This study applies a three component model of communication competence (motivation, knowledge, and skill) within an organizational context and analyzes the relationship between job performance, position level, and communication competence. Data analysis revealed high job performers had significantly higher levels of motivation to adapt communication and higher levels of communication skill (empathizing, adapting communication, and managing interactions). Also, supervisors were more motivated to communicate and empathize than subordinates. Finally, level of job performance and job position (supervisor or non-supervisor) did not influence level of communication competence. These results' along with limitations and avenues for future research are discussed.
As organizational structures flatten and transformational leadership styles are fostered, corporate demand for employees skilled in interpersonal communication is on the rise. Organizations are working to recruit, promote, develop, and train transformational leaders who connect with employees emotionally and have verbal and coaching skills (Bass, 1999; 1990). Numerous studies querying graduates, employers, and faculty members show communication skill as one of the top areas needing improvement among employees and new graduates (Maes, Weldy, & Icenogle, 1997; Morreale, Osborn, & Pearson, 2000). Recently, HR managers from Fortune 500 corporations included listening, speaking, team participation, and communication of information as most important for business school graduates in the 21st century (Porterfield & Forde, 2001). Empirical research links social skills and other communication constructs with various organizational outcomes including job mobility (Kilduff & Day, 1994), upward mobility, job level, and pay (Haas & Sypher, 1991; Sypher & Zorn, 1986), leadership ability (Flauto, 1999) and general mental ability and job performance (Ferris, Witt, & Hochwarter, 2001).
While a number of these studies articulate the importance of communication skill, few address the impact of communication competence, which moves beyond social skills by including affective, cognitive, and behavioral elements. Communication competence describes the overall impression one has of a communicator who meets interaction goals at both an appropriate and effective level (Spitzberg & Cupach, 1984). This article provides an overview of a relational model of communication competence within the organizational context and reports the findings of how job performance for employees and supervisors relates to communication competence.
Defining Communication Competence
Recognizing that communication competence is multifaceted researchers of employee communication competence should develop comprehensive conceptual definitions. Many scholars have attempted to define interpersonal communication competence: however, the process is likened to "climbing a greased pole" (Phillips, 1984, p. 25) and competence is still considered a "fuzzy" concept (Jablin & Sias, 2001, p. 819). The lack of a widely-accepted definition is due to the complexity of the communication process and problems with measurement (Rubin & Martin. 1994; Wiemann, Takai, Ota, & Wiemann, 1997). However, definitions of communication competence are becoming more specific as the issue of context is given more consideration.
Current conceptualizations of competence continue to rely on Spitzberg and Cupach's (1984) original criteria: appropriateness and effectiveness. Jablin and Sias (2001) define competence as "the set of abilities, henceforth, termed resources, which a communicator has available for use in the communication process" (p. 125). This definition is a strategic, goal-oriented approach to competence stressing knowledge and ability.
Obviously these definitions go beyond communication that is simply successful by emphasizing two main components: knowledge of communication and context and ability to obtain goals (skill). According to Wright (1991), the diversity of definitions and treatments of competence exists because of the diversity of what scholars considered the most salient issues to the construct: knowledge (McCroskey, 1982), behaviors (Wiemann, 1977), or goal attainment (Spitzberg, 1983).
Based on the research outlined above, a more contextually sensitive definition of communication competence within organizations would extend the original Spitzberg and Cupach (1984) model and define organizational communication competence as the evaluative impression of the quality of interaction moderated by organizational norms and rules. In other words, organizational communication competence is the judgment of successful communication where interactants" goals are met using messages that are perceived as appropriate and effective within the organizational context. Communication competence in organizations involves knowledge of the organization and of communication, ability to carry out skilled behaviors, and one's motivation to perform competently.
Competence in the Organizational Context
Few researchers have attempted to systematically study competence within the organizational context. Monge, Bachman, Dillard, and Eisenberg (1982) tested a model representing a performance-based (behavioral) approach. The Communication Competence Questionnaire (CCQ) measured two macro-level skills, encoding and decoding. Although this was a positive move toward measuring organizational communication competence the CCQ focused primarily on skills necessary to accomplish work tasks, and did not include relational forms of communication. These researchers consider organizational communication relationships between coworkers or with supervisors as "non-interpersonal" (p. 507), overlooking relational forms of communication as essential to workplace communication. Their research does not incorporate motivation or knowledge, the affective and cognitive elements of competence. Few studies in management use the communication competence construct; however, Penley, Alexander, Jernigan, & Henwood (1991) tested the impact of communication skills (clarity, articulateness, and accuracy), motivation (oral, nonverbal, and written communication apprehension), and cognitive skills (cognitive complexity, perspective taking, and self-monitoring) on managerial performance. Results showed higher performing managers had higher verbal communication skills and lower communication apprehension; however, they did not have greater social cognitive ability.
More recently, Jablin and his colleagues investigated threshold communication competencies in organizations (Jablin, Cude, House, Lee, & Roth 1994; Jablin & Sias, 2001). They define threshold communication competencies as, "... generic capabilities which are essential to performing jobs, but which are not sufficient to cause superior levels of effectiveness in communication" (p. 120). Jablin et al. (1994) provide a continuum of employee communication progressing from precompetent to overcompetent.
The pre-competence stage is when a newcomer to an organization "has not yet developed the capacities necessary to communicate competently in a particular environment" (Jablin & Sias, 2001, p. 828), and threshold competence is achieved when an employee eventually meets basic communication qualifications for his/her specific job description. This approach assumes that through the screening process, socialization, and training in the company, most employees achieve the threshold level. Next, workers move toward a proficient level of competence, in which the employee uses competent scripts to select and perform messages. Finally, Jablin and Sias (2001) describe the overcompetent level as a once- competent communicator who now relies on old scripts instead of developing new scripts for new or changing situations.
Jablin et al. (1994) use a developmental (assimilation) framework for analyzing competence, assuming that the further along in the socialization process employees are, the more likely they are competent. This suggests an inability on the part of organizational newcomers to be highly competent communicators. Nevertheless, this line of research brings to the forefront important issues to competence research in organizations, including the idea that knowing the communication rules of an organization, which are learned primarily through the socialization process, is essential to competent communication.
Although researchers have investigated communication competence or social skills in organizations, obvious gaps exist in the research. One substantial issue is the lack of adequate measurement instruments operationalizing the construct in organizations. While Monge et al. (1982) developed …