Types of Communication Flow

by Chelsea Levinson; Updated June 27, 2018
Business meeting at the cafe

Communication is of the utmost importance when running a business. There are four main types of communication flow within a business: downward communication, upward communication, horizontal communication and multi-directional communication. Historically, companies communicated unilaterally, with one boss at the top giving the orders to all below. However, today most successful businesses use multi-directional communication, which incorporates all the different styles. Using a multi-directional approach removes communications barriers and improves outcomes.

Downward Communication

Downward communication simply means that the orders come from the top and make their way down through the workforce. This form of communication is hierarchical in nature. However, downward communication is helpful and necessary in many instances. One example of downward communication is a superior setting a deadline and creating targets for subordinates. Another example is employee reviews. Ultimately, downward communication lays out work objectives and helps clarify the details of necessary tasks.

Upward Communication

Upward communication flows from a lower level of an organization to a higher level. In practice, workers use upward communication to make suggestions, offer input and file complaints. Allowing lower-level workers to have a say in operations is imperative to business success. One reason for this is that even the lowest-level employees carry unique perspectives on their work and what is needed to get the job done. For example, say a CEO sets a target that each member of the company’s sales team must move $10,000 of product each month. The sales team knows that this target isn’t achievable within the current work expectations if even the most successful sellers are barely hitting $10,000 each month. The sales team can use upward communication to inform the CEO that the target is out of reach.

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Horizontal Communication

Horizontal communication (also known as lateral communication) takes place when employees at the same level interact. Peer communication is time-saving and allows workers to coordinate tasks with one another. Horizontal communication also allows for greater cooperation and problem-solving. When workers share information and brainstorm solutions to problems, things run more smoothly and outcomes improve. Think of horizontal communication as the embodiment of the popular saying, “two heads are better than one."

Diagonal or Multi-Directional Communication

Diagonal or multi-directional communication is the use of various methods of communication including upward, downward and horizontal. It is healthy for an organization to use different approaches to communication. When communication flows from just one direction, an organization is utilizing just a fraction of its potential. Diagonal communications allow all employees to contribute their full knowledge and expertise to a company. However, using this style of communication doesn’t mean that all employees should communicate chaotically. Multi-directional communication works best when the systems and expectations of communication are clear to all members of an organization.

About the Author

Chelsea Levinson is a J.D., researcher, writer and award-winning video producer. She has created content for Vox, AOL, H&R Block, Comcast, Bank of America, State Farm, Delta Air Lines, MAKERS, PBS, Levo and more.

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