Key Issues in Organizational Communication

By Dennis Tourish; Owen Hargie | Go to book overview
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Communicating about organizational uncertainty

Phillip G. Clampitt and M. Lee Williams

The presumption of certainty fades as the pace of organizational change increases. In today’s business climate, conventional management practices such as making detailed plans, clearly defining job responsibilities, and meeting carefully established objectives often produce artificial certainty that can be debilitating (Clampitt and DeKoch, 2001). Consequently, effectively managing uncertainty assumes greater importance than ever before. Unfortunately, few tools exist for thinking about and acting on uncertainty (Kotter and Schelesinger, 1979; Conner, 1993).

Translating the uncertainties of organizational life into a viable communication strategy presents a formidable challenge to communication scholars and practitioners. Scholars must grapple with how to explain and predict the role of uncertainty in organizational communication practices. For instance, they might investigate how organizational leaders discuss (or avoid) the uncertainty inherent to the business environment. Practitioners are concerned with instituting specific strategies and techniques that enable organizations to effectively manage the uncertainty. In this chapter, we address both challenges. In the first part, we focus on the relevant research by briefly reviewing the literature, introducing the Uncertainty Management Matrix, and sharing our research findings. In the second part, we adopt a practitioner’s perspective by providing an assessment model, discussing communication strategies, and reviewing several case studies.


Research perspective

Insights from past research

Physicists, mathematicians, philosophers, psychologists, communication researchers, and organizational theorists have all studied uncertainty. Integrating the efforts of scholars from such a wide range of disciplines is a formidable task. Nevertheless, we can identify seven general insights gleaned from the literature that provided the basis for this chapter.

First, uncertainty is the inherent state of nature. The second law of thermodynamics states that the ‘entropy of a system increases as the system undergoes a

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