Barriers to Upward Communication

by Zachary Fenell ; Updated September 26, 2017
Upward communication is communication from workers to management.

Internal business communication can be either downward or upward. Downward communication consists of communications sent from management to workers, like emails and performance reviews. Upward communication is communication from workers to management. Upward communication plays an important role in workplace morale. Effective internal business communication involves removing barriers to upward communication.

Omitting Feedback Channels

Linda Duyle, president of L.M. & Co., says in the article “Ways to Encourage Upward Communication” that many problems with upward communication stem from workers' having no opportunity to send feedback. Feedback from workers can help improve productivity. Suggestions Duyle makes to overcome this barrier include offering a medium through which workers can exchange ideas with management anonymously, and inviting workers to share feedback through discussions with managers.


Hearing, rather than listening, serves as another barrier to upward communication. Hearing is registering sounds; listening is processing the information heard. By hearing their workers speak, but not listening to the message conveyed, managers could miss important feedback. Implementing listening strategies, like reflective listening and active listening, helps to prevent the hearing barrier.

Reflective listening works by rephrasing what the other person says to ensure no miscommunication takes place. For instance, a manager might respond to a worker who says “I can’t work next Friday because I have to drive my mother to the doctor” with “I’ll take you off the schedule Friday so you can take your mother to her doctor.”

Active listening involves using nonverbal communication, like posture and eye contact, to show you’re listening.

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Intimidation hinders upward communication by restricting the free exchange of ideas. A worker intimidated by his boss may not be honest or willing to speak up. This may prevent management from hearing feedback it could benefit from. Intimidation can be created through having an unwelcoming demeanor. Business executive Linda Duyle recommends avoiding this by showing gratitude for any feedback.

About the Author

Zachary Fenell is a 2009 graduate of Notre Dame College of Ohio. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in communication with minors in philosophy and writing. Fenell has been writing since 2002, when he joined his high school newspaper, "The Arc Light." In college Fenell won awards for excellence in English and communication.

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