The 5 Purposes of Organizational Communication

So far in this 4 part series on Organizational Communication, we’ve talked about “The 5 W’s of Organizational Communication” and “The 4 Directions of Organizational Communication.” Each of those has given us insight from a different perspective on how communication works in organizations. This week we’ll look at the subject from the perspective of the intended purpose of organizational communication. What function is it intended to serve? As Steve Martin’s character said in the movie “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles,”

“And by the way, you know, when you’re telling these little stories? Here’s a good idea – have a point.”

What’s the point of your communication? Here are 5 possibilities.


If your point is to lead, then your content and tone might include giving direction, inspiriting, motivating, encouraging, challenging, influencing, mentoring. The function of leading is often considered to be downward in direction. But, everyone influences someone. And, as John Maxwell says, “Leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.” How might that look in lateral communication? What about upward communication?

Rationalizing (knowing the “Why”)

Comedian Michael Jr. has a video in which he illustrates the truth behind the statement, “When you know your why, your what becomes more clear and has more impact.”

The point of this communication is explaining the reasons for things (not about making up excuses after an action has been taken). In one context, it is downward communication; however, rationalizing is also important for enabling workers to bring issues to the attention of management, using upward communication to do so. If a worker identifies a motivation problem, for example, s/he may communicate this to management and use rationalization to highlight the potential impact of the problem on operations and profit.

Problem Solving

The point here is self-evident. Most organizations hold regular meetings to discuss issues such as production cycles, delivery times, price models and other areas where unusual situations could arise that may affect the performance of an organization. In these meetings, organizational communication plays an important role in addressing problems, brainstorming potential responses and finalizing solutions. In this way, a company obtains maximum benefit from the abilities of those involved in the communication, which can flow in all directions.

Conflict Management

Conflict in the workplace can lead to the loss of talented employees, the lodging of grievances and possibly lawsuits. Managing conflict by bringing all parties together to discuss their differences in a safe, moderated environment is an important function of organizational communication. This type of communication usually involves all three directions of communication, and, although discussions may be informal, the final decisions are usually communicated formally.

Gaining Compliance

Gaining the compliance of employees is necessary for them to adhere fully to instructions. I think of compliance in two ways. One is compliance of the hands. This can be won by decree, order, and/or disciplinary action (or the threat of it). This type of compliance is appropriate in command and control situations where orders must be followed for life-and-death reasons. However, in most organizations, this type of compliance can lead to the attitude of the proverbial child who is, “Sitting down on the outside, but standing up on the inside.”

The other kind of compliance is that of the heart. To do this, management needs to listen to feedback from the staff and to take account of their ideas and comments. Feedback or two-way communication can be upward and downward or horizontal and may be formal or informal, but open communication channels are important for an organization to motivate and achieve the best performance from employees. This goes back to knowing the “why” as well.

So What?

Steve Martin’s character was irritated with his traveling companion when he said, “Have a point.” Granted, their whole situation in that movie was frustrating and irritating. But the truth remains that nobody cares for communication when the only motivation seems to be that the other person likes to hear themselves talk.

This is especially true in organizational communication. When you choose to communicate, have a point. You can start by deciding which of these 5 purposes you intend to accomplish with your communication. Everyone will be glad you did.

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