Upward vs. Downward Communication [Definition, Problems, Solutions] - Status Guides (2023)


Clear and effective communication is essential in any workplace. However, many times, the conversation of business communication can center around company branding and its impact on the consumer. For a company to be efficient in serving consumers, they must first address ways to improve their own team’s internal dialogues. Work environments contain a diversity of personality types and different styles of digesting communications. However, there are two primary forms which dominate the internal workspace.

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  • Defining Upward and Downward Communication Part 1
  • Issues Surrounding Upward and Downward Communication Part 2
  • Effective Upward and Downward Communication Strategies Part 3

part 1

Is Communication Based on Hierarchy?

While the culture of American management favors an egalitarian, and relaxed approach, the main forms of communication in the workplace do reflect a relation to company hierarchy. Downward communication is formal messaging relayed to employees through a chain of command. These messages are authoritative and typically include information regarding policies, procedures, and significant notices that are pertinent to the organization. Top level management can reach employees in various ways that include speeches, meetings, memos, and messages through digital mediums. Usually, the goal is to keep all team members within the organization on one page with clear messaging.

On the other side of the spectrum is upward communication. This is where employees initiate interaction with executives and managers. These are characterized by notifying upper management of suggestions, complaints, or innovative ideas that could be utilized in their department. Upward communication is widespread in companies that value a democratic and inclusive environment that encourages employees to voice their opinions about processes within the workplace actively. However, about downward communication, upward is probably less frequent and structured.

  1. Downward Communication: A Problem of Speed and Clarity

    According to a 2015 Gallup study, employee engagement increases when managers provide consistent and clear communication. So, management that incorporates a routine downward communication strategy has the right idea. Internal communication from management can help prevent silos by delegating duties and policy across departments and depending upon the tone of messaging can make management more approachable. However, there are some known issues with downward communication.

    Since messaging trickles down through a “chain of command,” the original intent and motivation of the communication can be distorted. Specific details could be left out or altered to benefit the person delivering the messaging. Downward communication, in its purest form, does not leave room for an immediate response from subordinates, and the result is that one-way messaging can come off authoritative and closed off to feedback. Also, because of the number of eyes who need to see the communication, downward communication can be a slow-moving process.

  2. Upward Communication: The Importance of Management Buy-In

    When a robust upward communication culture exists in a company, it motivates employees to feel they can share feedback about company processes and culture with upper management. Upward communication is one of the primary indicators of a healthy level of employee engagement. One of the most critical factors in keeping employees engaged is encouraging an environment where employees can come to managers about any concerns they have. If the culture is important, then upward communication can aid overall creativity and make employees feel they have a voice in approaching company goals and objectives.

    While there are many positives to this form of communication, there are some issues that management needs to address to implement any upward communication strategies effectively. If an openness to employee ideas or suggestions is not uniform throughout middle and upper management, then employees could fear retribution for bringing any complaints or constructive criticism to top level management. Distortion of messaging is also a problem here. If immediate managers are not comfortable with the message from their employees, upper management could hear a different messaging than the one intended. Also, top-level executives could entirely miss out on suggestions, complaints, or criticisms if middle and lower managers are unwilling to deliver the communications. A comprehensive and structured upward communication strategy that is not only discussed but implemented is vital to prevent these and other relevant issues.

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part 2

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How Can Management Solve Issues Surrounding Upward and Downward Communications?

Solutions to Downward Communication Issues

  1. The landscape of communication has become increasingly digital. Therefore, there are multiple ways for management to convey information about simple and more complex topics using mediums that today’s worker frequently uses. In addition to quarterly meetings or email memorandums, top level management can reach out through an in-house company blog or status.net feeds that cover formal and informal topics.
  2. To prevent distortion, communication from upper management should encourage employees to approach those in charge of the message to clear up any confusion or answer any questions regarding the correspondence. This makes top management approachable and sends a message that they care about how employees interpret their messaging.
  3. Status.net can be useful for storing previous messages that employees can refer back to, and depending upon the capabilities can allow employees to submit questions or comments. It can also cut down on the amount of correspondence sent to email since essential messages can reside there indefinitely.
  4. Any correspondence regarding the enforcement or introduction of rules will naturally be authoritative. Therefore, it is vital for messaging to be clear and informative without utilizing a tone that is a turnoff to employees. It is best to consult with the company’s communication department for tips on the best language to use.

Solutions to Upward Communication Issues

  1. To prevent the distortion of messaging of low-level management to upper management, the line of communication should be short. There should be key representatives that employees feel comfortable communicating with, especially if there is a fear that immediate supervisors can change or prevent the messaging.
  2. While downward communication can be formal, there should also be a structured and transparent process for employees to communicate with upper management. This method should be publicized and made known to anyone who is interested in participating. Whether it is a suggestion feed on status.net or open-door office hours, there need to be a variety of ways for low and mid-level employees to reach upward.
  3. Upper management should create a culture of listening within the company. Much of this can start with mid-management, and supervisors who interact with low and mid-level employees. They should be encouraged to have an open-door policy that invites discussion or suggestions without fear of retribution. Human resources could be used to train supervisors on how to handle more severe complaints and issues.
  4. Upper management can increase quality feedback from low to mid-level employees by acknowledging suggestions or ideas that are creative and can benefit the organization. Upper management should also make an effort to implement any plans given and give credit to the person who made the suggestion. This significantly increases engagement and investment in the company.

part 3

How Are Other Companies Implementing Effective Upward and Downward Communication Strategies?

According to a 2017 Gallup Poll, only 33 percent of workers within the United States felt engaged at work. This number dropped 50 percent when employees from around the world were included. Healthy and meaningful communication between upper management and low to mid-level employees impacts engagement. Some companies recognize this and have incorporated creative ways to streamline internal communication.

  • Inspire New Ideas and Collaboration

    Follet, an education-focused organization, received feedback from employees who wanted a way to contribute ideas and collaborate with other employees. Management at the company realized the importance of giving employees a voice and they implemented a solution which allows employees to easily contribute suggestions and ideas to upper management and other employees. In mere months following the launch, the company had almost 500 suggestions with the company implementing ones that fit.

  • A Simple Way to Better Communication: Ask What Workers Want to Hear

    The CEO of CHI Health recognized his organization was suffering from a lapse in communication from upper management to mid-level supervisors. The CEO utilized a team to survey managers about the downward communication issues they were experiencing, and there was no shortage of issues. Employees were receiving executive communications before their supervisors, correspondence was often overwhelming, and leaders were not given the tools to answer employee questions. To handle these problems, the CEO agreed to incorporate a technical solution and weekly updates that included information supervisors, and their staff found directly relevant. Follow-up research revealed that employees were significantly satisfied with the new modes of communication, and the new leader homepage drew 93 percent overall satisfaction.
    Hint: Read more info and case studies on implementing daily and weekly updates for effective communication.

    (Video) Business Communication - Part One

  • Stellar Communication Starts at the Beginning

    Employee onboarding is one of the best opportunities companies have to introduce new hires to processes, procedures, and the company culture. Unfortunately, many organizations do not recognize the importance of employee onboarding as a way to facilitate upward and downward communication. Ball Corporation, a manufacturing and packaging organization, acquired a competing organization. Ball executives were left in the challenging position of uniting the employees of competitors with their own, but they rose to the challenge. Ball’s team implemented “The Power of Day One” campaign that formally welcomed the new employees and leaders, provided a newsletter that shared essential messaging and information and showed welcome videos from executives. In a post-event survey, 99 percent of new employees felt welcomed. This interaction sets the tone for positive communication in the future. Read more details on how to design an effective employee onboarding process in our in-depth article here.

  • There is a Cost to Poor Communication

    A report called The Cost of Communication, revealed the actual monetary cost companies experience because of an abysmal communication strategy. Among the 400 companies surveyed, poor communication cost each an average of $62.4 million. Effective communication matters and when companies begin to approach upward and downward communication with a strategic plan, they see increases in employee engagement and profit.

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What is the communication and define upward and downward communication? ›

Meaning. Upward communication is the line of communication through which subordinates can convey information, to their seniors. Downward communication is the formal chain of command established to direct subordinates and convey information, pertaining to organization's objectives, policies and strategies.

What is the basic difference between downward and upward communication? ›

Upward communication flows from subordinates to his superiors, whereas Downward communication flows from the superiors to subordinates.

What is an example of a problem with upward communication? ›

An example of a problem with upward communication is filtering, as in when an employee's complaint about a policy gets "filtered" as it moves upward, becoming distorted by the time that it reachers the manager with policy-making power.

What are the problems with downward communication? ›

Lesson Summary

Advantages of downward communication include organizational discipline, some efficiencies, goal explanation and ease of delegation. Disadvantages include message distortion, slow feedback, interpretative problems, lower morale and the fact that it's not motivating.

What is the definition of downward communication? ›

Simply put, downward communication flow takes place whenever a person in charge communicates a message to the people in a lower-level position, such as managers. Managers' task is to transmit the same message to their team members.

What is upward and downward communication PDF? ›

Downward communication consists of policies, rules, and procedures that flow from top administration to lower levels. Upward communication consists of the flow of performance reports, grievances, and other information from lower to higher levels.

What is upward communication short answer? ›

Upward Communication is the process of information flowing from the lower levels of a hierarchy to the upper levels. This type of communication is becoming more popular in organizations as traditional forms of communication are becoming less popular.

Why do you think downward communication is easier than upward communication? ›

Downward communication takes place by following the established chain of command of the organization. Thus, it reduces the chance of sending message to someone through by-passing the immediate subordinate.

What is upward communication example? ›

Upward communication examples include performance reports, suggestion boxes, company meetings, focus groups, and employee satisfaction surveys.

How do you overcome downward communication? ›

Downward communications are usually better than anyone realizes and frequently more accurate than those at higher levels want them to be.
To improve downward communications, four principles must be followed:
  1. Know yourself.
  2. Be yourself.
  3. Send selective signals.
  4. Listen for signals.

How can upward and downward communication be improved? ›

Solutions to Upward Communication Issues
  1. To prevent the distortion of messaging of low-level management to upper management, the line of communication should be short. ...
  2. While downward communication can be formal, there should also be a structured and transparent process for employees to communicate with upper management.

What is downward communication give examples? ›

One of the most common forms of downward communication in the workplace is managers speaking directly with employees. This allows managers to relay the information and be available to answer any employee questions or clarify certain aspects of the news.

Which of the following is an example of downward communication? ›

Answer and Explanation: The answer is E) Ray is holding his monthly meeting with his team in which he informs them of their monthly targets. E) Ray is holding his monthly meeting with his team in which he informs them of their monthly targets.

Which of the following is the best example of upward communication? ›

Answer and Explanation: The correct option is: C) A team member sends an e-mail to his team leader informing her about the problems faced by him on the current project. Explanation: Upward communication is the vertical flow of information from a lower level to a higher level in an organization.

What are the 5 types of downward communication? ›

New York: John Wiley & Sons. Katz and Kahn's typology breaks downward communication into five distinct types: job instructions, job rationales, procedures and practices, feedback, and indoctrination.

What is upward and downward feedback? ›

Feedback can be upward or downward in the organizational structure. Upward feedback is the process by which superiors or management are rated by employees or subordinates, while downward feedback is the flow of information from superiors or management to employees or subordinates.

Whats the definition of downward? ›

variants or downwards. ˈdau̇n-wərdz. : from a higher to a lower place. : toward a direction that is the opposite of up. : from a higher to a lower condition.

What are the types of upward communication? ›

Upward communication from subordinates to managers usually falls into one of the following categories: Personal reports of performance, problems, or concerns. Reports about co-workers and their performance, problems, or concerns. Reaction to organizational policies and practices.

Why is upward communication important? ›

Upward communication is the process in which employees provide feedback to their managers and company leadership. Hearing from employees can help managers avoid losing key talent and achieve better results by restructuring processes. It can also help companies cultivate a more inclusive workplace.

What is an example of upward and vertical communication? ›

Information moving from lower-level employees to high-level employees is upward communication (also sometimes called vertical communication). For example, upward communication occurs when workers report to a supervisor or when team leaders report to a department manager.

What is important of communication? ›

In our daily life, communication helps us build relationships by allowing us to share our experiences, and needs, and helps us connect to others. It's the essence of life, allowing us to express feelings, pass on information and share thoughts.

What are the different ways to overcome communication? ›

Barriers to communication can be overcome by:
  • checking whether it is a good time and place to communicate with the person.
  • being clear and using language that the person understands.
  • communicating one thing at a time.
  • respecting a person's desire to not communicate.
  • checking that the person has understood you correctly.

What is effective communication? ›

Effective communication is the process of exchanging ideas, thoughts, opinions, knowledge, and data so that the message is received and understood with clarity and purpose. When we communicate effectively, both the sender and receiver feel satisfied.

How can upward and downward communication flow help employees and employers? ›

Downward communication flows from superiors to subordinates in a directive manner, the purpose of which is to give instructions and assign responsibilities. Upward communication, in contrast, lets employees voice their own opinions, provide feedback, and raise concerns about their day-to-day work experience.

Why is downward communication used? ›

Downward communication is used by group leaders and managers to assign goals, provide job instructions, inform employees of policies and procedures, point out problems that need attention, and offer feedback about performance.

What is another object of downward communication? ›

Objectives of downward communication include delivering instructions and directives to subordinate employees, announcing or clarifying policy and/or policy changes, to delegate authority, and establish discipline.

What are the objectives of upward and downward communication? ›

In both forms of communication, information flows vertically within the organization. The most significant and the main difference between the two forms is that in upward communication, messages are sent from subordinates to superiors and in downward communication, messages are sent from superiors to subordinates.

Which is the commonly used method of upward communication? ›

1. Memo: The most frequently used form for upward communication is memo which is a short piece of information sent to senior executives by subordinates. Generally routine information is communicated through this means.

What are the barriers to upward communication? ›

Upward communication faces barriers when lower-level employees have different educational backgrounds than the individual requesting feedback. Lower-level employees also may lack the specific business experience to allow them to reply with terms that are readily understood by the receiving parties.


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