Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Effective Communication in the Intranational Workplace: Models for Public Sector Managers and Theorists

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Effective Communication in the Intranational Workplace: Models for Public Sector Managers and Theorists

Article excerpt

Interpersonal communication is one of the most paradoxical areas of personal or organizational life. Key to healthy human relationships, crucial to effective management, face-to-face communication generally is an activity that public managers do the most of yet know the least about. Interpersonal communication is also an area to which theoretical researchers of public management have paid little attention.

Managers devote more time to communicating on the job than any other activity. Approximately 75 percent of a manager's day is spent communicating--listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Most of the time is spent in face-to-face communication (Harris and Moran, 1987).

In formal education, teachers focus heavily on improving written communication skills while devoting almost no time at ail to the area of interpersonal communication. Even an impressionistic review of the pubic management literature reveals the paucity of attention paid to this area.

Should we then be surprised by the results of a classic study in interpersonal communication which found that in no more than about half of the incidents did the subordinate receive the same message sent by the superior? An organization dealing with a tangible product would have a severe problem if about 50 percent of its output were defective (Burns, 1954).No skill is as important to a manager than effective communication. Yet we all have heard the most frequent explanation for any organizational complaint--that it was a "communication problem." And paradoxically, organizational failures resonate with the most easily correctable refrain, "I thought I told you to..." followed by "But I thought you said that..."

Effective interpersonal communication does not occur frequently enough in organizations. We teach and research too little about it despite (1) the relatively simple, classical theoretical models upon which face-to-face communication has been based and (2) the relatively homogeneous cultural context upon which those models were based.

It is the thesis of this article that our theoretical models of interpersonal communication (and our managerial application of them) are moving from relative simplicity to greater complexity--not only because research has yielded more sophisticated understanding, but also because America's population and labor force are themselves moving from relative cultural homogeneity to greater multi-cultural heterogeneity. In the future, moreover, managers and scholars of public administration will (of necessity) pay greater attention to this area. To develop this thesis, the author will first examine some relatively simple, classical models of face-to-face communication. Second, he will explore the changing demographic-cultural context of American society. Finally, he will suggest a recent model of inter- personal communication that is more congruent with the culturally diverse America which is emerging.

It is hoped that what follows will be of interest both to applied managers as well as to theoretical scholars of public administration, particularly given public administration's special responsibility both to reflect and to realize the core American value of equality.

The first classical (but perhaps less familiar) model of communication system was authored in 1949 by research mathematician Claude Shannon and electrical engineer Warren Weaver (Shannon and Weaver, 1949/1963). They depicted communication as a simple, sequential, and linear process through which information could be transmitted as easily by a telephone as by a human. Their mechanistic system included four components: a sender, a channel, a message, and a receiver (Figure 1). (Figure 1 omitted)


Often a public manager considers communication to be he or she (the sender) transmitting a message. The most conventional channels are sound and/or sight. Recognizing this opens up the possibility that the message can be verbal and/or non-verbal. …

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