, specifically the natural persons who are their
    owners. Few question rights for persons, but what are the implications of providing and then
    expanding rights to corporations?29
    The government, in its role of protecting rights, became the protector of corporations. With
    the Constitution now on their side, corporations succeeded in challenging hundreds of state laws
    that had controlled corporate activities. Silence corporations on political issues? That violates corporations’ free speech rights.30 More stringent labeling laws for food? That violates corporations’
    negative free speech rights. Surprise safety inspections? That violates a corporation’s right to privacy.31 The exercise of legislative authority over corporations, which had been the practice in the
    United States for over 100 years, was rapidly replaced with court battles. Today lawyers argue the
    extent of corporate rights claims (e.g., how much corporations may spend on candidate and issue
    advocacy in an election) but rarely question the fundamental legitimacy of these claims
    grounded in corporate personhood.
    Rights not only protect, they also empower. Another decision declared money to be a form of
    protected political speech, and corporations used the right to promote new laws.32 Is it a surprise
    that prison corporations lobby for mandatory sentencing laws and resource extraction corporations push for weaker environmental protections? It is good for their business. But when, if ever,
    should corporate interests be superior to those of the general public? And, in the realm of largely
    private speech, how can we discern “the public interest” and who is representing it?
    Conflicting claims of authority impact the workplace, too. Employees do not usually enjoy free
    speech or freedom of association in the workplace. Corporations, on the other hand, can have
    employees urinate into cups for drug testing. How are these power differentials justified on legal,
    ethical, or practical levels? The status of corporations as persons evolved over decades of great
    flux about the nature of institutions and democracy, specifically the responsibilities and liabilities
    between people, the corporate entity, corporate directors, and shareholders.33 Today, many
    social justice organizations have redirected their campaigns away from challenging corporate
    harms one-at-a-time and toward challenging the corporate claims of rights and authority.34
    Think of how far-reaching the metaphor of the corporate person has become. What aspects of this
    metaphor do you think are beneficial—for example, in the diffusion of financial liability? What
    aspects are harmful to individuals or to society as a whole?
    10 
    Chapter One
    Expanding the Boundaries
    No organization is an island; as a matter of fact, none ever were. For a long time, it
    made sense and was certainly more convenient to think about or talk about distinct
    organizations as having definite boundaries and “containing” people, technologies,
    and messages. This view is challenged daily as organizations assume new forms to
    adapt to rapidly changing environments and markets.
    We’ve briefly looked at what is meant by “organizational communication.” As an
    area of study, organizational communication grew up with management, organizational behavior, and the human relations movement (roughly from 1930 to 1970).
    Thus, questions that were asked early in the field’s development were aimed at
    describing in general terms how communication operates within an organization.
    There was, and continues to be, a strong concern for practical outcomes. Some important questions have been:
    • What effects do downward-directed organizational messages have on employees? (1940s)
    • What is the relationship between the attitudes and performance of workers and
    the feedback they receive from their supervisors? (1950s)
    • What is the relationship between subordinates’ job-related attitudes and productivity and the extent to which they perceive that they participate in decision
    making? (1960s)
    • What are the keys to healthy organizational climates?
    These kinds of questions are still being explored, and their answers are not easy.
    The study of organizational communication today means more than just channels and
    messages and relationships within an organization—important as those things are.35
    Communication is now understood to be much more than discrete messages that we
    can isolate and examine. And organizational communication research is being conducted far beyond the boundaries of the United States. A small sampling of current
    organizational communication research questions illustrates our points vividly:
    • How do organizations with no center or headquarters or office maintain the
    mutual understanding, group cohesion, and individual commitment necessary
    for success?
    • In what ways do certain practices in the leadership of many avowedly democratic organizations undermine the very values embodied in the visions and
    values of such organizations?
    • How do certain discourses (or patterned ways of seeing and talking) about the customer infuse organizational activities with both advantages and disadvantages?
    • How do organizations imitate one another, both within and across industries,
    all in an effort to be “different,” “cutting edge,” and “flexible”?
    • How do certain symbols, stories, and myths take hold in an organization, a
    community, or a market, and how are such narratives used to establish identities and control over members by organizations?
    • How do organizations enable and constrain individuals as they attempt to juggle their job (or jobs) with commitments at home, voluntary organizations, and
    other social institutions, and how do individuals co-construct their well-being
    in various organizational milieus?
    Introduction 
    • In what ways is the rationality of organizations something that is constructed
    and projected by them—for example, when businesses all engage in surveys,
    forecasting, and future studies only to ignore those reports and do what they
    wanted to do in the first place?
    • How are leadership and control enacted at the work-group level, particularly in
    organizations where leadership is understood to be shared and the supervisor
    has become a facilitator?
    • How is emotional expression understood, proscribed, and “managed” in a variety of work settings, and with respect to different cultures?
    • How do new communication technologies—such as blogs, wikis, and social
    networking sites—enable and constrain participation in organizational decision making?
     Why Theory?
    What is theory, and why is it important to us? Kurt Lewin, a German-American
    social psychologist (who conducted research on groups and organizations in the middle of the twentieth century), believed that “there’s nothing so practical as a good theory.”36 What did he mean, really, by this slogan? Theory can be thought of as
    generalizing across different situations or cases or, for our purposes, organizations.
    Formal theories are what researchers develop over time to make sense of various
    aspects of the world.
    While sometimes very abstract, every theory can be tied to real cases or examples.
    Researchers don’t have a formal or scientific theory of Microsoft, or of the Church of
    Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or of The European Parliament, but researchers
    might develop a theory of some dimension of organizations—say, about an organization’s mission—that would apply to all three of these organizations. (In some cases, of
    course, it might actually make sense to speak of a “theory” of one organization, if that
    organization is large enough and spans time and space. Thus, we have lots of theories
    about how the U.S. or French or British governments work.)
    So, theory takes us beyond particulars toward universals—or at least toward
    speaking more generally about various cases. In this sense, theory is a useful tool. It
    can be used more than once. It keeps us from having to start all over again in our
    understanding of the world, each time we face something new. Also, a theory can be a
    tool for predicting trends (take, for example, a theory of organizational strategy), or
    for making sense of lots of things going on simultaneously (for instance, a theory of
    multiple goals), or for deciding the best course of action (e.g., a theory of decision
    making). That’s why good theory is so practical. Max Weber’s theory of bureaucracy,
    for example, continues to help us explain the promises and pitfalls of many different
    types of organizations—from governmental agencies to religious denominations to
    labor unions (as we will discuss more fully in the next chapter).
    So, what other things do theories about organizational communication “say”?
    What issues do they deal with? Listed below are several questions that theories about
    organizational communication try to answer:
    • What happens when people come together to create a new organization?
    • How can the members of an organization work effectively together?
    12 
    Chapter One
    • How should an organization be governed, led, and managed?
    • How do stated organizational values relate to values reflected in organizational practices?
    • How do organizations relate to one another and within and between sectors
    of society?
    • What is “good” organizational communication?
    • What groups are excluded by any particular theory or model of organization?
    • How do new ideas about management spread through organizations, industries, and the world?
    • How is “common sense” about organizational practice shaped by the media
    and by the people we spend time with?
    • How can organizational effectiveness be tied to the betterment of society?
    These are not new questions but enduring ones. They resurface in most of the societies
    of the world. Today, more than ever, we’re asking ourselves these kinds of questions
    as we reconsider how best to work together, to solve problems, and to maintain some
    semblance of community in a fast-changing world.
    We all carry around theories with us, even though we don’t always call them that.
    Each of us has a theory of love, of friendship, of money, of power, etc. We use these
    frameworks of understanding, sometimes called lay theories or implicit theories, to
    approach situations so that we don’t have to start from scratch with new ideas all the
    time. Thus, you may have a lay theory of work or education. And that theory may or
    may not correspond with some formal theory that researchers have written about.
    Think about what you see as a good or effective organization. When have your
    basic understandings of how organizations work been challenged by specific experiences? That is, when have you learned something new about organizations because
    one of your experiences didn’t fit your preconceptions—your own theory of organizations? For example, if you work with the assumption that the best kind of leadership
    is charismatic, you may find that idea challenged when you observe that your club
    has become too dependent on its charismatic founder. You notice that all the members
    of the club wait to see what the leader’s “word” will be on any issue, and they all try
    very hard to please her. Seeing the limitations of charismatic leadership may lead to
    modifications of your theory to allow for other forms of leadership.
    How do you define theory? What should a good theory do—what criteria should
    it meet? Can you think of an existing theory that you find especially appealing or
    valuable? Here are some qualities of a good theory:
    • internally consistent and coherent;
    • explanatory in many different situations;
    • understandable or accessible to many people;
    • simple and straightforward, not cumbersome;
    • provocative, inspiring further research and debate;
    • relevant to different cultures and historical periods;
    • useful as a tool of application in daily life;
    • suggestive of answers to basic human questions; and
    • capable of being challenged and/or modified to accommodate new information.
    Introduction 
    Throughout this book, as we consider different theories and perspectives on organizational communication, we will revisit these criteria. We urge you to use them to
    determine whether perspectives presented are accurate and reasonable.
     Thinking Critically
    © Jack Ziegler/The New Yorker Collection/
    Theories and practice should be in conversation with one another. Just as certain
    theories may develop out of practice, certain practices can be informed by our theories. We may learn a lot about leadership from participating in work teams, but we can
    also try to apply different models of leadership when offered opportunities to lead.
    Interestingly, our practice sometimes prevents us from seeing the larger picture (the
    forest for the trees, if you will). That’s another reason why theories are useful—they
    allow us the freedom not to get too immersed in day-to-day practicalities and to
    understand similarities and differences across situations.
    We can translate theories from one domain to another, in an effort to be more creative in our approaches to organizations. In a way, this happens in everyday life, quite
    apart from what researchers are doing. Recently, for example, we can see how some
    religious institutions are behaving more like businesses, with the use of sophisticated
    marketing and public relations strategies. Conversely, lots of businesses are behaving
    more like religions, as they emphasize missions, values, and ethics. In this case, practical developments in the real world challenge our traditional theories and encourage us
    to explore old organizational models in new ways. This is exactly the kind of creative
    exploration that we encourage you to do as you move through the rest of our textbook.
    14 
    Chapter One
    Box 1.4
    Current Trends in Work, Business, Organizations, and Societies
    • Globalization of trade and economic interrelationships, along with changes in domestic economies
    • Increasing influence of transnational corporations on domestic economies and domestic policies
    • Increasing professionalization and commercialization of historically nonprofit sectors
    • Shrinking government roles in welfare and development across the world with resulting
    increase in nonprofit organizations filling the gaps
    • Stronger linkages among various activist groups around the world
    • Rapid advance of communications and computer technologies, with a strong emphasis on creating, accessing, sharing, and controlling information
    • Increasing pressure on organizations (public as well as private) to be transparent and accountable vis-à-vis the general public
    • Growing concern for customer/consumer service in all sectors, especially in terms of the marketing function and the marketing organization
    • Streamlining of organizational structures, with attendant downsizing, hierarchical flattening,
    attempts at de-bureaucratization, etc.
    • Team-based restructuring and reengineering of work processes through a variety of popular
    programs (e.g., TQM, Kaizen, SDWTs, etc.)
    • Tighter linkage between internal organizational affairs and external ones; integration of communications functions: e.g., linkage of public relations to employee relations, and both of
    those to identity management
    • Emergence of complex interorganizational relationships: joint ventures, strategic alliances,
    network structures, “adhocracies,” and flexible manufacturing networks
    • Lengthening work weeks in many nations and shortening weeks in others
    • Heightened work intensity37 and stress with both new work responsibilities and multiple tasks;
    “entrepreneurship” on the job along with greater monitoring of work (especially electronically)
    • Increasing reliance by organizations on outsourcing (contract-based, project-based, temporary and part-time employment), stressing organizational and individual flexibility and adaptability (with many people becoming “free agents”)
    • Confronting issues of diversity, including recognition of changes in composition of workforce,
    emergence of international and domestic organizations with diverse workforces, and the pursuit of various approaches to “diversity management”
    • Increased role of the Internet, with new information sources, virtual teams and virtual organizations, opportunities to telecommute, and network/community participation
    • The rise of business for social responsibility, environmental sustainability, and “green marketing”—in both sincere and cynical forms
    This example is cited in J. D. Sachs, Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet (New York: Penguin
    Press, 2008) p. 319.
    See, for example, George Cheney and Lars Thøger Christensen, “Organizational Identity: Linkages
    between Internal and External Communication,” in The New Handbook of Organizational Communication:
    Advances in Theory, Research and Methods, ed. Linda L. Putnam and Fredric M. Jablin (Thousand Oaks, CA:
    Introduction 
    Sage, 2001) pp. 231–269; Ruth Smith, “Images of Organizational Communication: Root Metaphors of the
    Organization-Communication Relation,” paper presented at the annual meeting of the International
    Communication Association, May 1983, Washington, D.C.; and James R. Taylor, Rethinking the Theory of
    Organizational Communication: How to Read an Organization (Norwood, NJ: Ablex, 1993).
    Max Weber, Economy and Society, ed. and trans. Guenther Roth and Claus Wittich (Berkeley: University of
    California Press, 1978).
    James R. Barker, “Tightening the Iron Cage: Concertive Control in the Self-managing Organization,”
    Administrative Science Quarterly 38 (1993): 408–437; and Graham Sewell, “The Discipline of Teams: The
    Control of Team-based Industrial Work through Electronic and Peer Surveillance,” Administrative Science
    Quarterly 43 (1998): 397–428.
    Donald Cushman and Sarah King, “High Speed Management: A Revolution in Organizational Communication in the 1990s,” Communication Yearbook 16 (1993): 209–236.
    For an explanation of this point in reference to the field of marketing, see Lars Thøger Christensen, “Buffering Organizational Identity in the Marketing Culture,” Organization Studies 16.4 (1995): 651–672.
    See Theodore E. Zorn, “The Uncooperative Cooperative,” in Case Studies in Organizational Communication
    2: Perspectives on Contemporary Work Life, ed. Beverly D. Sypher (New York: Guilford, 1997) pp. 312–336.
    For an interesting discussion of assumptions about and effects of new technologies in organizations, see
    Joseph Walther, “Computer-mediated Communication: Impersonal, Interpersonal, and Hyperpersonal
    Interaction,” Communication Research 23 (1996): 3–43.
    Theodore E. Zorn, Lars Thøger Christensen, and George Cheney, Do We Really Want Constant Change?
    (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 1999).
    Richard Sennett, The Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism (New
    York: Norton, 1998).
    See, e.g., John Seely Brown, The Social Life of Information (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2000).
    George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live By (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980).
    Susan Koch and Stanley Deetz, “Metaphor Analysis of Social Reality in Organizations,” Journal of Applied
    Communication Research 9 (1981): 1–15.
    Lakoff and Johnson, Metaphors We Live By.
    Gareth Morgan, Images of Organizations, 2nd ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1997).
    Weber, Economy and Society.
    Stephen R. Axley, “Managerial and Organizational Communication in Terms of the Conduit Metaphor,”
    Academy of Management Review 9 (1984): 428–437.
    Watson Wyatt. Connecting Organizational Communication to Financial Performance—2003/2004 Communication ROI Study™.
    Thomson Gale & Goliath (2004) Pay for Performance Report
    Linda L. Putnam, Nelson Phillips, and Pamela Chapman, “Metaphors of Communication and Organization,” in Handbook of Organization Studies, ed. Stewart R. Clegg, Cynthia Hardy, and Walter R. Nord (London: Sage, 1996) pp. 375–408.
    Chester I. Barnard, The Functions of the Executive, 30th anniv. ed. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
    Press, 1968) p. 72.
    For a provocative treatment of the rise of the modern organization, see James S. Coleman, Power and the
    Structure of Society (New York: Norton, 1974).
    For a thorough discussion of the structure-versus-agency problem in social theory, see Anthony Giddens,
    The Constitution of Society (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984).
    Adapted from Dean Ritz, ed., Defying Corporations, Defining Democracy (New York: Apex, 2001). If you’re
    interested in this topic, a recent, popular book is The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power
    by Joel Bakan (New York: Free Press, 2005). A documentary film based on the book is also available.
    Dartmouth College v. Woodward 17 U.S. 518 (1819); Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, 118 U.S.
    396, 1886. This “right” was granted in a simple statement made by the Chief Justice prior to the hearing.
    In 1949 Justice Douglas commented on this grant of corporate personhood: “There was no history, logic
    or reason given to support that view nor was the result so obvious that exposition was unnecessary.”
    See Minneapolis & St. Louis Railroad Co. v. Beckwith, 129 U.S. 26, 1889, for 14th Amendment due process
    protections; see Noble v. Union River Logging, 1893 for 5th Amendment due process protections.
    See Hale v. Henkel, 201 U.S. 43, 1906.
    Virginia Board of Pharmacy v. Virginia Consumer Council, 425 U.S. 748, 1976.
    International Dairy Foods Association v. Amestoy, 92 F.3d 67, 2nd Cir., 1996. The Supreme Court overturned a
    Vermont law requiring the labeling of all products containing bovine growth hormone. The right not to
    16 
    Chapter One
    speak inheres in political and commercial speech alike and extends to statements of fact as well as statements of opinion.
    It is interesting to note that corporations received substantive constitutional rights before women, blacks,
    and native Americans (rights are still denied to immigrants, children, criminals, and the insane). It took
    longer for these natural persons to acquire them because they had to be secured through constitutional
    amendments. Corporations on the other hand, acquired rights through comparatively quick adjudication
    in federal courts.
    Virginia Board of Pharmacy v. Virginia Consumer Council, 425 U.S. 748, 1976.
    See v. City of Seattle, 387 U.S. 541, 1967.
    First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, 435 U.S. 765 (1978).
    See Morton J. Horwitz, The Transformation of American Law, 1870–1960: The Crisis of Legal Orthodoxy (New
    York: Oxford University Press, 1992). See also Martin J. Sklar, The Corporate Reconstruction of American Capitalism, 1890–1916 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988).
    As examples see organization Web sites for the Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy
    (, Rainforest Action Network (, and the National Lawyers Guild
    ( Some local governments have asserted their authority over corporations by outlawing
    corporate-owned farms. As examples see the work of Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund
    (, and the Northern Plains Resource Council ( In 2000 the city of Point
    Arena, California, passed a nonbinding resolution declaring its opposition to corporate personhood.
    For one review of past and then-emergent trends in organizational communication research, see Linda L.
    Putnam and George Cheney, “Organizational Communication: Historical Development and Future
    Directions,” in Speech Communication in the Twentieth Century, ed. Thomas W. Benson (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1985) pp. 130–156.
    Kurt Lewin, Field Theory in Social Science (New York: Harper, 1951).
    Francis Green, “Why Has Work Effort Become More Intense? Industrial Relations 43 (2004): 709–741.
    Organizational Structure
    and Process
    Draw a picture of an organization you’re very familiar with—perhaps where
    you’ve worked or where you’ve been a member. If you can’t think of another example,
    use your college or university. What does the organization look like to you? What are
    its main features? What “holds the organization together”? What is “solid” or sure
    about the organization? What parts of the organization are “fuzzier,” meaning more
    fluid or more changeable? Where do you locate yourself and how do you represent
    your role in the organization? Is your picture a “snapshot” of the organization at one
    specific time, or does it capture some of the process of participants working together
    over time? These questions are fun to ask, but they also get at deeper and more important questions about the life of any organization. In our consulting, we have used this
    exercise with members at all levels of organizations. It’s a good way to prompt discussion in an interview because, as you draw the organization, you are forced to put
    some things in the foreground and other things in the background. Also, the resulting
    picture may reveal a lot about how the organization is functioning—or not, as the case
    may be.
    For example, a few years ago one of George’s interviewees in a consulting project
    drew his organization as a set of camps, with quite a bit of distance between and
    fences separating them. Members lived in tents, and the camps were transient. Very
    occasionally a member of one camp would drift into another; these drifters were not
    well received and were regarded as strangers. This picture said a lot about how the
    interviewee understood work and life in the organization. Departments and project
    groups were not well integrated; there were walls or obstacles between them; the
    groups were insular; the relative locations of the groups with respect to one another
    changed continuously; there was little stability in group members’ work experiences;
    and the overall shape of the organization was subject to constant revision. Now, this
    was just one member’s picture of the organization. By putting it together with the
    drawings of many other organizational members, one could see and understand
    much better where individuals’ perceptions differed and what they had in common.
    With this simple exercise, we can begin to learn more about two of the most basic
    dimensions of any organization: structure and process.
    18 
    Chapter Two
     Defining Organizational Structures
    What do we mean by structure in specific terms? A tall building or the human
    body offer two very different but equally illustrative examples. Consider the structure
    of a skyscraper. We might conceive of the structure as the architecture of the building—
    the main parts that make the building what it is and hold it together. But that says
    nothing about what’s going on inside the building or its relations to the surroundings.
    The same is true of the human body. We can discuss the basic structures of the human
    body, the contours of it. We can see skin, for example, as something of a container for
    the body. We can talk about the skeletal system, the muscular system, and various
    other systems of the human body. But if we just describe the body in structural terms,
    we haven’t said much about the processes going on inside these different systems—let
    alone what’s occurring beyond the body’s boundaries. In the remainder of this chapter,
    we are going to be talking about the relationship between organizational structure and
    process: what the terms mean, how they are interdependent, and what their influences
    are on the practical problems we face in contemporary organizational life.
    In one sense, structure refers to the solid parts of an organization—the framework
    that gives the organization a shape, not just at this moment but also over time. An
    organizational chart gives us a snapshot of the organization’s structure, at least in
    terms of different members’ positions, various departments, and the lines of authority
    or chain of command. We know that the organizational chart is not the whole story,
    but we also sense that it’s important. It gives us an idea of what to expect in terms of
    how the organization and its members fit together (and “where I am” in the overall
    scheme of things). In this way, the creation of a new part of an organization, like an
    ethics office, represents a change in structure that also speaks symbolically about what
    the organization is and what it cares about.
    More specifically, the structure of an organization includes those aspects of an organization that are pre-specified for a given situation. So, the agenda of a meeting gives structure to a group’s discussion by laying out expectations of topics and goals and
    relevant pieces of information. As organizational communication researcher Bob
    McPhee (see box 2.1) explains, structure often becomes a substitute for spontaneous or
    unplanned communication.1 In this way, we can think of structure as a kind of communication shortcut, a stand-in for a more elaborate process.
    What we perceive as structure in any group or organization was at some time
    decided upon and put in place. In other words, organizational structures emerge from
    communication processes and might, in turn, replace future communication processes. Today’s rules and regulations were not given to the founding members of the
    organization. Even the technologies that shape how we do work emerged from decisions made by individuals and groups. After decisions have been reached, components of the organization seem more solid. Established patterns shape or govern
    behavior. Once the types of issues to be discussed at regular staff meetings are determined, they become part of the structure for future interaction and communication at
    work. The structure works like an icon on the computer desktop or a link on the Internet—a shortcut. The icon takes you to the program; the structure eliminates the necessity to repeat discussions at every meeting. This is both good and bad, as we will see.
    Structure gives shape to our actions over time. If we know that every week at our
    staff meeting we’ll discuss recent expenditures, then we don’t need to decide each
    time to add budget discussions to the agenda. The meeting’s format becomes predict-
    Organizational Structure and Process 
    Box 2.1
    Functions of Organizational Communication Structures2
    Organizational structures serve a number of functions and have a variety of effects, some welcome and some unwelcome.
    • A general point of reference: e.g., Max Weber’s model of bureaucracy, which is the most commonly applied model of organizational structure
    • An information-processing mechanism: e.g., a standard operating procedure that helps an
    employee deal with a new piece of information
    • A system form: e.g., an open systems model of organizations that sees the many parts of an
    organization as interconnected in certain ways
    • A resource for power: e.g., an agenda that precludes discussions that might challenge the powers that be
    • A carrier of beliefs and attitudes that the individual carries around: e.g., a lay theory about “how
    organizations work” that structures one’s management approach
    • A set of rules with unintended, negative consequences: e.g., rewarding A, while hoping for B
    • Something enacted or continually accomplished: e.g., confirming an agenda or justifying a decision
    • Something constraining, something to be resisted, or something to overcome, e.g., the chain of
    command, which may prevent an employee from talking directly to the boss’s boss
    able, reliable, and perhaps even ritualistic. Established structures like regular agendas
    often bypass the need for elaborate conversations or discussions. Structures save us
    time and trouble, while they help us build on past experience. In this sense, structures
    substitute for communication. We don’t need to revisit discussions of policies that
    have already been decided. But the repeated use of an agenda for a meeting may also
    be a power strategy, as suggested in box 2.1, because it can be used systematically to
    prevent new voices or ideas from being heard. Or those who use the agenda may simply lack the creativity to come up with alternative structures—and thus are less powerful than they appear.
    All organizations have structures, and any organization needs a certain amount of
    structure in order to maintain itself over time. Otherwise, the burden of spontaneity and
    “reinvention” becomes too great. This is why organizations develop standard operating
    procedures: for purchasing agreements, for evaluating new research proposals, for considering internal promotions, for dealing with customer complaints, etc. Ironically, some
    organizations even have structures for handling innovation and change. Such apparent
    contradictions in organizations are inevitable as we attempt to hold onto and control
    that which is spontaneous or informal or unplanned, including the wonders of group
    dynamics in which great ideas are born of stimulating interactions (see chapter 11).
    To understand structures, we need to consider what sociologist Anthony Giddens
    referred to as the duality of structure. This idea includes two critical facts. First, it is
    important to remember that structure is both an outcome of and a resource for interaction. While structure emerges out of the communication process, it also helps to influence future patterns of communication. A structure such as a set of by-laws for a
    student intramural sports team is both an outcome of founding members’ discussions
    as well as a guide (or resource) for the team’s future interaction. If the by-laws include
    20 
    Chapter Two
    an attendance policy (say, you can’t miss more than two of ten games per season), this
    will become a point of reference for the members, and it will likely be the focal point of
    some future arguments. This is important to realize for any of us but especially when
    we have the authority to make rules. Some members will develop reasons why the rule
    should or shouldn’t apply in a specific case. Deadlines or length requirements for class
    papers provide another example: the established expectations become a point of reference for both defenders and critics of the policy. Structures that we take for granted,
    like constitutions, professional codes, and committee by-laws, were all created out of
    interaction and they all serve to influence future interaction. One of the key questions,
    then, is how does something turn into a structure that then seems solid and fixed?
    The second important fact is that structure is both enabling and constraining. Giddens suggested that structure helps us to accomplish things, yet it sometimes gets in
    our way.3 Certain structures, like rules or habits, tend to take on a life of their own. In
    creating a new campus club, for instance, be careful not to burden the organization
    with too many structures, such as rules, procedures, and formal positions. A well-conceived rule makes it easier to initiate new members without continually reassessing
    how to do things, but overreliance on rules may contribute to the new members feeling “just like numbers.”
    Giddens used the term structuration to mean the process by which structures
    emerge from interaction and then become resources for and constraints on future
    interaction. His concept helps us see how structure and process are interdependent.
    Structures enable us to do things more easily—like running a meeting—and hinder us
    by keeping our future talk and ideas within certain boundaries. This is why a number
    of sociologists use metaphors of cages and webs in their theories; indeed, the fact that
    we create structures that then constrain us is one of the main ironies of society itself.4
     Key Elements of Organizational Structure
    Regarding organizations, we commonly look at the following structural elements:
    hierarchy, differentiation and specialization, formalization, and time orientation. Each of
    these aspects of structure shows up in the organizational chart, but each also has
    important implications for communication and the flow of information.
    Hierarchy usually refers to the vertical levels of an organization. It represents the
    distribution of authority among organizational roles or positions.5 One of the most
    common images of an organization is the pyramid, placing some persons and groups
    in positions of power with respect to others in the organization. Generally speaking,
    we expect larger organizations to have more levels than smaller ones. However, there
    have been efforts in many industrialized countries over the last two decades to reduce
    the number of hierarchical levels of large organizations—through strategies such as
    “flattening,” “restructuring,” and “team-based” management. This change in structure is intended to make organizations more nimble and adaptable to changes in their
    markets and environments.6
    Hierarchy has huge implications for communication patterns and the flow of
    information. A very “tall” organization, with many hierarchical levels, can block the
    flow of messages upward (see box 2.2).
    Organizational Structure and Process 
    Box 2.2
    Why Bad News Has Trouble Going Up the Ladder7
    There are a number of reasons why bad news (in particular) has trouble making its way
    upward in an organizational hierarchy. One explanation is the sheer number of levels that a message has to pass through. At each level, there’s an opportunity for distortion of the original message or the possibility that the message will just “sit there” and go no further. In an interesting
    study, Athanassiades found the following reasons for the “upward distortion” of negative messages in organizations.
    • A record of poor performance in the part of the organization where the bad news originates
    colors interpretations of the negative message.
    • Lack of security and trust on the part of the employee or department sending the negative message.
    • Outright fear of retribution by one’s “boss” or higher-ups who might react negatively to the
    bad news.
    • Ambition, impression management, or a particular desire to present oneself and one’s unit in
    the best light.
    • Bad experiences from the past with the sending of bad news.
    • Lack of an open-door policy in higher levels of the organization.
    Leaders and managers have to be especially careful about how they react to reports of problems in the organization. It is very easy to discourage the upward transmission of bad news. In
    fact, we would say that an effective leader has to be proactive in soliciting information and opinions about organizational problems, while at the same time having the wisdom to distinguish
    between “normal complaining” and what some consultants have called “golden gripes”—the
    problems that really matter for the organization and its members.
    Now take the opposite vantage point. Can you see how some of these reasons also affect the
    upward transmission of good news? How does membership in an “in group” or “out group” affect
    these tendencies?
    Hierarchy can also be closely tied to the dominance of one group over another,
    and it can manifest itself along the lines of race, class, gender, sexuality, religion, and
    other aspects of difference. Some scholars argue that the pyramidal nature of most
    organizational hierarchies has a masculine bias—a set of pre-packaged, gendered
    assumptions about how power is to be exercised. Some critiques emphasize the fact
    that typical hierarchical structures in organizations assume that vertical relationships
    are more important than horizontal ones; that competition is more important than collaboration; and that impersonal roles trump the personal qualities of those who
    occupy them. While there are no definitive ways to talk about the “masculine” and
    “feminine” dimensions of organizational structure, awareness of potentially genderrelated aspects of the organization as a whole as well as gender roles themselves can
    open up awareness about aspects of work life we often take for granted.8
    Differentiation and Specialization
    Differentiation and specialization are terms that describe the division of labor in an
    organization. Specifically, they refer to the degree to which labor is divided into various units, departments, and divisions to perform specific tasks. In an entrepreneurial,
    22 
    Chapter Two
    © Paul Noth/The New Yorker Collection/
    start-up organization, one or two people may do everything, thus reflecting a low
    level of specialization or differentiation. Large corporations typically have a number
    of specialized departments: production, planning, engineering, accounting, finance,
    personnel or human resources, marketing, public relations, information technology,
    and so forth. Specialization has a significant impact on communication, primarily
    because each specialty has its own language or jargon. While this shared language
    binds together people in the same department, it often mystifies and excludes those in
    other departments. Computer experts sound very different from accountants, and
    both may have trouble talking to personnel or human resource managers. The horizontally differentiated subcultures in an organization often find themselves in conflicts that result from their differences. For example, production people think of
    themselves as the “core” of the organization, while sales and marketing people must
    address customer interests or the product will have few consumers. Each group has a
    different way of talking and of seeing the world; the structure of the departments
    influences the personalities who inhabit the positions.
    These different ways of talking and seeing the world reinforce the sense that different forms of specialization or expertise are domains unto themselves, making collaborative projects rather difficult. A focus on the expert in any field can be a barrier to
    the participation of other employees in the organization, who may have good ideas
    about policy but lack the credentials or the accepted vocabulary to feel confident
    about participating in collaborative solutions.9 Specialization, of course, also affects
    communication by establishing physical boundaries between different departments.
    Organizational Structure and Process 
    The marketing people, for example, are typically located in different quarters than
    those in finance. As we will discuss in chapters 11 and 12, the trend of outsourcing has
    complicated this picture considerably.
    Sociologist Émile Durkheim observed over a century ago that one of the principal
    features of modern societies is job specialization. Generally speaking, modern societies are more heterogeneous than preindustrial or tribal societies, and one of the most
    important factors that holds the society together is the interdependence fostered by
    job specialization. We call on the expertise of others when we need specific help—a
    plumber, an electrician, an automotive mechanic, and so forth. Durkheim saw such
    specialization as both a blessing and a curse. The interdependence of people who rely
    on others for functions outside their expertise (what he called and we still call “the
    division of labor”) is an advantage when it holds society together and a disadvantage
    if it leads to alienation.10 Specialization can lead to alienation when it separates people
    from one another, pulls them away from the products of their labor, and creates a division between the “professional” classes of society and those who are comparatively
    uneducated, unskilled, or untrained. Professionalism both elevates the activities of
    certain groups and sets up walls between them and others. After all, who wants to be
    considered “nonprofessional” or even “unprofessional”!11 Scholars and politicians
    suggest these sorts of divisions when they use terms like “digital divide,” although
    terms like that often become taken for granted as if “everyone knows” the boundaries
    and membership of the groups being described.12
    Formalization refers to the degree to which interactions in the organization are
    characterized by rules, regulations, and norms. Formal communication is prescribed
    and highly specified. In the extreme form, members of the organization know what’s
    going to happen before it does—the pattern becomes a ritual. This isn’t necessarily a
    problem; both formal communication and ritual serve important functions in organizations (see chapter 4). But, what happens when some activity like innovation that is
    supposed to have a spontaneous quality becomes formalized? What are the risks for
    the organization as well as its members?13
    We easily recognize a very formal meeting or social situation. We take cues from
    the way people look and act and may even notice elements of the room itself. We can
    tell right away if the atmosphere in a meeting room is stiff or relaxed. What would be
    your assessment of a meeting with rows of seats facing a raised platform, a speaker on
    the raised platform with a podium and/or gavel, attentive audience members dressed
    in business suits, and the use of highly prescribed meeting procedures such as parliamentary procedure?
    Time Orientation
    Time as a part of organizational structure has been largely ignored across the
    social sciences and humanities. However, when we consider the impact of the increasing pace of our own lives on such things as concentration, relationships, and satisfaction, we realize that time needs serious attention. At the level of the organization, time
    is relevant in several ways: its effect on …

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