Successful business owners value effective communication among employees, customers, prospects, partners, the media and competitors. The way messages flow from one group to another can affect the trajectory of the business. It’s important to take note of what barriers stand in the way of effective upward communication so that you can ensure your employees are able to convey messages accurately.
Upward communication falls into the category of directional communication, in which messages flow from lower-level employees to their superiors. Other types of directional communication are downward and horizontal. There are a number of different examples of upward communication:
- Employees complete tasks or respond to requests made by managers.
- Employees provide operational information to managers.
- Employees appraise their own performance, manager performance or company performance.
- Employees escalate issues they have witnessed or experienced at work.
Upward communication has many benefits. It can be a valuable tool to help managers gain insight about the issues front-line employees handle day to day as well as motivate employees to provide constructive feedback to grow the organization. In addition, it can also facilitate collective decision making and encourage creative ideas. However, in order for these benefits to be fully experienced, businesses need to remove the barriers to upward communication.
A challenge in upward communication is filtering messages. Employees may wish to paint a more positive picture of the issue being discussed in order to impress their superiors, so they may remove the negative aspects from their communication. This results in management having an inaccurate picture of the issue.
For example, if an employee is asked to provide a summary of a customer promotion that has not been successful, she may choose to omit details of why the promotion did not perform as well. Perhaps it was due to her own negligence, which she doesn’t want to communicate to her manager. Her manager would not have the complete picture of what happened and may not realize that the promotion failed due to employee performance.
Similarly, employees may need to pass the message through several layers of management to reach the top, and the message may get filtered as it passes from one person to the next, either accidentally or on purpose. This can distort messages and result in inaccurate communication. In order to avoid filtered messages, it’s vital to have an open-door policy where employees are encouraged and invited to share information honestly and openly without fear.
Problems of upward communication often relate to managers and employees not actively listening to one another. Managers may not see the value of the insight their lower-level employees provide, and as a result, they don’t pay attention to what is being said.
For example, if an employee tells a manager about low inventory for a product that needs to be ordered, the manager may not listen, thinking that the employee is misinformed or hasn’t correctly performed an inventory count. This could result in the store being out of stock for that particular product due to the manager not actively listening to the information the employee provided.
An important part of active listening is mutual respect for the people with whom you’re communicating. Businesses need to have a culture where the managers respect the lower-level employees as well as their ideas. Active listening also involves repeating or rephrasing what has been said to show that you have understood and digested the information.
Issues of upward communication can also relate to a lack of initiative on both sides. Managers may not respond to the information that is being provided to them by their employees. Similarly, employees may not put in the effort to provide comprehensive details to their managers.
When upward communication results in actionable information, it’s important for both parties to reflect on the message and take the next step. For example, if a manager requests availability details from employees in order to make the staffing schedule, the employees need to provide their information by the deadline. In addition, the manager needs to take that information into consideration when making the schedule.