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Managerial Communication

Seventh Edition



Managerial Communication Strategies and Applications

Seventh Edition

Geraldine E. Hynes Jennifer R. Veltsos



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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Hynes, Geraldine E., author. | Veltsos, Jennifer R., author.

Title: Managerial communication : strategies and applications / Geraldine E. Hynes, Sam Houston State University, USA, Jennifer Veltsos, Minnesota State University, Mankato, USA.

Description: Seventh Edition. | Thousand Oaks : SAGE Publications, [2018] | Revised edition of Managerial communication, [2016] | Includes index.

Identifiers: LCCN 2017041152 | ISBN 9781506365121 (hardcover : alk. paper)

Subjects: LCSH: Communication in management. | Business communication.

Classification: LCC HD30.3 .H95 2018 | DDC 658.4/5—dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2017041152

This book is printed on acid-free paper.

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Brief Contents

1. Preface to the Seventh Edition 2. What’s New in This Edition 3. Acknowledgments 4. About the Authors 5. PART I• MANAGING IN CONTEMPORARY ORGANIZATIONS

1. Chapter 1 • Communicating in Contemporary Organizations 2. Chapter 2 • Understanding the Managerial Communication Process 3. Chapter 3 • Communicating With Technology

6. PART II• COMMUNICATING WITH GROUPS 1. Chapter 4 • Managing Meetings and Teams 2. Chapter 5 • Making Presentations 3. Chapter 6 • Communicating Visually

7. PART III• WRITING AS A MANAGER 1. Chapter 7 • Writing in the Workplace 2. Chapter 8 • Writing Routine Messages 3. Chapter 9 • Writing Reports and Proposals

8. PART IV• UNDERSTANDING MESSAGES 1. Chapter 10 • Listening 2. Chapter 11 • Communicating Nonverbally 3. Chapter 12 • Communicating Across Cultures

9. PART V• COMMUNICATING INTERPERSONALLY 1. Chapter 13 • Managing Conflict 2. Chapter 14 • Negotiating 3. Chapter 15 • Conducting Interviews

10. Index


Detailed Contents

Preface to the Seventh Edition What’s New in This Edition Acknowledgments About the Authors PART I• MANAGING IN CONTEMPORARY ORGANIZATIONS

Chapter 1 • Communicating in Contemporary Organizations A Brief History of Managerial Communication

Management Communication in Ancient Times 1900s: Management Efficiency and One-Way Communication 1920s: The Human Relations Approach and the Rise of Interpersonal Communication 1950s: The Behavioral Approach and Organizational Communication 1990s: The Empowerment Approach and Participative Communication 21st Century: The Contingency Approach to Management Communication

Factors Affecting Communication Contingencies Diversity

Gender Diversity Cultural Diversity Age Diversity Education Diversity

Competition and the Drive for Quality Ethics

The Importance of Studying Managerial Communication Summary • Cases for Small-Group Discussion

Chapter 2 • Understanding the Managerial Communication Process Levels of Managerial Communication A Strategic Approach

The First Layer Communication Climate Cultural Context

The Second Layer Sender (Encoder) Receiver (Decoder) Purpose of the Message

The Third Layer Message Content


Channel of the Message Physical Environment Time

Feedback and Measures of Effectiveness Critical Errors in Communication

The Assumption–Observation Error The Failure to Discriminate Allness and the Process of Abstraction

Summary • Cases for Small-Group Discussion

Chapter 3 • Communicating With Technology A Framework for Using Technologically Mediated Communication

Bandwidth Perceived Personal Closeness Feedback A Symbolic Interactionist Perspective

Matching Technology and the Message Message Sensitivity Message Negativity Message Complexity Message Persuasiveness

Communicating with Technology at Work E-mail Electronic Messaging: IM and Text Blogging Videoconferencing Social Networks

Considerations for Technology Use Monitoring Technology Use Decision Making Job and Organizational Design Collaboration

The Management Challenge Summary • Cases for Small-Group Discussion

PART II• COMMUNICATING WITH GROUPS Chapter 4 • Managing Meetings and Teams

Advantages and Disadvantages of Working in Teams Advantages of Teams Disadvantages of Teams


Groupthink Strategic Considerations for Meetings

Strategic Consideration 1: Should We Meet? Strategic Consideration 2: Who Should Attend? Strategic Consideration 3: Agenda and Materials Strategic Consideration 4: Leadership Style

Leading Project Teams Strategic Consideration 5: Managing Disruptions

Before the Meeting During the Meeting

Strategic Consideration 6: Follow-Up Strategic Considerations for Face-to-Face Meetings

Strategic Consideration 7: Physical Facilities Seating Arrangements

Strategic Considerations for Virtual Meetings Strategic Consideration 8: Technological Adequacy Strategic Consideration 9: Team Relationships Strategic Consideration 10: Cultural Differences

Group Decision-Making Formats Rational Problem-Solving Process The Nominal Group Technique The Delphi Technique

Summary • Cases for Small-Group Discussion

Chapter 5 • Making Presentations Plan Your Presentation

Purpose Length Audience Analysis

Organize Your Presentation Introduction Organization of Persuasive Presentations

Persuasion Variables Ethical Persuasion

Organization of Informative Presentations Transitions Evidence

Factual Evidence Opinions as Evidence



Anticipate Questions Prepare Your Visual Aids

Criteria Types

Deliver Your Presentation Speaking Anxiety Speaker Notes Nonverbal Aspects

Body Language Vocal Style

Media Presentations Team Presentations Impromptu Speaking Summary • Exercises

Chapter 6 • Communicating Visually Document Design

Design Principles for Managerial Communication Building Blocks

Grid Alignment Typography Color Conventions

Relationships Emphasis Unity

Using Graphics Data Displays

Tables Charts Quantitative Charts Concept Charts Creating Ethical Data Displays

Illustrations Photographs Line Art

Designing Graphics for Accessibility Tables Charts


Copyright Considerations for Graphics Summary • Cases for Small-Group Discussion

PART III• WRITING AS A MANAGER Chapter 7 • Writing in the Workplace

The Unique Role of Managerial Writing Stage 1: Planning

What? Why? Who? When? Where? How?

Stage 2: Composing Selecting Words

Principle 1: Choose Words Precisely Principle 2: Use Short Rather Than Long Words Principle 3: Use Concrete Rather Than Abstract Words Principle 4: Economize on Words Principle 5: Avoid Clichés and Jargon Principle 6: Use Positive Words That Convey Courtesy Principle 7: Use a Conversational Style

Organizing Words for Effect Principle 8: Keep Sentences Short Principle 9: Prefer the Active to the Passive Voice Principle 10: Organize Paragraphs Logically Principle 11: Be Coherent

Stage 3: Revising Collaborative Writing

Advantages of Collaborative Writing Disadvantages of Collaborative Writing Guidelines for Effective Collaborative Writing

Summary • Exercise: Plain English at a Glance • Case for Small–Group Discussion • Exercise for Small Groups

Chapter 8 • Writing Routine Messages Audience Adaptation

Basis of the You Attitude Anticipating Questions


Stressing Reader Benefits Avoiding Negatives Nonverbal Elements and the You Attitude Diction

Organizational Strategies Direct Strategy

Opening Body Close

Indirect Strategy Opening Body Close Handling Negatives

Specific Types: Direct Messages Inquiries and Requests

Opening Body Close

Positive Responses to Inquiries and Requests Opening Body Close

Claims Opening Body Close

Positive Responses to Claims Opening Body Close

Specific Types: Indirect Messages Negative Responses to Inquiries

Opening Body Close

Refused Claims Opening Body Close


Apologies Persuasive Messages

Opening Body Close

Letter Formats Internal Correspondence

Memo Format E-mail Format Memo and E-mail Uses

Communicating to Groups Fixing Responsibility Communicating With Opponents Communicating With the Inaccessible

Types of Internal Correspondence Announcements Requests for Action

Political Uses in Business Summary • Cases for Small-Group Discussion • Exercise for Small Groups

Chapter 9 • Writing Reports and Proposals The Report-Writing Process

Groundwork Defining the Problem or Objective Developing Recommendations Seeking Data

Report Parts Strategic Considerations

Design Audience Effort Significance The Original Assignment Precedent

Arrangement of Points Direct Order Indirect Order

Organization of the Body Time


Place Quantity/Size Criteria or Factors

Headings Content Headings Heading Levels

Transitions Memo and Letter Reports

Memo Reports Introduction Body Close

Letter Reports Organization Introduction Body Close

Elements of the Formal Report Front Matter

Title Page Transmittal Document Table of Contents List of Illustrations Executive Summary

The Report Proper Introduction: Required Elements Introduction: Optional Elements Body Summary, Conclusions, and/or Recommendations

Back Matter References/Bibliography Appendixes

Visual Aids General Rules

Summary • Cases for Small-Group Discussion


Benefits of Listening Barriers to Listening


Preparing to Listen Specific Techniques for Active Listening

Identify the Main and Supporting Points Organize the Message Summarize the Message Visualize the Message Personalize the Message Take Notes

Specific Techniques for Interactive Listening Paraphrasing Questioning

Open–Closed Questions Primary–Secondary Questions Neutral–Directed Questions

Responding to Negative Messages Listening to Informal Communication Listening to the Total Environment Developing a Listening Climate

The Micro Listening Climate The Macro Listening Climate

Summary • Cases for Small-Group Discussion • Exercise for Small Groups

Chapter 11 • Communicating Nonverbally The Importance of Nonverbal Communication The Functions of Nonverbal Cues Movement Spatial Messages

Spatial Zones Spatial Differences Strategic Use of Space

Personal Appearance Voice Applications of Nonverbal Communication Research

Phone Sales and Service Teams and Meetings Informal Communication External Communication

Nonverbal Signs of Deception Baseline


Movement Dress Personal Space Artifacts Voice

Summary • Cases for Small-Group Discussion

Chapter 12 • Communicating Across Cultures Rationale

The Global Economy Foreign Direct Investment Culturally Diverse Workforces

What Is Culture? Intercultural Myths Some of the Ways in Which We Differ

Power Distance Uncertainty Avoidance Collectivism/Individualism Masculinity/Femininity Context Monochronic/Polychronic

Should You Learn the Language? Nonverbal Sensitivity

Greetings Dress Space, Touch, and Posture Gestures Food Gifts

What Is a Good Intercultural Communicator? Developing Interculturally Sensitive Managers

Cultural Competence in Foreign Environments Cultural Competence in Domestic Environments

Summary • Cases for Small-Group Discussion • Exercise for Small Groups


Benefits of Conflict The Relationship Between Communication and Conflict


Sources of Conflict Conflict and Perception

Strategies in Conflict Resolution Avoiding Accommodating Forcing Compromising

Problem Solving: The Win–Win Strategy Description of the Strategy Beliefs Necessary to Implement the Strategy

Belief 1: Cooperation Is Better Than Competition Belief 2: Parties Can Be Trusted Belief 3: Status Differences Can Be Minimized Belief 4: Mutually Acceptable Solutions Can Be Found

Implementing the Strategy Conflict and Management Success Summary • Cases for Small-Group Discussion • Exercise

Chapter 14 • Negotiating Negotiation and Networking Negotiation and Conflict A Strategic Model for Negotiations Layer 1: Culture and Climate Layer 2: Sender, Receiver, and Purpose

Purpose Defining the Maximum Supportable and Least Acceptable Outcomes Finding the LAO and MSO Defining BATNA

Layer 3: Time, Environment, Content, and Channel Time Environment Message Content

Opening Messages Concessions Questions Answering Questions

Channel Layer 4: Core Strategies



Bluff Stacking Fait Accompli Take It or Leave It Screen

Summary • Cases for Small-Group Discussion • Exercise for Small Groups

Chapter 15 • Conducting Interviews Barriers to Effective Interviews

Barrier 1: Differing Intentions Barrier 2: Bias Barrier 3: Confusing Facts With Inferences Barrier 4: Nonverbal Communication Barrier 5: Effects of First Impressions Barrier 6: Organizational Status

Strategies for Effective Interviews 1: What Is the Interview Objective? 2: Where Is the Best Place to Conduct the Interview? 3: What Is the Best Way to Begin the Interview? 4: What Is the Best Questioning Strategy? 5: What Is the Best Sequence for the Questions? 6: What Are the Best Types of Questions? 7: What Is the Best Way to Close the Interview?

Employment Interviews Planning Legal Concerns The Employment Interview Process

Use Appropriate Questioning Strategy Do Not Do Most of the Talking Keep Records

Performance Review Interviews Types Planning

Timing Environment Message Content

The Performance Interview Process Supportive Communication Climate

Evaluative Versus Descriptive


Control Versus Problem Orientation Neutrality Versus Empathy Superiority Versus Equality Certainty Versus Provisionalism

Providing Performance Feedback Establishing Goals

Networking Purpose How to Network

Summary • Cases for Small-Group Discussion • Exercise for Small Groups




Preface to the Seventh Edition

The roots of this textbook extend back to 1984, when John Wiley and Sons published Managerial Communication: A Strategic Approach, by Larry Smeltzer and John Waltman. Their practical, results-oriented examination of managerial communication was groundbreaking at the time. In the preface they stated the book’s objective: “to develop managers who communicate in a creative manner by understanding and strategically applying appropriate concepts.” That objective is still valid.

A second edition added Don Leonard as third author in 1991. Gerry Hynes adopted the 1994 edition, authored by Larry Smeltzer and Don Leonard, by then titled Managerial Communication: Strategies and Applications. She had been looking for a graduate-level text that presented a balanced approach to workplace communication and that was written for managers and executives.

These strengths drew Gerry to that early edition:

A strategic approach A solid research base Comprehensive coverage of contemporary issues An even-handed examination of oral and written communication channels A focus on managerial rather than entry-level competencies

Gerry came onboard as third author with Smeltzer and Leonard for the 2002 edition and obtained sole authorship starting with the 2008 edition. In 2017, she invited Jennifer to join her as a second author on the new (seventh) edition. Our goal continues to be ensuring that the qualities that made the original book unique and successful are still present in this seventh edition. Truth is truth. It does not change with the times. Therefore, our task is to bring timeless communication principles into the contemporary workplace. To meet the needs of today’s busy manager/student, we updated the chapters, describing current business practices, summarizing relevant research, and providing guidelines for strategic managerial communication.

The reality is that an effective contemporary manager must possess a wide range of skills. While being accountable to an executive team and a customer base, a manager must be able to motivate subordinates and cross-functional work groups with diverse backgrounds, interpret complicated rules, foster process improvement, and meet sometimes-unclear organizational expectations. Furthermore, today’s manager often must use new technology to accomplish these tasks. Since these advanced abilities do not necessarily come from prior work experience, communication education is a vital component in managerial development.

Working together on this textbook has been both enjoyable and challenging. It has forced us to evaluate the content of the managerial communication courses we teach in our MBA programs, Gerry at Sam Houston State University and Jennifer at Minnesota State University, Mankato, to sort out what is important and what is no longer important for our students to know and be able to do. We hope that the results of these efforts satisfy other students’ professional communication needs as well. After all, we know for sure that effective


communication leads to managerial and organizational success. The value of these courses is not controversial; the key is to keep the course content fresh.


What’s New in This Edition

Many adopters of the sixth edition of Managerial Communication: Strategies and Applications indicated that major strengths are its balanced approach to managerial writing and oral communication, the end-of-chapter cases and exercises that offer opportunities for practice and application of the principles, and the comprehensive instructor supplements. We retained these strengths in the seventh edition. On the other hand, this edition shakes things up a bit. We realized that the book was missing an important mode of communication, so we added a new chapter on visual communication. We updated the content of the other chapters as well; the new features are described below.


New Chapter

Audiences expect professional documents to be not only accurate and thorough but also attractive and usable. Visual elements attract attention, organize information, and enhance the persuasiveness of messages. Although a comprehensive discussion of document design exceeds the scope of this book, we introduce a collection of design principles that managers can easily apply in their reports, proposals, presentations, and other documents. We also describe best practices for using a variety of graphics, including tables, data displays, and illustrations. Because some readers may have visual impairments, we offer advice about improving the accessibility of graphics. We conclude with a reminder about copyright protections that may limit use of graphics that students may find online.


Changes in Existing Chapters

Every chapter features updated examples and references to research and practice of managerial communication. Chapter-specific improvements in the seventh edition include the following:

Chapter 1 (“Communicating in Contemporary Organizations”) has an expanded consideration of the challenges that managers face in communicating with diverse groups of employees. Chapter 2 (“Understanding the Managerial Communication Process”) includes a clearer discussion of the strategic communication model, with examples for each level. Chapter 3 (“Communicating With Technology”) is updated to include greater coverage of electronic messaging at work, videoconferencing, and social media. Emphasis is on the principles and best practices that apply to both emerging technologies and better-established technologies, such as e-mail and videoconferencing. A section on surveillance warns students to expect that their employers will monitor their technology use. Chapter 4 (“Managing Meetings and Teams”) includes a considerably expanded discussion of effective communication for virtual teams and new Stop and Think inserts. Chapter 5 (“Making Presentations”) has an expanded section on virtual presentations and a new section on storytelling as a persuasive strategy. Chapter 7 (“Writing in the Workplace”) contains updated references. Advice about collaborative writing has been moved to the end of the chapter to return the focus to the writing process. Chapter 8 (“Writing Routine Messages”) offers updated guidelines for formatting and designing e-mail, letters, and memos. The expanded discussion of negative messages includes recent examples of corporate apologies. Chapter 9 (“Writing Reports and Proposals”) takes an in-depth look at formal and informal business reports, including proposals and analytical reports. It also provides more information about evaluating and citing sources of information. Chapter 10 (“Listening”) has a new section on social listening. It also expands the discussion of techniques for listening and responding to negative messages. Chapter 11 (“Communicating Nonverbally”) now includes a section on the use of emoji in business documents. Chapter 12 (“Communicating Across Cultures”) explores cultural differences in business communication. New examples of corporations that prepare their managers to function in culturally diverse environments, both abroad and domestically, have been added. Chapter 13 (“Managing Conflict”) adds new emphasis to advice on choosing conflict resolution approaches. Chapter 14 (“Negotiating”) includes a new expanded discussion of cross-cultural negotiation strategies. Chapter 15 (“Conducting Interviews”) presents additional guidelines for employment interviews and performance appraisal interviews. Strategies are offered for networking as a type of informational interviews.




Most importantly, we wish to acknowledge John Waltman, Larry Smeltzer, and Don Leonard, who pioneered this textbook. They explicated the centrality of communication for managerial success, which we now know is an enormous undertaking. We deeply respect their wisdom and vision.

Many people helped make this edition a reality. Josh Davis, an SHSU graduate business research assistant, performed his tasks with diligence, accuracy, and good cheer. Maggie Stanley, our SAGE acquisitions editor, smoothed the way with her perspicacity and dependability. Katie Ancheta and Alissa Nance kept us on schedule and helped us navigate the revision process. Andrew Olson, our Production Editor, was very professional, positive, and constructive as he shepherded this book through the final crucial stages. Several reviewers offered valuable insights and suggestions that shaped this edition. They are Abram Anders, University of Minnesota Duluth; Silvina Bamrungpong, California Lutheran University; Yvonne Block, College of Lake County; Rodney Carveth, Morgan State University; Renee King, Eastern Illinois University; Lisa Kleiman, Boise State University; Holly Lawrence, University of Massachusetts; and Astrid Sheil, California State University San Bernardino.

—Geraldine E. Hynes and Jennifer R. Veltsos

Thank you, Gerry, for inviting me to work with you on this book, mentoring me through the process, and being open and welcoming as I ventured into your world.

I am grateful to Johnna S. Horton for her unfailing encouragement and for her unknowing role as a persona for the revision of this book. Whenever I questioned a decision, I would ask “What would a manager like her need to know?” and the solution would often become clear.

My husband, Christophe, may not have intended to become a writer, but his enthusiasm and passion for communicating ideas with others has become a model of the kind of career I want to have. I thank him and our sons for their patience and support through this unexpected opportunity.

—Jennifer R. Veltsos

A special thanks goes to Dave Fosnough, former Irwin/McGraw-Hill field sales supervisor, who started me down this path in 1993, and to Patricia Quinlin, former SAGE business editor, who turned me in the right direction. I am where I am today because they believed in me.

Thank you, Jennifer, for joining me on this journey. The new edition is better than ever because of your contributions. It’s an honor to be your collaborator and friend.

I am forever grateful to my family—Jim, Maureen, Erasmus, Kellie, Bob, and my incandescent grandchildren, Ben, Aaron, Trixie, Samuel, and Clara—for their unreserved love and support.

Finally, I salute my students because they are dedicated to improving their managerial communication skills


and strategies, and because they believe that I can help them do it. This book is for you.

—Geraldine E. Hynes


About the Authors

Geraldine E. Hynes, PhD, retired in 2017 from Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas, USA, where she had been a professor in the College of Business Administration since 2001, teaching business and managerial communication at the undergraduate and graduate levels. She continues her practice as a communication consultant, executive coach, and contract trainer for business, government, and not-for- profit organizations. Her award-winning research has been published in scholarly journals and books in several countries and languages. She provides leadership to her discipline through the Association for Business Communication and was elected ABC president in 2010.

Jennifer R. Veltsos, PhD, is an associate professor of technical communication at Minnesota State University, Mankato, USA. Since 2007, she has taught undergraduate courses in business communication, technical communication, visual rhetoric and document design, and research methods; at the graduate level, she has taught managerial communication, proposals, and instructional design. Since 2017, she is also the director of the university’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning.



Part I Managing in Contemporary Organizations


1 Communicating in Contemporary Organizations

Extremists think “communication” means agreeing with them.

—Leo Rosten, U.S. (Polish-born) author and political scientist

As we move deeper into the 21st century, management communication is both challenging and exciting. It is challenging because organizations are becoming much more complex, and many new forces confront the manager. Greater competitive pressures, shorter product life cycles, increased demands for quality and service, more regulatory constraints, greater concerns for cost containment, heightened awareness of environmental concerns, and renewed emphasis on human rights are just some of the pressures increasing the complexity of the manager’s job. But these pressures also make managerial communication exciting. The contemporary manager has a greater opportunity than ever to make a significant difference in the success of the organization and increase the quality of work life for fellow employees. But that requires effective managerial communication skills, which are becoming more complex, making them more difficult to master.

The workplace is much more diverse and complex than it was just a few decades ago, and it requires more sophisticated management communication skills. At the start of the 20th century, heavy manufacturing was the industrial base of Western countries. Products changed little from year to year, and the workforce consisted mainly of white males. But today, products and entire management systems change rapidly, and employees must adapt just as quickly. In addition, work teams are extremely diverse. At Intel, one of the world’s largest and highest valued semiconductor chip makers, it is not uncommon to have a design engineer from Singapore working with a purchasing manager from Ireland and an accountant from California. This means the project manager must have the sophisticated skills required to communicate to a diverse work group in a rapidly changing environment.

Technology helps with this communication challenge, but it also adds new requirements. Advances in telecommunications have increased our communication capabilities, but we must learn how to best use these capabilities. In addition, the improved communication systems mean we have greater abilities to interact with multiple cultures, which require that we become better cross-cultural communicators. Furthermore, as technical products and services become more complex, we must be able to communicate about more complicated concepts than in the past.

Effective communication has been shown to be a leading indicator of financial performance. Towers Watson, a global company that provides human capital and management consulting services, conducted research on 651 organizations from a broad range of industries and regions over a ten-year period. They found that those companies that communicate effectively are 3.5 times more likely to significantly outperform their industry peers than those companies that do not communicate effectively. Other key findings include these approaches:

Managers at the best companies are three times more likely to communicate clearly to their employees the behaviors that are expected of them, instead of being focused on cost.


Managers at the best companies pay careful attention to their employees in their change planning; they communicate reasons for changes, provide training, and support the employees, instead of using a top- down approach. Extensive managerial communication improves the likelihood of successful change. Managers at the best companies are more than twice as likely to use new social media technologies to facilitate collaboration on work projects. Furthermore, they typically see better employee productivity and financial performance.1

Communication and its role in the life of an organization will continue to evolve. As a result, we must think about how communication will occur in the future. One way to understand what this will mean for managerial communication behavior is to look at the different stages through which managerial communication has already passed. As you read the following pages and note how managerial communication has changed over time, it is interesting and valuable to speculate how it will change during your career. Knowledge of the past will help us prepare for the future.


A Brief History of Managerial Communication

Managers communicated with employees in markedly different ways in the past than they do today. To best understand these changes, it is helpful to review the eras of management as listed in Table 1–1. After an overview of each era, the management communication strategies and techniques appropriate for that era are discussed.


Management Communication in Ancient Times

The earliest known example of managerial communication may be the record keeping procedure developed by Sumerian priests around 5000 BCE.2 These records, consisting of pictograms scratched or pressed into clay tablets, reflected cross-cultural business transactions, such as payments of beer to workers.3 Around the same time, Egyptians were developing hieroglyphics, which they wrote on clay, wood, or most often, papyrus.4 The Babylonians seem to have adopted cuneiform, the Sumerian form of writing. The Code of Hammurabi is a code of conduct or what we might think of as an early form of putting a request in writing, written circa 1750 BCE.5 Tablets found in London reveal that the ancient Romans were the first managers, using commercial languages to request payments, lend money, and settle legal disputes in the year 57 CE.6 The first committee may have been organized around 325 BCE, as Alexander the Great organized staff groups.

Table 1–1 Historical Perspective of Managerial Communication

Era Characteristics Communication

Ancient and medieval

Initial efforts to organize commerce Written records


Scientific management

Administrative theory

Clearly defined job duties, time specifications for completing the task, and adherence to rules

Emphasis on authority and discipline

One-way communication, heavy reliance on written job instructions and rules


Human relations

Relationship among managers and workers is important

Listening and interpersonal communication skills become important



Complexity of organizational behavior and communication recognized

Development of communication theory, beginning to apply theory to organizational practice



Distribution of power to everyone in the organization

Two-way communication; participation of employees



Interdependence of jobs, organizations, and people

Communication strategy must be applied to the situation


Venice, Italy, was a major center for merchants and economic exchange during medieval times. Merchants built warehouses and used an inventory system that required periodic reports for the city governing body.7 These brief examples indicate that, since the beginning of commerce, some type of managerial communication has been practiced.


Stop and Think 1. Do you suppose managers complained about meetings in ancient times as much as they do now? 2. Other than technology use, what has changed in the way business is conducted?


1900s: Management Efficiency and One-Way Communication

The systematic evolution of managers as communicators began around the turn of the 20th century. The scientific management philosophy stressed the scientific study and organization of work. During this era, it was believed that the greatest levels of efficiency could be obtained with extremely precise job instructions and that employees should not second-guess the instructions. This period is characterized by one-way communication at work.

The background to the scientific management philosophy helps us understand its relationship to communication. Frederick Taylor was a supervisor at the Philadelphia Midvale Steel Company in the late 1800s when he became interested in ways to improve lathe work. He believed it was possible to develop a science that could indicate the most efficient and effective manner for performing a task; then this technique could be written in elaborate job designs and communicated to employees through extensive training. To Taylor, employees were just another element in his formula.8 Other proponents of the scientific management theory developed these concepts further. Frank Gilbreth studied motion to make bricklaying more efficient. After carefully analyzing the procedures followed by bricklayers, he reduced the number of motions from an average of 18 to 4.5 per brick on exterior brick and from 18 to 2 on interior brick.9 To ensure precision, he invented the microchrometer, a clock with a sweeping second hand that could record time in 1/200 of a minute. Harrington Emerson developed 12 principles of efficiency for the railroads. One of his most repeated principles was discipline, which included adherence to rules and strict obedience.10

We still see elements of the scientific method today in such businesses as McDonald’s. The founder, Ray Kroc, used scientific management techniques to bring quality, service, cleanliness, and value to the fast-food industry. Every employee has a precise job description, each task is to be completed in a specified period, and there is strict adherence to rules. These procedures allow employees to be trained in a short time and reduce the number of unique conditions to which managers must adapt. Only limited strategic managerial communication is required.11

Scientific management attempted to systematize the work environment by reducing individual variance. This made the job easier for both the managers and the workers because unique situations were eliminated. Management’s role was to establish a set of elaborate rules and communicate them to employees. Employees were expected to follow them. Managerial authority was not to be questioned, and deviations from the norm or negotiations were not allowed.

While scientific management was receiving extensive attention in the United States, administrative theory was developing in France. Although this approach to management emerged during the same era as scientific management, its focus was quite different. While scientific management was concerned mainly with making processes efficient, administrative theory focused on broader issues facing all managers.

A key figure in developing this theory was Henri Fayol, who developed 14 principles of management.12 Table 1–2 presents six of the principles related to managerial communication. Note that two-way communication


between the manager and employee is limited; the manager’s authority is emphasized. The manager’s role is to give orders and maintain discipline; little attention is placed on listening skills. Teamwork and participative decision making were not integral to administrative theory. This approach is similar to the military model of the time, in which officers were extremely autocratic—soldiers were not encouraged to provide feedback to them, and the officers seldom listened. It is also comparable to the political system used in totalitarian governments.

Table 1–2 Six of Fayol’s Principles

1. Division of work. Efficiency requires that the total task be broken into small component parts assigned to workers who specialize in these limited tasks.

2. Authority. Managers have the formal authority to give orders. However, to be effective leaders, they must also possess personal authority deriving from their skill, experience, and character.

3. Discipline. Workers should willfully obey the rules and leaders of the organization.

4. Unity of command. Each employee should receive orders from only one supervisor.

5. Subordination of individual interest to general interest. The company’s interest always takes precedence over the individual’s interests.

6. Scalar chain. An unbroken line of authority runs from the top manager of an enterprise to the lowest levels of the organization. For giving orders and reports, this line should normally be observed.

Source: Henri Fayol, General and Industrial Management (London: Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons, 1949).

The sixth principle, scalar chain, has special importance in our discussion of managerial communication. Fayol recognized the traditional organization hierarchy as important in establishing the chain of command. However, he also saw inefficiencies in the system when employees at the same level needed to communicate. Figure 1–1 shows how Employee B would communicate with Employee J according to prevailing thought at the time. The employee would have to send the message up the organization’s chain of command to the top; then, the message would come down through another chain of command. The implications for inefficiency and ineffectiveness are clear to contemporary managers.

Figure 1–1 Following the Hierarchy


To bypass these problems, Fayol developed what is now famously known as the gangplank theory. According to this theory, Employee B would be allowed to communicate directly with Employee J if each had permission from their immediate supervisors to do so and they kept the supervisors apprised of the communication. Figure 1–2 diagrams informal networks and horizontal communication.

Gangplank theory was the first formal recognition of horizontal communication and acknowledged the importance of organizational structure and informal communication networks, which are now taken for granted in most contemporary organizations. But a strict chain of command is still used in some organizations. Throughout this book, we will discuss how organizations differ and how these differences must be considered when communicating.


1920s: The Human Relations Approach and the Rise of Interpersonal Communication

During the early 1900s, the nature of management and the manager’s job became the focus of attention. While scientific management and administrative theory focused on compliance and efficiency, others were beginning to study the relationships between organizational members. The heart of the human relations approach is that attention to social needs and participation improves morale. In turn, this morale leads to greater compliance with managerial authority. In the human relations approach, managerial communication, not carefully planned procedures, is a tool for controlling organizational processes.

Figure 1–2 Gangplank Theory

Dale Carnegie was one of the first writers to link communication skill with managerial effectiveness. His most famous book may be How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936), in which he wrote about the social and psychological aspects of business communication and building professional relationships.13 Carnegie argued that gaining compliance from other people depends on interpersonal dynamics of attraction and influence.14 He offered his own prescriptions for influencing others by listening, showing an interest in their concerns, and gaining their confidence. Although his primary audience was not managers, his message to them was clear. Obtaining employee commitment to the organization does not depend solely on economic motivators or the authority of a manager’s position. Commitment is gained through interpersonal communication skills. This was a radical change to those who previously believed a manager could “buy” commitment. His legacy continues today through the Dale Carnegie Training Institute, which has expanded into sales, leadership, and presentations training for business professionals in 80 countries and in 25 languages.

While Dale Carnegie was presenting his seminars, a group of Harvard professors, led by Elton Mayo, was


conducting a series of studies that became known as the Hawthorne studies.15 At Western Electric Company’s Hawthorne plant in Illinois, management followed the scientific management principles to produce telephones. Little personal communication occurred between managers and employees; job specifications and work rules were spelled out. The manager’s job was to enforce them through authority and discipline.

A group of industrial engineers was studying the effect of increasing the light in work areas on productivity. The engineers set out to find the optimum conditions by experimenting with the lighting, but the results of the study defied explanation. Productivity increased regardless of what the researchers did to the lighting. When light was increased, productivity went up. When light was held constant, productivity still went up. Even when the level of light was decreased, productivity continued to increase until workers could no longer see what they were doing.


Stop and Think Recall a time when the instructor of a course or training class asked for your input on the course topics, schedule, methods, or even the meeting time and location.

1. How did the ability to voice your opinion influence the amount you learned? 2. How did it affect your interest and motivation?

The results of these illumination studies were disturbing to engineers schooled in scientific management principles. To further study why their principles failed, researchers isolated and observed a small group of workers. These studies included changes in compensation, rest periods, work schedules, and work methods. In general, productivity increased during the studies regardless of changes in the work conditions. The researchers finally concluded the relationship between the researchers and the workers accounted for the results. The researchers had shown a great personal interest in the workers as they consulted with and kept them informed about changes. The relationship established between the researchers and the employees was quite different from that of the managers and employees in other parts of the plant.

Because the results differed from what was expected, the industrial engineers continued to study working conditions. Traditionally, scientific management advocates simply observed workers as the researchers sought the most efficient way to organize a job. During the next phase, the researchers interviewed thousands of employees to discover their attitudes toward working conditions, managers, and work in general. This was probably the first time extensive interviewing was conducted in the workplace. Questioning or interviewing became part of the work environment.

The interviews indicated that people who work under similar conditions experience these conditions in different ways and assign different meanings to their experiences. The research concluded that employees’ attitudes depend on the social organization of the group and their positions in these groups. One of the primary researchers, Elton Mayo, recommended that managers be friendly in their relationships with workers, listen to workers’ concerns, and give workers a sense of participation in decisions so they could meet their social needs.16 In many respects, both Mayo and Carnegie were similar in their advice, and both were in stark contrast to the scientific management philosophy.

Or were they? Did this human relations approach really differ from the scientific management approach? Some would argue that both Mayo and Carnegie were promoting highly manipulative managerial communication strategies intended only to gain compliance from workers and to promote acceptance of managerial authority.

Although the general orientation of management during that era may have been manipulative, the human relations approach pointed out the importance of interpersonal communication. The legacy of the human relations approach is that managing groups, listening, and interviewing are now all considered integral to


managerial communication.


1950s: The Behavioral Approach and Organizational Communication

During the 1950s, managers’ behavior, including communication, received extensive attention. Economics, anthropology, psychology, and sociology were all applied to understanding communication on the job. The general orientation was to view organizational members as full human beings, not just as tools used to complete a job. Peter Drucker was among the first management gurus to assert that workers should be treated as assets, not as liabilities. He originated the view of the corporation as a human community built on trust and respect for the worker and not just a profit-making machine.17 Many management theories emerged during this era, such as McGregor’s theory X and theory Y, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Likert’s four systems of management, Blake and Mouton’s managerial grid, and Herzberg’s motivational model. These theories, explained in most comprehensive management textbooks, have valuable information about what is required for effective managerial communication. Unfortunately, the theoretical explanations of managerial behavior became extremely complex, too complex for most managers to understand and apply. Many training programs were developed to help managers apply these theories, but often little benefit resulted.

While theories were being developed about behavior at work, much also was being done in the area of communication theory. For instance, J. L. Austen developed the speech act theory, which maintains that certain communication conventions must be used to be effective, and David Berlo developed a model emphasizing two-way communication.18 Attention was given to social influences on communication, but unfortunately, the social context of managers was given little or no attention.19

The nature of organizational structure also received extensive attention. Organizations of the 1950s and 1960s were recognized as being different from the social organizations of the early 1900s. Karl Weick developed a theory of organizing that helped us understand the nature of organizations and how communication operates within them. Weick and others made it clear that organizations are not stable, static entities; rather, they are continually evolving. Internal and external communication networks are continually evolving too. Changing types of information and factors like rumors and informal communication must be considered by managers when communicating. Forty years earlier, Fayol recognized the importance of communication networks and organizational structure when he presented the gangplank concept. Now, entire organizations and their structure were receiving renewed attention.20 The nature of managerial and employee behavior, the study of communication, and an analysis of the nature of organizations all had important implications for managers as communicators. However, as mentioned earlier, these studies resulted in a complex body of knowledge that was difficult for managers to use. Out of this behavioral approach, the era of employee empowerment emerged.


1990s: The Empowerment Approach and Participative Communication

Empowerment is power sharing, the delegation of power or authority to employees in the organization.21 In traditional organizations, all the power to make decisions was vested in top management, but since the emergence of the behavioral approach, we have seen a major shift away from the centralization of power. Empowerment encourages employees to participate fully in the organization. In the 1990s, we began to see power being given to others in the organization, so they could act more freely to accomplish their jobs.

As companies experienced more intense global competition and rapidly developing technology, many top managers believed giving up centralized control would promote faster product development, flexibility, and quality. In a 1989 study, 74 percent of the chief executive officers surveyed reported they were more participatory, were more consensus oriented, and relied more on communication than on command than in years past. They found less value in being dictatorial, autocratic, or imperial.22 The chief executive officer’s letter to the General Electric stockholders in the 1990 annual report provides an example of the empowerment philosophy. In this letter, the CEO asserted that managers must learn to delegate, facilitate, listen, and trust. He talked about the sharing of ideas to develop one vision for the huge corporation.

Sharing a vision means sharing information. In the traditional organization, the top managers are frequently the only ones who know the financial condition of the company, but in organizations that empower employees, information is shared with everyone. For instance, Springfield Remanufacturing Center Corp. in Springfield, Missouri, is an employee-owned company where workers on the line know—and are taught to understand—almost everything the president knows about costs and revenues, departmental productivity, and strategic priorities.23 The empowerment movement can be seen in union–management relations; union members have become more involved in management decisions as management provides more information to them. In fact, information sharing is often part of contract negotiations.24 Both management and union members can be found on work quality and productivity improvement teams.

You may not be surprised that attempts at empowerment faced many challenges. Caterpillar Inc., the heavy- equipment manufacturer, worked with the United Auto Workers in the 1980s to improve employee relations, including a program that asked shop floor workers to submit ideas for improving operations. However, when the industry met financial troubles in 1991, the employee involvement program became the victim of a bitter battle between the company and the United Auto Workers. An adversarial relationship between union and management returned; accordingly, one-way communication was more frequent than would be expected in an environment of empowerment.25

Although efforts to empower employees may run into problems, a number of strategies for empowering employees can be attempted, such as autonomous work groups, self-leadership, work-out groups, and quality circles. But as mentioned in the discussion of the behavioral approach, some of the theories and programs for empowerment can become so complicated they are difficult to apply and are not suitable for every contemporary organization. As a result, the contingency approach has emerged as a management philosophy

that makes sense in the early 21st century.26



21st Century: The Contingency Approach to Management Communication

Managers who are effective see the interdependence of the various aspects of jobs, organizations, and communication. The basic idea of the contingency approach is that there is no one best way. The appropriate communication strategy varies from one situation to another. The most effective and efficient strategy depends on a number of factors. Accordingly, a communication method highly effective at one time and place may be ineffective in another situation. The contingency approach recognizes the importance of matching different situations with varying communication strategies. The scientific approach may be more appropriate in one situation, while extensive efforts to empower employees may be better in another setting.

For example, during a crisis, a manager may yell at employees and tell them exactly what to do because two- way communication might waste time. But during more tranquil times, discussion between the manager and employees may be appropriate. Each communication strategy—the direct autocratic approach and the participative approach—is appropriate in different situations.

The contingency approach has grown in popularity recently because of the complexity of organizations. Especially in multinational and multicultural organizations, managers must understand that there is no one best way of communicating; effective communication is contingent on the situation. That is not to say, however, that contemporary organizations are managed chaotically. On the contrary, accountability and oversight systems have been emphasized since the meltdown of multinationals such as Enron, Adelphia, and WorldCom in the early 2000s. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (especially Section 404) stresses the need for business control and auditing processes. The point is that, as corporate governance becomes more transparent, information flows more freely and effective managers adapt to the complexities of each situation when communicating.

In summary, each era approaches communication differently but helps us better understand communication within contemporary organizations and the type of communication that may be appropriate in the future. Good ideas can be drawn from the scientific, administrative, human relations, behavioral, and empowerment approaches to communication. For example, without the administrative and human relations orientations, managerial communication might still focus on keeping records, giving orders, and maintaining discipline. Creative analysis is required to ensure that communication strategies adapt to the varying contingencies.


Stop and Think 1. What are some of the complexities in today’s business environment that make the contingency model appropriate? 2. How can today’s managers identify the contributing factors in their particular situation?


Factors Affecting Communication Contingencies

The nature of communication and a model of managerial communication are presented in Chapter 2. This discussion presents three contingencies that should be considered when developing a strategy for managerial communication. It is impossible to review all contingencies because every manager faces many unique situations. However, it is possible to review the major current events that may influence a manager’s environment. The following sections review major social and business influences that affect managerial communication contingencies, particularly diversity, competition and product quality, and ethics.



Today, everyone works with more diverse populations than just a few decades ago. Beginning in the 1960s, the United States embraced tolerance and diversity as a strategic mission. However, minimizing cultural bias in the workplace continues to be a challenge for managers. This challenge, which is discussed throughout this text, means managers must not only be able to communicate with a greater variety of audiences but also must help their employees see diversity as a corporate asset rather than a liability. The contemporary manager should be particularly aware of four types of diversity that are becoming more predominant: gender, culture, age, and education.

Gender Diversity

During the past three decades, much has been written about how men and women communicate differently. Attention has also been given to how women and men communicate with each other. Many questions have been asked: Are men more assertive than women? Do women show more social support and sympathy to colleagues? Do men and women provide different types of feedback? Do leadership styles of men and women differ? Do women convey a different nonverbal message with the same gesture? Do men use space differently with other men than with women? Do men and women use different persuasive strategies? In many cases, the answers to these and similar questions are not clear; furthermore, there is evidence that the answers evolve as general social changes occur.

Sexual harassment is an example of a factor that affects communication between the genders at work. When some people think of sexual harassment, they think of touching or making physical advances. However, to others, sexual harassment can be an overheard ribald joke, extensive eye gaze, or even unexpected and unwelcome proximity. (Chapter 11 outlines the most common consequences of misinterpreted nonverbal behaviors.) Another possible example of sexual harassment in the workplace is a supervisor’s sudden change in work schedules that makes it difficult for a worker to arrange child care or transportation to work.27 The point here is that the definition of workplace harassment is evolving and broadening to reflect such perceptions.

Because of the evolving nature of communication and workplace relationships between the genders, definitive answers on gender differences in communication are difficult. But strong arguments for differences have been presented. In her best-selling book, Deborah Tanner makes a case for supporting the differences in communication styles of men and women. In doing so, she also presents interesting reasons men and women have difficulty communicating with each other. These reasons include both inherited traits and learned behavior.28

The differences in communication between genders are important because of the increasing gender diversity of the workforce. Both men and women will have difficulty succeeding if they cannot successfully communicate with each other. During the early 20th century, women who worked (by choice or by circumstances) had either mostly routine, low-level manufacturing or clerical jobs; if they wanted to be a


professional, their choices were teaching and nursing. Meanwhile, men had a greater variety of jobs such as management and engineering. Overall, men worked mostly with men, and women worked with other women or children.

But women have greater opportunities today and have access to most professions. Women represented 40 percent of the U.S. workforce in 1976, and that number grew to more than 47 percent by 2010.29 The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the participation rate of women will increase by another 5.4 percentage points by the year 2022, which would make women the majority of the workforce.30 Women are also moving into management. In 1983, only about a third of managers were women, but by 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, women filled 51.5 percent of management, professional, and related occupations.31 Furthermore, the number of women serving as corporate officers in the top ten Fortune 500 companies doubled in less than twenty years—from 8.7 percent in 1995 to 23 percent in 2014 and 24 percent worldwide.32 Yet 31 percent of businesses have no women in leadership roles.33 Obviously there is still room to grow.

As mentioned earlier, a strong argument can be made that men and women tend to communicate differently, which often causes men and women to experience miscommunication with each other at work. As Sallie Krawcheck, CEO of the financial services firm Ellevest, explains, women in management may be more risk averse than men, often take a longer-term perspective, and are often more relationship oriented. Such gender differences should be considered complementary rather than problematic, since research shows that diversity in work teams leads to better outcomes. (See Chapter 4 for a thorough examination of team communication.) Effective managers must be sensitive to gender differences and make special efforts to adjust their communication.34

Cultural Diversity

Managers must be able to communicate with people from other cultures as well as people of different genders. The increasing diversity of the U.S. workforce is a reflection of the increasingly diverse population. This demographic phenomenon brings a range of interests, languages, and cultures that impacts the way business is conducted. No longer can we assume that the typical business professional is a non-Hispanic white. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that 17 percent are Hispanic, 12 percent are black, and 6 percent are Asian, and these numbers will continue to grow.35

It is critical for businesses to know the demographic makeup of geographical regions so they can effectively localize products, services, and marketing. For example, many southwestern U.S. cities have large populations of Hispanic workers, whereas southeastern cities may have more African American employees. In parts of New Mexico and Arizona, managers may have many Native American employees, but a job transfer to California or Hawaii may involve managing more Asian American employees than before. Managers must be aware of regional differences that could influence work values and communication styles. Managers must learn to communicate with other managers and employees of all cultural backgrounds. In less than twenty years, the racial and ethnic landscape will become even more diverse, at which point our communication styles will be all the more important.


Managers must be able to work with diverse cultures both within their own organizations and from other organizations. For example, executives, such as purchasing managers, must be familiar with cross-cultural communication because of the increase of international business. International purchasing alliances too frequently fail because of poor communication.36 This may be termed intercultural business communication, which is discussed in detail in Chapter 12.

In an effort to capture the growing multicultural market, U.S. businesses are offering different products and services, and they are using new advertising and promotional appeals. Although Hispanic people may be the largest ethnic group in the United States, Asian Americans are the fastest growing one. The buying power of this group is expected to reach $1.1 trillion in 2020. But diversity in languages and culture will present challenges to marketers and managers alike.37


Stop and Think 1. Recall a recent TV commercial or advertisement of one of your favorite products. How does the persuasive message appeal

to multicultural audiences? 2. How could it be improved?

Age Diversity

A third kind of diversity that managers must recognize is age diversity. Americans are living longer, and the average employee is getting older. For the first time in history, five generations are working together. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the number of employed Americans who are age 55 or older has doubled since 1994 to nearly 22 percent of the labor force.38 Of those, 16 percent are between ages fifty- five and sixty-four, and nearly 6 percent are at least sixty-five years old.39 Meanwhile, the vanguard of Generation Z (born in 1996) has already entered the workforce.

These generational shifts can be challenging to managers and employees alike. According to a Harris study for CareerBuilder.com, 38 percent of employees report to someone younger.40 Older workers may feel that their experience isn’t valued, and younger managers may feel that their decisions are being questioned. Both groups may feel that the skills of the “Boomers” are outdated.41 The worker who is thirty years old in 2018 has lived in a much different world from that of the worker who is sixty. The thirty-year-old, born in 1988, did not experience the national turmoil of the Vietnam War, grew up in an era of relative affluence, and is an avid techie. Multicultural social networks are important. The sixty-year-old remembers the Vietnam War and was affected by both the dot com bubble of the early 2000s and the global economic collapse of 2008. Economic and national securities are major concerns.

Age differences can affect the way employees work. The Millennial generation, already the largest segment of the workforce, will strongly influence workplace culture in the future. Kronos’ Employee Engagement Lifecycle Series study found that 40 percent of Millennials surveyed felt that employees should define work culture, far more than the 13 percent of managers and 9 percent of HR professionals who said the same.42 Another Harris survey found that only 22 percent of Boomers (born 1946–1964) said answering a work e- mail during a family dinner was acceptable. By comparison, 52 percent of Millennials (born 1981–1997) said they saw nothing wrong with the practice.43 Such results support the perception that older cohorts consider “work” to be a place to go to (and leave), while younger cohorts consider “work” to be an activity to be accomplished anywhere and anytime. The implication is that younger workers expect to be evaluated for productivity, not hours at their desk, especially since technology makes geographic location irrelevant. Yet both groups agree that face-to-face interactions are important (58% of 25–34-year-olds vs. 64% of 55+) and that casual office attire is appropriate (66% vs. 54%), so common ground may be easier to find than we think.44


Globalization and social media have created connections that could make differences in age and experiences more significant than cultural differences. For instance, consider a woman of Korean descent and one of

Hispanic descent who are both thirty years old, born and raised in a suburb of Dallas, educated at the University of Texas, and working in Dallas. These two women may have more in common and find it easier to communicate with each other than with the sixty-year-old Hispanic or Southeast Asian immigrant women they supervise.

Communication across age differences can be a major challenge in the workplace, a challenge that companies can ill afford to ignore. Every generation is different, and generation gaps are natural, but generational tensions seem especially strong when leaders are from one generation and employees are from another generation. Mutual respect and open lines of communication are the recipe for a productive professional relationship across generations. Older workers may have a strong work ethic and avoid drama. Younger workers tend to think and act quickly, and they are often willing to try out new ideas and technologies.45 Respecting each others’ strengths and helping others continue to grow will benefit everyone in the workplace. Managers must consider age diversity as a factor that affects their communication contingencies because of its implications for workplace harmony.

Education Diversity

The fourth kind of diversity that managers should recognize as a contingency is educational level, because the workforce’s education is changing dramatically. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 89 percent of U.S. residents twenty-five and older are at least high school graduates. The bureau reported record high educational levels for nearly every racial and ethnic group and the nation overall. Furthermore, 33 percent of the civilian labor force has a college degree.46 As you move up through the management ranks, there is a good chance that you will manage people who have more experience or knowledge than you do.47 In the scientific management era, a manager could simply tell an educated employee what to do; however, today managers must listen to the employee and seek assistance with problem solving.

In summary, gender, culture, age, and educational diversity are major factors affecting a manager’s communication contingencies. Diversity helps the bottom line. Ethnically diverse organizations are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns that exceed industry averages than less diverse ones, and gender-diverse organizations are 15 percent more likely to perform better.48 Given the increasingly diverse workforce, today’s managers need to develop competencies that will enable effective communication internally with bosses, employees, and coworkers and externally with customers, suppliers, vendors, regulatory agencies, and the public.


Competition and the Drive for Quality

As explained in the previous section, diversity is an important managerial communication contingency. A second is quality, which is a competitive advantage for business. In the late 1960s, the French journalist Jean- Jacques Servan-Schreiber received considerable notoriety for his book The American Challenge.49 In this book, he warned Europeans that American industry was well ahead of the industrialized world and the United States was widening its lead. But in 1992, such books as Quality or Else: The Revolution in World Business emphasized that quality must be improved if the United States is to remain competitive.50 A pioneer of the drive for quality, W. Edwards Deming, pointed out that in order to continuously improve quality, systems must be in place for gathering feedback from the employees and customers. Contemporary managers now accept the idea that business is a globally competitive game and quality is the key to victory. Competitive advantage and quality are common words in business today. But what do the terms mean?

Competition may be considered as the effort of two or more parties acting independently to secure the business of a third party by offering the most attractive terms. A competitive environment means the organization must produce a product or service in a more efficient and effective manner than its competitors. Also, the service or product must possess greater value at the same or lower price. Little room exists for errors; defective parts must be minimal, few or no reworked parts can be allowed, few product repairs can be tolerated, and delivery cycles must be short. Continuous efforts are required to find new ways to improve the product or service while reducing costs.

Some of the characteristics an organization needs to gain competitive advantage in today’s markets include the ability to do the following:

Access resources Add value Develop a good skills base among the workforce Attract investment Develop nonprice characteristics that appeal to other markets Be price competitive Be efficient Use technology Be innovative

As you look over this list of factors, note how many directly rely on management’s communication competencies. Yes, most of them. Today’s managers must be able to gather information and ideas, share data, and promote and persuade to ensure continuous process improvement. Managers must be efficient and effective communicators in a fast-paced, highly competitive environment. Limited time exists to relax and contemplate communication strategies.

Let us look at an example. Toyota is the number one automaker in the United States (by production).51 As of


2017, it was the tenth-largest company in the world (by revenue).52 Toyota relies on manufacturing systems, statistical process control, and other proven methods under a continuous improvement strategy to produce high-quality products that consumers demand. All the elements, including management’s communication with dealers, suppliers, and employees, contribute to Toyota’s reputation for quality.53

To enhance their competitiveness, many organizations use cross-functional work teams in which employees learn a variety of tasks and work together. It is almost the direct opposite of the scientific management approach. When cross-functional work teams are used, managers must understand and coordinate a variety of activities. They must be able to communicate from a variety of perspectives.

In some cases, entire organizational cultures must be changed from one in which quality is of little importance to a culture that says, “Quality Is Job One,” Ford Motor Company’s motto since the 1980s. The slogan succinctly represents the corporate cultural changes that many companies are attempting. This means managers must be able to communicate a real interest in quality, and they must be willing to listen to

employees about quality improvements. In 2003, as Ford celebrated its 100th anniversary, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Bill Ford said, “Our success always has been driven by our products and our people. . . . We’re going to apply fresh thinking and innovative technology to everything we do, from our basic business processes to the products that define who we are as a company.”54 This dedication appears to be paying off: J.D. Powers ranked it fourth globally in overall quality.55

Here is a simple example of how the organization’s quality culture works. A Ford automobile assembly worker believed he had a better way to mount the door mirror. After several discussions with the departmental managers, a better procedure was implemented.56 If managers are not willing to listen about quality improvements, they will not be successful in implementing the necessary corporate culture.



A third major contingency that managers should consider when communicating is business ethics. The dangers of unethical behavior have been exemplified in recent years by major scandals in the corporate world. In the early 21st century, executives at Adelphia, Arthur Andersen, Enron, WorldCom, Martha Stewart Omnimedia, HealthSouth, and other corporations were charged with major ethics violations—accounting fraud, stock manipulation, obstructing justice, lying, and so on. In many cases, the accused executives were convicted, and in some cases, their companies were even destroyed. In 2016, Wells Fargo admitted that its employees had created hundreds of thousands of fake accounts to meet quotas; a year later, it admitted that employees had also sold customers car insurance that they didn’t need, causing some to go into default on their loans and have their cars repossessed.57 Such events have triggered renewed concern for ethical standards in business.

Ethical dilemmas and temptations face managers at all levels, not just the political leaders and corporate executives who receive the attention of journalists. The top ethical issues in business today include corporate accounting practices, the use of social media among employees, workplace relationships (harassment), and pay equity.58 Consider the following examples of ethical issues in managerial communication:

The supervisor of a travel agency was aware his agents could receive large bonuses for booking 100 or more clients each month with an auto rental firm, although clients typically wanted the rental agency selected on the basis of lowest cost. The agents worked on a commission basis. Should the supervisor “warn” his employees, or should they be trusted to use their best judgment? The executive in charge of a parts distribution facility told employees to tell phone customers that inventory was in stock, even if it was not. Replenishing the items took only one to two days; no one was hurt by the delay. Is it ethical for the company to omit this information? The project manager for a consulting assignment wondered whether some facts should be left out of a report because the marketing executives paying for the report would look bad if the facts were included. What is the project manager’s ethical responsibility? A North American manufacturer operating abroad was asked to make cash payments (a bribe) to government officials and was told it was consistent with local customs, despite being illegal in the U.S. by the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.59 Should the manufacturer make such payments?

Answers to these questions are not easy, and in today’s atmosphere of cynicism and mistrust, little room for error exists. Chapter 2 discusses the concept of communication climate and points out that trust is essential to developing a positive communication climate. Unfortunately, managers have difficulty developing trust when so many blatant examples of mistrust surface and individual managers face conflicting ethical demands.

No concrete set of ethical rules exists. There is no law to follow. Many behaviors have not been codified, and managers must be sensitive to emerging norms and values. Sensitivity to the nuances of ethical communication is the only way to maintain employee trust.



Stop and Think Examine the code of conduct for a company, profession, or industry you are interested in.

1. Who wrote the code of conduct? 2. What are the consequences of honoring it? 3. What are the consequences of violating it (if any)? 4. What do you consider the most important reason that codes of conduct exist?

Because no universal laws exist, what one person or group considers ethical may be unethical to another. The question of taking bribes is a good example; they are quite ethical in one country but unethical and even illegal in another. Organizations are assisting managers with the many ethical quandaries they face when communicating by providing guidelines, seminars, and workshops. A recent survey of 71 U.S.-based global organizations in a range of industries found that employee ethics training is, in fact, commonplace; not only does it foster ethical behavior among employees, but ethics training also improves organizational performance.60

Another strategy many companies use to improve communication ethics is to develop a formal code of ethics. The code clarifies company expectations of employee conduct and makes clear that the company expects its personnel to recognize the ethical dimensions of corporate behavior and communication. A code of conduct may be broad or specific, and most address managerial communication. For instance, the following is taken from International Paper’s code of conduct, which is published on the company’s website.

This Code of Conduct is designed to communicate our core values of commitment, ownership, respect, and excellence, and the standards that govern our business. It also provides guidelines for navigating successfully through ethical challenges. In our competitive global environment, we sometimes encounter situations that test our judgment and integrity. When that happens, this Code will help us respond in such a manner as to uphold the IP Way and comply with the spirit and letter of the law.61

Another possibility is an ethics committee or an ethics ombudsperson. With this approach, either one executive or a panel of executives is appointed to oversee the organization’s ethics and serve as a consultant to other managers. This provides an opportunity for a manager to go to one person or a group of people to seek advice when confronted with an ethical issue. The importance of such a position is demonstrated by Xerox, where the ombudsperson reports directly to the CEO.


The Importance of Studying Managerial Communication

In 2017, the Kansas City Chiefs football team fired head coach John Dorsey, in part because of his poor internal communication style. Sources say that he did not explain important decisions, such as the firing of two successful directors.62 Employee engagement suffers when employees feel uncertainty, but giving them the information they need helps them become happier and more productive.63

A survey by the American Management Association showed that communication, interpersonal skills, collaboration, cultural sensitivity, and diversity are some of the most common topics for employee training.64 Jennifer Jones, director of the training firm AMA Enterprise, says that communication skills are essential for managers to succeed in their jobs.

Communication is actually an umbrella term for such core skills as listening, thinking clearly, interpreting organizational concepts, being alert to non-verbal signals as well as dealing with any stress or emotional issues in working with co-workers or supervisors. Indeed, understood correctly communications helps a person understand a situation, resolve differences and build trust. It’s essential for a productive workplace to encourage creativity and collaboration in order to solve problems or achieve business objectives.65

Furthermore, a recent study showed that managers, particularly those of the Boomer Generation, consider interpersonal and oral communication skills when making decisions about promotion. Although written communication did not rate as highly, the researchers suggest that managers consider writing to be a “threshold competency” that all candidates are expected to have.66

The Project Management Institute, Inc., headquartered in Pennsylvania, has provided solid evidence for the claim that managerial communication is a critical core competency for business success. In 2013, PMI published an in-depth report, Pulse of the Profession: The High Cost of Low Performance: The Essential Role of Communications. The report was the result of research conducted among over 1,000 project managers, executives, and business owners involved in large capital projects (at least $250,000) worldwide. PMI’s study revealed that $135 million is at risk for every $1 billion spent on a project, and a startling 56 percent is at risk because of ineffective communication with stakeholders. Undoubtedly, effective communication is the most crucial success factor in a complex and competitive business climate. The report concludes, “Organizations cannot afford to overlook this key element of project success and long-term profitability.”67

This introductory chapter presents a historical overview of managerial communication, concluding that the contingency approach is the most appropriate, and it reviews three factors that affect contingencies. But organizational management and the corresponding communication are in constant transition. Not every contingency can be discussed, and managers must remain creative and strategic as they communicate in many unique and challenging situations. Our challenge is to understand management communication and begin to prepare for these changes. This book will help you compose messages that focus on the needs of your readers,


explain ideas in a clear and ethical manner, and strengthen your reputation as a good communicator.



Management communication has gone through a number of changes since ancient and medieval times. In recent years, increasingly more attention has been given to managerial communication and employee engagement.

To better understand managerial situations, several contemporary dynamics affecting communication are presented. Different types of diversity are reviewed: gender, culture, age, and education. The work population will probably become more diverse in the majority of these attributes.

The drive for competitive advantage through improved product and service quality also affects managerial communication. As a result, everything will occur in shorter time cycles, and less room for error will exist as a result of quality demands.

Ethics is another contemporary dynamic that must be considered. Although management ethics can create difficult communication decisions, organizations provide assistance with training programs and codes of ethics. In addition to these dynamics affecting contemporary communication, trends imply that communication will become more frequent, intense, and intercultural as it grows in importance.


Cases For Small-Group Discussion


Case 1–1


Ethics and Technology Chris smiled as he received the analysis packet from his supervisor. He had been working from home for GEH Mortgage Company, analyzing mortgage applications, for the past three years. This particular application involved not just a home mortgage but also an entire farmstead, a home and business. Whenever he received an assignment he did not know how to analyze, he would call on his friend Joel, whom he had known since high school, to help him accomplish such tasks. He compensated Joel, usually with a case of beer, when they got together on the weekends. Chris knew he could trust Joel to do a good job on the analysis, because Joel had double majored in finance and accounting at a regional university. Chris would then tailor the analysis according to the way the firm expected reports to be submitted. He quickly e-mailed the application packet to Joel.

Chris was perceived as one of the most dependable analysts in the division because of his past work, much of which had been farmed out to Joel. He had received accolades and raises as a result and was enjoying his successful career with the firm.


Questions 1. The method used by Chris is obviously successful, and the company is satisfied with the results. Is it just good business, or is there

an ethical dilemma present? 2. Should Chris confess to his supervisor or just continue the successful deception? 3. What are the privacy issues, since the information used in these analyses is proprietary and sensitive? 4. Does this activity fit the notion of plagiarism? 5. Do electronic communication and the telecommuting arrangement make Chris’s actions more likely?


Case 1–2


A 120-Year Difference On June 26, 1876, General George A. Custer’s 261 soldiers were killed at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. One historian has said this about Custer: “Generals who led men were rare; generals who won battles were rarer. It is no wonder that he was idolized from President Lincoln down. All the world loves a winner.” Another historian asks, “Was Custer a hero or a fool?”68

On February 27, 1991, the allied coalition forces of Operation Desert Storm led by Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf overcame the armies of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in a victory that quickly became known to the world as “The 100-Hour War.” Shortly before the war, Schwarzkopf is quoted as saying, “I told my family that during the first month of any military campaign, the guy in charge is a hero, and it’s downhill after that.”

We don’t normally think of military leaders as managers, but they are responsible for the actions of numerous employees in critical times. They must be effective communicators to carry out this mission. These generals help demonstrate the differences in managerial communication that occurred during a span of 120 years.

General Custer led his 261 men on horseback in southeastern Montana. Compare this to General Schwarzkopf as you think about him stepping quickly toward the podium in a fourth-floor ballroom at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Riyadh to address two hundred reporters from around the world. No doubt these two managers had different communication support systems, but they also had different responsibilities. General Custer was managing an operation of 261 horse soldiers. General Schwarzkopf was coordinating a half-million- strong international military force including the U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Army as well as the first Tank Division of the United Kingdom and corps from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and France.

What a difference! But in some ways, their training was quite similar. Both were educated at West Point, went through army war colleges at Fort Leavenworth, were stationed at Fort Riley, and had frontline battle experience. Both had experienced defeat and victory.


Questions 1. Compare the management communication systems of these two managers. How are the basics similar? What was the role of

technology? 2. Which of the two generals had the easier job? Consider this question carefully because Custer had a much smaller group of men,

but Schwarzkopf had sophisticated technology and organizational structure. 3. Which of the two managers required more advanced training in management communication? Why? 4. How would you compare these two generals to business managers during the same era?


Case 1–3


Like Grandfather, Like Granddaughter? Clarence opened a farm supply store in Montana during the early 1900s. His neighbors in the county were also his customers. Every person who walked into his store felt comfortable. In fact, they would often sit, sip a cup of coffee or shell some peanuts, and solve the world’s problems before loading up their purchases. Clarence prided himself on knowing what his customers needed to be successful farmers, and he freely gave them advice about which brand of flea dip would work best on their cattle and which tonic would help a colicky horse. By the time he retired and his son Seth took over, the company had expanded to three stores in three towns and had fourteen full-time employees.

As a youth, Seth had attended the state college and earned a degree in agricultural business. He eagerly applied what he had learned to the family business. He was convinced that technology was the key to success, not personal relationships. Over the years, he struggled to convert all his father’s old, handwritten records to electronic files. Eventually, he installed a completely computerized information system that tracked inventory, personnel, and accounts. He sometimes boasted about being an entrepreneur, but Clarence snorted at that term. “Just do what’s right for your customers and you’ll be doing what’s right for yourself,” he would retort.

When Seth retired, his daughter Kathy took over the company that now has twenty-three stores with 228 employees in three states and one wholly owned subsidiary of eighteen gas stations. Kathy’s vision involves offering a broader range of products than farm supplies. She wants to sell the image of the family farm. Her stores stock western clothing; boots, hats, and jewelry; home furnishings; and even CDs featuring country and western music.

Kathy finds herself traveling extensively from the corporate office to the various stores. Finding time to manage everything is a problem, but she has a staff of twelve professionals in the corporate office to assist her. A computer network, e-mail, and fax machines help tremendously.


Questions 1. How have communication requirements differed for Clarence in the early 1900s and Kathy in the early 2000s? 2. How do you think the management behaviors differed for Clarence and Kathy? 3. In what ways do you think Clarence and Kathy were alike as company presidents?

Student Study Site

Visit the Student Study Site at study.sagepub.com/hynes7e for web quizzes, video and multimedia resources, and case studies.



1. Towers Watson, Inc., “Change and Communication ROI: The 10th Anniversary Report,” (2013–2014), http://www.towerswatson.com.

2. Robert A. Guisepi, “The History of Ancient Sumeria, Including Its Cities, Kings, and Religions,” World- History.org, http://history-world.org/sumeria.htm.

3. “The First Writing: Counting Beer for the Workers,” The British Museum, http://culturalinstitute.britishmuseum.org/asset-viewer/the-first-writing-counting-beer-for-the- workers/fgF9ioy89DC2Uw?hl=en.

4. “Early Writing,” Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin, http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/educator/modules/gutenberg/books/early/.

5. “Hammurabi’s Code,” World-History.org, http://history-world.org/hammarabicode.htm.

6. Agence France-Presse, “Hundreds of Roman Tablets Reveal Early London Life,” PRI, June 1, 2016, https://www.pri.org/stories/2016-06-01/hundreds-roman-writing-tablets-reveal-early-london-life.

7. C. George, The History of Management Thought (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1972), chaps. 1 & 2.

8. Edwin A. Locke, “The Ideas of Frederick E. Taylor,” Academy of Management Journal, January 1982, 41– 44.

9. Tom Ricci, “Frank Bunker Gilbreth,” American Society for Mechanical Engineers, May 2012, https://www.asme.org/engineering-topics/articles/construction-and-building/frank-bunker-gilbreth.

10. William F. Muks, “Worker Participation in the Progressive Era: An Assessment by Harrington Emerson,” Academy of Management Review, January 1982, 101.

11. “McRisky,” BusinessWeek, October 21, 1991, 114–117.

12. Henri Fayol, General and Industrial Management (London: Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons, 1949), 3–13.

13. Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1936).

14. M. Richetto, “Organizational Communication Theory and Research: An Overview,” in Communication Yearbook 1, ed. B. D. Rubin (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 1977).

15. F. L. Roethlisberger and W. Dickson, Management and the Workers (New York: Wiley & Sons, 1939).

16. E. Mayo, The Human Problems of an Industrial Civilization (Boston: Harvard Business School, 1947).

17. John A. Byrne, “The Man Who Invented Management: Why Peter Drucker’s Ideas Still Matter,” BusinessWeek, November 28, 2005, 97–106.


18. J. L. Austen, How to Do Things with Words (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1962); and David K. Berlo, “Human Communication: The Basic Proposition,” in Essay on Communication (East Lansing, MI: Department of Communication, 1971).

19. Larry R. Smeltzer and Gail F. Thomas, “Managers as Writers: Research in Context,” Journal of Business and Technical Communication 8, no. 2 (April 1994): 186.

20. K. Weick, The Social Psychology of Organizing, 2nd ed. (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1979).

21. Edwin P. Hollander and Lynn R. Offermann, “Power and Leadership in Organization,” American Psychologist 45 (February 1990): 179–189.

22. Thomas A. Stewart, “New Ways to Exercise Power,” Fortune, November 6, 1989, 52–64.

23. John Case, “The Open-Book Managers,” Inc., September 1990, 104–105.

24. Stephenie Overman, “The Union Pitch Has Changed,” HR Magazine, December 1991, 44–46.

25. Donald W. Nauss, “UAW Dispute With Caterpillar Just Crawls Along,” Los Angeles Times, July 5, 1994, http://articles.latimes.com/1994-07-05/business/fi-11982_1_unfair-labor.

26. Robert L. Rose and Alex Kotlowitz, “Strife Between UAW and Caterpillar Blights Promising Labor Idea,” The Wall Street Journal, November 23, 1992, 1.

27. Fatima Goss Graves, Liz Watson, Katherine Gallagher Robbins, Lauren Khouri, and Lauren Frohlich, “Seventeen Million Reasons Low-Wage Workers Need Strong Protections from Harassment” (National Women’s Law Center Report, April 1, 2014), http://www.nwlc.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/final_nwlc_vancereport2014.pdf.

28. Deborah Tanner, You Just Don’t Understand (New York: Ballantine Books, 1990).

29. U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2012. Labor Force, Employment, and Earnings, Table 616, p. 393.

30. Mitra Toossi, “Labor Force Projections to 2022,” Monthly Labor Review, December 2013, http://www.bls.gov/EMP.

31. U.S. Census Bureau, Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey, https://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat11.htm.

32. “Women in Leadership,” Catalyst Knowledge Center, February 17, 2017, http://www.catalyst.org/knowledge/women-management.

33. “Women in Leadership,” Catalyst.

34. Sally Krawcheck, “Diversify Corporate America,” Time, March 24, 2014, 36–37.


35. U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Labor Force Characteristics by Race and Ethnicity, 2015,” September 2016, https://www.bls.gov/opub/reports/race-and-ethnicity/2015/home.htm.

36. Michiel R. Leenders, Harold E. Fearon, and Wilbur B. England, Purchasing and Materials Management, 10th ed. (Burr Ridge, IL: Richard D. Irwin, 1993), 480.

37. Alexia Fernandez Campbell, “The Overlooked Consumer Group with Billions to Spend,” The Atlantic, August 24, 2016, https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/08/the-overlooked-consumer-group- with-billions-to-spend/497105/.

38. U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Labor Force Projections to 2024: The Labor Force Is Growing, But Slowly,” December 2015, https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2015/article/labor-force- projections-to-2024.htm.

39. U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey, 2016, https://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat03.htm.

40. Debra Auerbach, “Generational Differences in the Workplace,” CareerBuilder.com, August 27, 2014, http://www.careerbuilder.com/advice/generational-differences-in-the-workplace.

41. Joanne Kaufman, “When You’re Older Than the Boss,” New York Times, March 19, 2017, 5.

42. Kronos, “Who’s the Boss of Workplace Culture? HR, Managers, and Employees Disagree, Says New Workforce Institute Study,” Kronos.com, March 9, 2016, http://www.kronos.com/pr/who-is-the-boss-of- workplaceculture-hr-managers-and-employees-disagree-says-new-workforce-institute-study.aspx.

43. “Workfront Survey Uncovers the Generational Differences in Perception of Work-Life Balance,” PR Newswire (USA), June 16, 2015, http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/workfront-survey-uncovers-the- generational-differences-in-perception-of-work-life-balance-300099251.html.

44. Auerbach, “Generational Differences in the Workplace.”

45. Kaufman, “When You’re Older Than the Boss.”

46. U.S. Census Bureau, Educational Attainment in the United States, 2016, https://www2.census.gov/programs-surveys/demo/tables/educational-attainment/2016/cps-detailed- tables/table-1-1.xlsx.

47. Rebecca Knight, “How to Manage People Who Are Smarter Than You,” Harvard Business Review, August 6, 2015, https://hbr.org/2015/08/how-to-manage-people-who-are-smarter-than-you.

48. Vivian Hunt, Dennis Layton, and Sara Prince, “Why Diversity Matters,” McKinsey & Company, January 2015, http://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/why-diversity-matters.

49. Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber, The American Challenge (New York: Atheneum, 1968).


50. Lloyd Dolyns and Clare Crawford-Mason, Quality or Else: The Revolution in World Business (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1992).

51. “World Motor Vehicle Production,” International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers, 2015, http://www.oica.net/wp-content/uploads/ranking2015.pdf.

52. “The World’s Biggest Public Companies 2017,” Forbes.com, https://www.forbes.com/companies/toyota- motor/.

53. Mary Connelly, “Toyota’s Ad Constants: Stress Quality, Seek a Feel-Good Connection,” Automotive News, October 29, 2007.

54. Off-Road.com Newswire, “Ford Motor Company’s Vision for Next 100 Years.” Accessed at http://www.off-road.com/trucks-4x4/news/ford-motor-companys-vision-for-next-100-years-29941.html.

55. “New-Vehicle Initial Quality Is Best Ever, J.D. Power Finds,” J.D. Power, June 21, 2017, http://www.jdpower.com/press-releases/2017-us-initial-quality-study-iqs.

56. Netpiper Auto News, July 6, 2003, http://www.autoemirates.com/netpiper/news/details.asp?NID=997.

57. Chris Arnold, “Who Snatched My Car? Wells Fargo Did,” NPR, August 3, 2017, http://www.npr.org/2017/08/02/541182948/who-snatched-my-car-wells-fargo-did.

58. Jonathan Lister, “Top Ethical Issues Facing the Business Community,” Houston Chronicle, May 14, 2014, http://smallbusiness.chron.com/top-ethical-issues-facing-general-business-community-25417.html.

59. U.S. Department of Justice, “Foreign Corrupt Practices Act,” https://www.justice.gov/criminal- fraud/foreign-corrupt-practices-act.

60. James Weber, “Investigating and Assessing the Quality of Employee Ethics Training Programs Among US-Based Global Organizations,” Journal of Business Ethics (2015) 129: 27–42, DOI: 10.1007/s10551-014- 2128-5.

61. http://www.internationalpaper.com/documents/EN/Ethics/IPCodeofConduct.pdf.

62. Terez A. Paylor, “Sources: Communication, Management Style Were Factors in Chiefs’ Firing of Dorsey,” The Kansas City Star, June 25, 2017, http://www.kansascity.com/sports/nfl/kansas-city- chiefs/article158155634.html.

63. Preston Lewis, “5 Steps to Creating a Better Employee Experience,” Communication World, March 2017, 1–3.

64. Jennifer Jones, “Communication Skills Most Needed by Individual Contributors,” American Management Association, February 25, 2014, http://www.amanet.org/news/9791.aspx.

65. Ibid.


66. N. Lamar Reinsch and Jonathan A. Gardner, “Do Communication Abilities Affect Promotion Decisions? Some Data from the C-Suite,” Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 28, no. 1 (2014): 31–57, doi: 10.1177/1050651913502357.

67. Project Management Institute, Inc., “Pulse of the Profession™ In-Depth Report: The High Cost of Low Performance: The Essential Role of Communications,” May 2013, 2, accessed August 5, 2014, at https://www.pmi.org/learning/thought-leadership/pulse/essential-role-communications.

68. D. A. Kinsley, Favor the Bold (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1968). See also Lawrence A. Frost, Custer Album (Seattle: Superior Publishing, 1964).


2 Understanding the Managerial Communication Process

Today, communication itself is the problem. We have become the world’s first overcommunicated society. Each year we send more and receive less.

—Al Ries, chairman, Trout & Ries Advertising, Inc.

Whether working for a hospital, manufacturer, or service firm, more than 75 percent of a manager’s time is spent communicating. Considering the amount of information for which a manager has responsibility, this is not surprising. General managers face two fundamental challenges: figuring out what to do as they sort through enormous amounts of information and getting things done through a diverse group of people.1 Effective communication is the key to planning, leading, organizing, and controlling the resources of the organization to master these challenges.

Communication—the essential process that managers use to plan, lead, organize, and control—is not easy. To understand a manager’s message, you must be able to perceive and interpret it. The process becomes more complex when communicating to a group of people because of the variety of perceptions and interpretations possible.

At the most general level, the communication process consists of an exchange of messages that are comprised of a set of symbols, such as words or gestures. Understanding the messages depends on a common meaning or frame of reference for those symbols. When sending a message, a manager may have the meaning of the symbols clearly in mind, but if someone receiving the message attributes a different meaning, the message is misunderstood. The process is made even more complicated because the symbols’ meanings not only differ between people but also change as the experiences of the people involved change.

In this chapter, we examine those aspects of developing and exchanging symbols that relate to managerial communication, and we analyze the human factors that aid or hinder understanding. Further, we present a model of the strategic approach to communication that managers should follow when developing messages. Finally, we discuss three critical errors that managers must avoid when seeking effective communication.


Levels of Managerial Communication

Managerial communication may occur at five different levels:

1. Intrapersonal 2. Interpersonal 3. Group 4. Organizational 5. Intercultural2

One level is not more important than another. Communication may occur at any or all of these levels simultaneously.

Intrapersonal communication focuses on internal cognitive behavior, such as observing, listening, and reading. Most of these activities involve the seeking of information; consequently, this communication level is extremely important for managerial decision making and problem solving because effective decisions require accurate information.

The second category is the interpersonal level of communication. At this level, two or more people exchange thoughts. They may be sharing information, providing feedback, or simply maintaining a social relationship through conversation.

Group communication is a third level. The most common form of group communication is the meeting, which may be either formal or informal. Chapter 4 discusses the various functions of formal meetings.

Fourth, the organizational level of communication operates within the networks that link members of a company or other organization. Organizational communication is also concerned with how a group of tasks is linked to complete a job.

Fifth, the intercultural level of communication concerns interactions among people of different cultures. As discussed in the next section of this chapter, intercultural business communication is occurring more frequently because of globalization, improved telecommunications, and transportation.3 Because of its importance, Chapter 12 is dedicated to intercultural communication.

Communication is a behavior we engage in throughout life and often take for granted. You may reach a managerial position yet never deliberately analyze your communication because it has become such common behavior. However, a lack of strategic decision making can cause communication problems for you as a manager. Just as a complex fiscal transaction triggers many different accounting decisions, a communication situation should trigger strategic communication decision making. The accountant does not intuitively enter a transaction as a debit or credit. She makes a series of analytical decisions to ensure that every transaction is correct. Unfortunately, the same accountant may communicate in a critical situation in a style that seems correct without making a similar strategic analysis.



A Strategic Approach

The following discussion analyzes separate elements of a strategic approach to communication. However, these variables do not actually occur separately, nor can they be analyzed separately in the managerial context. They are highly interdependent and affect each other concurrently. For instance, the power of the person sending the message, the intended receiver, the message’s purpose, and the organizations involved are all interrelated. Each strategic component is reciprocally interdependent. Although the following discussion considers each of the components separately, remember that each variable affects the others.

The strategic approach could be compared to an onion. The strategy is at the very core of the onion, but one must peel away several layers to get to the core. The outer layer of the onion, which we will examine first, can be compared to the context in which the communication event occurs.


The First Layer

The first layer consists of communication context. Context includes a consideration of the organization’s climate and culture, both of which are discussed in the following subsections.

Communication Climate

Past communication, such as whether employees and managers have been trusting and open or closed and defensive, has a cumulative effect.4 A trusting, open climate makes it much easier to communicate in an organization. And there seems to be a positive correlation between communication openness and trust. Major events in an organization’s life cycle can affect the communication climate. For example, often when a company is restructuring or a merger is planned, managers reduce the amount of information flowing through the formal channels. The result of this information “vacuum” is employee anxiety and distrust. In such a climate, employees turn to each other, relying on the rumor mill to learn about impending changes and layoffs. Not surprisingly, productivity drops off.

On the other hand, success breeds success. Effective communicating results in trust and openness, which generally improve job performance.5 In turn, future effective communication will get easier because of the trust and openness that have developed. A positive climate is fragile, however. After only one or two critical errors, a positive environment can quickly change to one of distrust and closed communication, making future communication more difficult. This is why the skills and principles discussed in the following chapters are so critical—managers must avoid communication errors that may result in a negative climate.

Cultural Context

The second factor in the outermost layer of our model is culture. All communication occurs within a culture. Culture is the social glue that binds members of nations and organizations together through shared values, symbols, and social ideals. Culture generally remains below the threshold of conscious awareness because it involves taken-for-granted assumptions about how one should perceive, think, and feel. But it is ubiquitous.

To a large extent, national culture determines how we communicate. Obviously, language differs among cultures, but managers need to be aware of many more subtle conventions. Chapter 12 discusses more thoroughly how national culture affects business communication.

Organizational culture also affects how managers communicate. If you think about companies with strong cultures, such as Southwest Airlines, Zappos, Google, Stonyfield Farms, or Whole Foods, you will realize that building an organizational culture takes hard work. The leaders are great communicators and motivators who clearly and consistently explain the organization’s vision, mission, and values. Research shows that there is a link between culture and organizational success—performance-oriented cultures possess statistically better financial growth.6 Additional benefits of a strong culture are high employee involvement and commitment, work team cohesiveness, clear focus on goals throughout the organization, and well-developed internal communication systems.



Stop and Think 1. How strong is the grapevine at your workplace compared to the formal communication channels? 2. How accurate are the rumors compared to the formal messages? 3. How complete are the rumors compared to the formal messages? 4. From which source would you prefer to get the information you need to do your job? 5. What can managers do to strengthen or weaken the grapevine?

To diagnose the health of your company’s culture, look around you during your next meeting or while eating lunch. Listen to the interactions. Watch how the leaders make decisions and disseminate them. For example, in some organizations, e-mail is used for every request, suggestion, and information exchange, whereas in another organization face-to-face conversation is the norm.

But an organization’s culture affects more than preferences for a particular communication channel. The culture, as reflected in an organization’s physical space, can encourage or discourage information flow. Office design can consist of closed doors; long, empty hallways; surveillance cameras; and sparse furniture. How many casual conversations are likely to take place among employees who work in such a culture? By contrast, office design can consist of a large, open space free of walls, with lots of seating, music, food, live plants, a waterfall, and employees’ work spaces all visible to one another. In such an environment, the organization’s cultural values regarding open communication are clear.


Stop and Think 1. How does your employer’s culture affect you on a daily basis? 2. Does it inspire you or get in your way? 3. What drives your culture? 4. Who are the opinion leaders that reinforce your organization’s values?

A cultural analysis does not provide definitive answers, but it gives an understanding of generally accepted values. In organizations, these values are manifested in communication practices. For instance, if independence is valued, a persuasive approach rather than a demanding approach may be required. If formality is valued, a formal hard copy memo rather than a telephone call may be necessary. If extensive technical details are part of the organizational culture, all reports may require technical elaboration. If collaboration is valued, then information flows smoothly and freely among all networked stakeholders.

Figure 2–1 The First Layer of the Strategic Model

Because culture and climate provide generally accepted patterns of communication, they are depicted as the outer layer of our analysis. Or to use our analogy, they constitute the outer layer of the onion, as depicted in Figure 2–1. This layer must be analyzed first as managers develop the communication strategy.


The Second Layer

In addition to reviewing the climate and cultural aspects of the communication context, managers should consider the sender, receiver, and the purpose of the communication. Figure 2–2 shows these three variables as the second layer of the strategic model of communication. Note that the relationship of the three variables is circular rather than linear. Each affects the other concurrently; one does not necessarily come before the other. To simplify our discussions, the manager will be considered as the encoder.

Sender (Encoder)

The manager encodes a message’s meaning depending on his or her personality and experiences. Managers must analyze their own frames of reference and communication preferences to determine how they will affect the outcome of the communication.7 Thus, self-awareness is critical for effective communication.

Figure 2–2 The Second Layer of the Strategic Model

For instance, what strategy is best when persuading a work group to accept a new procedure? A manager may have realized he is most comfortable talking with just one person rather than a group, has trouble with grammar but can usually find the right words, is a patient listener, and holds a company position that makes it difficult to place demands on others. Consequently, the manager decides it would be best to meet with employees individually in a face-to-face setting to persuade them to accept the new procedure. The manager thus has strategically analyzed his own frame of reference and his role in the communication situation.

Receiver (Decoder)

Now we can add the second element to this layer: the receiver or decoder. Managers must continually adapt


communication to different receivers to be effective.

Several characteristics of the receiver require analysis: personal relationship of the receiver to the sender, status, interest in the message, feelings toward the message, knowledge about the subject of the message, and the communication skills of the receiver. Together, these characteristics may cause distortions to the intended message. They are sometimes referred to as “internal noise.” A review of these items indicates the types of strategic communication decisions a manager must make relative to the receiver.


Participants in a friendly relationship tolerate error and initial misunderstanding more than do those in a neutral or hostile relationship.8 Friendly participants need less time and concentration when communicating than is required in a hostile relationship. For instance, suppose a manager discussing a report with a colleague finds a certain table difficult to read. A friendly colleague will be more tolerant and more willing to ask for clarification than will a hostile one who might criticize the report rather than seek clarification or provide constructive criticism.

Status Difference.

Status differences between senders and receivers deserve attention. Status may require that certain customs or traditions be integrated into the communication. For example, the manager may need to refer to certain people as sir, Mr., Ms., doctor, or chief in some organizations to avoid offending the receiver. Also, the manager may need to stand when addressing a person of higher status, but it may be appropriate to sit down with a person of equal or lower status. People of different status levels may easily interpret words and gestures differently.9 Suppose a manager says, “Can I meet with you for a few minutes?” This simple statement may be a request or a demand, depending on the receiver’s status. Obviously, verbal emphasis needs to be adapted to different audiences.

Receiver’s Interest.

A third type of “noise” is caused by the interest level of the receiver. Thus, a manager may have to make another strategic consideration.10 If the receiver has low interest, some persuasive elements may be appropriate to get the person’s attention, even when the ultimate goal of the message is to inform. The audience’s interest level may affect the objective of the communication. The manager must adapt the nature of the message to fit the interests of the receiver rather than just the manager’s personal interest.

Receiver’s Emotional State.

The receiver’s emotional state at the time of communication may affect how the message is received. A receiver upset about something requires a different communication strategy than that used with a relaxed person. When a receiver is upset, the sender needs to deal first with the person’s feelings and attempt to relax the individual, so the receiver is more receptive to the main message. In addition, strategic analysis of the possible emotional reaction to a message makes it possible to be on guard without getting caught up in the emotion.


Receiver’s Knowledge.

Remember that technical words and examples are appropriate in a message only if everyone involved in the communication transaction understands the terminology; unfortunately, technical concepts may add confusion if receivers do not understand them. Would it be appropriate to ask, “Have you checked the FAR on the VOR at LAX?” How many technical terms may one use with this particular reader or listener? Will certain concepts need explaining? Incorrectly assuming the receiver has considerable knowledge may result in a communication breakdown. But assuming too low a level of knowledge may waste time and insult the receiver. A receiver’s level of knowledge can be gauged quickly by asking questions and getting feedback. The answer given to an open-ended question on a specific topic is often the best indication of a receiver’s level of knowledge.


Stop and Think Think of a communication breakdown you experienced at work between you and a coworker, boss, or direct report.

1. Which of the six characteristics of the receiver discussed here can you identify as contributing to the breakdown? 2. What elements of audience analysis will you consider the next time you interact with that person?

Receiver’s Communication Skills.

The receiver as well as the sender must be a competent communicator.11 Can the receiver communicate clearly? Does the receiver get nervous in communication situations? If the receiver cannot express concepts clearly or becomes nervous when communicating, a manager needs to exercise patience and assist or even relax the person as much as possible.

In summary, a manager should consider six characteristics of the receiver before communicating, as summarized in Table 2–1: personal relationship, status, interest in the message, feelings, knowledge, and communication skills. Knowing one’s audience is a critical strategy. Next, the manager needs to analyze the purpose of the message for effective communication in critical situations.

Purpose of the Message

Unless managers analyze their goals, the resulting communication may waste time and effort. Before reviewing the purpose of a communication, managers should first determine whether it is best to verbalize a message at all.

A manager has four major reasons for choosing to communicate. First, the mere act of communicating with a fellow worker may be enjoyable. Communication does not always have to mean business, although one should not confuse working with socializing. At work, some socializing by managers can boost employee morale.

Second, managers communicate to present information and third, to gain information. Ironically, not all managers distinguish between gaining and presenting information. Many managers tend to do all the talking when they are trying to gain information. While it seems to be human nature to tell others everything one knows, managers must resist this tendency if they wish to gain information.

Fourth, managers communicate to persuade.12 Managers with persuasion as a goal must develop an appropriate persuasive strategy. Would a rational-logical approach be best, or should it be an emotional appeal? This question of goals can become complicated because goals may be combined. For instance, a goal may be to inform a direct report of a new procedure while also persuading her to accept the procedure. In these situations, managers need to identify goals clearly and develop appropriate strategies; otherwise, they may achieve neither goal.

Table 2–1 Checklist for Analyzing the Receiver


What is the personal relationship of the receiver to the sender?

What is the receiver’s relative status?

How interested in the message is the receiver?

What are the receiver’s feelings toward the message?

How much does the receiver know about the topic of the message?

What are the communication skills of the receiver?

The communication goal or purpose often defines the strategy appropriate for a given situation; consequently, effective managers are keenly aware of their communication goals. Subsequent chapters explain how this strategy relates to the audience and the goal and present several examples. For instance, in our discussion of memos and letters in Chapter 8, we explain when a deductive or direct approach should be used and when an inductive or indirect approach should be used.


The Third Layer

To review, we have seen that when a manager is determining a communication strategy, they should begin by considering the context. Next, the manager should consider the purpose, sender, and receiver of the message. We now come to the third layer of the strategic model, which includes four more elements the manager should consider:

The specific content of the message The message’s channel The physical environment in which it occurs The time the communication occurs

Figure 2–3 presents the complete strategic managerial communication model. These four elements appear as the layer closest to the core strategy because they depend on the sender, receiver, and purpose of the message as well as on the culture and climate. For purposes of discussion, we review each component separately. But again, remember that in reality a manager needs to consider all interrelationships when developing a communication strategy. Neglecting any one component when analyzing a critical situation may result in a communication failure.

Message Content

We can simplify our discussion by classifying the content of a message according to four factors.

First, will the receiver perceive the message as positive, negative, or neutral? When the message is positive, the best strategy is to present the good news immediately; however, with a negative message, it is usually best to present neutral information before the negative news.13 To determine whether the message is positive or negative, consider the receiver’s perspective. What may seem positive to a manager may be negative to the receiver.

For example, the manager of an accounting firm was ecstatic as she announced a new contract with a growing firm. But staff members were unhappy with the news because they already felt overworked.

Figure 2–3 The Complete Model


Second, does the message deal with fact or opinion? A fact may be established with concrete information, but opinion is largely based on assumption. The manager should critically analyze the objective basis of his message because he may feel so sure about his opinion that he will present it as fact. When the manager presents opinions as facts, the receivers may be deceived.

Third, to what extent is the message important to the receiver? If the message is important to the manager but not to the receiver, the manager has to emphasize attention-getting techniques. He would structure such a message according to the needs of the receiver rather than those of the sender. A manager needs to determine how to make the content of the message important to the receiver and then integrate that importance into the information. For instance, an announcement that a staff meeting is to be held at 2 p.m. may not capture an employee’s interest; however, if the notice states one of the items on the agenda is a new incentive program, employees are more apt to pay attention.

Fourth, to what extent is the message controversial? A controversial message calls for neutral words that can reduce the emotional response. In these situations, phrases such as “Surely you realize,” “Everyone else believes,” “Can’t you see,” or “You have to understand” can make the receiver defensive and create conflict.

Effective managerial communication requires analysis of the content factors summarized in Table 2–2. An effective communicator will consider these factors simultaneously with the sender, receiver, and purpose because they all affect one another when developing a communication strategy.

Table 2–2 Checklist for Determining Message Content

Will the receiver consider the message to be negative or positive?

Will the message deal with facts or opinions?


How important will the message be to the receiver?

How controversial will the message be?

Channel of the Message

With the advent of sophisticated telecommunications and instant delivery, the question of how the message is to be sent becomes increasingly complicated. Habits further complicate channel selection. Managers find ways of communicating that are comfortable for them and continue to use the same methods, even when they are inappropriate. One accounting manager was known for communicating by sticky notes. While these small adhesive papers are handy for commenting on documents, this manager used them to communicate with his direct reports all the time. He would silently approach an employee in her cubicle, attach the sticky note to her monitor, and walk out again. How do you think the employee reacted?

Which channel is appropriate for which message? Written communication (memos, letters, reports) provides the opportunity for permanent records and may be precise and clear; however, it usually does not provide the opportunity for immediate feedback. E-mail is thought of as less formal and is often hastily written, but it has the advantages of immediacy, speed, and permanence. Oral communication is often more persuasive than a written message. Texting and phoning can be quick, but they generally provide no permanent record of the conversation. Also, while phone calls allow oral feedback, the participants cannot observe nonverbal behaviors. Since so many factors are involved, it is difficult to declare one channel invariably preferable to another.

The question becomes one of minimizing costs while maximizing communication effectiveness. Consider just these basic options: (a) oral, (b) written, (c) oral and written, and (d) visual. Now subdivide these further into formal and informal approaches. Table 2–3 presents some of these options. But let us complicate the options even further by adding technologically mediated communications, such as video teleconferences, electronic mail, and fax. It quickly becomes apparent that the correct channel choice is not simple. This is why Chapter 3 presents an extensive discussion of communication channels mediated by some form of technology.

Should the message be presented to one individual at a time or to a group? While individual communication allows the manager to adapt the message to each person, group communication is quicker and cheaper. The manager needs to decide if individual adaptation is necessary or if the time saved with group communication is more important. The chapter on meetings will detail this later.

The question of individual versus group is a key to persuasive communication. In some situations, it may be easy to persuade a group of people; however, in other situations, one-to-one communication may be more effective. The manager must strategically analyze all the factors to determine which would be best in a given situation.

Table 2–3 Channels of Communication

Informal Formal



Personal conversations

Interviews and counseling


Employee plant tours (orientation)

Staff meetings

Public address system


Directives and training



Bulletin boards

Daily news digests




Policy manuals

Management newsletters


Reports and white papers

Company website

Both oral and written

Face-to-face contact between superior and direct report where written information is exchanged

Company meetings where reports and data are presented

Performance appraisals


Sound-action exhibits

Closed-circuit TV

Satellite downlinks


PowerPoint slide decks

Chart talks

Not surprisingly, cost affects all questions regarding channel selection. A letter requires time for drafting and typing. A group meeting requires many individuals to commit their time, and that pooled time can be expensive. These costs need to be balanced with the fact that groups allow for input and feedback from different employees. A telephone call may be quick, but long-distance rates can add up. A formal report may be extremely time consuming to put together, but others may refer to it again later, whereas an oral report is temporary. Thus, managers balance cost and time factors when selecting the appropriate channel for their communication.

Physical Environment

The environment in which communication occurs has a clear effect. Just as receiver characteristics may cause internal noise, so elements of the physical environment may cause “external noise.” The result is message distortion. Ask four questions when you analyze the environmental factors in strategic communication:

1. Is it a public or private situation?


2. Does it involve a formal or informal setting? 3. What is the physical distance between the sender and the receiver? 4. Is it a familiar or unfamiliar environment?

The answers to each of these questions can significantly affect the communication strategy.


A congratulatory comment may be best in a public forum, while a sensitive question is best asked in a private setting. Some choices between public and private settings are obvious. For instance, neither the manager nor the direct report would want their annual performance appraisal interview to be conducted in the company cafeteria. But choosing the correct environment for other situations is more difficult. For instance, should a team’s performance problem be discussed with each person individually, or should the discussion be held with all members of the team in a public forum? In the past, managers were advised to “praise in public, punish in private.” But this simplistic approach to employee feedback can backfire. Singling out direct reports for special attention can result in other employees ostracizing them as the “boss’s pet.” The outer layer of the strategic model reminds us to consider culture and climate when deciding whether privacy is important as a communication strategy.


The formality of the setting affects the wording of the message as well as the opportunity for feedback. Thus, while official titles may be appropriate when presenting a formal oral report, they may restrict communication in an informal group discussion. Also, feedback is often more difficult to obtain in a formal setting because questions may seem inappropriate or the questioner may be shy. Finally, people are generally more reserved in their nonverbal behavior in a formal setting, which makes their feedback more difficult to read.

Physical Distance.

A third variable to consider is the physical distance between the sender and receiver. In oral communication, physical distance mutes the variations in the voice’s tone and loudness and in the participants’ gestures and posture. Thus, it is less effective to use these strategies for emphasis when distance is great. Proximity, on the other hand, makes messages compelling. In written communication, distance also affects feedback and time. The quality of feedback for a report mailed from Lima, Ohio, to Lima, Peru, may be less timely (and consequently, less useful) than it is for a report exchanged in one building. A manager can expect less comprehensive feedback as distances increase. Distance also makes persuasion more difficult because opposing arguments cannot be answered immediately. A manager may have to decide if it is better to wait until a face- to-face opportunity is available or if the persuasive efforts should occur over a greater distance for the sake of timeliness.


The final factor to consider when discussing environment is its familiarity. This concept needs to be analyzed from the perspective of the manager as well as the receiver. A familiar environment allows the participants to


be relaxed, which is important when controversies or feelings are involved. When communicating in an

unfamiliar environment, a manager should anticipate the distractions that may occur. Distractions that we might be accustomed to in our own environment can be unnerving when we encounter them in unfamiliar surroundings. Something as seemingly simple as heavy traffic outside an office window can be a distraction when we are not used to it.

Table 2–4 summarizes the factors that managers must strategically analyze when considering the physical environment of a communication event.


Time affects all elements of management, and it has a ubiquitous effect on communication. Clearly the adage that “time is money” is appropriate here. Managers need to consider the amount of time spent in preparing to communicate and the amount of time spent in the process. Consider the time of both managers and receivers to obtain cost and communication efficiency. Thus, while a meeting may at first seem advisable because it allows for questions and feedback, it may not be efficient because of the time required to assemble people. Consequently, an e-mail or text message may be more efficient in certain situations. This effort is the type of strategic time decision a manager must make.

Remember also that time is power and time is status. People with busy schedules are perceived as more important than those whom you can approach at any time. Also, while the direct report must make an appointment to see the manager, the manager, who has higher status, can drop in on the employee without notice. Status is also communicated by the amount of time a person is kept waiting.

The actual timing of the communication is another important consideration. Communication behavior appropriate at one time may be inappropriate or even detrimental at a different time. It is not appropriate to try to get the attention of someone immediately before an important meeting. Also, it is highly unlikely that a report will receive much attention if it arrives late on a Friday afternoon. As another example, consider the timing of an announcement made at a large urban hospital consisting of several buildings. For several years, landscaping improvements were being installed to improve water runoff. The grounds were beautiful on completion. But as the project was completed, layoffs of hospital staff were announced. It appeared the landscaping was done at the expense of jobs. Understandably, many employees were bitter about the allocation of funds.

Table 2–4 Checklist for Analyzing the Physical Environment

Is the environment public or private?

Is the environment formal or informal?

What is the physical distance between the sender and the receiver?

Is the environment familiar or unfamiliar?



Feedback and Measures of Effectiveness

Integral to a strategic management communication approach are feedback and measures of effectiveness. These variables are not included in the strategic model (Figure 2–3) because they are so pervasive. They are inherent in each variable and cannot be separated. Feedback is important in two ways. First, it should be continually obtained to determine how changing events may affect the overall strategy. For instance, a manager determines that an e-mail about a new procedure was not as clear as he thought because many questions were being asked. Based on this feedback, he quickly calls a meeting to clarify the procedure. In this case, the channel is changed to improve the communication strategy.

Second, feedback may be obtained to determine if the strategy was effective even though it may be too late to change it. Unfortunately, many managers may avoid this feedback because they believe nothing can be done about it. For example, an advertising agency submits a proposal for an ad campaign. When the contract is given to another agency, the tendency is not to evaluate the effectiveness of the written proposal. After all, nothing can be done about it now. But this is the opportunity to thoroughly evaluate all aspects of the proposal, including such items as an analysis of the receiver, writing style, and timing. Lessons thus learned should be applied to the next proposal. Postmortems, while unpleasant and often avoided, are valuable tools for organizational improvement.

Obtaining feedback and measuring effectiveness may be extremely difficult. In one case, a regional insurance manager was disappointed in sales. She wrote a number of letters, made phone calls, and personally met with her independent sales agents to motivate them, yet sales continued to slide. She contracted with a management consultant to determine how she could improve her motivational strategies. However, it could not be determined if poor sales were the result of communication with the sales agents or the insurance products themselves. Managerial communication is so interrelated with other factors that it is often difficult to determine effectiveness.


Stop and Think Consider a time when you failed to reach your goal, whether in sports or on a work project.

1. Who provided you with feedback? 2. How welcome was the feedback you received from each source? 3. What did you do differently the next time you faced a similar challenge?


Critical Errors In Communication

Despite consideration of all the foregoing elements, managers make communication errors. The communication process depends on the personalities of those involved and the environment in which they operate. This process creates a dynamic interaction, and as the strategic communication model shows, this interaction is not perfect.

Even when people believe they are communicating what is real, they are communicating only what is reality in their own minds. No perfect correspondence exists between what is real in the world and the reality perceived by the mind because of the mental filters. This imperfect correspondence is manifested in a person’s attempt to communicate real events of the world. These critical but common errors arise from problems in our mental filters: the assumption–observation error, the failure to discriminate error, and the allness error.14


The Assumption–Observation Error

An assumption occurs when people accept something as valid without requiring proof. Every day we must act on assumptions. For example, we assume the food in the cafeteria is not toxic (despite our persistent jokes to the contrary), the ceiling in the office will not fall, and numbers being used in a report are valid. Assumptions are essential and desirable in analyzing materials, solving problems, and planning.

When we drop a letter in the mailbox, we assume it will reach its destination in a reasonable time. But is this assumption completely accurate or safe? Evidence suggests the letter may be lost, delayed, or even destroyed. Nevertheless, we take a calculated risk, and the act seems to be relatively safe. But if the same envelope contains something valuable, we insure the envelope’s contents.

At what point is insurance necessary? When is an assumption safe, and when is it a risk? Strategic communication continually addresses this question. Strategic communicators must avoid assumptions that may be incorrect and unreliable and that result in miscommunication. Consider the following example.

The manager of the quality control department noticed that Andre, a new chemist, was extremely conscientious. Andre remained after work at least a half hour every night to check all the figures. The manager was so impressed with Andre’s commitment that she wrote a special commendation letter for his personal file. Later, the manager discovered Andre was really having a lot of difficulty with the tests and was remaining late to correct the many errors he normally made.

To avoid the assumption–observation error, a manager should ask, “What are the facts?” We must determine the extent of risk that a statement is true for a specific situation. Once done, the resultant communication should be stated as either a fact or an assumption. For instance, “I see we got a shipment of copper [fact].” On the other hand, expressions such as “In my opinion,” “It looks to me as if,” and “I am assuming” can help us to differentiate between fact and assumption. Just as these phrases can help managers to clarify in their own minds when they are using assumptions, they also give the receivers a clearer understanding of the message.


The Failure to Discriminate

The failure to discriminate is the failure to perceive and communicate significant differences among individuals or changes in situations. This failure to make clear distinctions or to differentiate can lead to the neglect of differences and the overemphasis of similarities. One of the consequences of the failure to discriminate is what William Haney called “hardening of the categories.” A leading researcher in the field of interpersonal communication and organizational behavior, Haney observed:

Most of us have a penchant for categorizing—for classifying. Show someone something he has never seen before and one of his first questions is likely to be: “What kind is it?” We meet a new person and we are uneasy until we can pigeonhole: What is she? How is she classified? Is she a salesperson, plumber, farmer, teacher, painter? Is she Protestant, Catholic, Jew, atheist? Democrat, Republican, independent? Lower, middle, upper “class”?15

This hardening of categories can result in stereotypes because people may apply their set image of the group to any individual in the group; consequently, inappropriate labels may be applied. One common example concerns managers who are interviewing job applicants. An applicant may have attended a school whose graduates the interviewer categorizes as undesirable. Therefore, the interviewer does not fully listen to the applicant. The hardening of categories can also cause a person to communicate in terms of general categories rather than specifics and thus lose valuable information. For example, “Joyce is a union member” omits the fact that she is the most qualified inspector in the department.

The potential danger is that those who put everything into a category are usually not aware they are doing it. This blindness makes failure to discriminate an extremely difficult tendency to overcome. However, Haney provided two valuable suggestions.16 The first is to internalize the premise of uniqueness—to develop a sensitivity to all the differences in the world. No two things, whether snowflakes or siblings, have ever been found to be exactly the same. A second technique is to index evaluations. This means each person, thing, or situation should be indexed according to some unique characteristic. This can soon lead to the conclusion that everything and everyone is unique and, in turn, provides sensitivity to differences.

Polarization is a special form of discrimination involving “either-or” thinking. Some situations are true dichotomies that can be stated in terms of either-or. An employee is either absent or present. However, we cannot accurately describe many situations in either-or terms: A product is neither good nor bad; a worker moves neither fast nor slow. Polarization occurs when a person deals with a situation involving gradations and middle ground in strict either-or terms. Thus, someone may state he will either succeed or fail in a job and may truly believe that no middle ground of success exists. Conversely, if a person is told the only options are either success or failure, the person may begin to believe that in-between possibilities do not exist. When managers are wary of either-or statements, they can more accurately distinguish the degree of differences between two items and more accurately perceive the world.


Frozen evaluation is another failure to discriminate. It occurs when people disregard possible changes in persons, places, or things. Because everything in the world changes, evaluations cannot remain static. However, while it is easy to say that change is a major aspect of business, it is often difficult to adapt to that continuous change. Frozen evaluation can result in an inaccurate perception of the world, and management errors may result.

The key to avoiding frozen evaluations is to remember that all things change. The manager who continually asks when and what has changed avoids assuming that events are static, thus preventing this common and critical communication error. A simple question a manager may ask is, “What labels have I applied to this situation?”


Allness and the Process of Abstraction

A third critical error that a manager must conscientiously avoid is allness. People commit this error when they structure communications as if what they are stating is all there is to know about a subject. The astute person knows that reality is too complex for anyone to know all there is to know about something. However, the error is still made. Haney states that allness is the result of two false beliefs: (1) It is possible to know and say everything about something, and (2) what I am saying (or writing or thinking) includes all that is important about the subject.17 Normal communication patterns contribute to the problem of allness because people abstract as they speak. Abstracting is the process of focusing on some details and omitting others. When communicating, we need to select some details and omit others. The very process of abstracting, however, can conceal that we have selectively omitted certain data. As a result, the listener, and in some instances the speaker, has no warning that certain information is being left out. Sometimes the more that is omitted, the harder it is to recognize that one has left out anything.

A conspicuous example of the allness error is the following: A high school sophomore was chatting with a man who (unknown to the student) was a distinguished scientist devoting his lifetime to studying botany. The smug sophomore commented, “Oh, botany? I finished studying all about that stuff last semester.” As Bertrand Russell stated, “One’s certainty varies inversely with one’s knowledge.”

Almost everything we do involves some level of abstraction, so the solution to the allness error is not simply to omit abstraction. Rather, it is important to be aware of the level of abstraction occurring. Once the person is aware of the level of abstraction, the message can be phrased accordingly: “as far as I know,” “according to the information I have,” or “this is what I consider to be the critical information.” To help overcome the allness error when listening, ask “What has been omitted?” or simply “What else?” Also, if it is possible to put the phrase et cetera at the end of a sentence, ask what that would include.

Table 2–5 summarizes the questions to ask in order to avoid committing three critical errors when communicating.

The foregoing critical errors—assumption–observation, failure to discriminate, and allness—were discussed largely from the perspective of the intrapersonal and interpersonal levels of communication. However, management communication seldom operates at just the intra- or interpersonal level. The process may become more complex as more people become involved. In a meeting, the three communication errors discussed exist, and specialized problems inherent in groups must also be considered. When a manager of one department communicates with a group in another department, organization-level dynamics become involved. In both of these cases, the basic errors presented in this chapter can occur, and specialized types of potential errors must be considered also. More is said about group and organizational levels of communication in Chapter 4, which is dedicated to meetings and group dynamics, while Chapter 12 addresses intercultural communication.

Table 2–5 How to Avoid Critical Errors


Critical Error Question to Ask

Assumption–observation What are the facts?

Failure to discriminate What labels have I applied to this situation?

Allness What else is going on?



Managerial communication occurs at five levels: intrapersonal, interpersonal, group, organizational, and intercultural. Each of these levels is considered in this text.

This chapter also presents a model for strategic managerial communication that may help managers reduce errors in critical situations. While it is not possible to present concrete rules that will serve in every instance, we explored factors the manager should review before communicating.

These factors are presented as three layers of a strategic model. The first layer includes climate and culture. The communication strategy must be consistent with the context of national and organizational cultures. The second layer involves the sender, receiver, and purpose of the message. The third layer includes the message, channel, environment, and time of communication. The appropriate strategic implementation of these factors —the model’s core—depends highly on these three layers of variables.

Considering these elements during the developmental phase, however, is insufficient to ensure communication success. Managers must also seek feedback and measures of effectiveness to ensure continuous improvement of their interaction skills.

Finally, this chapter examined critical errors in the communication process. The most common are (a) the assumption–observation error, (b) the failure to discriminate, and (c) the allness error. The assumption– observation error results when a manager communicates something as real when no observable evidence is present. The failure to discriminate is the failure to perceive and communicate changes in events or significant differences between things. The error of allness occurs when a person structures communication as if it states all there is to know about a subject. Managers need to consider all these factors and human foibles when communicating.


Cases For Small-Group Discussion


Case 2–1


The Shroud of Technology Ben knocked on the door of Nancy Kerr, his supervising director.

“Come in,” Nancy said, and Ben entered. He was frustrated, and his demeanor reflected it.

“I need to talk to you about Stacey Burton, who works in the office beside mine,” Ben said. “Ever since we rearranged the office suite about a month ago, Stacey has been coming by and standing in the door of my office, just to flirt and to chat. It interrupts my work, and I’m uncomfortable with the overt attention, especially flirtatious attention,” Ben continued. “I’m also getting deluged with non-work- related e-mails from Stacey.”

“Have you asked Stacey to stop?” asked Nancy.

“Well, not really. The interaction could easily be taken as office banter, if you just heard the words. It is the way Stacey gestures and speaks and looks at me that makes it flirting,” Ben said. “I’m really not comfortable with initiating a confrontation with Stacey and thought maybe you would be willing to say something instead.”

“I’ll be happy to—probably today,” Nancy replied. “I’ll send an e-mail now. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.”

Nancy sent an e-mail to Stacey to come to her office briefly at 2:00 p.m.

At 1:55, Nancy heard a knock and said, “Come in.”

A smartly dressed young man came in and sat down. “Can I help you?” Nancy asked.

“Well, you said you wanted to talk to me. What can I do for you?” he asked.

“I wanted to talk to you?” asked Nancy.

“Yes,” the young man replied. “I’m Stacey Burton.”


Questions 1. What assumption–observation error might be made in this scenario? 2. To what extent did the use of technology for these message exchanges contribute to the miscommunication between Nancy and

Stacey? 3. What gender stereotypes discussed in Chapter 1 apply to this case? 4. How would you, in Nancy’s shoes, handle the awkward moment and the ensuing discussion?


Case 2–2


Developing a Brochure Mitch Finley, a twenty-nine-year-old with a degree in finance, began working as a loan officer at a bank two years ago. Later, he began consulting for other businesses in financial planning. His career goal has been to start his own business.

Recently, Finley opened The Suite Thing, a development company using one of his original business ideas—the construction of two large hotel-like buildings containing suites (living room, bedroom, kitchen) rather than single rooms.

The hotels are located in two cities that are important regional centers for the oil industry. Instead of renting the suites, he is selling them to large oil companies to meet entertainment and tax planning needs.

Finley had been using a brochure his architects put together, but he was not pleased with its presentation. He had collected other company brochures that he liked and decided to call an advertising firm to design a new brochure and logo for his company.

In the initial meeting, Finley told the advertising representative he needed a new company logo and a brochure folder that would hold his leaflets. Most important, the logo and kit had to be completed as soon as possible because time was money to him.

The advertising representative (very new on the job) acknowledged that his company could do logo and brochure layouts. The representative then asked Finley a few general questions about his two projects—what they involved, where they were located, and their surroundings. The agency rep said he would return within one week with his ideas.

Two-and-one-half weeks later, Finley called the advertising agency and wanted to know if it had developed the materials. The representative came by later that afternoon with his idea. The agency’s approach centered on a hard-sell theme of “Beat the Hotel Game with the Suite Thing.” Finley, frustrated by the response delay and the inconsistency between the advertising agency’s offering and his own image of the project, said, “No, that’s not at all what I want.” The advertising representative, taken aback, sat in silence for a time before responding in a frustrated voice, “Well, what do you see your project as being?” and reminded him of the time constraints Finley had given. Finley said he did not see hotels as his competitors, and he wanted a brochure and logo that used soft sell to introduce his idea to top-level executives as an investment.

The next day the advertising representative returned with a more conservative, soft-sell piece. Finley said, “That’s kind of what I want, but not really.”

Finley cannot understand why he did not get what he wanted the first time because “that’s their business and they should know how to do it.”


Questions 1. What are some possible causes of Finley’s communication problem? Of the advertising representative’s? 2. Identify how assumptions caused communication problems in this case. 3. What actions would you recommend to the advertising representative to ensure this does not happen again? 4. Do you believe there is a communication deadlock? If so, what should the participants do to resolve it?


Case 2–3


Why Is Jones Changing? The Finance Investment Company is located in Houston, Texas. The company is only two years old, but it has made the headlines in regional magazines as “the company to watch.” It is staffed with three investment analysts and four secretaries. The firm occupies a fairly small space, with the secretaries in the front office and the analysts’ offices adjacent to the front office.

Mr. Jones, a top-notch analyst, is very unfriendly. He runs the company with an iron fist. Jones is the first one at work and the last one to leave. Promptness is his motto.

The women working in the office think the middle-aged Jones is attractive. One secretary commented to another, “I wonder what it’s like to be married to him. He’s so good looking, but he’s such a geek. He couldn’t be that much fun to be married to.” Jones never talked to them; it seemed as if business was the only thing on his mind.

Recently, Jones began coming in late, taking long lunch hours, and leaving earlier. One of the secretaries commented, “Wow, what a change in Mr. Jones. I wonder what’s going on?” Another secretary replied, “You’re right; I’ve noticed a change in him also. He started all this about the time that new woman began working here.”

The secretaries did not like the new woman in the office. She was tall, blonde, and beautiful. She talked little, could hardly type, and knew little about computers. The other secretaries wrote her off as a “dumb blonde.” One secretary commented to another, “Old Jonesey is not only coming in from lunch late, but lately he’s been in the best moods. He even talked to me today!” Another said, “I noticed that, and I also saw his secretary coming in the door right after he did. And a woman calls about 6 p.m. every afternoon for Mr. Jones, but he has been leaving the office at 4:30 and cannot take the call.” The other secretary said, “Well, I can put two and two together. Can’t you?”


Questions Evaluate each of the following statements as true (T), false (F), or questionable (?). Do not reread the story before evaluating the statements, and do not change any of your answers.

1. Financial Investment Company is located in Houston, Texas. 2. Financial Investment Company is the fastest-growing company in Houston. 3. The building has four offices. 4. Jones is unfriendly. 5. Jones is very prompt. 6. Jones owns the company. 7. Jones has an iron fist. 8. Jones is about forty-five years old. 9. Jones is married.

10. Jones hired a new secretary. 11. The new secretary is a gorgeous blonde. 12. The new woman types well. 13. Jones returns to the office in a good mood. 14. The secretaries in the office think that Jones is having an affair with the gorgeous blonde. 15. Jones is having lunch with his secretary. 16. Jones is not going home after work. 17. A woman calls Jones every day at 6 p.m. 18. Jones’s wife is probably looking for him. 19. Jones is going through his midlife crisis.

What critical communication errors are demonstrated with this exercise? Explain.


Case 2–4


Resigning From the TV Station Jane Rye is a student of advertising at the local state university and will graduate at the end of the next term. She has a part-time job in the sales department at a local television station. When hired, Rye thought she was very lucky to have a job there, not only for the money but also for the work experience.

Pat Trent, the sales manager who hired her, was Rye’s immediate supervisor. Rye was doing a very good job and received considerable support from Trent. In fact, the sales manager had nothing but praise for Rye’s work when reporting to top management. Trent often told her direct report that her work was exceptional and Trent would like to hire her on a permanent basis after graduation to head a new media research department for the station. The job seemed to promise a challenging and rewarding career.

While Rye was flattered by the offer, she was not interested in the position because she found her present job unsatisfying. However, she never told Trent her feelings about the job or the possible appointment. Because Trent had trained Rye and had promoted her to everyone, Rye had become very loyal and grateful to her sales manager. Thus, Rye thought she would betray Trent if she were to refuse the job. After six weeks, however, Rye decided to quit and work part-time at the university, but she did not know how to approach her boss.

Rye, feeling unable to say anything unpleasant to Trent, let time pass until the day she was ready to quit to start her new job. When Rye got to work that day, the sales manager was scheduled to leave town later that morning. Rye was forced to go into Trent’s office while two other people were there discussing another matter. Trent asked Rye what she wanted, and Rye replied, “I am resigning.” The sales manager was taken completely by surprise, asked Rye why she was resigning, and wondered what was to be done with the project Rye was handling. Rye apologized for such short notice. Rye explained that she was taking a part-time job at the school starting tomorrow. Trent, very disappointed in her direct report, said, “If you had told me sooner, I could have transferred the project to someone else—now I’m in a bind.”


Questions 1. How should Rye have handled her resignation? 2. Where, when, and how do you think Rye should have resigned? Do you think Trent would have understood under different

circumstances? 3. How did Trent foster Rye’s reluctance to communicate? 4. What are some possible long-term repercussions of the way Rye handled her resignation?

Student Study Site

Visit the Student Study Site at study.sagepub.com/hynes7e for web quizzes, video and multimedia resources, and case studies.



1. A comprehensive guide for managers of diverse workforces is found in Geraldine E. Hynes, Get Along, Get It Done, Get Ahead: Interpersonal Communication in the Diverse Workplace (New York, NY: Business Expert Press, 2015). For a list of key managerial skills that 768 managers and executives identified, see the American Management Association’s “2012 Critical Skills and Competencies Survey” results, available online at http://www.amanet.org/training/promotions/ama-2012-critical-skills-survey.aspx.

2. Lee Thayer, Communication and Communication Systems (Burr Ridge, IL: Richard D. Irwin, 1968). For a comprehensive review of communication theories and taxonomies, see Stephen W. Littlejohn and Karen A. Foss, Encyclopedia of Communication Theory (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2009).

3. Cynthia Stohl, “Globalizing Organizational Communication,” in The New Handbook of Organizational Communication: Advances in Theory, Research, and Methods, eds. Fredric M. Jablin and Linda L. Putnam (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2001), 323–377.

4. Kendra Reed, Jerry Goolsby, and Michelle Johnston, “Extracting Meaning and Relevance from Work: The Potential Connection between the Listening Environment and Employee’s Organizational Identification and Commitment,” International Journal of Business Communication 53, no. 3 (2016): 326–342.

5. Two examples of studies confirming a direct relationship between work performance and corporate climate are M. Riketta, “The Causal Relation between Job Attitudes and Performance: A Meta-Analysis of Panel Studies,” Journal of Applied Psychology 93 (2008): 472–481, and M. G. Patterson et al., “Validating the Organizational Climate Measure: Links to Managerial Practices, Productivity and Innovation,” Journal of Organizational Behavior, 26 (2005): 379–408.

6. Shawn Parr, “Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch,” Fast Company, January 24, 2012, http://www.fastcompany.com/1810674/culture-eats-strategy-for-lunch.

7. John Petit Jr. and Bobby C. Vaught, “Self-Actualization and Interpersonal Capability in Organizations,” Journal of Business Communication 21, no. 3 (1984): 33–40.

8. Joseph N. Cappella, “Interpersonal Communication: Definitions and Fundamental Questions,” in Handbook of Communication Science, eds. C. R. Berger and S. H. Chaffee (Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1987), 184–238.

9. Vanessa M. Strike and Claus Rerup, “Mediated Sensemaking,” Academy of Management Journal 59, no. 3 (June 2016): 880–905.

10. Kitty O. Locker, “Theoretical Justifications for Using Reader Benefits,” Journal of Business Communication 19, no. 3 (1982): 51–66.

11. Gary F. Soldow, “A Study of the Linguistic Dimensions of Information Processing as a Function of


Cognitive Complexity,” Journal of Business Communication 19, no. 1 (1982): 55–70.

12. Mohan R. Limaye, “The Syntax of Persuasion: Two Business Letters of Request,” Journal of Business Communication 20, no. 2 (1983): 17–30.

13. Barbara Shwom and Lisa Gueldenzoph Snyder, Business Communication: Polishing Your Professional Presence, 3rd ed. (Hoboken, NJ: Pearson Education, 2016), 189–191.

14. Much of this discussion is drawn from William V. Haney, Communication and Interpersonal Relations: Text and Cases, 6th ed. (Burr Ridge, IL: Irwin Professional Press, 1992).

15. Ibid.

16. Ibid.

17. Ibid.


3 Communicating With Technology

In the last decade, we have gone from a connected world to a hyperconnected world. In the hyperconnected world . . . managers and entrepreneurs everywhere now have greater access than ever to the better and best people, robots and software everywhere.

—Tom Friedman, author, New York Times columnist and three-time Pulitzer Prize winner

If you spend as much time as most managers do creating and responding to e-mail, texting your staff, blogging, participating in webinars and virtual meetings, and compulsively checking your smartphone at stoplights, you may well assume that developments in technology will determine the future of business communication. Where does a discussion of technologically mediated communication begin? Technology is changing so quickly that it sometimes seems impossible to get a focus on the topic. Forty years ago, a communication theorist stated, “Communication is essentially a social affair . . . but life in the modern world is coming to depend, more and more, upon ‘technical’ means of communication, telephone and telegraph, radio and printing.”1 That observation was prescient.

Think about how rapidly technology has developed in the past fifty years. Only a couple of generations ago, the communication revolution meant the long-distance telephone. The computer on the Apollo 11 spacecraft in 1969 had less computing power than a modern pocket calculator. Until the VisiCalc spreadsheet was developed in 1979, few people could imagine the need for a personal computer. Today, you probably carry a personal computer in your pocket: a smartphone that is more powerful than IBM’s Deep Blue supercomputer.2

Electronic communication channels are an integral part of our work lives. The whole rationale for reliance on technology is increased efficiency and productivity, and recent research does provide some evidence to support this assumption. But technology is not merely a beneficial tool, it’s a force that must be constantly reassessed. Technological innovation is not always good merely because it is innovative. It’s a thin line to walk, and it requires some creative thinking to stay balanced between technological aptitude and overkill.3

Given the speed with which business communication technology changes, it is unrealistic to assume that this chapter will accurately reflect available technology when we wrote it and when you read it. The chapter focuses on best practices instead, some time-honored principles for using technology in the workplace. Reading it will help you develop a framework for making strategic decisions in the use of whatever technologically mediated communication tools are available at that time.


Stop and Think 1. How often are you interrupted by incoming e-mail, instant messaging, or text messages at work? 2. How does that impact your productivity? 3. Given that 28 percent of a typical office worker’s time is spent being interrupted, to what extent does technology help

versus hinder efficiency?


A Framework for Using Technologically Mediated Communication

The decision to use a telephone, e-mail, text message, or teleconference can be complicated because of the many variables involved. To understand these variables, refer to Chapter 2 and the discussion on strategy. With technologically mediated communication, a technological channel transmits the communication. Thus, the main difference is in the channel. However, as the strategic communication model in Chapter 2 indicates, every other variable is also affected by the technology. Four concepts help us understand the use of technologically mediated communication: bandwidth, perceived personal closeness, feedback, and the symbolic interactionist perspective.4



Communication occurs along five sensory channels: visual, auditory, tactile, gustatory, and olfactory.5 Bandwidth is the information transmission capacity of the available sensory channels. Face-to-face communication between two people within an arm’s length of each other has a wide bandwidth because it can use all five channels. When a manager first meets a job applicant, the two people usually shake hands. They are concurrently sharing visual, auditory, tactile, and olfactory cues, so this communication has a wide bandwidth.

Mediated communication generally omits one or more of the channels. For instance, a videoconference omits tactile and olfactory cues, while the telephone omits tactile, olfactory, and visual cues.

How many messages sent via different channels can the mind comprehend at one time? This theoretical question has plagued communication researchers for centuries, but it remains a relevant question when considering technologically mediated communication. To help understand this question, imagine a Y. Assume that each communication message or bit is a ball that approaches our brain—the base of the Y—along an arm of the Y. The arms of the Y are different communication channels. What happens if both balls approach the intersection of the Y concurrently but there is room for only one ball? Information jamming will occur. In terms of information theory, selective attention results, so the receiver pays attention to only one of the information bits while ignoring the others. In other words, the mind decides which ball can proceed to the base of the Y. This process is diagrammed in Figure 3–1.

The goal is to have as much information as possible processed in the central nervous system without jamming. How many cues from different sources can be processed simultaneously?6 This leads to the concept of between channel redundancy (BCR). BCR results in multichannel communication when information is shared among auditory, olfactory, tactile, gustatory, or visual channels.

Consider meeting a job applicant. When auditory and visual channels transmit identical information, BCR is complete. This would occur when the person dresses neatly and speaks in an articulate, precise manner. Both of these cues are complementary because they signal that the person is a professional. BCR is mixed or incomplete when different channels transmit conflicting or incongruous information. BCR is zero when each channel transmits completely different or contradictory information. Other things being equal, information transfer is theoretically most effective when BCR is complete. Interference is highest when BCR is zero.

Information theory has not been able to totally determine what information humans process or how they process it. However, several conclusions can be stated. First, we can process only a limited amount of information. Second, certain types of information overpower other types of information.7 Both of these conclusions have powerful implications for strategic managerial communication. Managers must determine how much information can be valuable in various situations. Only valuable information—cues—should be provided so a person’s information-processing capabilities are not overpowered with useless cues.

Figure 3–1 Information Processing


The choice between video networking, videoconferencing, and audio conferencing indicates why this is important for technologically mediated communication. Management may be tempted to use video networking because it provides real-time interactive video, audio, and data sharing via the Internet. Videoconferencing provides visual cues in addition to audio cues. But the cost of setting up online collaboration tools and videoconferences may not be justified by the use. Sharing data and files in real time during a meeting may not be important. Even visual cues may be of little value or even distract from the critical audio message that can be provided with a simple, audio-only teleconference.

On the other hand, managers typically should not choose communication channels with narrow bandwidths for emotional messages. Text messaging an employee that she has been terminated or e-mailing an expression of sympathy for the loss of a loved one are “tech-etiquette” blunders that are becoming all too common. And the broadest bandwidth channel, face-to-face, may be crucial for effectively communicating with key clients, especially in certain cultural contexts, as discussed in Chapter 12.

If circumstances require the use of a narrow bandwidth channel to transmit a sensitive message, managers should do their best to offset the consequences. A recent example was provided by a major corporation that used e-mail to notify four hundred employees of layoffs. While initial reactions to that channel choice for termination notices may be critical, a closer look shows that the company chose e-mail because it was efficient and practical for the mass announcement. In addition, company officials had held a series of meetings (a broad bandwidth channel) during which they explained the method they would use. Employees also could use the company intranet site to find answers to their questions.8 Thus, managers should consider using multiple channels of varying bandwidth for important, emotional messages.

In addition to the concept of bandwidth, the theory of electronic propinquity or perceived personal closeness provides a framework for understanding technologically mediated communication.


Perceived Personal Closeness

Participants in the communication process can feel either attached or removed from each other. Two people in the same room may feel miles apart, whereas those on different continents may feel close to each other. Many factors such as the history of the two people as communication partners can affect this feeling of closeness. Of particular concern here is how media affect the feeling of closeness or propinquity.

Much research indicates electronic media affect the extent to which people feel close to each other. For instance, some people are much more apprehensive about leaving voicemail messages than others and feel

uncomfortable even when making a simple call.9,10 When this apprehension exists, telephone conversations will not help a person feel psychologically close to another. Indeed, the psychological distance could be increased because of the accompanying apprehension. Some suggest it is the inability of the communicator to read nonverbal communication that causes this apprehension.11 Others, however, may prefer and enjoy some form of technology over face-to-face communication. An example is a person’s reliance on a smartphone for friendly interactions. When a person feels warm to the technology, psychological distance may be decreased.

Telecommunications may actually increase a person’s sense of closeness. One study found that participants in certain situations enjoyed group meetings more when mediated by technology than when everyone was physically present.12 Another example of preference for technology as an interpersonal communication tool is the use of text and instant messaging. Instant messaging (IM) has become the long-distance communication medium of choice for young adults. More similar to an electronic conversation than e-mail, IM is used by nearly three quarters of teens online, and most use it every time they log on.13 There are more than 3.2 billion IM accounts worldwide, and the fastest growing sector is business use.14 Some managers prefer texting coworkers rather than e-mailing or leaving voicemail messages because they ensure quick, brief responses, especially when they are in the field rather than in their offices.

Interestingly, voicemail is becoming obsolete as an interpersonal communication tool. Coca Cola and JP Morgan Chase recently eliminated voicemail from many of their offices to save money on unused technology.15 While a human voice may seem to convey personal closeness more successfully than text, the number of steps required for dialing in and checking voicemail messages, recording the phone numbers, redialing, and leaving a return message may be more trouble than it is worth. Research shows that employees take longer to reply to voice messages than other types of technology—more than 30 percent of voice messages are not retrieved after three days. By contrast, 90 percent of all text messages are read within a few minutes.16

The impact of electronic media on feelings of personal closeness has not yet been adequately determined, but there is some evidence for an inverse relationship between technology use and closeness. Preliminary research on this question indicates that overuse of technology does indeed affect interpersonal relationships. For example, a research team led by Brian Wansink at Cornell University found that children and adults who avoid or are denied eye contact are more likely to suffer from feelings of isolation and to exhibit antisocial traits and other psychological problems. The researchers hypothesize that people who spend more time


looking at their mobile devices than at one another suffer impaired emotional intelligence and social facility.17 Managers need to determine the extent to which perceived personal closeness is important in different situations. Also, to what extent do various types of technology affect this closeness between the sender and receiver? If this question is not addressed, inappropriately used technology designed to enhance managerial communication may be destructive rather than constructive.

In addition to bandwidth and electronic propinquity, we should consider a third factor, feedback, when discussing technologically mediated communication.



Feedback binds the sender and receiver together so they truly communicate with each other. Feedback is always present if it is sought. To understand fully the implications of this statement in relationship to mediated communication, it is important to consider both bandwidth and perceived personal closeness.

Mediated communication may reduce channels for obtaining feedback. When using the telephone, we do not see the facial expression of our communication partner. Thus, feedback is reduced. Also, when managers are not totally comfortable with a particular medium, they may ignore potential feedback cues. Consider a conference call involving five people at five locations. Such a call requires a different set of skills than a normal conversation, and the manager may not be totally comfortable with the situation. Not only are different skills required to monitor feedback, but the manager’s anxiety may also reduce attention to feedback.

Videoconferencing offers an additional channel of feedback, although it is reduced and it is not possible to make eye-to-eye contact. These limitations suggest videoconferencing works better for groups that already know each other. The major advantages of videoconferencing are time savings. A meeting with participants miles apart can be arranged without accounting for travel time or costs, an important consideration for geographically dispersed members of an organization. Meetings via videoconference also tend to be shorter than face-to-face meetings.18

The feedback cycle can be dramatically shortened with technology. Document exchange and review has shortened from hours using fax to minutes using e-mail and file-sharing technologies, even when managers are separated geographically. At the same time, the reduced time for feedback can cause problems. According to information theory discussed earlier, we have limited capabilities to process information, so managers may be pressured to decipher information and respond quickly just because the technology allows it. Imagine a manager who receives about two hundred e-mails and text messages daily. These media represent speed and responsiveness. But constant interruptions such as text and e-mail alerts may result in stress and overload. Recent research examining the effects of interruption overload and continuous partial attention is alarming. Many people believe they can work on multiple items at once, but only 2 percent of the population can truly multitask.19 The rest of us make small shifts in attention that slow us down as we repeatedly refocus and reduce productivity by as much as 40 percent.20 Higher cognitive functions, starting with decision making, can be impaired. Fragmentation of attention also appears to impede creativity.21 Multitasking, rather than a step toward efficiency, apparently prevents us from focusing on anything in a significant way.22 Managers need to be aware that continuous availability for feedback may have damaging consequences on their thought processes.

The impression that a manager must respond quickly brings us to our discussion of the fourth concept that helps us understand technologically mediated communication, symbolic interactionism.



A Symbolic Interactionist Perspective

Symbolic interactionism is a concept that can be used to explain sociological and psychological phenomena. In the imagery of symbolic interactionism, we view society as a dynamic web of communication. Thus, society and every organization in which managers function is an interaction. An interaction is symbolic because, through their interactions, people assign meaning to things and events. Over time, many symbols evolve within the organization and take on an agreed-upon meaning.23

The media that managers choose to use for communication may be based partially on symbolic reasons. Some argue that managerial communication behavior represents ritualistic responses to the need to appear competent, intelligent, legitimate, and rational.24 For example, a face-to-face medium may symbolize concern or caring. Conversely, the manager who congratulates an employee on twenty-five years of service with an e- mail message may unintentionally communicate a lack of personal concern. A handwritten note or a special card would symbolize more personal warmth to some people.


Stop and Think 1. Pretend that a close coworker has just suffered the loss of a family member. You wish to express your condolences. Which

channel will you use: a paper sympathy card sent by snail mail, an e-mail, a phone call, or a post on the coworker’s Facebook page? Why?

2. Which channel do you think the coworker will appreciate the most? Why? 3. What is the symbolic value of each channel?

A comprehensive study of managers and their communication media indicates that channel choice is highly symbolic.25 Managers interviewed in this study said they choose the face-to-face channel to signal a desire for teamwork, to build trust or goodwill, or to convey informality. Both face-to-face and telephone communication symbolized urgency, showed personal concern, and signaled deference to the receiver who preferred that medium. By contrast, written media were thought to show authority, make a strong impression, and be legitimate and official. Written media were also used to get attention and to comply with protocol. The results of this study indicate that managers should not simply rely on the channel they feel most comfortable with when communicating; they should consider its symbolism.

In summary, managers should consider four factors when deciding on the most effective and efficient use of mediated communication: bandwidth, perceived closeness, feedback, and symbolism. The choice of technology has become rather complicated, and it is difficult to generalize from one situation to another. But certain general conclusions can be stated.


Matching Technology and The Message

The discussion so far has emphasized how the channel may vary when communication is mediated by technology. Now consider matching the message and the technology. Not all technology is appropriate for all types of messages. To facilitate this discussion, messages are categorized along these continuums: sensitivity, negativity, complexity, and persuasiveness (as illustrated in Figure 3–2).26 The challenge is to consider the message and how it fits into the various categories; then, match it with the appropriate technology.


Message Sensitivity

When considering technology, managers must determine the extent to which the message is sensitive. A sensitive message is one that evokes an emotional reaction from the receiver. Neutral messages convey information that readers process and respond to intellectually but not emotionally. Receivers will not become upset with neutral messages, but neither will they become ecstatic or pleased.

Figure 3–2 Message Types

Sensitive messages should usually be communicated in face-to-face settings to increase the personal element. An extreme example is when a U.S. soldier is killed in battle. A military representative first informs relatives in a personal meeting. Telephone calls are not considered an option. An example at the other end of the sensitivity continuum is that a regular meeting’s agenda could be circulated by e-mail, and a meeting reminder could be posted on employees’ calendars using Microsoft Outlook. Face-to-face interaction would be an inefficient channel for this routine purpose.

What if it is not possible to communicate a sensitive message face-to-face? Here, the technology with the widest bandwidth should be used. Also, an interactive system with an opportunity for feedback should be supplementally used if possible. Symbolically, this may indicate a high level of concern. For instance, a company with offices in several states was forced to restructure. The grapevine was rampant with concerns about layoffs, loss of benefits, and forced relocations. It was not possible for the CEO to visit all the locations in a timely manner, so she chose to announce the general plan for the restructuring via an interactive video teleconference. All the employees met in various conference rooms and lunchrooms throughout the company. After the CEO announced the restructuring, the telephone lines were opened for questions.

This technology had one distinct advantage even though it may not have been as personal. It allowed the message to be sent throughout the company concurrently so all the employees received the same message at the same time, thus controlling rumors and minimizing anxiety. This is an advantage that would not have been possible without the technology.


Message Negativity

Messages extend along a continuum from positive to negative. When sending a negative message, managers should generally think about the receiver’s reaction. Consequently, the extent to which a message is negative and the extent to which it is sensitive are highly related. Some of the same generalities exist for the other categories.

Another important consideration exists when communicating negative messages via technology, however. A person receiving bad news via a technological channel may believe the manager was hiding behind the technology rather than facing the receiver directly. Or it may appear that the manager did not want to be responsible for the message.

Almost everyone has complained to a company about poor service or an incorrect billing. Frequently, the response to the complaint is an impersonal form letter. The reaction was probably increased frustration and even hostility. In short, technology often depersonalizes. Contemporary organizations are making efforts to balance high tech with “high touch.” Addressing customers by name in mass mailings (a process made possible by technology) is one example. Other strategies for softening the blow when sending negative messages are presented in Chapter 8. Managers can successfully influence receivers’ reactions to bad news.


Stop and Think Consider a time when you complained to a company about their service or product.

1. How personalized was the company’s reply message? 2. If the response was negative and you did not get what you asked for in your complaint, how did it make you feel? Are you

a repeat customer? Why or why not?


Message Complexity

Guidelines for using technology are somewhat clearer when considering message complexity. As the complexity of the message increases, managers should attempt to use (a) wider bandwidth, (b) the medium that will add to psychological closeness, (c) the technology that provides for the greatest amount of feedback, and (d) symbolism consistent with the complexity.

Discussion of a complex team-project schedule involving a series of dates and figures provides an example. Assume seven managers at four locations are a “virtual team.” A number of viable solutions exist for communicating complex messages without getting everyone together face-to-face. Fax, e-mail attachments, shared databases, and conference software that allows file sharing are common technologies for team communication. A relatively wide bandwidth is used; feedback is provided, and the sophisticated technology symbolizes the seriousness of the task.

Research shows the communication of complex, detailed information is not necessarily improved by face-to- face interaction.27 An explanation of a complex engineering formula, for instance, can be just as effective with audio and graphic communication as when the person doing the explanation is physically present. Interactive computer conferencing via local area networks (LANs) can facilitate the communication of complex messages because it may stimulate better concentration from the receiver.


Message Persuasiveness

Persuasive messages involve an effort to induce a receiver to take a particular action. Persuasion is not an effort to coerce, fool, seduce, or manipulate the receiver. Rather, it is an attempt to get employees to comply with behaviors that will meet the goals of the organization. When thinking of persuasion, salespeople probably come to mind; however, managers frequently use persuasion, influence tactics, or compliance-gaining strategies to affect employees’ performance. Efforts to introduce new work procedures, increase teamwork, or change corporate culture require persuasive communication. Suggestions for delivering persuasive business presentations are found in Chapter 5.

The topic of persuasion has been of interest since Aristotle’s time. But a leading researcher more recently wrote: “Despite the vast number of pages written and the countless studies undertaken about persuasion, it is difficult to shake the uneasy feeling that we have precious little reliable, socially relevant knowledge about it.”28 Our understanding of persuasion is further complicated when considering technologically mediated communication. Little research has been conducted in this area; consequently, it is necessary to generalize about what we know from nonmediated communication.

A popular book, Influence: The New Psychology of Modern Persuasion, presents three conclusions about persuasion that are particularly pertinent to our discussion.29 First, managers can more easily persuade those who like them. Second, people are more easily persuaded when they perceive the persuader as an authority. Third, it is easier for managers to persuade others as they get psychologically and physically closer to them.

Few would be surprised to learn that we most prefer to say yes to the requests of someone we know and like. In addition, we like people with whom we spend more time, even if we are forced to spend this time together. This research finding is important to our discussion because the quality of the time we spend with people via technology is generally not the same as if the person were physically present. In other words, no matter how much time we spend with people in teleconferences, it cannot substitute for personal presence.


Stop and Think Consider a project team you participated in, either at school or at work.

1. Did your team meet in person or virtually? 2. To what extent did you develop positive feelings about the other team members? 3. If you have worked in teams both virtually and face-to-face, compare the intensity of the team spirit you developed in each

environment. Which was stronger? Why?

The second principle is not overly surprising either. We listen and are persuaded by those who appear to be authorities on the topic. But how do managers project authority to people they may not meet in person? Video calls could be used to establish relationships, and collaboration software, e-mail, and other communication technologies can maintain them.

Finally, it is more difficult to say no when looking a person directly in the eye. Even when we like a person or believe she is an authority, it is easier to say no from a distance. Technology seems to buffer the importance of trust that has been built into the communicators’ relationship, diminishing its prominence as an element of the environment. When persuasion is the goal of the interaction, it is best to have the person physically present. When physical presence of an authority is not possible, a well-organized presentation by a somewhat less credible source may be a good substitute.

Technology makes communication easier. When considering persuasive managerial communication, however, one principle must always be considered. A person physically present is more persuasive than one who is present only via technologically mediated communication. That is why, despite the recent dramatic increase in online automobile sales, dealers continue to make an effort to lure online shoppers into their showrooms. And a test drive remains the best way to close a sale.


Communicating With Technology at Work

So far, this chapter has described the advantages and disadvantages of technology for communication in organizations. Problems with technology include the danger of sensory overload with useless cues (jamming), narrow bandwidth, diminished feelings of personal closeness, and reduced opportunities for feedback. Despite these disadvantages, however, networked organizations are the norm, mostly because they increase productivity. The strategic decision for managers, therefore, is not whether to use technological channels but which digital channel will best suit the situation and how to maximize its capabilities. In the following paragraphs, we will examine the strengths and weaknesses of five communication technologies commonly used in today’s workplace—e-mail, electronic (IM and text) messaging, blogging, videoconferencing, and collaboration software—and offer guidelines for best practice.



An estimated 269 billion e-mails are sent each day worldwide, with the number expected to increase to 319 billion by 2021.30 According to a recent report by the market research firm Radicati, business users send 34 and receive 88 e-mails each day (including 12 junk mail messages that bypass security and spam filters).31 Employees spend as much as 28 percent of their week on e-mail.32 A quarter of employees feel they spend “way too much” time on e-mail, and 40 percent say they avoid their e-mail inboxes to get work done.33 The e-mail overload problem has grown so large, in fact, that a 2017 French law gives employees the “right to disconnect” from e-mail outside of business hours.34

The risk of sensory overload—rather than motivating managers to ignore technological media—has stimulated managers to develop a variety of coping skills. They may use an assistant to sort and redirect the crush of messages. Turning off e-mail notifications eliminates distractions, and checking messages at set times each day can help managers budget their time. Features in most e-mail programs can code and filter messages according to sender or topic. Some companies try to help their managers cope with e-mail overload by enforcing “e-mail-free Fridays” or at least banning the use of the Reply All feature. Internal e-mail policies, such as limiting recipients and using the subject line to code messages by priority and response time, can help audiences manage their inbox.35 Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, uses a technique he calls “yesterbox” to ignore incoming mail (except urgent messages) and respond only to messages that arrived yesterday.36

In response to the problems caused by overreliance on e-mail, best practices have emerged. Here are a few guidelines (see Table 3–1):

Keep e-mails short so readers see the entire message on one screen and do not need to scroll. Recipients will not read long e-mails.37 Many recipients will be reading messages on small screens like tablets and phones. Do not use e-mail for urgent messages that call for immediate response. Many business professionals check their e-mail only once or twice per day.

Table 3–1 Best Practices for E-mail

Keep the message short.

Do not use e-mail for urgent messages that call for immediate response.

Do not use e-mail for dialogues.

Push company-wide announcements to the intranet.

When deciding what to include in your message, think of e-mail as a public forum.

Do not use e-mail for dialogues. Discussions will be slow and inefficient.38 Use the Reply All function


sparingly. Push company-wide announcements to the intranet and simply e-mail the link to everyone. Focusing on the company’s intranet as a source of routine information will relieve e-mail overload.39 Create a code of conduct, train all employees on it, and periodically remind employees to follow it. The policy should address issues such as spam, message retention, records management, privacy, and non- work-related use.

Managers also turn to IM and text messaging to avoid the crush of e-mail. That strategy, described earlier in this chapter, cuts e-mail traffic but does not diminish the amount of time spent interacting with technology or the level of resultant anxiety.


Electronic Messaging: IM and Text

Instant messaging (IM) and text messaging allow users to send short messages directly to one or more people. The two media function similarly for users but differ in their infrastructure. IM requires users to have the same software and to create accounts to communicate with each other. Messages are transmitted using the Internet, and the service is usually free. Text messages, also known as Short Message Service (SMS), need only a phone number to send messages between mobile phones and other handheld devices. Text messages allow users to communicate with different operating systems or software, but since messages travel over cellular networks, there may be a small fee for each message. Software is available to send and receive text messages on computers and IM on phones, so the differences between the two have blurred in recent years.

Although e-mail remains a staple of workplace communication, more and more organizations are also adopting electronic messaging to transmit business messages. Speed of transmission, message archiving, improved communication efficiency, and ease of implementation are the primary advantages of IM and text messages.

Texting and IM are fast because the message travels instantaneously, like a live conversation in person or by telephone. By contrast, e-mail is asynchronous and servers often have a delivery delay, so interaction is not expected to be real time. The speed of transmission can be so fast, however, that some conversations lose coherence as some parties post new messages while others are still writing, interrupting the conversational flow.40

Maintaining accurate records of communication improves employee efficiency and is beneficial during legal proceedings. Referring to transcripts of a conversation allows employees to retain and understand the intent of the conversation. During legal discovery, these archives may protect an organization from false accusations. Most free instant messaging programs have message archiving options. These archives are easy to set up and require significantly less server space than e-mail archives.41 Instant messaging archives provide the same level of legal documentation as e-mail archives, at a lower cost. Text messages can also be archived, but the process of retrieving them is more difficult, particularly if employees are using personal phones. It can also be difficult to authenticate the identity of the other party in a text conversation because other people may have access to the cell phone.42

Electronic messaging greatly improves communication efficiency compared to e-mail and other traditional communication methods. Instant messaging programs allow users to immediately ask clarifying questions, converse at a comfortable pace, and also have a transcript of the conversation for review. Finally, instant messaging programs are very easy to implement because many employees already use them.

There are several disadvantages to electronic messaging that must be identified in order to minimize their impact and protect your organization. Electronic messaging can establish legally binding contracts and expose companies to legal jurisdiction in other states. Other potential problems are accidental overtime, lack of security, structure and informality, and distractions that lower productivity.


The legal elements of a contractual agreement are offer, consideration, and acceptance. E-mail, IM, or text conversations that include these elements can be legally binding even if the specific details of the deal need further negotiation. The following electronic messaging exchange could be considered a legal contract:43

Buyer: How’s it going? Hope to see you and the family on the lake Friday.

Supplier: We should be there.

Buyer: Could you get me six of those new widgets by the end of the month? Got a project coming up, the boss is pushing hard.

Supplier: Those systems are pricey.

Buyer: They would make the job go a lot easier.

Supplier: No problem. We’ve got plenty in stock, so I’ll deliver them on the 20th.

Buyer: Great and see you Friday.44

Any specific details that are not included would be negotiable, but the supplier could be forced to deliver six widgets to the buyer on the 20th. Breaching a contract can expose a company to legal liability and hurt its reputation. Employees must be educated on safe use of electronic communication, whether e-mail or instant messaging, to protect the organization.

A related disadvantage of electronic messaging is that it can expose companies to legal jurisdiction liability in other states. In 2006, the New York Court of Appeals ruled that a Montana business could be sued in a New York court. The Montana business entered into and later breached a contract using instant messages. Conducting business using instant messages was sufficient contact for New York courts to have jurisdiction over the Montana business. Employees using instant messaging to conduct business with outside parties must understand the legal implications.45

Ubiquitous technology can make it difficult for employees to disconnect. In 2017, three-quarters of U.S. adults owned smartphones, twice as many as in 2011.46 As many as 44 percent of employees use them to check e-mail and electronic messages after their workday ends. This kind of work-life blurring and the expectation by managers that employees respond immediately, regardless of the day or time, could create accidental overtime and violate the Fair Labor Standards Act.47

Security is a major issue because texting is instantaneous, and it does not allow enough time for virus scanners to check completely for viruses, thus leaving computers unprotected. No matter how fast virus scanners become, they will always be able to protect against e-mails better than SMSes.48

Lack of structure and informality are other disadvantages of instant messaging. Unlike e-mails, which are set up in memo format, IM and text messages do not have a set form and usually take on a very casual, conversational writing style. Although slang and shorthand might be commonly used in personal messaging, they do not project the kind of professional style that managers usually wish to project.

For example, a synopsis of the classic novel Pride and Prejudice, sent as a text message, might look like the following:


TFW you and your 4 sisters want to get married but there are only 2 wealthy guys you’d want.

Although longer, a more professional tone with concrete information would yield something like this:

The Bennet sisters are wanting husbands. They have their sights set on Bingley and Darcy, two new men in town who are handsome and wealthy.

This type of message can be difficult for new users to understand. Perhaps more importantly in business settings, a cryptic text message may lead to serious misunderstandings and costly errors. It may encourage employees to take more care when crafting text messages if you remind them that texts can be archived and are discoverable in a court of law.

Finally, electronic messaging can disrupt workplace productivity. Unlike e-mail, electronic messaging is expected to be instantaneous. A flood of non-urgent or personal text messages can be distracting to busy workers. Since IM and text (as well as e-mail) are often used for personal communication, checking a business message may also lead to checking personal ones, thereby reducing time on task. Texting was designed for recreational “chatting,” and it is easy to get involved in personal exchanges that take up valuable work time. Additionally, from a distance, an employee who is typing messages may appear to be off task. Company policies for e-mail should be adapted to manage instant messaging to maintain employee productivity.

Clearly there is great potential for growth in instant messaging by businesses. Many companies are already utilizing instant messaging in their daily operations. Managers cannot ignore the growth of instant messaging communication. Table 3–2 lists some best practices for instant messaging communication.

A recent study by research company Radicati Group indicated that IM accounts are expected to grow to over 3.8 billion worldwide by 2019. With this increased personal and professional use of instant messaging, companies are responding by providing workers with enterprise-grade IM accounts, which have functionality and security that cannot be attained with public IM accounts, thereby overcoming concerns, especially when they are communicating with customers or business partners.49

Billions of dollars in commodities, stocks, bonds, and commercial goods are traded every day using electronic messaging technology. The strong international communication, easy message archiving, high level of efficiency, and easy implementation will lead more organizations to use instant messaging. The contract formation issues, employee distraction, and legal jurisdiction concerns associated with instant messaging can be easily managed. The productivity and cost reduction benefits of instant messaging far outweigh the potential negatives to businesses.

After reviewing the advantages and disadvantages, a business can decide whether using electronic messaging will be beneficial to them. Many companies that have already adopted this technology have been increasing their usage of this communication channel, but they are not abandoning e-mail. Instead, they are using IM and texting in tandem with e-mail to send reminders or announcements that need to be communicated immediately.50 For example, an employee might send an important e-mail to his boss and then send a


reminder SMS, letting her know that the e-mail was sent.

Table 3–2 Best Practices for Electronic Messaging

Archive all incoming and outgoing messages.

Develop an electronic messaging policy and circulate it among employees.

Do not use text or instant messaging for highly sensitive communication.

Educate employees about the potential legal liability they expose the company to through electronic messaging.

Remember that texts are generally not secure, so limit proprietary information.

Be concise, but be sure your shortcuts (acronyms, abbreviations, jargon) are familiar to all.

Use punctuation for clarity and accuracy.

Avoid emoticons and formatting for emphasis (all caps, multiple exclamation points).

Do not ban electronic messaging but provide guidance on how to use it. Develop a text messaging policy and circulate it among employees.



Blogs continue to be an important communication tool for businesses. Blogs are websites that are updated frequently. A descendant of diaries and online journals, organizational blogs feature short, concise articles, photos, or videos that are arranged chronologically.51 Blog composition requires no knowledge of web- programming languages, such as HTML.52 The Really Simple Syndication (RSS) technology allows blogs to reach audiences worldwide.53

A common use for blogs within businesses today is as a project coordination tool. A team working on a project can use a blog to share information or provide progress updates. This information can be seen by the team members, managers who wish to “check in,” or any other individuals within the company who are allowed access. Instead of spending the time to have a meeting with the team to discuss the team’s progress on a project, the manager can simply take a look at the group’s project blog. The benefit of blogs as a project coordination tool is amplified for teams that include members located in different geographic locations.

Blogs can also be used internally as a means of sharing information and collecting feedback from stakeholders.54 If a company is looking for feedback from employees about a new policy, for example, it could start an internal blog about the issue. Previously, a series of meetings, reports, letters, memos, or “town-hall” gatherings may have been necessary. Blogs allow everyone to participate in the discussion at their convenience and keep a permanent record of all the thoughts, comments, and input that can be reviewed and considered at the convenience of the decision maker.

Blogs can be used externally to promote the organization and develop relationships with a variety of audiences. Communication using blogs or similar technology is viewed as more genuine, credible, and “real” compared to the rote and often boring language of mission statements and press releases. Blogs are written in a conversational tone, which external stakeholders view more favorably.55 Unlike press releases or websites, blogs accept comments and often invite guest authors. Composing posts that connect with readers’ interests and responding directly to comments can encourage audiences to remain engaged with the organization, its products, or projects in development.56 Companies can use blogs to gather new ideas about changes or new products that they should consider offering.57 The sum of a customer-focused blog is that it allows companies to build and maintain relationships with their public, strengthening their brand and positioning in the marketplace.58 Another external use for blogs is to advertise. Many companies operate in niche markets and are constantly looking for new ways to reach their target market.59 With over 112 million blogs online to choose from, chances are good that a blog focused on any given industry exists. Companies can capitalize on this opportunity by running banner ads on these blog sites, virtually guaranteeing that the people who come to read the blog are in their target market.

Blogs offer companies a chance to learn about criticisms, crises, or information much more quickly and respond almost immediately.60 Previously, corporations relied on press releases, industry trade publications, or time-intensive website upgrades to announce new products or services. Blogs provide a means for corporations to communicate with consumers before, during, and after new products are brought to market.


Job search and employee recruitment are an additional way to use blogs. Prospective employees use blogs to research an organization, and hiring managers scan social media—including blogs—to investigate applicants. Blogs allow individuals to tell a personal story that demonstrates expertise and builds a personal brand. Linking to other blogs, inviting guest bloggers, and responding to comments are ways to take advantage of the relational nature of social media and develop a strong, positive reputation in your industry.61

Blogs also offer some challenges in managing external relations. Corporate blogs, although maintained by individual employees, do represent the “voice of the corporation.” Without proper monitoring, it is possible that the company could get a bad reputation.62 Companies must also remember that most blog posts are permanent. There is little companies can do after the fact to remedy situations such as releasing information in a blog that was not meant to reach the general public and/or competition.

Since blogs are seen as another “voice” of a company, it is important to ensure that the voice speaking in external blogs agrees with the voice speaking in mission statements, press releases, advertisements, websites, and other forms of external communication. One way to ensure this continuity of voice is to create guidelines that employees must follow when writing blogs for external audiences. Guidelines may also help avoid legal troubles that could result from improper blog usage. Table 3–3 offers a summary of best practices for corporate blogs.



Communication can be very expensive for geographically dispersed teams and multinational corporations. International phone calls are expensive, as is telepresence equipment; in addition, telepresence requires a fixed location. Most free instant messaging programs have conferencing features that allow team members around the world to collaborate instantly using smartphones and tablets. Services like WebEx, Adobe Connect, and Zoom offer chat functions, document exchange, and screen-sharing functions from any Internet connection in the world without IT support. Thus, videoconferencing improves collaboration without increasing expenses. Videoconferencing is an integral tool for virtual teams, as discussed in Chapter 4.

Table 3–3 Best Practices for Blog Communication

Internal Blogs External Blogs

Use instead of meetings for simple and quick progress updates, information sharing, and gathering of feedback.

Use for quick release of information during crises.

To encourage honesty, do not censor bloggers. Be sure that company-sponsored postings are consistent with the company’s brand, mission, and image.

Write in a conversational tone. Monitor blogs daily to keep abreast of public sentiment.

Maintain a professional writing style, remembering that posts are permanent records.

Respond quickly to publicly posted blog comments, whether positive or critical.


Social Networks

Corporate intranets have evolved into enterprise social networks like Slack, Jive, Office 365, and Facebook for Business. Other firms are using proprietary networks. For example, KPMG recently created The Hub to connect employees at its member firms around the world and help them share knowledge and expertise. These internal social networks combine aspects of social media with communication, collaboration, and project management tools to facilitate teamwork and internal messaging. Enterprise social networks flatten hierarchies and allow users across an organization to connect and share information. Teams can share calendars, work on shared files, ask questions or crowdsource ideas using IM, and meet by videoconference. As they work, communications are streamlined and project activities are archived, making groups more productive.63

External social networks allow businesses to interact with their audiences quickly, informally, and in ways that users find useful. Finding their audiences will take some work, though. According to the Pew Research Center, 86 percent of U.S. adults use the Internet, and nearly 80 percent of them use Facebook. Other popular social media are the content-sharing sites Instagram (32%) and Pinterest (31%) and the networking sites LinkedIn (29%) and Twitter (24%).64 But just because audiences are using social media does not mean that they want to connect with your organization. Most users are connecting with family and friends. Furthermore, users often have accounts on multiple social networks, and each fulfills a different purpose. Targeted messaging is the way to connect with audiences on social networks. Organizations should use psychographic research on customers to identify the best channels for their messages.65

Once your organization has chosen its social networking outlets, provide information that users want or need to know. For example, Merriam-Webster produces dictionaries, a product that may not seem very cutting edge. Yet the company has had great success using Twitter to participate in conversations about world events, providing “the right information at the right time.” For example, when the BBC announced the next star of its long-running sci-fi series Dr. Who would be a woman, many fans complained publicly. Merriam-Webster responded to the outcry on Twitter by noting that “‘Doctor’ has no gender in English,” which led to a conversation about the quirks of language.66 The clothing company MM.LaFleur uses Facebook to share photos of models, videos of staff, and testimonials by customers. The company also responds directly to comments, whether they are compliments, inquiries, or complaints. Starbucks uses a webpage to crowdsource ideas for new products (www.mystarbucksidea.com). These examples show how the organizations are connecting with audiences and demonstrating social media “reach.”67

Table 3–4 Best Practices for Videoconferencing

Use instead of meetings for simple and quick progress updates, information sharing, and gathering of feedback.

Have a backup communication plan in case some participants have trouble connecting.


Use videoconferences in team-building stages to develop rapport.

Continue to use videoconferences regularly to help remote workers feel visible to the team.

Test audio and video settings prior to every meeting.

Look at the camera when speaking, not at the screen or at your notes.

If possible, mute your microphone when you are not speaking to reduce ambient noise.

Unfortunately, many companies use social media for one-way messaging. A recent study showed 80 percent of corporate posts on Facebook and Twitter were for informational purposes only. In fact, more than 60 percent of organizations do not reply to customers publicly, although they may be contacting them privately using IM. It appears that most companies use social media to broadcast messages rather than to converse with audiences and cultivate relationships.

The risk of using social networks is sharing control of your message. The candy company Skittles was an early adopter of social media and is often considered a role model of successful brand engagement and interaction. Yet the company discovered in 2009 that sharing control can be dangerous. Skittles converted its website into a portal that streamed user messages from Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks. Perhaps not surprisingly, the experiment quickly went awry as some users posted inappropriate and abusive messages. Today, Skittles continues to engage users with tweets, videos, and memes, but it controls its website much more tightly.

In summary, e-mail, electronic messages, blogs, videoconferences, and social media are contemporary communication technologies that are integral to networked organizations, and with their use, the hierarchical culture is dissolved. Rank does not matter as much to workers who are on the network and who know what everyone is doing. Today’s managers no longer manage information; they manage networks of people. Teams use technology to collaborate, overcoming geographic barriers among team members. In addition to increasing efficiency, technology reduces groupthink, defuses emotional issues, and enhances the creativity of decisions. Clearly, these advantages outweigh the risks and costs of using technology for workplace communication.

Table 3–5 Best Practices for Social Networking

Internal Social Networks External Social Networks

Use instead of meetings for simple and quick progress updates, information sharing, and gathering of feedback.

Tell compelling stories in a conversational tone. Use a consistent brand voice across networks.

Give the online community time to grow. Focus on customers’ needs rather than your own. Provide content they care about.


Find internal influencers to lead discussions and generate interest.

Respond quickly to comments and questions, whether positive or critical.

Set guidelines for information that can and cannot be shared with others in the organization.

Develop a social media disaster plan.


Considerations for Technology Use

Advances in technology are often celebrated for the ways they allow work to be completed more quickly and accurately, but they also introduce new tasks and responsibilities for managers to consider. This section reviews several ways that communication technology has changed the way managers work. Communication technology allows managers to monitor employee behavior and performance, make decisions based upon data and research, revise the design of jobs and organizations, and facilitate collaboration within teams.


Monitoring Technology Use

Surveillance methods are developing hand in hand with innovations in communication technology. These efforts are exemplified by federal law enforcement and national security officials’ sweeping regulations that allow surveillance of Internet communications, including encrypted e-mails; social networking websites; and peer-to-peer software, such as Skype. In the United States, phone and broadband networks are already required to have interception capabilities, under a 1994 law called the Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act. These capabilities apply to companies that operate from servers abroad and that conduct international business.

The business sector is following the example of governmental surveillance policies by developing technologies that allow eavesdropping on employees. Electronic monitoring systems allow employers to gather very detailed information about how their employees spend their time at work.68 Companies monitor employees for many reasons. These include the following:

Mitigating legal liability Reducing the misuse of company resources Protecting intellectual property69

First, companies monitor in order to prevent lawsuits. Companies can be held liable for any and all communication that uses their computer systems.70 In fact, a sexual harassment suit was brought against Chevron when an employee sent an offensive e-mail over the company system. This seemingly incidental e- mail ended up costing the company $2.2 million.71

Second, companies monitor to catch employees who are misusing the company’s resources. For example, employers want to know if an employee is spending valuable work time surfing the Internet, playing computer games, or planning a vacation online.

Third, many companies have intellectual property and trade secrets that they need to protect. Monitoring employees is one way to keep tabs on their property and make sure it is not leaked out to a competitor. All an employee would have to do is accidentally or even purposefully send an e-mail to the wrong person, and it could end up out of the company’s control.

Companies now have various ways to monitor employees in the workplace. They range from programs that block access to certain Internet sites to ones that record every keystroke ever typed on the worker’s computer (even ones that have been deleted).

Secret monitoring by employers is widespread and supported by the courts.72 Some employers automatically send copies of every e-mail to the sender’s supervisor.73 They can also use global positioning systems on employees’ badges to allow them to record workers’ movements.74 In addition, 48 percent of employers use video surveillance to watch employees, and of these organizations, 22 percent do not inform workers that they are being taped.75 Even so, 52 percent of Americans consider surveillance to prevent theft and monitor


performance to be acceptable.76 The monitoring of individuals has enabled employers to prevent problems and to reprimand workers who have disobeyed corporate policies. The New York Times, Xerox Corp., and First Union Bank have apparently terminated employees after discovering improper use of company-provided Internet.77 A CIO Magazine survey stated that 90 percent of chief information officers reported they would fire an employee if the individual used the company e-mail to sexually harass someone else.78 Eighty-four percent stated they would fire someone for sending pornography to coworkers, and 80 percent would fire an employee for compromising trade secrets.79


Stop and Think 1. How do you feel about the courts’ decisions to support secret monitoring of employees’ technology use? 2. How can these limitations on employees’ constitutional rights to privacy and freedom of expression be justified?

Employees should realize that any time spent using technology at work should be limited to work-related activities. Further, any communications being sent or received to a work e-mail address, pager, smartphone, or tablet should be considered appropriate for anyone to read. In 2010, in its first ruling on the privacy rights of employees who send messages on the job, the Supreme Court unanimously agreed that supervisors may read through text messages of direct reports if they suspect that work rules are being violated. Since employers are not required to let employees know when they are monitoring, it is up to the employees to be on their best behavior and to think twice before doing something even slightly inappropriate while on the job.


Decision Making

Managerial decision making may be defined as the process of identifying and solving problems. Decision making requires that managers scan for pertinent information. Most discussions on this topic generally contain two major stages. One is the problem identification stage. Information about relevant conditions is monitored both to determine whether performance is meeting expectations and to diagnose the cause of any shortcomings. The other stage involves solution identification. Alternative actions are considered, and one alternative is selected and implemented. A more thorough explanation of the rational problem-solving process is presented in Chapters 4 and 13. In both stages of the process, the more information available, the greater the probability that effective decisions will be made. And more and more information is available with increased technologies.

Burger King provides an example of the effect of communication technology on decision making. Each Burger King restaurant is networked via computer to a central office where each sale is transmitted and recorded. When one store is running low on a product, even without the store manager placing an order, the central facility is aware of the shortage and can send supplies. Thus, stage one in the decision process, the problem identification stage, is more easily accomplished because of communication technology.

The solution identification stage, however, has become more difficult. Even just a few years ago, locating quality data or research to support decision making was difficult. Much of the data was proprietary information, and public research was usually in print form, requiring users to travel to a library or request a copy to be sent by mail or e-mail. Today, many public and private researchers share reports and data sets online, but as we explain in Chapter 9, a web search engine search often yields results that are not as reliable as professional databases and industry sources. Managers are bombarded with masses of information, and the volume of information makes choosing the best alternative more, not less, challenging. If managers receive large quantities of both relevant and irrelevant information, the important facts and figures may be overlooked and can create problems because the human mind can process only so many data. As noted earlier in Figure 3–1, a point develops at which the mind blocks out any additional, though valuable, information. As technology allows for rapid acquisition of greater amounts of information, poorer rather than better decisions may result.

As presented in Chapter 2, the manager’s challenge is to know where to get information, when and how to present it to others, and how and when to use it. In some ways, information technology makes the decision- making process easier, but in other ways, it becomes more complex.


Job and Organizational Design

Business communication technology allows managers to monitor more closely the standards expected from a job performance. Take a simple example of a sales representative responsible for calling on furniture stores. The objective is to obtain cooperation in setting up a special display within the stores. The standard of performance is to make two calls per day and obtain three displays per ten calls. The formal agreement is to report the day’s activities to the central office at the end of each day. This is done via smartphone, tablet, or laptop. E-mail and text messages are exchanged continuously.

In this example, even more emerging technologies could be used, such as photo messaging. Snapchat, Instagram, Kik, Wickr, and other apps let users exchange images, either plain or with virtual scribbles, of people and projects. In fact, snapping photos has become the most widely used function of smartphones, and not just among teenagers. Snapchatters sent 2.8 billion photos and videos each day in 2017.80 It is logical to assume that many of these exchanges supported business functions.

Without sophisticated technology, such an intensive level of interaction among employees and their managers would not have been possible. It would have been necessary to mail reports to the central office, so feedback may not have been obtained for several days. Interaction via technologically mediated communication allows managers to maintain control over their direct reports and allows employees in the field to stay connected.

In addition to improved control of specific jobs, organizational relationships may change with mediated communication. We generally think of jobs being connected by means of either horizontal or vertical integration. Horizontal communication or integration occurs between people at the same hierarchical level. Managers may meet horizontally to coordinate activities, solve problems, resolve conflicts, or just share information. Regardless of the purpose, more horizontal communication can occur as a result of technology.

Consider this example. The board of directors of a hospital system with eight locations directed the human resources managers to implement a safety training program in each hospital. The managers want to share ideas with each other on the most efficient way to implement the program. Technology makes travel for a meeting unnecessary—a videoconference, satellite downlink, or teleconference would meet the purpose. In this case, technology allows for greater integration at lower expense.

Vertical integration is the coordination among higher and lower levels within the hierarchy. Unfortunately, it often seems that different levels of the organization typically do not communicate well with each other.81 But as noted when discussing formalization and enterprise social networks, mediated communication should assist this process. Managers and employees are more accessible with technology. Distance and time are less troublesome.

This improved vertical and horizontal integration is resulting in dramatically different job and organizational structures. Recent research indicates that, in an effort to create competitive advantage, managers’ jobs have become more information oriented, while the number of layers of managers has decreased.82 And technology facilitates this trend toward networked information exchange.


Finally, the increasing use of bots, automated programs that use artificial intelligence to respond to inquiries and perform routine actions, suggests a promising way to engage customers and automate some workplace tasks. Amazon Echo, Microsoft Cortana, Facebook Messenger, and Apple’s Siri already use this technology to answer questions and help customers place orders.83 As technology takes over routine tasks, employees will be able to turn their attention to projects that require critical thinking and strategic planning.



Most business documents require more than one person to be involved in the writing process. Examples include proposals, reports to regulatory agencies, annual reports to shareholders, policy manuals, operating procedures, newsletters, directives, user manuals, training materials, mission/vision and strategic goal statements, progress reports, and personnel reports. In the past, collaborative writing too often meant one person wrote part of the report and then sent it to another person for revision by e-mail. The second person passed it on to another and so forth. This method is extremely time consuming, and document version control can be difficult to coordinate.

Groupware is a family of software that supports group tasks in various levels of shared electronic environments. Collaboration software like wikis, cloud-based productivity applications, file storage, and versioning software allow members of a team to compose documents concurrently, not just sequentially. Using built-in features like comments and chat, members can compare ideas, discuss different viewpoints, and make revisions in real time. As versions of the text are compared, a better product results without bruising egos. Because collaborative writing is becoming so important, it is discussed more extensively in Chapter 7.


Stop and Think Recall a team project you participated in, either at work or at school.

1. What communication tools did you use to expedite team collaboration? 2. How well did they work? 3. What could the team have done better to ensure that everyone’s input on the deliverable was maximized?

Group decision support systems (GDSSs) are software and associated processes that have been designed to advance coordination of group projects. The fundamental goal of a GDSS is to support collaborative work activities, such as idea creation, message exchange, project planning, document creation, copyediting, and joint decision making.84 GDSSs provide a platform on which groups can collaborate when members are dispersed, working in their separate offices, homes, or client locations. Other systems support face-to-face meetings that occur in one physical setting, such as a conference or boardroom. With these, it is possible to instantaneously display ideas on large screens, vote on individual preferences, compile the anonymous input of ideas and preferences, and electronically exchange ideas between members. GDSS programs include various quantitative analysis techniques. The most sophisticated systems include expert advice in the selecting and arranging of rules to be applied during interpersonal communication.85


The Management Challenge

What does all this mean for managers? It means they must become sensitive to the correct type of communication channel to use in different situations. It means managers must learn to use these new technologies. It means another dimension has been added to managerial communication.

Let us expand on each of these points. Several studies have indicated a strong correlation exists between a manager’s media sensitivity and managerial performance. When a task involved complex information or was highly emotional, for instance, effective managers were more inclined to use communication channels with a broad bandwidth than were ineffective managers.86 Innovations in communication technology have added a whole new dimension to the manager’s job: understanding and selecting the correct communication channel. A corollary to this requirement is that managers must guide their direct reports in the proper, ethical use of the technology. New communication tools are constantly becoming available, requiring strategic decisions. The proliferation of communication technologies in the workplace improves productivity, communication, and collaboration but also introduces risks, such as hacking, accidental information leaks, corporate espionage, and sabotage by disgruntled employees. Information security is becoming a significant concern for managers in all industries. It is clear that business is committed to investing in technology, and companies expect managers to make this investment pay off.

Figure 3–3 Technology Choice Factors

The technology payoff could be increased if managers had a guidebook summarizing when each technology is best used, but such a resource is not possible. Too many contingencies must be considered to say categorically which technology should be used when. This chapter, however, has attempted to raise some of the important questions managers should ask themselves as they choose a channel for their message. Figure 3–3 illustrates the factors that managers should consider when selecting a technology.

As the workplace begins filling with Generation Z, a group who has never lived without smartphones or the Internet, older employees will need to teach them about workplace norms, including the appropriate use of their smartphones for work. Jonah Stillman, the teenage coauthor of Gen Z @ Work, explains, “Phones are


crucial to our identities and lifestyle. Telling people in my generation to put our phones away is not a solution. Just ask our teachers how it worked for them.”87 His advice, based in part on his work on an advisory board for the educational software Blackboard, is patience and mentoring.



To understand better how technology affects managerial communication, four concepts are discussed. First, bandwidth is affected because one channel is generally omitted when technologically mediated communication is used. Perceived closeness or propinquity is a consideration because electronic media affect the extent to which people feel close to each other. The feedback cycle is much shorter with technology, so this is also a consideration. Finally, the symbolic interactionist perspective is considered because the use of various communication channels has different symbolic values.

When matching technology to the message, four message factors are considered. First is message sensitivity. Greater bandwidth should generally be used with sensitive messages. The second category is message negativity. Managers must be careful not to hide behind technology when presenting negative messages. The third category is message complexity. Two ways to effectively transmit relatively complex messages are teleconferencing and computer conferencing. The fourth category is message persuasiveness. The extent to which the receiver likes the sender and the extent to which the sender is perceived as an authority must be considered. In general, persuasion is less effective when the communication is mediated by technology.

Going forward, technology will continue to proliferate, and so will surveillance mechanisms. Best practices are emerging for the most common technologies, including e-mail, texting, instant messaging, and blogging. Technology will continue to affect managerial communication in decision making, job and organizational design, and collaborative writing. All these technologies will challenge future managers as they make strategic decisions and as they monitor and guide their employees’ technologically mediated communication.


Cases For Small-Group Discussion


Case 3–1


Communicating With Technology on Friday Afternoon Colleen cheered as she completed the last of her attachments for the report, which had been a last-minute request on a fair-weather Friday. She was eager to begin the weekend, since she had made plans to spend it with her partner, Brian. She saved the interactive PDF file, which linked to eighteen ancillary files, and attached all nineteen files to her e-mail to her boss.

Colleen pressed Send and logged off. She rushed from her office to catch the 5:15 p.m. uptown bus. If she missed it, she would have to wait about a half hour for the next one. As she jumped on the bus before the doors closed and grabbed a seat in the back, she opened her purse. She quickly turned off her phone, which had only a small charge left, to preserve the battery. She brushed her hair and put on some lip gloss in preparation for dinner at a nice uptown bistro. Brian had made reservations for outdoor dining on the bistro’s balcony overlooking the bustling street below.

At the same moment, Colleen’s boss was opening Colleen’s e-mail. As he downloaded the files, error messages began popping up. Six of the files had been corrupted in electronic transit. He called Colleen’s extension; it went immediately to voicemail. He called her cell phone and heard a familiar message—the recipient was not receiving calls. He e-mailed her, hoping that she would somehow still be available, to no avail. Panic quickly set in—the report had to be delivered at a meeting in one hour, and the other four functional area managers would be present.


Questions 1. Do you perceive any possible repercussions from the failure of the electronic transfer of the six files? 2. What would you suggest as a one-hour plan for Colleen’s boss? 3. How could problems like the one in this scenario be avoided (a) by Colleen, (b) by Colleen’s boss, or (c) by company policies?


Case 3–2


Reply to All?! Jamal Wright arrived at the office a bit late on Monday morning, around 9:45. He had been invited to speak at the Miami Chamber of Commerce breakfast as the chief operating officer for InterWorld Traders, an international shipping service. His topic, ironically, was communication efficiency. His speech was well received, and he was in a good mood as he logged in for the day. As he opened his e-mail, he was instantly struck by the incredible number of internal e-mails he had waiting in his inbox. Normally about 20 messages, today the tally was 21,291! The e-mail messages were from all over the world and were short messages in reply to others’ messages. Thousands of them!

Jamal scrolled down the list until he got to the last ones he had read on Friday afternoon. The culprit soon surfaced. It was a message from Sue Knowles, a manager in charge of distribution analysis. Her job focused on the efficiency of logistical matters concerning the shipping of parcels and the organization of the firm’s headquarters warehouse. Sue had sent out a call asking for input concerning any efficiency issues that had been noticed in any of the areas within the firm. Unfortunately, the question was open ended, and her delivery method had created a monster. She had sent the message to all of the 546 supervisory- or higher-level managers within the company. She had not used a mail merge process to send the messages; instead, she had listed a group with all of the e-mail addresses included in the recipients line of her message. The result was disastrous. As several well-meaning recipients responded with their observations and suggestions, they had unfortunately selected Reply All. Apparently, the recipients were under the impression that only two or three people had received the initial e-mail. Unfortunately, as others also hit Reply All in their responses to the responses, thousands of e-mail messages flooded the firm’s servers.

Jamal returned to the more recent messages. They were noticeably aggressive messages, like “Remove me from this e-mail list” and “I wish you people would learn to use e-mail properly!” and “You idiots stop e-mailing me!” There were even some who obviously realized what was going on—they had replied to all saying, “Everyone stop pressing Reply All!”

The tumult of messages was growing greater minute by minute. The company was bogged down in its inability to function by e-mail, and there seemed to be no end in sight.


Questions 1. How could blunders like the one described above be prevented? 2. Since it was not prevented, what should Jamal do now?


Case 3–3


The Potential for Technology Bill Emory is the operations vice president of a banking firm in California that has 48 branch operations. These operations vary from drive-in facilities with 10 employees to larger facilities employing as many as 150 people. Employee turnover has always been a major problem in these branches, and no employment strategy has been effective in reducing this problem. The high turnover has made employee training a special problem.

The human resources department is responsible for employee training, but HR charges branch operations for the expenses incurred. The recent expansion in training because of ever-changing services offered by the bank has become extremely costly. Emory has decided it is time to attempt to reduce these costs by implementing some new training strategies. He believes that many of the new communication technologies could be used to save training expenses. In particular, savings could be realized for the branches that are more than 400 miles from the corporate office. (In the past, the training representatives would travel to the branch site, stay overnight, present a one- or two- day training session, and then return. Emory would like to reduce these travel and lodging expenses.) Emory has casually asked the HR manager, Joan Tyson, to investigate communication technology possibilities in training, but no action has been taken; consequently, Emory has decided to write a persuasive letter to Tyson encouraging Tyson’s staff to investigate this subject.


Project Write a memo to the HR manager, Joan Tyson, which could be used for this purpose. Include one or two specific technologies that might be appropriate, their advantages, and the communication impact that could be expected. Special attention should be given to training for the tellers. For instance, the procedures for recording the various transactions and customer communications should be part of the training.


Case 3–4


Improvements at ServeNow ServeNow is a grocery store chain that has seven stores in the southeastern United States. ServeNow’s strategy is to target smaller towns (under 50,000 population) so it can become the dominant store in the area. The chain is headquartered in the largest town (population 75,000) in which it has a store. Each store is at least 50 miles from another store within the network.

The owner of the stores, Edward Bushley, has found that it is extremely difficult to monitor store activities because of travel logistics. As a result, the manager of each store has traditionally had a lot of latitude. Many of the pricing and inventory decisions are made at the individual locations. However, most purchasing is made through a central purchasing office in the headquarters city.

But during the past two weeks, three managers left ServeNow to start an online grocery brokerage service. This took Bushley by surprise, but being an entrepreneur himself, he understands their desire to start their own business. In addition, another manager is nearing retirement. Bushley has found that it is extremely difficult to find qualified replacements for these energetic, creative managers.

Bushley had hoped that potential managers would be available among his present employees, but he discovered the company is weak in its succession planning. Current staff members do not seem to have the capabilities or desire to become store managers. It has become obvious that managers have to be found outside of the present staff.

Bushley has retained Solange DePeres, a small-business consultant who specializes in personnel problems. DePeres agreed that no potential managers were on the present staff. The assistant store managers would be able to manage during the transition, but ultimately new personnel would have to be hired. She stated that Bushley would have to hire managers who were not familiar with the stores’ operations and simply spend more time with them than he had with the previous managers. In particular, Bushley would have to spend time training them and answering operational questions.

Bushley asks DePeres, “How can I possibly spend more time at the individual stores? It seems that I am already too busy to maintain a balanced lifestyle.”


Project Assume you are the small-business consultant Solange DePeres and make several recommendations to help Bushley stay in touch with his stores and develop his managerial force. Consider especially the technological communication tools on the market. Explain your recommendations.

Student Study Site

Visit the Student Study Site at study.sagepub.com/hynes7e for web quizzes, video and multimedia resources, and case studies.



1. C. Cherry, On Human Communication, 3rd ed. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1978), 3–5.

2. Tibi Puiu, “Your Smartphone Is Millions of Times More Powerful Than All of NASA’s Combined Computing in 1969,” ZMEScience.com, May 17, 2017, http://www.zmescience.com/research/technology/smartphone-power-compared-to-apollo-432/.

3. Benjamin van Loon, “Productivity Is Money,” Profile Magazine, April–June 2013, http://profilemagazine.com/2013/productivity-is-money/.

4. Selection of these variables is partially based on C. Heeter, “Classifying Mediated Communication Systems,” in Communication Yearbook, vol. 12, ed. James A. Anderson (Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1988), 477– 486.

5. Felipe Korzenny and Connie Bauer, “Testing the Theory of Electronic Propinquity,” Communication Research 8, no. 4 (1981): 479–498.

6. For further discussion, see Larry R. Smeltzer and Charles M. Vance, “An Analysis of Graphics Use in Audio-Graphic Teleconferences,” Journal of Business Communication 26, no. 2 (1989): 123–142.

7. Steven H. Chaffee and Charles R. Berger, “What Communication Scientists Do,” in Handbook of Communication Science, eds. C. Berger and S. Chaffee (Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1987), 99–123.

8. “Radio Shack Uses Email to Fire 400 Employees,” Huntsville Item, September 1, 2006, 1.

9. N. L. Reinsch et al., “Measuring Telephone Apprehension,” Management Communication Quarterly 4, no. 2 (1990): 198–221.

10. Ross McCammon, “Pick up the Damn Phone,” Entrepreneur, November 2016, 15–16.

11. N. L. Reinsch Jr. and Raymond W. Beswick, “Voice Mail Versus Conventional Channels: A Cost Minimization Analysis of Individuals’ Preferences,” Academy of Management Journal 23, no. 4 (1990): 801– 816.

12. Larry R. Smeltzer, “An Analysis of Receivers’ Reactions to Electronically Mediated Communication,” Journal of Business Communication 23, no. 4 (1986): 37–54.

13. Jim Louderback, “IM’s: No Longer Just a Teen Thing,” USA Weekend, January 3, 2003, 4.

14. The Radicati Group, “Instant Messaging Statistics Report, 2015–2019,” http://www.radicati.com/wp/wp- content/uploads/2015/03/Instant-Messaging-Statistics-Report-2015-2019-Executive-Summary.pdf.

15. Yuki Noguchi, “Businesses Are Hanging up on Voice Mail to Dial in to Productivity,” NPR, All Things Considered, June 10, 2015,


http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2015/06/10/412866432/businesses-are-hanging-up-on-voice- mail-to-dial-in-productivity.

16. “Texting Statistics,” ConnectMogul, March 23, 2013, http://connectmogul.com/2013/03/texting- statistics/.

17. Aviva Musicus, Aner Tal, and Brian Wansink, “Eyes in the Aisles: Why Is Cap’n Crunch Looking Down at My Child?” Environment and Behavior, April 2, 2014, doi: 10.1177/0013916514528793.

18. Jon Martin Denstadli, Tom Erik Julsrud, and Randi Johanne Hjorthol, “Videoconferencing as a Mode of Communication: A Comparative Study of the Use of Videoconferencing and Face-to-Face Meetings,” Journal of Business and Technical Communication 26, no. 1 (2011): 65–91, doi: 10.1177/1050651911421125.

19. Maria Konnikova, “Multitask Masters,” The New Yorker, May 17, 2014, http://www.newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/multitask-masters.

20. Lisa Quast, “Want to Be More Productive? Stop Multi-Tasking,” Forbes, February 6, 2017, https://www.forbes.com/sites/lisaquast/2017/02/06/want-to-be-more-productive-stop-multi- tasking/#35034bde55a6.

21. Sharon Begley, “Will the BlackBerry Sink the Presidency?” Newsweek, February 16, 2009, 37–38. See also Gail Thomas and Cindy King, “Reconceptualizing Email Overload,” Journal of Business and Technical Communication 20 (2006): 252–287.

22. Maggie Jackson, Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2008).

23. R. L. Daft and K. E. Weick, “Toward a Model of Organizations as Interpretation Systems,” Academy of Management Review 9, no. 2 (1984): 284–295.

24. M. S. Feldman and J. G. March, “Information in Organizations as Signal and Symbol,” Administrative Science Quarterly 26, no. 1 (1981): 171–186.

25. R. L. Daft, R. H. Lengel, and L. K. Trevino, “Message Equivocality, Media Selection, and Manager Performance: Implications for Information Systems,” MIS Quarterly 11, no. 2 (1987): 355–366.

26. This categorization was largely drawn from Ronald E. Dulek and John S. Fielden, Principles of Business Communication (New York: Macmillan, 1990).

27. R. E. Rice, “Evaluating New Media Systems,” in Evaluating the New Information Technologies: New Directions for Program Evaluation, ed. J. Johnson (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1984), 53–71.

28. Gerald R. Miller, “Persuasion,” in Handbook of Communication Science, eds. C. Berger and S. Chaffee (Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1987), pp. 446–483.


29. Robert B. Cialdini, Influence: The New Psychology of Modern Persuasion (New York: Quill, 1984).

30. The Radicati Group, “Email Statistics Report 2017–2021, https://www.radicati.com/wp/wp- content/uploads/2017/01/Email-Statistics-Report-2017-2021-Executive-Summary.pdf

31. The Radicati Group, “Email Statistics Report, 2015–2019,” http://www.radicati.com/wp/wp- content/uploads/2015/02/Email-Statistics-Report-2015-2019-Executive-Summary.pdf.

32. Michael Chui et al., “The Social Economy: Unlocking Value and Productivity through Social Technologies,” McKinsey Global Institute, July 2012, http://www.mckinsey.com/industries/high-tech/our- insights/the-social-economy.

33. Kristin Naragon, “Subject: Email, We Just Can’t Get Enough,” Adobe Blogs, August 26, 2015, https://blogs.adobe.com/conversations/2015/08/email.html.

34. Alanna Petroff and Océane Cornevin, “France Gives Workers ‘Right to Disconnect’ from Office Email,” CNN Money, January 2, 2017, http://money.cnn.com/2017/01/02/technology/france-office-email-workers- law/index.html.

35. Christine Comaford, “Email Overload? Do This and Gain 10 Hours per Week,” Forbes.com, February 20, 2015, https://www.forbes.com/sites/christinecomaford/2015/02/20/email-overload-do-this-and-gain-10- hours-per-week/#3373dc54671d.

36. Oliver Burkeman, “How to Avoid Email Overload,” The Guardian, April 15, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/apr/15/how-to-deal-with-email-overload.

37. D. Shipley and W. Schwalbe, SEND: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007).

38. “Choosing a Communication Channel,” Strategic Communication Management 16, no. 2 (2012): 38–39.

39. D. Dick, “Designing a Web Site for a Corporate Intranet,” Intercom 51, no. 2 (2004): 12–13.

40. Jo Mackiewicz and Christopher Lam, “Coherence in Workplace Instant Messages,” Journal of Technical Writing and Communication 39, no. 4 (2009): 417–431, doi: 10.2190/TW.39.4.e.

41. Nancy Flynn, Instant Messaging Rules (New York: AMACOM, 2004), 145–155.

42. Andrew D. Myers, “Texts as Evidence: Electronically Stored Information in Court,” http://attorney- myers.com/2014/05/texts-as-evidence/.

43. Stephen Yoch, “When ‘You’ve Got Email’ Means ‘You’ve Got a Deal!,’” FCA Contract Insight 4, no. 1, March 2010, http://www.finishingcontractors.org/uploads/media/CI_Mar.10.pdf.

44. Yoch, “When ‘You’ve Got Email.’”


45. Kenneth Rashbaum, “A Single Instant Message Can Land Your Company in a New York Court: The Deutsche Bank Case,” The Privacy and Data Security Law Journal 10 (2006): 889–896.

46. Lee Rainie and Andrew Perrin, “10 Facts about Smartphones as the iPhone Turns 10,” Pew Research Center, June 28, 2017, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/06/28/10-facts-about-smartphones/.

47. Bill Carmody, “Contacting Employees after Hours May Come at a Price (Literally),” Inc.com, June 12, 2015, https://www.inc.com/bill-carmody/contacting-employees-after-hours-may-come-at-a-price- literally.html.

48. Allan Pratt, “Texting Security Concerns—AWTTW,” Tips4TechsBlog, June 20, 2013, http://tips4tech.wordpress.com/2013/06/20/texting-security-concerns/.

49. The Radicati Group, “Instant Messaging Statistics Report, 2015–2019.”

50. D. Shinder, “Instant Messaging: Does It Have a Place in Business Networks?” November 2, 2004, http://www.windowsecurity.com/articles/Instant-Messaging-Business-Networks.html.

51. Jacqueline A. Gilbert, Dorie Clark, and Donald P. Roy, “Blogging: What’s All the Fuss?” SAM Advanced Management Journal, Autumn 2016, 4–15.

52. Wikipedia, “Blog.”

53. S. Baker and H. Green, “Social Media Will Change Your Business,” BusinessWeek Online, February 20, 2008, http://www.businessweek.com/stories/2008-02-20/social-media-will-change-your- businessbusinessweek-business-news-stock-market-and-financial-advice.

54. Baker, “The Inside Story.”

55. P. Blackshaw and M. Nazzaro, “Consumer-Generated Media (CGM) 101: Word-of-Mouth in the Age of the Web-Fortified Consumer,” Nielsen BuzzMetrics White Papers, Spring 2006, http://www.artsmarketing.org/marketingresources/files/Consumer-Generated%20Media.pdf.

56. Gilbert, Clark, and Roy, “Blogging: What’s All the Fuss?”

57. Baker and Green, “Social Media.”

58. Baker, “The Inside Story.”

59. Ibid.

60. C. Catalano, “Megaphones to the Internet and the World: The Role of Blogs in Corporate Communication,” International Journal of Strategic Communication 1, no. 4 (2007): 247–262.

61. Gilbert, Clark, and Roy, “Blogging: What’s All the Fuss?”

62. Ibid.


63. Ceri Hughes and Alex Chapel, “Connect, Communicate, Collaborate and Create: Implementing an Enterprise-wide Social Collaboration Platform at KPMG,” Business Information Review 30, no. 3 (2013): 140–143, doi: 10.1177/0266382113507378.

64. Shannon Greenwood, Andrew Perrin, and Maeve Duggan, “Social Media Update 2016,” Pew Research Center, November 11, 2016, http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/11/11/social-media-update-2016/.

65. Kevin Popović, “How to Choose Social Media Channels That Best Support Your Strategy,” Communication World, January 2, 2016, https://www.iabc.com/how-to-choose-social-media-channels-that- best-support-your-strategy/.

66. Merriam-Webster, July 17, 2017, 10:15 a.m., Tweet. https://twitter.com/merriamwebster/status/886997710376775681.

67. Elise Veroza Hurley and Amy C. Kimme Hea, “The Rhetoric of Reach: Preparing Students for Technical Communication in the Age of Social Media,” Technical Communication Quarterly 23 (2014): 55–68, doi: 10.1080/10572252.2014.850854.

68. H. J. Wen, D. Schwieger, and P. Gershuny, “Internet Usage Monitoring in the Workplace: Its Legal Challenges and Implementation Strategies,” Information Systems Management 24, no. 2 (2007): 185–196.

69. D. Elmuti and H. H. Davis, “Not Worth the Bad Will,” Industrial Management 48, no. 6 (2006): 26–30.

70. R. L. Wakefield, “Computer Monitoring and Surveillance,” The CPA Journal 74, no. 7 (2004): 52–55.

71. Ibid.

72. G. S. Alder, M. L. Ambrose, and T. W. Noel, “The Effect of Formal Advance Notice and Justification on Internet Monitoring Fairness: Much about Nothing?” Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies 13, no. 1 (2006): 93–108.

73. J. Lloyd, “Management Email Monitoring Brings ‘Big Brother’ to Mind,” The Receivables Report for America’s Health Care Financial Managers 21, no. 1 (2006): 6–7.

74. A. D. Moore, “Employee Monitoring and Computer Technology: Evaluative Surveillance v. Privacy,” Business Ethics Quarterly 10, no. 3 (2000): 697–709.

75. American Management Association, “The Latest on Workplace Monitoring and Surveillance,” 2007, http://www.amanet.org/training/articles/the-latest-on-workplace-monitoring-and-surveillance.aspx.

76. Lee Rainie and Maeve Duggan, “Privacy and Information Sharing,” Pew Research Center, January 24, 2016, http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/01/14/privacy-and-information-sharing/.

77. A. M. Everett, Y. Wong, and J. Paynter, “Balancing Employee and Employer Rights: An International Comparison of Email Privacy in the Workplace,” Journal of Individual Employment Rights 11, no. 4 (2004–


2005): 291–310.

78. Everett, Wong, and Paynter, “Balancing Employee and Employer.”

79. Ibid.

80. Biz Carlson, “Here’s Everything You Need to Know about How Many People Are Using Snapchat,” Business Insider, February 2, 2017, http://www.businessinsider.com/how-many-people-use-snapchat-user- numbers-2017-2.

81. Gerald M. Goldhaber, Organizational Communication (Dubuque, IA: Wm. C. Brown, 1983), 156.

82. Jeffrey Pfeffer, “Producing Sustainable Competitive Advantage through the Effective Management of People,” The Academy of Management Executive 19, no. 4 (2005): 95–108.

83. Kurt Wagner, “Bots, Explained,” CNBC, April 11, 2016, http://www.cnbc.com/2016/04/11/bots- explained.html.

84. Paul Benjamin Lowry, Aaron Curtis, and Michelle Rene Lowry, “Building a Taxonomy and Nomenclature of Collaborative Writing to Improve Interdisciplinary Research and Practice,” Journal of Business Communication 41, no. 1 (January 2004): 66–99.

85. Marshall Scott Poole and Geraldine DeSanctis, “Understand the Use of Group Decision Support Systems: The Theory of Adaptive Structuration,” in Organizations and Communication Technology, eds. J. Fulk and C. Steinfield (Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1990), 173–193; and “Smart Programs Go to Work,” BusinessWeek, March 2, 1992, 97–105.

86. Gail S. Russ, Richard L. Daft, and Robert H. Lengel, “Media Selection and Managerial Characteristics in Organizational Communications,” Management Communication Quarterly 4, no. 2 (November 1990): 151– 175.

87. Jonah, Stillman, “I’m Not Texting. I’m Taking Notes,” The New York Times, April 9, 2017, 7.


Part II Communicating With Groups


4 Managing Meetings and Teams

Groupthink leads “to weak and faltering decisions, or rather, indecisions. When you take the most gallant soldier, the most intrepid airman or the most audacious soldier, put them at a table together, what do you get? The sum total of their fears.”

—Winston Churchill, describing meetings during World War II

Meetings are an important organizational communication process that continues to be useful for coordination of work functions. The American Management Association concluded that collaboration and team building (which are primarily accomplished during meetings) are among the most critical workforce skills today and will be even more so in the future.1 In fact, 90 percent of all U.S. businesses and 100 percent of the Fortune 500 companies use some form of group structure. Their need lies in the complexity and interdependence of tasks, which make it difficult for one person to have the knowledge to make decisions and solve problems in today’s organizations. The contemporary regulatory environment illustrates this interdependence and the high cost of decisions. Governmental regulations on how and what an industry can do often require that lawyers, industrial relations managers, tax specialists, accountants, and governmental experts discuss ideas before a decision is made.

From a broader perspective, it is easy to see why teams have been adopted as a key personnel configuration in the postmodern business environment. As discussed in Chapter 1, today’s workplace is fast-paced. The traditional management hierarchy has been replaced by flexible, cooperative, mission-driven managers who expect their direct reports and associates to participate fully in the task or project at hand.

Managing teams—and the meetings that teamwork requires—calls for special skills. Just because a work group is labeled a team doesn’t mean it automatically functions as a team. As a team leader, you must use a variety of communication strategies to maximize your team’s effectiveness. This chapter describes those key strategic considerations. But first, we briefly review the range of functions that meetings and teams perform.

Managers use meetings for several functions: informational, fact finding, problem solving, decision making, and coordinating (see Table 4–1). While a meeting may be labeled team, staff, marketing, committee, ad hoc, or something else, any meeting should allow members to share information, obtain ideas, solve problems, coordinate efforts, make decisions, and build working relationships. A gathering of workers who simply sit and hear the manager make announcements is not a true meeting.

Managers use informational meetings to explain important new decisions or company activities to employees, answer questions, or help them to understand how to perform a desired task. The essential aim is to communicate a company point of view and have it accepted by employees. Such meetings succeed when they get the employees to examine, articulate, and align their own interests with the company’s.



Stop and Think 1. What kinds of teams and groups have you been a part of, either at work or in your personal life? 2. What factors helped your team accomplish its task? What factors made it more difficult?

Managers conduct fact-finding meetings to tap the expertise of several employees and at the same time obtain facts for planning and decision making. For example, a sales manager may call in all the sales representatives to find out about such matters as business conditions, competition, customer desires, and complaints. A production manager having trouble with a specific operation might meet with all the key people who have knowledge of a situation.

In a problem-solving and decision-making meeting, team members pool their specialized expertise with the objective of developing a solution. This meeting goes beyond simply finding facts; it seeks to identify the issues and discuss the probable gains and losses resulting from alternate actions.

In coordination meetings, project teams keep each other informed of their progress and plan each stage of their joint efforts. Whatever their purpose, meetings are a way of managerial life; however, managers must use meetings prudently to maximize their benefits and minimize their costs.

An outstanding example of meetings that accomplish the goals described above was the Katrina Working Group sessions led by the mayor of Houston, Texas, Bill White, following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in September 2005. Every morning, he presided over a session of community leaders, corporate executives, church leaders, emergency services staff, and elected officials to determine how to serve the thousands of evacuees from New Orleans and other Gulf Coast areas who were seeking shelter in Houston. Forty people sat at long tables arranged in a square in a large room, with dozens of others sitting in rows behind the tables. Mayor White refused to allow speeches or grandstanding. Instead, he asked participants to raise issues and helped them formulate response plans. As a result of the efficient methods that the mayor’s team used to handle the crisis, ensuring humanitarian aid to evacuees while maintaining the city’s normal functions, Houston reelected Bill White in November 2005 with 91 percent of the vote.2

Table 4–1 Functions of


Share information

Find facts

Solve problems

Make decisions


Coordinate tasks


Advantages and Disadvantages of Working In Teams

Whether participating in a team or leading one, managers should be aware of advantages and disadvantages of group work, as summarized in Table 4–2.


Advantages of Teams

One advantage is that a group decision may be of a higher quality than that made by an individual. But before using a team, you must analyze the nature of the problem. Teams are better at solving problems for which there is no single correct solution or for which solutions are difficult to verify objectively.3 Such problems require decisions that cannot be programmed. Nonprogrammed decisions are the result of infrequent situations that require creativity, insight, and the sharing of ideas and perspectives regarding a problem.4 Groups, especially heterogeneous groups, bring a greater variety of information and a wider choice of solutions.

A second advantage to a team is that when members have had an opportunity for discussion, they are more likely to be committed to the information presented or the decision made. In other words, they become “owners” of the decision. A classic study conducted by Coch and French over fifty-five years ago investigated workers’ resistance to technological changes in their jobs. During team or employee meetings, they noted that when workers participated in discussions regarding implementation of the changes, significantly less resistance resulted than that which occurred among workers excluded from participation.5 Each employee who participated in the meeting had increased ownership of the outcome, and the responsibility felt for making the solution or program work was enhanced.

Table 4–2 Advantages and Disadvantages of Teams

Advantages Disadvantages

Higher-quality decisions Low-quality or premature decisions

Increased productivity Wasted time

Increased commitment, loyalty, retention Costly

Fewer communication breakdowns Overused

Increased motivation Risk of groupthink

A more recent study of employee retention factors found similar results. Clear communication about the goals of an organization and the ability to play a part in formulating those goals are two important factors in an employee’s intention to stay with an organization.6 Another advantage of a team meeting is that it may reduce the chance of communication problems. When a group of people hears the same message at the same time, the possibility of misinterpretation declines. Participants’ questions can clarify the message, and each participant has the opportunity to hear the answer and ask additional questions. Feedback is increased and timing is reduced as a barrier to communication.

An old tale illustrates yet another benefit of working in teams. A man was lost while driving through the


country. As he tried to read a map, he accidentally drove off the road into a ditch. Though he wasn’t injured, his car was stuck deep in the mud. So the man walked to a nearby farm and asked for help.


Stop and Think 1. Which of the advantages listed here accurately reflect your own experience on teams? 2. To what extent do you agree that teammates influence your own efforts?

“Warwick can get you out of that ditch,” said the farmer, pointing to an old mule standing in a field. The man looked at the haggard mule doubtfully but figured he had nothing to lose. The two men and Warwick made their way back to the ditch.

The farmer hitched the mule to the car. With a snap of the reins he shouted, “Pull, Fred! Pull, Jack! Pull, Ted! Pull, Warwick!” And the mule pulled the car from the ditch with very little effort. The man was amazed. He thanked the farmer, patted the mule, and asked, “Why did you call out all of those other names before you called Warwick?”

The farmer grinned and said, “Old Warwick is just about blind. As long as he believes he’s part of a team, he doesn’t mind pulling.”7


Disadvantages of Teams

We have seen that working in teams can improve quality, productivity, creativity, loyalty and commitment, and even retention. But there is a downside. Richard Hall put it well when he noted, “Time spent on meetings is time not spent on other activities.”8 While the hourly cost of a meeting in terms of the base pay of the participants is already high, to determine the real cost, one must add payroll taxes, fringe benefits, and general overhead. To cover meeting costs, participants’ base pay would probably need to be doubled to determine the actual cost. Meeting costs often go unnoticed because they are not budget line items. When one large manufacturing organization recently tallied the costs of a regular meeting of its midlevel managers, it discovered the expense was $15 million per year.9 Meetings are a hidden cost that can either impede or improve the effectiveness of a work group.

In addition to the high cost, the team may develop low-quality decisions. Pressures to conform, premature decisions, hidden agendas, extensive conflict, disruptive and dominant individuals, lack of planning, and poor leadership can easily reduce effectiveness.10 Later in the chapter, we detail these factors and techniques for managing them.

A common disadvantage of meetings is their frequent overuse. Organizations often develop a meeting style of management. Management must meet for every little thing. Meetings generally are not necessary for routine or repetitive programmed decisions that can be handled by an established procedure. Unfortunately, meetings are held too frequently just because “we always have a meeting at this time.” Overuse of meetings may cause employees to find them a nuisance, so they avoid them. Consequently, employees may miss truly important meetings or be unable to distinguish between a critical and a useless meeting.

Another problem is that the weekly team meeting might be a waste of time if members are not required to gather facts before the meeting, make decisions at the meeting, or present information. The manager must analyze each meeting to determine need. Still another often useless meeting pattern finds the manager telling a group about a new event or presenting a progress report without providing an opportunity for questions or interactions. Clearly, it may be more efficient to share information through a memo or e-mail rather than a meeting.



After extensive analysis, Irving Janis wrote a book titled Victims of Groupthink.11 Groupthink is the tendency of a group to conform to ideas simply because the general sense of the group has moved in a particular direction and the members of the group feel committed to continue in the same line of thought. Although the group may be pursuing an incorrect conclusion, the group does not alter direction for fear of offending a group member. It is the extreme form of cohesiveness and is especially likely when a group has a high sense of teamwork and desire for consensus or harmony.

Groupthink is especially important because of its potential for disastrous effects. Some say the disaster of the space shuttle Challenger was a result of groupthink.12 The night before the space shuttle’s launch in 1986, engineers urged managers to delay because they were worried about failure of the O-rings in the cold weather. Their concerns were overruled, the Challenger was launched, and the O-rings failed, causing the deaths of seven astronauts. Subsequent investigations indicated that, despite evidence of the potential risks being presented in meetings, the meeting members kept redefining what they considered risky to downplay the problem. Unfortunately, dissenters and whistle-blowers are too often ignored, and many other disasters have been at least partially attributed to groupthink, including the collapses of Enron and Worldcom, the Iraq war, and the housing bubble and stock market crash of 2008.13

Based on Janis’s concept, Von Bergen and Kirk describe symptoms of groupthink that managers should watch for:14

1. The illusion that everyone in the group holds the same viewpoint with an emphasis on team play 2. The belief that the group can make no mistakes 3. The belief that disagreements are to be avoided, faulty assumptions are not questioned, and personal

doubts must be suppressed in favor of group harmony 4. The tendency to comfort one another and to ignore or at least discount warnings that an agreed-on plan

is either unworkable or highly unlikely to succeed 5. The tendency to direct pressure on any dissenting group member who expresses strong challenges to the

consensus opinion of the group 6. The presence of inordinate optimism that predisposes members to take excessive risks

When in a decision-making meeting, the effective manager is alert to groupthink symptoms and takes appropriate action. Or more appropriately, she takes actions to ensure that groupthink does not develop. Three actions help to avoid the tendency toward groupthink:

Do not make an early decision. Do not commit early or become locked into a position early in the problem analysis. When managers begin a discussion by saying “This is what I would like to see” or “This is the best solution . . . but I would like your comments,” they are probably preventing an open discussion and setting the stage for an early unanimous decision. Be open to criticism. This is easy to say but difficult to do. It is natural to defend one’s idea, but a wise


manager will encourage employees to “push back.” Criticism of an idea should not be taken as criticism of another’s self-worth. When criticism cannot arise within the group, it may be solicited from an outsider who will generally be less susceptible to status and conformity pressures. Use a “devil’s advocate.” The term “devil’s advocate” comes from the Roman Catholic Church. When the church hierarchy was debating whether a person should be sainted, a devil’s advocate used to be appointed to present the argument against doing so.15 Good ideas are often ignored if they lack an advocate. The constructive controversy technique assigns members of the group to advocate for one alternative and to question the others. During the discussion, each idea is presented without interruption, then the rest of the group asks questions and challenges conclusions. At the end of the discussion, group members work together to summarize the pros and cons of each alternative and develop a consensus of the best option.16


Stop and Think 1. Have you been in a situation in which you witnessed behavior or decisions that may have been illegal, unethical, or simply

made you uncomfortable? What did you do about it? 2. What advice would you give to a new employee who experienced a similar situation and came to you for advice?


Strategic Considerations For Meetings

As we have seen, meetings have advantages as well as disadvantages, and groupthink adds to their complexity. The following discussion of ten strategic considerations, which are listed in Table 4–3, is provided to assist managers when considering the various contingencies. Strategic Considerations 1 through 6 apply to any meeting, whether in-person or electronic; Strategic Consideration 7 applies when groups are meeting face-to- face; and Strategic Considerations 8 through 10 apply when groups are meeting virtually.

Table 4–3 Strategic Considerations for Meetings

Consideration Applies to Face-to-Face Meetings Applies to Virtual Meetings

1. Whether to meet ✓ ✓

2. Attendees ✓ ✓

3. Agenda and materials ✓ ✓

4. Leadership style ✓ ✓

5. Management of disruptions ✓ ✓

6. Follow-up ✓ ✓

7. Physical facilities ✓

8. Technology support ✓

9. Team relationships ✓

10. Cultural differences


Strategic Consideration 1: Should We Meet?

There are good reasons to have a meeting, and poor reasons to do so. As we have seen, the best reason is to get everyone’s input on a complex problem or task. A poor reason to meet is to show others that one has the power to call people together or to be the center of attention. Another wrong reason is social or recreational— a meeting is an opportunity to get away from the desk, to visit with Bill from accounting about the football game, or to be seen with some influential decision makers. Often, a brief, informal group conversation may be better than a formal meeting. A good way to handle the former is to hold the meeting with everybody standing up.17 This strategy ensures involvement, attention to the meeting’s purpose, and brevity.

If you have decided to have a formal meeting, you next must attend to the premeeting arrangements.


Strategic Consideration 2: Who Should Attend?

Once you have decided to hold a meeting, you need to select the meeting participants. Among the criteria to consider are (a) how many people to invite, (b) who the members will represent, (c) the members’ functions in the meeting, and (d) their team-ability.

First, choose a manageable group size. Remember the guideline that increasing the size limits the extent to which individuals want to communicate. Research shows that as a group grows, communication becomes distorted and stress between members increases. However, a decrease in group size may also be dysfunctional. Thus, small groups may engage in superficial discussion and avoid controversial subjects.

But what is the ideal size? Filley, who has conducted extensive research on work groups, believes the optimum size is generally about five. But when the problem is more complex, relatively larger groups—as large as twelve to thirteen members—have proved more effective. Smaller groups are often faster and more productive, on the other hand. Generally, the larger the group, the less inclined an individual group member is to participate.

Sometimes, it may not be possible to limit the size of the group to five or seven employees. In such cases, a manager could break the large group into smaller subgroups. The improved decisions or more accurate sharing of information may justify the time and effort required to coordinate several groups.

Second, when selecting members, an important thing to remember is that the team should reflect the organizational members the problem affects. For instance, if the concern is a departmental one, then members of the department should be involved. If two departments share the problem, team membership obviously should be drawn from both areas. When possible, membership should also include people with authority to follow through on the chosen action with time, personnel, and financial resources. But salience of the meeting’s topic should be considered more important than organizational status when selecting participants.

Third, consider participants’ potential functions within the team. When scheduling a problem-solving meeting, include people who are familiar with the different aspects of the problem. Also, include people who will actually carry out the solution to ensure implementation of the decision. In short, subject-matter expertise should be a prime criterion for membership in a team or work group.

Finally, consider participants’ team-ability. Task knowledge is an insufficient qualification for meeting participation. Ability to work with others may become even more of a concern for cross-functional teams and virtual teams because of the special communication challenges they involve. Members of teams may be too passive, tactful, or constrained to work together in a satisfying manner. They fear alienating one another.18 On the other hand, members may be too passionate, stubborn, and aggressive. They might be unable to cooperate and compromise in a team setting. Clearly, your group must have the needed team skills to function in a meeting and resolve the problem.19

If a manager has difficulty finding employees with team-ability, training may be called for. Teamwork is a skill that can be acquired, not a gift one is born with. Understanding group dynamics comes with study and


practice. Parts IV (Understanding Messages) and V (Communicating Interpersonally) of this book offer guidelines for developing some of the process skills required for meeting participation, including collaborating, listening, giving constructive feedback, negotiating, compromising, and other conflict resolution strategies.


Strategic Consideration 3: Agenda and Materials

The agenda is the script or working paper from which the meeting operates. As one chief executive says, “Give me an agenda or else I’m not going to sit there, because if I don’t know why we’re in the meeting, and you don’t know why we’re there, then there’s no reason for a meeting.”20 Regardless of the type of meeting, the agenda needs to communicate the what, why, when, and who (the Ws) of a meeting. Frequently, one or several of the elements of an agenda are omitted, yet each is important. For instance, if time frames for each agenda topic are included, the meeting is less likely to run long and more likely to address all the topics. And if expected outcomes for each topic are specified, the meeting participants are more likely to reach the stated goals. An agenda template is shown in Figure 4–1.

Everyone knows that agendas are important, but half of all business meetings are held with no agenda. Maybe the extra effort of an agenda seems unjustified, or the lack of an agenda may merely reflect a lack of planning. It may also be that agendas are not the common practice in many companies. Agendas are often not needed in small, informal meetings where two or three employees get together or when one obvious topic is the only point for discussion. However, some managers assume agendas are never needed for small meetings. Agendas require planning time—an asset that ineffective managers rarely possess. Many managers would rather spend additional time in a poorly conducted meeting than take the time to plan. To prepare the agenda, ask members to suggest topics but include only those that affect the entire team.

Figure 4–1 Meeting Announcement and Agenda Template


People first need to know the topic under discussion, so they may understand exactly what is to be discussed. Let the agenda make this clear. A topic listed as “Maintenance” will not communicate as fully as one that reads “Maintenance Status of the Emergency Generator” or “Should We Replace the Emergency Generator?” A more complete description enables participants to gather any special information or prepare questions relevant to the discussion.



People attending a meeting need to know the goal for each agenda item. Identify the purpose of each item as an announcement, a discussion, or a decision, so members will know when and how to participate. If any preparation is needed, such as reviewing documents or collecting data, note that on the agenda as well.21 Failure to clarify a group discussion’s goal leads to circular talk, and when people do not know why they are attending a meeting, apprehension and frustration arise.


Setting the time involves several strategic factors. First, what time of day is best for all the participants? Are there cultural, organizational, or temporal constraints on parts of the day? Barry Ries, Vice President of Research and Graduate Studies at Minnesota State University, Mankato, points out that “all times are equally bad,”22 but time zones, competing activities, and even the after-lunch slump make some meeting times more desirable than others. Enterprise software can often scan multiple calendars to identify availability, and polling applications like Doodle or Rally allow users to choose from options offered by the meeting organizer.

Second, how long should the meeting last? If a meeting schedule does not allow sufficient time, critical issues may receive superficial coverage. But remember that people value time highly and resent its waste or misuse. Be sure to list both the start time and the end time on your meeting announcement to allow participants to plan their day.

A standard time limit that applies to all meetings is impossible to set. However, some ground rules on length are possible. The most effective meetings last no longer than one and a half hours. After this long, people need to break for coffee or fresh air. Short, single goals can be met in less than an hour, and this should be the time span a manager aims for. Individual agenda items should also be assigned a time limit. Too often, meetings go on and on because no one has established definite time parameters.

When applies to the appropriate time to send out the agenda as well. The purpose of the agenda and any supporting material is lost if none of it arrives until the last minute. Neither should one send the materials with so much lead time that the participants forget about it. A rule of thumb is that the longer a meeting is (and consequently, the more scheduling and preparation required by the participants), the greater the lead time required for the agenda and supporting materials. But avoid too long a lead time, which could bring about forgetfulness. Generally, participants need two or three days’ notice to prepare for a meeting.


Tell participants who will be at the meeting and who will be presenting topics on the agenda. This knowledge allows the participants to complete their own audience analysis. Knowing who else will be present lets the participants prepare any material or information that others in the meeting may request. A list of participants also forces the meeting manager to think about possible group dynamics. For instance, will a verbally dominant person attempt to control the group? Will the correct mix of expertise be present? Answers to these questions can influence meeting outcomes.


Careful planning is half the battle; the other half is sticking to the plan. Open the meeting by asking the group to review and modify the agenda to include last-minute developments, but otherwise, if others try to introduce new elements during the meeting, refer to the written agenda.23


Strategic Consideration 4: Leadership Style

The problems facing organizations are so varied and complex that no one style of leadership suits all situations. Consequently, a manager must be flexible and diagnose the situation to determine the appropriate leadership behavior from one situation to another.

When diagnosing the situation to determine the most effective style, managers need to consider three factors: the group, the objective of the meeting, and the type of leadership behavior with which the manager personally feels most comfortable.24 Figure 4–2 shows how these three factors operate together.

Each group differs but needs a leader with some degree of interpersonal orientation; therefore, tight control is generally inappropriate. Less control is required when the group is mature and knows the topic, whereas a new or immature group needs a leader who provides more control and direction.

A routine or structured meeting may call for more leader control and task orientation, but a democratic or more laissez-faire approach may be required for a solution to an abstract problem or one requiring a creative solution. A highly emotional task requires less control, while more control may be best for a nonsensitive objective.

Finally, a manager must be aware of the type of leadership behavior with which she is personally most comfortable. This awareness helps a manager to monitor her own behavior and remain flexible rather than use the same behavior repeatedly. Increasing one’s repertoire of management tools is a requirement for today’s fast-paced, constantly shifting workplace.

Figure 4–2 Determining Leadership Style


Leading Project Teams

Managing project teams calls for special leadership skills. Among them is the ability to select team members who communicate information freely and honestly. One nontraditional tool for objectively evaluating project team members is social network analysis (SNA). SNA begins with a survey about who respondents go to for advice or information, whom they communicate with most frequently, and who is their most valued contact in the organization.

Survey results are analyzed and “sociograms” are designed that reveal employees’ social network and connections. From these sociograms, a project leader can identify people with centrality. Centrality is a measure of a person’s relative importance based on their location in the social network. Thus, when putting together a project team or when analyzing a dysfunctional team, a manager should consider whether individuals have high degrees of centrality. These people control the flow of information and collaboration, bridging potential communication gaps in the team and in the organization.

Analyzing SNA results helps managers to understand the interactive patterns and communication networks that are present in their team and across the organization. SNA is also a tool for determining how best to leverage these connections in order to motivate staff, improve performance, enhance knowledge sharing and learning, and reduce conflict.25


Stop and Think Consider a person in your organization who exhibits high centrality.

1. What are some of the ways this person develops a social network? 2. To what extent can you adopt these behaviors to strengthen your own centrality?

The following are some other strategies that will help you maximize your project team’s effectiveness:

Be a facilitator. Managing teams is less about supervising than it is about motivating members to do their best. Avoid the tendency to micromanage once the team’s objectives and responsibilities have been defined. Support the team. Provide resources, run interference, and resolve internal conflicts. Give them all the information they need and more to encourage trust. Remember that people cannot work in a vacuum. Delegate. Managers occasionally have trouble admitting that they cannot do it all. Instead of trying to manage every aspect of a meeting or project, trust members to perform their tasks. This also engenders respect for you as a leader and maintains morale. Seek diversity. As discussed later in Chapter 13, heterogeneous groups experience more conflict but often produce higher-quality results than homogeneous groups. Stress the importance of collaboration, flexibility, and openness toward unfamiliar viewpoints and work styles.26


Strategic Consideration 5: Managing Disruptions

One of the most aggravating behaviors is when a team member continually disrupts the communication flow. This person may be unskilled in group dynamics or may be coming to the meetings with a hidden agenda (that is, private objectives) that conflicts with the stated agenda. Disruptive behavior may include continuous clowning, dominating the conversation, attempting to change directions, or making accusations. These disruptions need resolution; otherwise, teams can quickly deteriorate.

Before the Meeting

A manager can minimize disruptions by taking a preventive point of view. John Jones suggests seven tactics that managers may use ahead of time when they believe a person will disrupt a meeting:27

1. Before the meeting, ask for the disrupter’s cooperation. 2. Give the person a special task or role in the meeting, such as posting the viewpoints of others. 3. Work out your differences before the meeting (possibly with a third-party facilitator) to present a united

front to all other members. 4. Structure the meeting to include frequent discussion of the meeting process itself. 5. Take all the dominator’s items off the agenda. 6. Alert the person to the consequences of disruption. For example, say, “I have learned that a number of

people are angry with you, and plan to confront you in the meeting.” 7. Arrange for allies to support you in dealing with the disruptive behavior of the individual.

During the Meeting

While prevention is preferred, a manager also needs to have options for controlling disruptive behavior during a meeting. The following are some strategies:

1. When dealing with an emotional conversation, make sure only one person speaks at a time, paraphrase each statement to ensure accuracy before allowing anyone else to speak, and be sure that everyone takes turns. One surprisingly effective technique is to move on to the next agenda item. One can return when tempers cool.28 You might also stand and move to the flip chart or screen or casually stand near the parties involved. This will help keep control in a nonverbal manner.

2. A less obvious disruptive influence occurs when participants do not get involved in the discussion. One way to ensure that participants become involved is to use the Delphi technique (discussed later). When the participants need to have answers prepared for specific questions before the meeting, ask for these answers during the meeting.

3. Discourage multitasking during meetings. In a study of information workers, 92 percent admitted to multitasking during meetings, usually checking e-mail or working on other projects, and 41 percent said they do it nearly all the time.29 Distractions like these weaken the quality and efficiency of group discussions.


4. Ask participants to jot down answers on a notepad when sensitive issues are discussed. Ask the participants to submit their written reactions anonymously to you then read them to the group. Participants thus have an opportunity to present viewpoints in a “safe” manner.

5. Ask questions throughout the meeting to help keep the participants involved. When worded correctly and addressed to the right audience, questions develop a participative climate. Questions have the greatest chance of soliciting participation when they are open-ended, brief, unbiased, easily understood, and immediately pertinent to the topic.

A manager needs to consider four possible alternatives when asking a question.30 When an overhead question is asked, anyone in the group may answer. A good idea is to begin with an overhead question and continue until forced to change. Either domination or nonparticipation by certain individuals may require a direct question, simply one that is directed to an individual. With direct questions, keep a balance instead of continually asking a verbal person or an assumed expert.

A reverse question is one originally asked by a group member. The leader then directs it back to the person who asked it. Do this when it is apparent that the participant really wants to make a statement but is not quite sure it would be appropriate. A final alternative is the relay question, which is asked by a group member and is relayed by the leader to the group: “Mary’s question is interesting. What is a good answer?” The relay question gives you an opportunity to keep the communication moving among all the members of the group.


Strategic Consideration 6: Follow-Up

At meeting’s end, reanalyze the original goals to ensure you have met them, make appropriate follow-up assignments, and evaluate the meeting process to determine if and how future meetings could be improved. One way to determine if the goal has been met is to review the rational problem-solving process to ensure each step was followed. If the group has defined the problem and has reviewed alternative solutions to this problem, it can be assumed the original objective has been met.

Another easy way to determine if the objective is met is to write out the decision or summarize the discussion in a few sentences. This clear statement allows the participants to review it and make sure they understand it. A summary of the decision reached will bring to the surface any individual misunderstandings or disagreements.

A good idea is to point out differences that exist at the end of the meeting. This recognizes that disagreement is not always bad; also, the disagreements will probably be vital to future discussions. A clear understanding of differences at the end of that meeting should make future meetings go more smoothly and help to prevent unnecessary meetings.

Appropriate post meeting follow-up is also an important component of team management. Before closing the meeting, clearly set out the next steps each member is to take. Also, announce the next meeting, if necessary. Written confirmation of the decisions reached and any future actions to be taken by the participants is a good practice. Such a memo or e-mail serves as a reminder of the results and informs other personnel who are interested but did not attend the meeting.

Stress the positive when writing the follow-up memo, so the participants can see the fruits of their labor. A follow-up memo or e-mail becomes a record of the meeting, ensures follow-up, and establishes accountability for future action. Some companies have a standard form for the follow-up memo (shown in Figure 4–3) that helps to keep it short, simple, and accurate.

In a meeting, much happens that is lost forever. A manager may need to provide more detailed minutes. Minutes are particularly valuable as a starter for future meetings on the same topic. Traditional minutes should capture a summary of the meeting that includes action items, decisions, and open issues.

Action items. Action items are to-dos assigned to meeting participants. Record the task, the person responsible, and the date agreed upon to complete the task. Decisions. All decisions that may affect future choices of the group should be recorded. Open issues. New issues raised at the meeting but not resolved there should be recorded, so they can be carried over to a future meeting.31 The minutes should record these three results for each topic on the agenda. In addition, any significant comments about that topic should be recorded. Participants appreciate having their comments displayed in a way that is visible to everyone. Conventional minutes are often distributed to all meeting members. For political or corporate culture reasons, a manager may want to summarize the information for larger distribution and post it to an intranet site.


Figure 4–3 Meeting Follow-Up Memo

The final step in the management of a meeting is the evaluation of the meeting itself, an important self- development activity. One extreme form of evaluation is audio recording the meeting and evaluating it step- by-step. This may be especially worthwhile for project teams that meet regularly over extended time periods. In fact, your organization may require this of all project managers when they begin a project with a new team of specialists.

The evaluation sheet in Figure 4–4 represents one tool that can be used to evaluate a meeting.

Figure 4–4 Evaluation Sheet



Strategic Considerations For Face-To-Face Meetings

In addition to the previous six strategic considerations, leaders of face-to-face meetings have another unique concern: They need to consider the physical arrangements. The following section offers guidelines for arranging a room that will maximize the meeting’s effectiveness.


Strategic Consideration 7: Physical Facilities

Once the participants have been selected and the agenda, along with any supporting material, has been prepared, meeting leaders should choose an appropriate location. Physical surroundings are important. A few simple guidelines will help to make a meeting productive:

Use a room where the chairs and tables can be arranged to meet group needs. Match the size of the room with the size of the group. Meetings held in close, cramped rooms with the members jammed together around narrow tables make for an unpleasant conversational climate and hamper decision making. Tension, a prime breeder of conflict, builds in a close and uncomfortable meeting room. At the same time, however, a room seating forty-five can be cold and overwhelming to a group of five. Check for comfortable chairs, ventilation, and lighting. Remember, though, that soft, overly comfortable chairs can affect concentration and even prolong the meeting. Make sure space exists for visual aids if they are to be used. If you know you will be needing equipment, writing materials, and so on, be sure they are available. Keep the audience in mind. Thus, providing place cards may be useful if the participants are strangers. Above all, arrange to have the meeting in a meeting room rather than the meeting leader’s office. It will create an environment that emphasizes the participants are coming together for specific purposes at a specific time on neutral turf. The atmosphere created is one of urgency and seriousness, which helps keep the meeting on the topic.

Seating Arrangements

After designating the appropriate facility for the meeting, managers should consider which of several possible seating arrangements to use. Depending on the situation, more than one arrangement may be possible; however, a few arrangements should be avoided. The first arrangement to avoid is the long, narrow table that makes it nearly impossible for all participants to see one another. A manager can use eye contact to gain attention or control a participant; consequently, such a seating arrangement works against the manager’s attempts to use all the nonverbal techniques available.

A second arrangement to avoid is one that divides up sides. For instance, if two groups are in natural opposition they should not sit across from each other. Similarly, one should keep two hostile participants apart or in such a position that they cannot easily see each other. As described in Chapter 14, people seated directly across from one another at a table are more likely to feel competitive than cooperative.

Several seating arrangements lend themselves to effective communication in meetings: the table with the leader at one end, the round table or circle, and the U shape.32 When the leader sits at one end of the table, control of the meeting is easier because all communication will tend to flow toward the head person. However, this arrangement loses effectiveness with a group larger than six or seven participants. As groups get larger, sidebar comments tend to increase and eye contact is difficult to maintain.


When the size of the meeting becomes larger than ten to twelve members, a U-shaped arrangement is preferred. The manager sitting in the middle of the U can maintain eye contact with all the participants; at the same time, communication among subunits of the group is less likely. A variation is the oval-shaped table. When the president of the United States meets with his/her Cabinet (most senior appointed officers), for instance, everyone sits at an oval table, with the president at the middle, directly across from the vice president. Other members are seated according to the order of precedence, with higher-ranking officers sitting closer to the center of the table.

The manager using the round table or circle arrangement has less direct control of the group than with other arrangements. Because the manager has a less dominant position, participants tend to address each other rather than the leader. A table is, in a sense, a kind of communication line, as the contour of the table establishes the flow of communication. Thus, the round table is best when seeking a true participative form of decision making and trying to minimize status differences. Figure 4–5 illustrates the different arrangements.


Stop and Think Where do routine meetings take place in your organization? What effect might the room size, table shape, furniture arrangement, and other environmental factors have on group dynamics during those meetings?

Managers might consider the advice of Dennis Crowley, chief executive of Foursquare, the location-based social networking site, regarding seating. When he conducts regular meetings, he mixes up the arrangement so everyone sits next to everyone else occasionally. Crowley believes in the importance of his staff getting to know each other, which is reflected in the company’s relaxed, open culture.33

Figure 4–5 Seating Arrangements

In review, three major types of premeeting arrangements require analysis: what materials to prepare, what physical setting to use, and how to arrange seating. These factors do not guarantee an effective meeting, but strategic analysis in these areas will increase effectiveness.


Strategic Considerations For Virtual Meetings

Companies operating in the global marketplace require their employees to connect and collaborate no matter where they are. A recent Gallup poll showed that 37 percent of employees telecommuted at least one day per week, up from 9 percent in 1995.34 Although some managers express concern about employee commitment or productivity, studies have shown that remote employees work five to seven hours more per week, on average, than office workers.35 Furthermore, 77 percent of teleworkers say they are more productive when they work outside of the office. They also report more job satisfaction and better quality of life because the flexibility of telework allows them to sleep more, find time to exercise, and eat healthier.36 Telework has benefits for employers, too. Companies that offer the option to work off-site report that it has significantly helped retain employees, reduce absenteeism, and recruit qualified personnel without being restricted by geography. In fact, 36 percent of employees say they would take a pay cut in exchange for the ability to work off-site some of the time.37 For this model to be successful, flexibility, responsiveness, cost-effectiveness, and rapid response time are imperative. Clearly, managing virtual teams is an important skill for managers, and it calls for additional strategic considerations.

The seven strategic considerations described in the previous sections apply primarily to groups that are meeting face-to-face. However, the first six are also relevant to virtual meetings. The exception is Strategic Consideration 7—arrangement of the meeting room. When group members are geographically dispersed, this point is obviously moot. Although physical facilities and furniture do not affect the outcome of virtual meetings, technology does; electronic meetings can be derailed if the tech support is inadequate. Therefore, Strategic Consideration 8 addresses technology adequacy. Meeting leaders should do all they can to ensure that everyone will be able to hear and see each other during the conference.


Strategic Consideration 8: Technological Adequacy

In addition to building team relationships by emphasizing similarity, managers should ensure that technological channels connecting virtual team members are stable and strong. Teleworkers report that they use e-mail most often to keep in touch with their coworkers, followed by instant messaging, videoconference, VOIP telephony, and enterprise solutions.38 Although conventional wisdom says to pick the best tool for the job, the reality is that virtual teams rely on lean, asynchronous media for most of their work.39 Lean media allow workers to maintain privacy and create boundaries between work and home, which is particularly important when work and home are the same place. Lean media also help accommodate differences in time zones and language.

Teleconferencing is a richer channel than e-mail or instant messaging, and online videoconferencing tools are proliferating. Among the more popular are Skype, GoToMeeting, WebEx, Adobe Connect, Microsoft Lync, Google Hangout, Zoom, and RingCentral. All are low cost and allow participants to observe nonverbal behaviors, which can help prevent misunderstandings. Some web conferencing software has capabilities for desktop sharing, encrypting, meeting through mobile devices, and even recording. On the other hand, video and audio quality may be problematic, and the technology may break down more frequently as sophistication increases.

Managers must ensure that the technology is well supported so that their virtual teams can develop rapport and their meetings can achieve the work goals. They should also regularly check that cross-team communication systems are working. During every virtual meeting, they should address this aspect of the project, discuss productive methods for interaction, and consider the latest technologies for team collaboration.


Strategic Consideration 9: Team Relationships

As described in Chapter 2, the outer layer of the strategic communication model consists of the organization’s culture and climate (see Figure 2–1). A trusting, open climate makes it much easier to communicate freely. But when groups and teams “meet” only through technology, the hardware can form a barrier, making it more difficult to establish trust. In organizations where the cultural norm is to communicate exclusively through technological channels, as in a multinational corporation or a workforce of telecommuters, developing relationships among team members becomes even more of a challenge.

Today’s cross-functional work teams may never physically be in the same room. Members may work at home, in different offices, even in different parts of the world. Yet in order to accomplish their assignments, they must be able to communicate smoothly and freely. Wise meeting leaders will help their people to overcome geographical and technological barriers in order to develop trusting relationships. As you have learned, interpersonal communication builds relationships, relationships build trust, trust builds commitment, and commitment expedites productivity (Figure 4–6). Videoconferencing can be impractical when meeting members are in different time zones. Nevertheless, managers should use videoconferencing early in projects to help their virtual teams develop rapport. Later meetings can use leaner media, but videoconferencing should continue to be used periodically to connect team members, help them feel visible, and respect cultural differences about interpersonal relationships.

Remote workers are not challenged by the work or technological skills as much as they are challenged by lack of social interaction, achieving work-life balance, and gaining access to information and resources that on-site employees have.40 Remote workers may struggle to make themselves and their work visible to other members of their team.41 Given cultural attitudes about visibility and socialization, they may find themselves given less responsibility and fewer promotions than their on-site colleagues. Managers should regularly check in with team members and evaluate the telework experience. Remote employees should use self-audits to track invisible work, like maintaining technology, project preparation, research, and thinking about solutions. They should also talk to others on the team about the telework experience and speak up about problems or ideas.42 Teams should also develop informal communication patterns, such as instant messaging, social media, or a designated Slack channel, to mimic the interactions they would have at an office. When new members join a team, time should be spent helping them become acquainted with the individuals and the norms of the team, including how to ask questions.43

Figure 4–6 Effects of Interpersonal Communication

Understanding that virtual teams will become more productive when members have strong affiliation with each other, managers should encourage relationship building by applying the similarity–attraction principle. Team members will be more attracted to each other if they perceive that they are similar. In what ways can members of a team who work off-site possibly find similarity? Well, at a minimum, they have similar work


values and goals. When virtual teams recognize that they are working toward common objectives with similar payoffs, then they will find it easier to work together. The manager should carefully and consistently communicate these common objectives and provide opportunities for frequent communication among the team members, thereby encouraging relationship development. The result will be increased productivity.


Stop and Think 1. Are your work relationships limited to the people who hold similar values and beliefs? 2. What strategies can you use to have a strong relationship with someone whom you frequently disagree with?


Strategic Consideration 10: Cultural Differences

Being culturally aware in a virtual environment, where people are based around the world, is even more important than in face-to-face settings. Cultural diversity has both positive and negative aspects. Diversity fosters increased creativity, innovation, and flexibility but may cause communication difficulties, misunderstandings, decreased cohesion, and increased conflict.44 Managers must be aware of the cultural differences in their teams and promote cultural training for all members.

Once team members have learned the importance of cultural sensitivity, they can put teammates at ease by respecting the conventions of that culture. Writing styles, for example, vary from culture to culture. A direct, concise e-mail may be standard in the United States, but Japanese recipients may consider it rude and vulgar. In the Japanese culture, a more indirect, lengthy, polite style is preferred. U.S. business writers can show their awareness of these stylistic differences by adding honorifics, such as -san or -sama, when addressing Japanese teammates, much like Americans may address someone as sir or ma’am.45 When transnational team members are interacting in person rather than in writing, the language barrier among employees may pose a challenge. Sensitive managers should build in more time during teleconferences and perhaps hire translators. Nonverbal behavior, as will be discussed in Chapters 11 and 12 of this book, also varies from culture to culture. For example, direct eye contact is important in U.S. meetings, but in many Eastern cultures, it is considered disrespectful. Therefore, when managers use videoconferencing tools in an attempt to allow their team to see each other’s nonverbal cues of posture, facial expression, and voice tone, the risk of misunderstanding remains strong. Managers must decide whether these more expensive methods of communication are worth reducing the assumptions and barriers involved. Again, cultural diversity training can reduce the likelihood of misunderstandings and blunders in communication practice.

In summary, the skill sets required for success in managing effective virtual meetings are more complex than the skill sets required for success in managing face-to-face meetings. In addition to Strategic Considerations 1 through 6, managers of virtual teams must provide appropriate technology (Strategic Consideration 8), and training must be available to support the development of team relationships and cross-cultural communication competencies (Strategic Considerations 9 and 10). Participants in virtual meetings struggle to reach shared understanding, to coordinate perspectives, and to establish a sense of social presence, and these need to be acknowledged and dealt with by management.46


Group Decision-Making Formats

One additional factor needs a meeting leader’s attention. Whether a team or work group meets virtually or face-to-face, its leader should identify and follow a formal decision-making plan. This section describes three standard processes for reaching a group decision and explains which processes work best for virtual meetings and which work best for in-person meetings.

A diagnosis of the environment, task, group, and leader’s personal preference will help to determine the appropriate decision-making format for the meeting. A formal plan is essential. Do not fall into the trap of believing that once the participants know the goal, everything will automatically fall into place. Both experience and research suggest group members are haphazard and unorganized in their discussion and decision attempts when managers fail to use organizing formats.47 Three approaches to decision making are shown in Table 4–4 and are explained in the next sections. The appropriateness of each of these is determined by the objective of the meeting, the participants in the meeting, the leader’s style preference, and whether the meeting is held face-to-face or electronically.

Table 4–4 Decision-Making Formats

Type of Format Applies to Face-to-Face Meetings Applies to Virtual Meetings

Rational problem-solving ✓

Nominal group technique ✓ ✓

Delphi technique ✓


Rational Problem-Solving Process

The first decision-making format we will describe works well when the group meets face-to-face. Its validity is rooted in the fact that it is “rational”; the process is how we think. In 1910, John Dewey described the steps that rational individuals use to solve a problem.48 Most know these as the six stages to problem solving: (1) defining the problem, (2) analyzing the problem, (3) brainstorming the possible solutions, (4) determining the criteria that must be met to eliminate the problem, (5) selecting the best solution, and (6) implementing the solution (see Table 4-5). This process is an excellent conflict resolution strategy.

When using this process in a meeting, it is critical to follow the sequence. People tend to begin to discuss solutions or even implementation of a solution before the problem has been precisely defined. However, it is critical to get everyone to agree on the problem being discussed before addressing solutions. One way of doing this is to write the problem on a flip chart or whiteboard so everyone can see it. This same procedure can be followed for each step to ensure progress and focus.

After agreeing on the definition and scope of the problem, the group must spend time analyzing it fully. Again, you may meet resistance, especially if the members are intimately familiar with the problem. However, exploring causes, effects, extent, and history of the problem may help the group avoid solutions that address mere symptoms rather than root causes of the problem.

The third step, brainstorming possible solutions, has received much attention in business literature. Alexander Osborn, an advertising executive, first described brainstorming as a special technique for facilitating the idea- generating portion of the decision process.49 The objective of brainstorming is to generate ideas rather than evaluate or analyze those ideas. A group can brainstorm successfully and produce a maximum number of ideas by adhering to three rules:

Ideas are expressed freely without regard to quality. All ideas, no matter how unusual, are recorded.

Table 4–5 The Rational Problem-Solving Process

1. Define the problem

2. Analyze the problem

3. Brainstorm the possible solutions

4. Determine the criteria that must be met to eliminate the problem

5. Select the best solution

6. Implement the solution

Criticism of the ideas produced is not allowed until all ideas have been expressed.


Elaborations and combinations of previously expressed ideas are encouraged. The major strength of brainstorming is that one idea will create another. The ratio of high-quality ideas to the total number is not high, but often only one creative idea is needed for the solution.

Groups allowed to produce for longer work periods typically produce more ideas under brainstorming instructions than do individuals. Most groups continue to produce indefinitely, whereas individuals taper off.50

The fourth step is also important. The group must understand and honor required criteria for a “good” solution. Upper management sometimes imposes these criteria—or standards—on the group. Other times, the decision-making team may develop its own. Typical criteria are that a solution must be cost-effective, legal, timely, practical, and consistent with the organization’s mission and/or values.

Step 5 in the rational decision-making process, selecting the best solution, is automatic in that it is a matter of comparing the list of criteria or standards with the list of brainstormed solutions. The idea from Step 3 that best fits the criteria developed in Step 4 now becomes the best solution. Following this process prevents groups from choosing a solution that is favored by someone with authority or someone who dominates the discussion. Rather, the best solution is chosen rationally.

As a final step, the group considers implementation of their solution. In today’s business environment, where continuous quality improvement is stressed, it is important to put systems in place that will monitor how well the new solution is working. The monitoring systems can detect weaknesses and shortcomings before they create major damage and wipe out the good work of the problem-solving team.

Two other decision-making formats widely used in business are based on Dewey’s classic process. They are the nominal group technique and the Delphi technique.


The Nominal Group Technique

Sometimes face-to-face meetings experience an imbalance of participation among the members. Some people dominate the discussion, and others are relatively silent. Common causes include unequal organizational status, varying interest levels among the group members, and differences in introverted and extroverted personalities. The nominal group technique for decision making can rebalance input in face-to-face and virtual meetings.

When using the nominal group technique (NGT), the meeting leader directs each participant to create a list of ideas, solutions, or advantages and disadvantages for the topic under discussion. After a predetermined time, the participants take turns presenting items from their lists, which are posted so everyone can see them, either in the room where the group has gathered or in a shared electronic document. The group eliminates duplicate items and asks clarifying questions, with the meeting leader guiding the discussion to ensure that the group does not spend too much time on a single idea. New ideas can be added during the discussion phase, but none can be removed without unanimous consent. Members work alone again to rank items from highest to lowest priority, and then the leader tallies the scores to determine the outcome of the group’s decision.51 When groups follow this procedure, they generate a basis for group discussion that reflects all the participants’ views that were individually developed by working alone.

The NGT has several advantages that a manager should consider when planning a meeting. One is that all participants can express their views without intimidation from more powerful or vocal group members. The procedure also ensures that each step in the rational problem-solving process is followed. Finally, it can save time because the meeting participants can generate their initial lists before the meeting. The NGT thus integrates the advantages of both group and individual creativity, whether or not the participants are ever physically together.52


The Delphi Technique

The Delphi technique is a unique group problem-solving process that does not require physical proximity of group members. This technique has been beneficial when team members are geographically dispersed or their schedules preclude a common meeting time. It is generally used with an ad hoc meeting of experts and with virtual teams who meet only electronically.

Delphi uses an initial questionnaire that elicits the participants’ expert opinions on a topic. Once these opinions have been collected, all group members receive a second questionnaire listing others’ contributions, and all are asked to evaluate each idea using several specified criteria. This step is then followed by a third questionnaire that reports the second-round ratings, a mean rating, and any consensus. The participants then revise their earlier ratings considering the average or consensus. A final questionnaire includes all ratings, the consensus, and remaining problems.

The advantages of the Delphi technique are that it does not require physical proximity and that it controls some of the possible disadvantages of face-to-face group decisions. The most vocal or highest-status person does not have an opportunity to control the group because everyone’s comments are pooled. Also, the coordinator can guarantee the decision-making process does not omit any critical steps or ignore important comments.

In summary, managers should follow a preselected decision-making format to maximize the efficiency of the group meeting. A number of factors, including whether the meeting is face-to-face or electronic, will help the manager to determine which format is best. You may wonder which of the three formats described above yields a superior decision. Some research has been done in an attempt to answer that question, but the results indicate that the quality of decisions is generally higher with any of the three—Dewey’s rational problem- solving process, the nominal group technique, or the Delphi technique—than when no particular format is followed and the discussion wanders freely.53 Managers should consider decision-making formats to maximize group effectiveness.



The team is a common personnel configuration today. Team meetings have advantages and disadvantages, including groupthink, with which managers should be familiar. To make effective use of meetings, a number of contingencies need to be reviewed. The first and most obvious consideration facing a manager is the stated objective. If the objective is a programmed decision or if a commitment does not present a special problem, a meeting may not be required.

Once it is clear that a meeting should be conducted, it is important to consider who should attend. Criteria for selecting meeting members include how many to invite, whose interests they represent, their knowledge and authority, and their team-abilities.

Next, a manager must make the premeeting arrangements. These involve deciding what should be on the agenda and which additional materials should be attached to the agenda. If the meeting will be face-to-face, the manager should decide on the physical arrangements (including seating) for the meeting. Overlooking any one of these questions may cause an omission that reduces meeting effectiveness.

After the arrangements have been prepared, managers need to select the appropriate leadership style for the situation, group, and objective. The selection of the appropriate leadership style will assist in the format choice. Project team leadership calls for special skills.

This chapter presents three decision-making formats for a meeting: the rational problem-solving approach, the nominal group technique, and the Delphi technique (which can be used for virtual meetings or geographically dispersed group members). Each of these approaches has inherent strengths and challenges.

Regardless of the format selected, disruptions can occur during a meeting, but they can be prevented if a manager takes precautions, including talking to potential disrupters ahead of time or planning special activities for them during the meeting. Once a disruption occurs, strategic communication can control it.

Finally, a manager’s responsibility as the leader of a meeting includes the post meeting follow-up. This follow- up may take the form of traditional meeting minutes, a short memo, or an e-mail and an effort to ensure that various commitments have been met. Also, formal evaluation of the meeting helps to determine ways a future meeting could be improved.

When virtual teams meet via technology, three further strategic considerations become relevant. First, managers must make extra efforts to build team relationships, which will pay off in increased trust, commitment, and productivity. Second, managers must provide training in cultural diversity to build their virtual teams’ awareness of communication style differences in writing and speaking. Third, managers must maximize the technological platforms upon which their virtual teams must perform. Whether the teams meet by e-mail, teleconference, or web conference, adequate technology support is imperative.



Cases For Small-Group Discussion


Case 4–1


Teams and Technology Team Green was ecstatic. Their analysis of the firm’s latest investment projects had been chosen over the Blue and Red teams yet again, for the sixth time in a row. The competition, the brainchild of CEO Roger Cannon, had been going on for three years, once every quarter. The teams were to analyze the projects under consideration and present their analysis and recommendations to the top management and any board members who wanted to attend. Managers and directors were all together for quarterly corporate retreats in remote locations, so the presentations were accomplished via videoconference from the company to the location of the retreat. For the first year and a half, the teams were fairly competitive, but then Team Green had dominated the competition and the reward: time off and three-day paid vacations at a Destin, Florida, resort.

The members of the other two teams had become disgruntled, and Team Red seemed to have given up, turning in a marginal analysis and a short, minimal presentation. Rather than foster a cooperative and edifying mood, the competition had taken a turn for the worse, creating hostility and suppressing communication among the groups. Roger had noticed the trend away from the analysts debating and negotiating with each other, but he did not want to fail in his rewarding of excellence. The competition, he felt, had greatly enhanced the quality of the firm’s capital investment decisions.

Prior to the establishment of the competition, the analysts had been one big group, arguing back and forth about the best way to analyze the firm’s projects and about the best decision. Roger wanted to enjoy the benefits of both systems but wondered if that was possible given the current state of affairs.


Questions 1. Was the competition a good idea? What are the benefits and drawbacks? 2. How does the use of videoconferencing technology affect participants’ attitudes toward the other teams and teamwork in general? 3. Suppose you are hired as a communication consultant with the task of coming up with a system to reward excellence but avoid

hard feelings and discouragement. What would you change?


Case 4–2


The Regional Relationships Jerry Blaire is the regional manager of a national electronics franchise retail store. This franchise has over two hundred locally owned stores throughout the eastern United States. As the regional manager, Blaire is responsible for an urban area in which there are eight stores plus the remainder of the state, which has another six stores.

The regional manager is the liaison between the manager-owner of the stores and the corporate offices in Boston. Responsibilities include monitoring the individual stores to ensure the provisions of the franchise agreement are maintained, dealing with any complaints from managers, taking product orders, introducing new products, and managing the regional advertising program.

Blaire has been with this company for seven years, and before that, he worked with a home entertainment retail store for three years after he earned his degree in marketing.

Blaire is responsible for coordinating the advertising campaign for all fourteen stores in the region. A major part of the campaign involves store hours, which had traditionally been from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Saturday. The minimum number of hours required by the national office is 40 per week. However, several of the managers have been pressuring lately to change the store hours, especially those from downtown areas. They maintain that their business is minimal after 6 p.m., so they would like to close earlier. Meanwhile, the suburban stores want to stay open later because they do more business in the evening. According to the provisions of the franchise agreement, all the stores in a region must maintain the same store hours.

The problem is getting more attention from the store managers and is a frequent topic of discussion as Blaire makes his visits. Blaire has decided to have a meeting for all the managers so he can systematically analyze the problem of store hours.


Questions 1. What type of leadership style should Blaire use in this meeting? Why? 2. What meeting format would you recommend? 3. What special problems would you anticipate for this meeting? 4. What preliminary arrangements are particularly important for this meeting? 5. Do you think it is a good idea for Blaire to have a meeting, or should he make this decision about hours himself?


Case 4–3


Keeping the Meeting on the Topic Waith Manufacturing Company’s data processing department was preparing to implement a new computerized production information system at its new Madison plant. The project was divided into two parts. One consisted of the installation of a new computer network at the plant and the development of new database programs. The second involved hooking the plant’s network into the company intranet so all departments had access to the production reports.

Alonzo Mendoza was the systems analyst responsible for the development and implementation of the project. Janet DeLaura was a lead programmer under Mendoza working on the plant side of the project. Bill Synge was the other lead programmer responsible for the intranet. Mendoza scheduled a series of weekly status meetings with DeLaura and Synge to ensure the project was moving along as scheduled and to allow for discussion of critical problems. One month before the scheduled implementation of the project, Mendoza called a special meeting to develop the actual series of tasks needed for the final system conversion. During this meeting, Mendoza outlined the major tasks concerning the whole project that had to be done on that last day.

He then solicited input from DeLaura and Synge. DeLaura spoke up immediately and began talking about several new problems that had surfaced on her side of the project. Mendoza interrupted her, saying those problems would be discussed at the regular status meeting, since this meeting had been called to develop final conversion tasks only. DeLaura became irritated and was silent for a few minutes. Synge said he had a few items to add to the conversion list and covered the first two tasks. Then he said the last task covered reminded him of a current problem he had in the interface program. Mendoza replied brusquely that only conversion tasks would be discussed at this meeting. Neither DeLaura nor Synge had much to say during the rest of the meeting.


Questions 1. What would you have done to keep the meeting on the right topic? 2. What technique might Mendoza have used to avoid interfering with the flow of ideas? 3. What might DeLaura and Synge have done to improve communications?

Student Study Site

Visit the Student Study Site at study.sagepub.com/hynes7e for web quizzes, video and multimedia resources, and case studies.



1. American Management Association, AMA 2012 Critical Skills Survey, http://www.amanet.org/uploaded/2012-Critical-Skills-Survey.pdf.

2. Rick Casey, “The Katrina Coffee Klatch,” Houston Chronicle, September 14, 2005, 1B.

3. H. Simon, The New Science of Management Decision (New York: Harper and Row, 1960).

4. P. S. Goodman, E. Ravlin, and M. Schminke, “Understanding Groups in Organizations,” in Research in Organizational Behavior, vol. 9, eds. I. B. M. Staw and L. L. Cummings (Greenwich, CT: JAI Press, 1987), 121–173.

5. Lester Coch and John R. P. French Jr., “Overcoming Resistance to Change,” Human Relations 1, no. 4 (1948): 512–532.

6. Piyali Ghosh et al., “Who Stays with You? Factors Predicting Employees’ Intention to Stay,” International Journal of Organizational Analysis 21, no. 3 (2013): 288–312. doi: 10.1108/IJOA-Sep-2011-0511.

7. Adapted from James W. Moore, Some Folks Feel the Rain: Others Just Get Wet (Nashville, TN: Dimensions for Living, 1999). Used by permission. All rights reserved.

8. Richard H. Hall, Organizations, 5th ed. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1991), 180.

9. Michael Mankins, Chris Brahm, and Greg Caimi, “Your Scarcest Resource,” Harvard Business Review, May 2014, https://hbr.org/2014/05/your-scarcest-resource.

10. M. E. Gist, E. A. Locks, and M. S. Taylor, “Organizational Behavior: Group Structure, Process, and Effectiveness,” Journal of Management 13, no. 2 (1987): 237–257.

11. I. L. Janis, Victims of Groupthink (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1972).

12. G. Moorhead, R. Ference, and C. P. Neck, “Group Decision Fiascoes Continue: Space Shuttle Challenger and a Revised Groupthink Framework,” Human Relations 44, no. 4 (1991): 539–550.

13. Roland Bénabou, “Groupthink: Collective Delusions in Organizations” (Working paper #14764), National Bureau of Economic Research, March 2009, http://www.nber.org/papers/w14764.

14. C. Von Bergen and R. J. Kirk, “Groupthink: When Too Many Heads Spoil the Decision,” Management Review, March 1978, 46.

15. Wynne Whyman, “A Question of Leadership: What Can Leaders Do to Avoid Groupthink?” Leadership in Action 25, no. 2 (May/June 2005): 13–14.

16. David W. Johnson, “Key to Effective Decision-Making: Constructive Controversy,” Psychology Today,


May 11, 2017, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/constructive-controversy/201705/key-effective- decision-making-constructive-controversy.

17. Robert Towensen, Up the Organization (Greenwich, CT: Fawcett, 1970), 171.

18. P. Slater, “Contrasting Correlates of Group Size,” Sociometry 21, no. 1 (1958): 129–139.

19. J. M. Levine and R. Moreland, “Progress in Small Group Research,” Annual Review of Psychology 41 (1990), 585–634.

20. Adam Bryant, “How to Run a More Effective Meeting,” New York Times Business, https://www.nytimes.com/guides/business/how-to-run-an-effective-meeting.

21. Roger Schwarz, “How to Design an Agenda for an Effective Meeting,” Harvard Business Review, March 19, 2015, https://hbr.org/2015/03/how-to-design-an-agenda-for-an-effective-meeting.

22. Barry Ries, personal communication to author, April 5, 2017.

23. K. G. Stoneman and A. M. Dickinson, “Individual Performance as a Function of Group Contingencies and Group Size,” Journal of Organizational Behavior Management 10, no. 1 (1989): 131–150.

24. N. Shawchuck, Taking a Look at Your Leadership Style (Downers Grove, IL: Organizational Research Press, 1978).

25. Sinead Monaghan, Jonathan Lavelle, and Patrick Gunnigle, “Mapping Networks: Exploring the Utility of Social Network Analysis in Management Research and Practice,” Journal of Business Research 76 (July 2017): 136–144.

26. Liz Hughes, “Do’s and Don’ts of Effective Team Leadership,” WIB, Magazine of the American Business Women’s Association, January–February 2004, 10.

27. John E. Jones, “Dealing with Disruptive Individuals in Meetings,” 1980 Annual Handbook for Group Facilitators, ed. J. William Pfeiffer and John E. Jones (San Diego, CA: University Associates, 1980), 161.

28. D. J. Isenberg, “Group Polarization: A Critical Review and Meta-analysis,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 50, no. 4 (1986): 1141–1151.

29. “Fuze Survey Reveals U.S. Workforce Hampered by Multitasking and Disengagement,” January 27, 2014, https://www.fuze.com/blog/fuze-survey-reveals-u-s-workforce-hampered-by-multitasking-and- disengagement.

30. Lawrence N. Loban, “Question: The Answer to Meeting Participation,” Supervision, January 1972, 11–13.

31. “3M Meeting Network: Articles and Advice,” n.d., accessed June 12, 2006, http://www.3m.com/meetingnetwork/readingroom/meetingguide_minutes.html.


32. J. R. Hackman and C. G. Morris, “Group Tasks, Group Interaction Process and Group Performance Effectiveness: A Review and Proposed Integration,” in Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, vol. 8, ed. I. L. Berkowitz (New York: Academic Press, 1975), 1–50.

33. Adam Bryant, “If You Don’t Know Your Co-Workers, Mix up the Chairs,” The New York Times, July 29, 2012, Sunday Business section, 2.

34. Jeffrey M. Jones, “In U.S., Telecommuting for Work Climbs to 37%,” Gallup.com, August 19, 2017, http://www.gallup.com/poll/184649/telecommuting-work-climbs.aspx.

35. Michael Boyer O’Leary, “Telecommuting Can Boost Productivity and Job Performance,” U.S. News and World Report, March 15, 2013, https://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2013/03/15/telecommuting-can- boost-productivity-and-job-performance.

36. “CoSo Cloud Survey Shows Working Remotely Benefits Employers and Employees,” CoSo. Cloud, February 17, 2017, https://www.cosocloud.com/press-release/connectsolutions-survey-shows-working- remotely-benefits-employers-and-employees.

37. “Costs and Benefits: Advantages of Agile Work Strategies for Companies,” Global Workplace Analytics, http://globalworkplaceanalytics.com/resources/costs-benefits.

38. Aliah D. Wright, “Study: Teleworkers More Productive—Even When Sick,” Society for Human Resource Management, February 13, 2015, https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr- topics/technology/pages/teleworkers-more-productive-even-when-sick.aspx.

39. Cynthia P. Ruppel, Baiyun Gong, and Leslie C. Tworoger, “Using Communication Choices as a Boundary-Management Strategy: How Choices of Communication Media Affect the Work-Life Balance of Teleworkers in a Global Virtual Team,” Journal of Business and Technical Communication 27, no. 4 (2013): 435–471, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1050651913490941.

40. Tammy Rice-Bailey, “Remote Technical Communicators: Accessing Audiences and Working on Project Teams,” Technical Communication 61, no. 2 (2014): 95–109.

41. Kyle P. Vealey, “The Shape of Problems to Come: Troubleshooting Visibility Problems in Remote Technical Communication,” Journal of Technical Writing and Communication 46, no. 3 (2016): 284–310, DOI: 10.1177/0047281616639478.

42. Ibid.

43. Erin Friess, “‘Bring the Newbie Into the Fold’: Politeness Strategies of Newcomers and Existing Group Members within Workplace Meetings,” Technical Communication Quarterly 22, no. 4 (2013): 304–322, DOI: 10.1080/10572252.2013.782261.

44. Rathtana V. Chhay and Brian H. Kleiner, “Effective Communication in Virtual Teams,” Industrial Management 55, no. 4 (2013): 28–30.


45. Ibid.

46. G. R. Berry, “Enhancing Effectiveness on Virtual Teams,” Journal of Business Communication 48, no. 2 (April 2011): 186–206 doi:10.1177/0021943610397270.

47. David R. Weibold, “Making Meetings More Successful: Plans, Formats, and Procedures for Group Problem-Solving,” Journal of Business Communication 16, no. 3 (Summer 1979): 8.

48. John Dewey, How We Think (Boston: D. C. Heath, 1910).

49. Alexander F. Osborn, Applied Imagination (New York: Scribners, 1957).

50. Marvin E. Shaw, Group Dynamics, 3rd ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1981), 57.

51. U.S. Centers for Disease Control, “Gaining Consensus among Stakeholders through Nominal Group Technique,” Evaluation Briefs no. 7 (February 2006), http://asq.org/learn-about-quality/idea-creation- tools/overview/nominal-group.html.

52. Andrè L. Delbecq et al., Group Techniques for Program Planning (Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman, 1975).

53. Robert C. Erffmeyer and Irving M. Lane, “Quality and Acceptance of an Evaluative Task: The Effects of Four Group Decision-Making Formats,” Group and Organizational Studies 9, no. 4 (December 1984): 509– 529.


5 Making Presentations

It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.

—Mark Twain, American humorist and author

Managers today find that presentation skills are important for a multitude of situations. At any time, they might be called on to present a product report, a marketing status report, a persuasive report to convince upper management to accept a new product design, a financial report, or an after-dinner speech to honor the winner of a cost-saving campaign.

In fact, as managers move up the corporate ladder, the likelihood increases that they will need competence in making presentations.1 First, as organizations become more complex, managers are often called on to present proposals and make explanations to large groups of employees. Second, products and services also are becoming more complex, so customers, stakeholders, and even the public may require detailed explanations of their function and/or design. Third, managers and executives may find themselves representing the company while speaking to the media about a crisis or special event.

No matter what the topic, a formal presentation is a critical form of communication. To be effective presenters, managers need to understand key strategies for planning, organizing, and delivering formal presentations that are described in this chapter. After offering general strategies, this chapter describes ways to succeed in two special situations: media speaking and team presentations. The chapter concludes by identifying strategies for making informal, impromptu presentations. Knowing how to analyze the audience, organize your thoughts, and deliver your message with confidence will not only ensure that you have made your point but will also enhance your professional image.


Plan Your Presentation

When beginning to think about your formal presentation, consider your purpose, length of time to speak, and audience.



The first step in planning an effective presentation is to determine the purpose. The purpose of business presentations is generally to inform, convince, or cause action. Some presentations have multiple purposes. When, for example, an engineering sales representative presents a product design to a client’s engineering management group, he might have two purposes in mind. He will want to inform the audience of the product’s technical features, and he will want to persuade the group to order the product.

In some situations, the exact purpose is easy to determine, but in others, the purpose may be complex because the speaker and the audience have two different goals. For instance, the audience may want to know the most cost-effective location for a new manufacturing plant. The speaker, however, may want the audience to accept a certain location that has a special need for economic development. The audience wants to be informed, whereas the speaker wants to persuade.

The purpose may also vary within the group. Consider an audience that consists of five people: a vice president, a production superintendent, a director of finance, a marketing manager, and a personnel director. Suppose they were all attending a presentation comparing the relative success of two products introduced in a test market three months ago. What is relative success to each audience member? Each will look at the products from a different perspective because of differing functional responsibilities. The marketing manager may think in terms of market share, whereas the finance manager may look at only the cost factor. What type of information should the speaker emphasize?

The power and status of the different audience members can also influence the overall purpose. One member’s viewpoint may initially differ from that of another member, but the more powerful person can quickly influence the less powerful member. In the previous example, the vice president may simply say that the most important consideration is the expansion of production facilities required by the two new products. Suddenly, the definition of relative success has changed again. Though the goal of informing the audience has remained the same, the information required to meet this goal has been shaped by the audience.

The best way to ensure clarity of purpose is to write out a purpose statement. Not only does this act force you to think about the purpose, but the written statement can then also be presented to an associate or to likely audience members for their reaction. The feedback will help you define the purpose clearly and accurately. Figure 5–1 will help you write out your purpose statement. Just fill in the blanks.


Stop and Think 1. Think of a public service message you recently saw on television or heard on the radio. While the primary purpose may

have been to inform, can you identify any other purposes? 2. What do you think the sponsor of the message was trying to accomplish?

Once you have clearly established your purpose, you are ready to consider cost and time to determine what expense can be justified. One five-minute presentation might involve hundreds of work hours and cost thousands of dollars; another might require a minimum of effort. As with any managerial communication, a manager must make strategic decisions.

Figure 5–1 Your Presentation Purpose



Sometimes, managers have no choice here, as when they are given a set amount of time to speak during a meeting or conference. In such cases, it is crucial to stay within the assigned time limit. When speakers exceed their time limits, the audience becomes less and less receptive to the proposals of the transgressors. All they can think about is escape.

Even when speakers are given some choice on the length of the presentations, most make them too long rather than too short. It is generally difficult to hold adults’ attention beyond twenty minutes. Even the Truman Doctrine, which set the course of American foreign policy for a half-century, took just 18 minutes to deliver.2 One of history’s most inspirational public speakers, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, advised that when presenting one should “be sincere, be brief, be seated.”3

To keep your presentation on schedule, put time markers on your slide notes, listing when you want to be at every point. Be sure to time yourself when practicing the presentation too, making small adjustments to your supporting material if you are not hitting your time markers.4


Audience Analysis

At the same time that effective managers analyze their speaking purpose, they begin to analyze the audience. One example is Carly Fiorina, who ran for president of the United States in 2016. Her speechwriter disclosed that she always studied her audience ahead of time so she could tailor her campaign message. “First item was always a complete audience analysis.”5

In any communication process, people naturally tend to become self-centered. Thus, a speaker may concentrate on his or her interests and forget about the audience. One group of consultants on oral presentations noted that managers often prepare messages that fail to tell the listeners what they want and need to hear but instead focus on the speaker’s interests.6 The most successful presentations are prepared with a particular audience in mind and are organized to suit their knowledge, attitudes, likes, and dislikes. Many presentations are technically well delivered, but they fail because the speakers do not anticipate audience reaction.

Though audience analysis is part of the pretalk preparation, a speaker should also be ready to analyze on the spot. During delivery, the presentation may be modified to reflect audience factors not available in advance. For instance, you would need to alter your presentation if you found that a critical decision maker needing special information decided at the last minute to attend the presentation. Nevertheless, when a thorough audience analysis precedes a presentation, few last-minute adjustments should be required.

The Audience Analysis exercise at the end of this chapter not only provides practice in analyzing audiences, it also can guide you when preparing for any business presentation. When the presentation is critical but little is known about the audience, it might be beneficial to ask another person to complete the worksheet as well, then compare answers.

If you already know the audience well, say, for an internal presentation, a thorough analysis is not necessary. For instance, an internal auditor who gives a quarterly report to a bank’s board of directors may not need a separate analysis each quarter. However, a periodic review of the audience may remind the speaker about some of its special characteristics. It may be easy to forget that the interests, technical knowledge, or attitudes differ from one board member to another; thus, a quick audience analysis will help to reorient the speaker.


Stop and Think Recall a time when you had to deliver the same message to two different audiences. For example, you might have just had a collision while driving your car, and you now have to tell both your mother and your insurance agent. How would you tailor the message to each listener?


Organize Your Presentation

The second step is organizing the presentation. Every presentation has a beginning, a middle, and an ending. These three main parts are described next. However, to a great extent, your purpose and audience will determine how you structure your presentation.



The most crucial part of a presentation is the introduction. A presentation should begin with a statement that captures the audience’s attention. Quite often, a speaker will begin with humor or trite remarks. Depending on the gravity of your message, these timeworn openings may not be appropriate.

Though common, a speaker should rarely begin with an apology. Beginning with “I know that you do not want to be here,” or “I realize that it is late in the day,” or “I am not much of a speaker” does little to enhance speaker credibility and may detract from the audience’s perception of the meeting. Instead, begin the presentation with a positive statement that has impact. Strategies for getting the attention of business audiences are listed next:

A startling statement: If our costs continue to increase over the next five years at the rate they have in the past five, we will have to charge over $250 for our lowest-priced shirt. Today, I will present four strategies for reducing costs in . . . A hypothetical statement: What would happen if we could no longer obtain the copper we need to produce XY 115? I am going to show you a viable substitute for that metal. Some historical event or story: Just eight years ago this week, we purchased the Bordin division, our first major acquisition. This presentation will review the progress of our purchases. A rhetorical question: What will the inflation rate be in 2025? Will the energy problem continue? This presentation will outline the reasons why we need a market projection plan. Reference to some current event: On Tuesday, February 19, Millville had a chemical fire that killed five people and injured fifteen. To avoid that kind of disaster in our operations, we need to increase our budget for safety training. A quotation: Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, said, “People need to feel supported and understood at work.”7 Companies that offer comprehensive family and medical leave benefits will attract more loyal and productive workers. A personal anecdote: The other day I was talking to one of our longtime customers when she said the reason she keeps banking here is that nothing ever changes. That got me thinking about our reputation for stability in a chaotic economy. But I also began to wonder whether we’ve become stagnant.

Any of these strategies will serve as a dynamic, attention-getting opening and set the tone for the rest of the presentation.8 Next, the speaker should clearly state the purpose (inform, convince, cause action, inspire, introduce, congratulate, and so on) and the topic. Even if your purpose and topic were disclosed on the agenda or by your meeting moderator, it is a good idea to restate them in your introduction to avoid any confusion.

The discussion of listening in Chapter 10 indicates the difficulty of maintaining attention for a long period. By telling your listeners what is to come and why, you encourage them to make an effort. Thus, the third part of your introduction should establish the audience’s motivation to listen. The speaker explains the significance of what the audience is about to hear and how it pertains to their interests and needs. A common error is to focus instead on the significance of the content to the speaker. While statements such as “I care deeply about


this” might increase speaker credibility, they do not always lead to the listeners’ agreeing to care, too. The best word to use at this point is “you,” as in “After hearing my presentation, you will be able to . . .” Focusing on audience benefits will also help build the speaker’s credibility, which is especially critical in persuasive speaking.

In some situations, it may also be appropriate to give the audience some directions regarding interruptions. For instance, you may ask them to jot down their questions and raise them after your remarks are finished. On the other hand, you can ask meeting members for their reactions and maintain a dialogue throughout the presentation. Effective speakers usually stay away from the “I talk, you listen” syndrome, which risks losing audience interest.

One optional subsection of the introduction is the establishment of the speaker’s credentials. Obviously, if the audience knows the speaker well, this can be omitted. For external or new audiences, however, it is important that they perceive the speaker as an expert on the topic. Rather than relying on the meeting moderator’s introduction to achieve this goal, you might describe the research you conducted, the extent of your involvement in the topic, your position title, or even an anecdote that will enhance your credibility.

The final subsection should be a preview of the main points you will cover. Forecasting your main points will clarify the structure of the presentation and help your audience stay on track. You might even enumerate the points so your audience can “count down” as they listen. This preview acts as a transition between the introduction and the body of your presentation.

Table 5–1 summarizes the parts of a presentation’s introduction. Next, we will describe strategies for organizing the body of a presentation. Typically, a business presentation includes three to five main points that support the purpose, with each main point developed by evidence (facts or opinions).9 Since organization is determined by the speaker’s purpose, organization of persuasive and informative presentations is discussed in separate sections.


Organization of Persuasive Presentations

As mentioned above, the purpose of a business presentation is generally to inform or to persuade, and the body of your presentation should be organized according to your purpose. This section shows you some basic organizational structures for the body of a persuasive presentation.

Howell and Bormann discuss three patterns that provide meaningful strategies for persuasive situations: the problem-solving pattern, the state-the-case-and-prove-it approach, and the psychological–progressive pattern.10 The first pattern, problem solving, is the most common in business presentations and works especially well for uninformed and hostile audiences. With this approach, the speaker leads the audience through a series of steps, beginning with defining the problem, then analyzing the problem (which includes causes and effects), then enumerating and evaluating possible solutions, and when appropriate, recommending the best solution. This process is also useful in group discussions (Chapter 4) and resolving conflict (Chapter 13).

The second pattern of organization for persuasion, state the case and prove it, is relatively simple. It entails the straightforward development of a central thesis or proposition with supporting arguments. Normally, each supporting element begins with a topic sentence followed immediately by evidence/proof for support. The presentation closes with a summary repeating the proposition.

Table 5–1 Parts of the Introduction

Attention step

Purpose statement

Motivation to listen

Directions about interruptions (optional)

Speaker credibility (optional)

Preview of main points

Whereas the problem-solving pattern is an inductive organizational approach, the state-the-case-and-prove-it approach is deductive. It begins with a general conclusion and then justifies it. This second approach is appropriate for organizing discussions of familiar, much-argued topics. It is also used in advocacy, such as courtroom settings.

The third organizational strategy, the psychological–progressive pattern, involves five steps: (1) arouse, (2) dissatisfy, (3) gratify, (4) visualize, and (5) act. Applying this pattern, a manager first uses an appropriate attention-getter. Next, the speaker demonstrates the nature and urgency of the problem. Then, the speaker recommends a solution.


Step 4 in the psychological–progressive pattern is key because the manager helps the audience to visualize the recommendation. Demonstrating the solution’s implementation—or providing a “free sample”—often will clinch the audience’s decision to comply. Finally, the speaker should call for a specific and concrete action. Basically, the psychological–progressive pattern is ideally suited to presentations designed to effect change. It is the typical structure of television commercials.

Persuasion Variables

As the preceding discussion indicated, different persuasive approaches are suited to different occasions or circumstances. To be a truly strategic attempt at persuasion, however, your efforts and ultimately your success should be moderated by a number of variables. These variables are categorized under the labels of sender, message, receiver, and context (see Figure 5–2).11 The strategic communication model discussed in Chapter 2 provides background information about each of these variables. Context is described as a factor in the model’s first, outermost layer. Sender and receiver variables are described in the second layer of the model. And message variables appear in the third layer.

Among variables associated with the sender of a persuasive message, probably the most significant variable is the speaker’s credibility. Dimensions of speaker credibility include competence and trustworthiness; education, occupation, and experience; the citation of evidence; likeability; and the degree of similarity between the speaker and the audience. Even physical attractiveness has been linked to persuasiveness in some studies.

Figure 5–2 Persuasion Variables

A number of message variables can contribute to the success of a persuasive effort. The arrangement of the information is one variable (direct and indirect patterns are described in Chapters 8 and 9). Another factor involves whether a person should be explicit or implicit in stating what is desired. Though most studies indicate that being explicit is generally best, some evidence supports being implicit for audiences that are high status, highly intelligent and educated, and/or familiar with the subject.


Another issue relevant to message content is whether a persuader should ignore or refute opposing arguments. Usually it is best to refute them. Business audiences typically expect the persuader to address relevant obstacles. Finally, the content should include a range of evidence as appropriate for the audience.

Among receiver variables, one might consider the general persuasibility of the audience. Some listeners are simply more susceptible to persuasion than are others. Receiver readiness to accept appeals is a complex factor, so persuasive speakers should conduct extensive audience analyses and plan to present appeals that are most likely to move their listeners. Audience demographics, knowledge levels, and attitudes all must be considered when choosing appeals and benefits.

Context variables include primacy/recency effects and persistence effects. There is some evidence that primacy effects are more likely to be found with interesting, controversial, and familiar topics, so speakers should usually begin with the strongest reason when persuading a hostile audience. Recency effects are more common with topics that are relatively uninteresting, noncontroversial, and unfamiliar, so build toward your strongest reason when persuading an apathetic audience.


Stop and Think A job interview is a high-stakes, persuasive situation. Analyze your communication strategy during your latest job interview by answering these questions about the four persuasion variables.

1. How did you enhance your credibility? (sender) 2. When answering questions, did you use direct or indirect order? Why? (message) 3. In what ways did you adapt your message to the receiver? (audience) 4. Were you one of the first or last applicants interviewed? How do you think that affected the hiring decision? (context)

The second context variable is the persistence of the persuasive message. Generally, persuasive effects will decline over time, so for maximum effectiveness, persuasive messages should be delivered as close in time as possible to the point of decision or action. Thus, politicians usually spend the bulk of their advertising budget in the week before the election.

Though no one can prescribe a guaranteed plan for persuading people, managers should consider the variables in Figure 5–2 as they develop their persuasive presentations.

Ethical Persuasion

Before turning to the topic of informative presentations, it is appropriate to consider the importance of taking the high road in persuasive speaking. Ethical persuasion calls for the speaker to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. A persuasive speaker who misleads the listeners, whether deliberately or inadvertently, will lose credibility and lose business.

Dr. Anne Bradstreet Grinols, a business professor at Baylor University who specializes in ethics, suggests strategies for ethical persuasion that are based on audience analysis. Using terms from force field analysis, she recommends beginning by identifying the “driving forces” behind the change in belief or behavior that the speaker is advocating. What do the listeners need to know? What do they care about? Driving forces are good reasons to say yes.

Second, she recommends identifying the “restraining forces” that are roadblocks to the advocated change in belief or behavior. What will prevent the listeners from acting? What arguments against the change will listeners find compelling? Restraining forces are reasons to say no.

Third, Grinols recommends that persuasive speakers tell the story that listeners need to hear by reinforcing the benefits of making the advocated change and removing the barriers to making the advocated change. The story, of course, must always be truthful and respectful of the listeners.12



Organization of Informative Presentations

In informative-speaking situations, it is best to organize the information in a clear sequence. Clarity may demand that a subject be presented one way as opposed to another, or the subject itself may suggest the best pattern or arrangement. Some arrangement possibilities and examples of appropriate topics for each sequence are listed next:

Spatial or geographic: Description of our new facility’s layout Political and economic categories: Sales of our product line for various social groups Importance: Changes to employees’ benefits package Chronological: History and future of our company Advantages and disadvantages: Various computer virus protection software on the market Comparison and contrast: Where we stand among competitors in our industry Structure and function: New management layer being added to our company

A typical informative-speaking situation is when a manager must explain new work procedures or processes. Giving instructions can be a challenge. The wrong strategy is simply listing the steps in the process and ending with “Do you have any questions?” Listeners may hesitate to ask questions for fear of seeming inattentive.

A better strategy for giving instructions is to use tell–show–do. First, the manager explains the steps in the new procedure, contrasting it with the current one. If the task is complex, the manager should cluster the steps into groups or stages. For example, instead of describing a twelve-step procedure, the speaker could describe three stages, with four steps per stage. Dividing a body of information into smaller gulps makes it less daunting to listeners.

After telling the audience about the new procedure, the manager shows the audience how to do it, either demonstrating it personally or using a model. More audiences are visual learners than auditory learners, so a demonstration is often very effective.13 Finally, the manager lets the employees try the new procedure themselves. Managers should offer liberal feedback and encouragement as they observe, since positive reinforcement is a powerful motivator for learning.

To summarize, the body of any presentation is the longest and most complex part. It must be carefully organized, and the organizational pattern must be made apparent to the audience. Speakers’ options for organizing the main points in the body of their presentation are determined by their purpose (informative or persuasive). After the main points have been selected and arranged in a logical sequence, they each must be supported and developed by evidence (opinions or facts). The most common organizational patterns for the body of persuasive and informative presentations appear in Table 5–2.




Whatever the purpose, division of the topic, or the order in which it is to be presented, it is important to have a definite, logical, and strategic plan for the body of a presentation. Adding transitions is the key to the clarity of the plan’s organization. A bridge or link must exist between units so the audience can follow the organizational plan. As the speaker moves to a new unit, this link may take the form of a simple announcement that a new unit will now be discussed. More helpful to the audience, however, is a transition that explains how the next point will compare with the previous one. A transition that begins with a review and follows with a preview is sometimes known as a Janus statement, after the god in Roman mythology, Janus, who had two faces. The use of Janus statements in report writing is described in Chapter 9. Another device is the repetition of key words or phrases for emphasis. Examples of transitions at four levels of complexity appear in Table 5–3. A wise, informative speaker will use transitions liberally to keep the audience on track.



Whether your purpose is to inform or persuade, your business presentation must include evidence. The type of information and corresponding research required largely depend on the types of evidence: fact or opinion. Evidence of fact is an objective description of something using empirical evidence without interpretation or judgment. A fact can be proven—it is either true or untrue. Evidence of opinion is the application of interpretation and judgment rather than truth.

Table 5–2 Sequencing Options for Main Points

Persuasive Purpose Informative Purpose

Problem-solving Spatial/geographic

State the case and prove it Political/economic categories

Psychological–progressive Importance




Structure and function

Table 5–3 Types of Transitions

Function Example

Show relationship between ideas

And, in addition, also, or, however, on the other hand, by comparison, furthermore

Enumerate ideas First, to begin, my second point is, finally, in conclusion

Summarize ideas Now that we have discussed its features, let’s turn our attention to its benefits

Emphasize ideas If you remember nothing else, please remember this—

Factual Evidence

Business speakers often are expected to present facts, especially statistics, as evidence for their main points.


Audiences respect speakers who “deliver the numbers.” However, facts, such as the features of a product, are not persuasive in themselves. Over three thousand years ago, Aristotle demonstrated how a speaker should apply patterns of logical reasoning—or “topoi”—to help listeners arrive at rational conclusions about the evidence.14 James Fowler, a social scientist at the University of California, San Diego, provided a contemporary example of Aristotelian logical reasoning when he presented the results of his team’s research on social networks. They studied Facebook activity and mortality rates and found that people who received many friend requests were far less likely to die over a two-year period than those who did not. When drawing conclusions about the relationship between health and social networking, he pointed out that this study only shows a correlation, not a causation.15


Stop and Think Think of the last time you made a major purchase—a car, a house, a vacation package, and the like.

1. What kinds of factual evidence were the most important when making your decision? 2. What patterns of logical reasoning did you apply to the factual evidence? 3. What kinds of opinion evidence were the most important?

Audiences may value logic and rational thought but instead make decisions on the basis of their emotions. A body of recent research in neuroscience and psychology highlights the important role that emotions play in decision making.16 Thus, in addition to data and statistics, speakers should consider using factual evidence that elicits emotions, such as examples, illustrations, and anecdotes. Examples add concreteness and specificity, helping listeners to visualize abstract ideas and relate them to their own experiences. Anecdotes and stories add emotional appeal because they are vivid and personal, helping to ensure recall.17 Business leaders recognize the power of a personal story that highlights their company strategy and motivates employees. For example, when H. James Dallas was CIO of Georgia-Pacific, he told about his first job as a janitor at the Pepperidge Farm plant in Aiken, South Carolina. His plant manager “would tell us how important our jobs were. He explained that if bugs got in, it would cause quality problems, leading to people not buying our products, resulting in the company losing money, and people losing jobs. . . . His actions made me think of myself not as a janitor, but as a key part of our company’s success.”18 The take-home point is that business speakers should analyze their audience’s expectations and values when selecting the most impactful factual evidence (data, statistics, examples, stories) to support their main points.

Opinions as Evidence

Turning to opinions as a form of evidence, three types of opinions may be used in a presentation: personal, lay, and expert. Success in using personal opinions for support largely depends on the manager’s credibility with the audience. A manager uses lay opinions when citing the opinions of ordinary people (nonexperts), such as customers, workers, or the public. This source is prevalent in presentations on marketing or personnel problems.

A manager uses expert opinions when citing an authority to provide evidence. This form of evidence works well when objective facts are difficult to find or when the speaker is unknown to the audience.

Different presentation strategies require different evidence. In persuasive presentations, the psychological– progressive pattern generally calls for less factual information and more emotional appeals. Consequently, it places more emphasis on opinion than on empirical information. The state-the-case-and-prove-it and problem-solving patterns call for extensive use of facts. Opinion is advisable in the latter cases when the manager has a high degree of credibility, and expert opinion is valuable when there is no doubt about the authority of the expert.


Audiences judge evidence, whether facts or opinions, according to its timeliness and its source. Personal opinion is the weakest type of evidence, unless the speaker has high credibility—authority, power, dynamism, trustworthiness, and expertise. Thus, a manager is wise to cite details about the research conducted, including when and from where the evidence was retrieved. In situations where the audience does not know the speaker, the credibility of the evidence becomes crucial to speaker credibility.



The end of the presentation is relatively easy to prepare yet crucial to the presentation’s final impact. It should contain a brief summary of the purpose and the main points covered in their appropriate order. Once the presentation is finished, make sure it is finished. Do not present any new information or leave a question unanswered. Repeat the significance of the message to the audience, as stated in the introduction, to ensure retention. If some action is to be solicited from the audience, make the expectations clear. And leave the audience with a powerful final thought or challenge. Whatever the specific nature of the ending, it should strongly and clearly communicate that the speaker is ending. Too often, speakers just trickle off with a shrug and a comment like, “Well, that’s it; thanks for listening.” Your audience is following closely at this point. They will be affected by your final impression as well as your first impression.

Table 5–4 summarizes the parts of a presentation’s conclusion.

Table 5–4 Parts of the Closing

Purpose statement

Main points

Significance of the message

Call to action (optional)

Final thought/challenge


Anticipate Questions

Speakers solicit questions after the presentation to allow for appropriate additions and clarifications. In a situation where the group may be inhibited but questions are important to open the dialogue, the speaker may want to ask one member of the audience to be ready with a question to stimulate further questions.

Here are some tips for the Q & A period:

If the original question was not audible to everyone, repeat it. Select questions from all areas of the room, not just from one section or person. Do not evaluate a question by saying, “That’s a good question.” Such a response could be inadvertently telling others that their questions are not good. Do not answer with responses such as “as I said earlier,” or “well, obviously,” or “anyone would know the answer to that.” Such responses can be quite demeaning. Look at the whole group when answering a question, not just the person who asked it. When you have finished, do not ask, “Does that answer your question?” because that makes you seem tentative. If you did not answer their question satisfactorily, they will likely let you know. Do not point a finger to call on a questioner. It is a scolding pose and may appear authoritarian. Instead, invite the question by extending an open hand, palm up. If you have no answer to a question, it is best to admit it. Consider telling the questioner where else they might find an answer. Allow sufficient time to answer all questions.


Prepare Your Visual Aids

Visual aids are a must for all but the most informal business presentations. They represent another way of maintaining audience attention and involvement. Since the spoken word is, at best, limited in communication, and since its sound is transitory, the listener may miss the message, and the opportunity to hear it again may never arise. However, visual support can help to overcome these limitations. Additionally, visual aids can clarify complex information. You can successfully use visual aids in the introduction, body, and closing of a presentation.



Good visual aids make a positive impression on the audience and justify the time spent in their preparation. An effective aid is one designed to fit the speaker, the audience, and the room. Chapter 6 presents comprehensive guidelines for developing and designing your visual aids. Briefly, four criteria make for an effective visual aid:

1. Visibility. Be sure the entire audience can easily see the visual aid.19 2. Clarity. Make the main points easy to identify and understand. Avoid busy backgrounds and distracting

or low-contrast color combinations.20 3. Simplicity. Avoid design elements that may be distracting or irrelevant to the speaker’s message. Textual

visual aids should follow the 6 x 6 rule: no more than six lines per graphic and no more than six words per line.

4. Relevance. Do not use a graphic or sound effect just because it is handy or pretty. Impressive special effects can backfire if used merely to impress.21

To accentuate or emphasize content of a visual aid, you might point with a laser pointer or use the build feature of PowerPoint. During a PowerPoint presentation, you can change the cursor from an arrow to a pen by hitting Ctrl+P on the keyboard. Then, you can use the cursor to circle or underline data or words for accentuation. Hitting Ctrl+E changes the cursor to an eraser. Hitting Ctrl+A brings back the arrow.

Along with the criteria of visibility, clarity, simplicity, and relevance, the timing of the visual aid contributes to its effectiveness. Since the visual aid is a graphical message intended to complement the verbal message, both messages should be presented at the same time. An aid should not be visible until it is used, and it should be removed from sight after it has been discussed so it does not distract the audience. An easy way to hide a PowerPoint slide while you are presenting is to hit B on the keyboard—the screen goes to black. Hitting B again brings back the slide. Similarly, the W key makes the screen go white.


Stop and Think Recall a business presentation you listened to where the speaker used visual aids.

1. To what extent did you find the visual aids helpful? Distracting? Confusing? 2. What elements of the visual aids had the biggest effect, either positive or negative, on the impression the speaker made on

you? 3. What elements of the visual aids had the biggest effect on your retention of the message?



The criteria for effective visual aids are universal, but a speaker’s choice of visual aids will be influenced by the size and type of audience and by the type of equipment provided in the presentation room. This section offers tips for using computer-generated graphics, whiteboards, and handouts during presentations.

The most common type of visual aid used for business presentations, of course, is computer-generated graphics, such as Microsoft PowerPoint and Prezi. Introduced by three Hungarian media designers in 2009, Prezi is a cloud-based presentation software tool for presenting ideas on a virtual canvas. The product employs a user interface that allows speakers to zoom in and out of their presentation media and navigate through information within a 3-D space. Panning, zooming, and rotating objects can be very effective, but overuse of such visual stimulation may risk inducing nausea in the audience.

PowerPoint is currently the standard presentation software. One writer compared delivering a business presentation without PowerPoint slides to serving French fries without ketchup. In busy corporate settings, absent audience members have been known to request copies of the slides, assuming that the visual aids contain all relevant information from the presentation. Companies are now incorporating presentation graphics software into their day-to-day internal communications and into their decision-making process.22

On the other hand, Edward Tufte, one of the world’s leading authorities on the presentation of visual information, warns that PowerPoint can reduce the analytical quality of a presentation. Tufte criticizes the style-over-substance approach of the PowerPoint design guidelines and points out that the bureaucracy of bullets and multilevel lists not only oversimplifies ideas for the audience but also damages the credibility of the presenter.23

One alternative to the traditional list of bullet points on PowerPoint slides is gaining popularity. The design strategy calls for placing an “assertion” as a complete sentence in the title or headline space at the top of a slide. Then, images, equations, or charts that provide evidence supporting the assertion appear in the body of the slide. Callouts with arrows are sometimes added to explain the images (see Figure 5–3). This assertion- evidence (AE) design at least partially assuages Tufte’s challenges because it graphically displays relationships between ideas on the slide. Research by Michael Alley and his team at Penn State University shows that audiences understood and retained more information from presentations accompanied by AE-designed slides than from presentations accompanied by standard bullets-designed slides.24

A second common type of visual aid is whiteboards. Most business conference rooms are equipped with whiteboards, and some speakers prefer this simple tool over slides, especially when the audience is expected to actively engage with the speaker to discuss issues. Steve Jobs, founder and CEO of Apple, Inc., was famous for his aversion to PowerPoint. He preferred to use whiteboards to explain his ideas in meetings.25

Spontaneous diagrams and flowcharts can sometimes be a dramatic way to clarify complex processes under discussion. They also can be effective during brainstorming sessions. Whiteboards are also useful when there is no time to prepare anything else. Here is a tip for using whiteboards: A right-handed speaker writing on the


board should stand to the right, facing the audience. If the speaker’s back is turned and the speaker is blocking the information on the board, eye contact is lost, and the audience’s attention may dwindle.

Figure 5–3 Sample PowerPoint Slide Design

Handouts are another common type of visual aid. These written materials are different from the other visual aids because each member of the audience receives a copy, which may be used for reference during and after the presentation. Handouts are particularly valuable when the subject calls for complicated charts and graphs, detailed regulations, points of law, company policy, and the like. Often, the material can be distributed to the participants before the meeting, so less time is spent during the meeting for review. It is then possible to go directly to the discussion phase of the presentation.


Deliver Your Presentation

Now is the time for the real test: delivering the message. Thorough preparation will allow concentration on a number of elements that require attention during the delivery. A well-prepared speaker will have analyzed the audience and will have an idea of what to expect from the various members. The purpose and audience have been analyzed, the opening statement is ready, the message is organized, the closing is prepared, and visual aids are created.


Speaking Anxiety

What about stage fright? It might be consoling to know that about 60 percent of all speakers experience anxiety to some degree before speaking. A survey of three thousand Americans revealed that the prospect of giving a speech brings forth people’s greatest fear; they fear it even more than dying.26

The best solution to anxiety is preparation. As you become better prepared to perform a task, your confidence generally increases, which, in turn, reduces anxiety. Rehearsal of the entire presentation is advisable when anxiety is particularly high. You should become more comfortable with each rehearsal.27

But no matter how well prepared you might be, some anxiety may remain. A small amount of tension or anxiety is good because it keeps a speaker alert; however, several techniques may be used when anxiety is so great that it may interfere with the presentation’s effectiveness.

First, consider the value of the presentation and remember that the material is important. Believe that the audience is there to listen and that you have an opportunity to provide a valuable service. Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, explains her poise and persuasiveness when before an audience thusly: “It doesn’t matter whether I’m talking to two people, ten people, or thousands of people. I think about it as though I’m talking to just one person. Every communication is a conversation.”28


Stop and Think Athletes, actors, and musicians know the difference between eustress and distress. It is the difference between helpful stress and harmful stress. Think of a time when you had to perform before an audience. Did the level of your anxiety make you perform better? Or did it work against you?

Second, it helps to sit with your eyes closed and to take a few deep breaths. With hands relaxed and dangling to the side, rotate your head slowly while you concentrate on an especially pleasing thought (a mountain valley with beautiful flowers; soothing, fluffy clouds floating across the sky; waves breaking on a beach).29 Deep breathing oxygenates your brain, thus increasing alertness. It also relaxes tense muscles in your throat and neck. As a bonus, increasing the amount of air in your lungs ensures that your voice will project farther. One minute of relaxation can be worth an hour of frantic preparation.

A third way to reduce anxiety is to memorize the first few remarks in the presentation. By the time these memorized comments have been presented, some of the initial anxiety should have subsided. Even though this part of the presentation has been memorized, it may be a good idea to have notes available just to increase confidence.

Fourth, planned bodily activity can help reduce anxiety. Strategic movements during the delivery can be used to control the higher level of energy produced by the anxiety. This movement may take the form of appropriate gestures or of walking across the stage.


Speaker Notes

How can notes be best arranged and used to support a business presentation? Whether you use a manuscript, an outline, 5-by-8-inch index cards, the Notes Pages feature in PowerPoint, or even your computer graphics as cues, good speaker notes will help you channel your efforts toward effective delivery. Notes written clearly and concisely make it easy to maintain eye contact with the audience, unless, of course, you stand with your back to the audience while you read the speech from the screen, which would be unprofessional.

Although notes can be a valuable source, they can easily become a psychological crutch. To make sure they do not become so, keep the following do nots in mind.

Do not twist, bend, smooth, roll, or fold hardcopy notes in an aimless way because of nervousness. This behavior does nothing to relieve a speaker’s anxiety, and it may increase anxiety in the audience. Do not gaze at the notes out of a feeling of insecurity. Looking down to keep from looking at the audience can get to be a bad habit that physically and psychologically separates you from the audience. Do not write out your notes (or slides) in full sentences. You will be tempted to read the presentation aloud rather than speak extemporaneously from key points.

Rehearsing will help you arrange notes for maximum benefit. Managers who are completely familiar with their subject and neglect to use notes may wind up embarrassing themselves, their audience, and their organization. A rehearsal helps to settle the number of notes required and how detailed they should be. Also, additional notations can be made for clear transitions or ideas that need to be spoken more slowly, loudly, or clearly. And you will not be tempted to read the presentation out loud. In the United States, a conversational (aka extemporaneous) style is considered the most effective.30


Nonverbal Aspects

Several nonverbal aspects of communication need to be considered during the delivery of a presentation, including eye contact, facial expressions, posture, gestures, movement, and vocal style. Speakers are integral parts of the messages they convey, so how they present themselves affects the message directly.

Body Language

As you will see, the nonverbal components of communication discussed in Chapters 10 and 11 apply to the speaking as well as to the listening role. For instance, just as eye contact is important when listening for the total message, eye contact can be used to complement the delivery of a message. By looking at members of the audience in a random pattern, effective speakers use eye contact to involve the audience in the presentation. Speakers can also use the rest of their faces to show concern or excitement about the message. A smile, a puzzled frown, a grimace—all complement the verbal message.

Preview Chapter 11 to learn how a speaker’s posture, gestures, and body movement may also add to the spoken word. A forward-leaning posture may emphasize or show involvement, and walking toward a member of the audience may psychologically draw that person and others into the message. A well-timed gesture can reinforce the spoken message, while mindless swaying or pacing will betray nervousness and undermine credibility. The most important thing to remember is that body movements have meaning, and they should be used to enhance the message, not distract from it.

Another aspect of nonverbal communication is proximity. Few would question the speaker’s need to stand when the audience includes more than seven or eight people; however, many managerial presentations involve audiences of fewer than seven people in a conference room. This latter situation calls for managers to analyze the group, the purpose, and themselves to determine whether to stand or sit.

Vocal Style

Other nonverbal aspects important to the delivery of a presentation reside in the quality of your voice. Among the major vocal considerations of nonverbal communication discussed in Chapter 11 are rate, pitch, and volume.

The best speaking rate depends on your material. Generally, present ideas that are potentially difficult to comprehend at a slower rate than ideas that are easy to understand. Slow down to emphasize an important and/or primary point and speak faster when presenting secondary information. If you are feeling nervous, make a special effort to slow down, since nervousness usually speeds up a speaker’s speech rate, and you do not want to seem out of control. Also, out of consideration, you might slow down for an audience that may have difficulty understanding unfamiliar or technical terminology. Vary your rate to keep the attention of the audience; a voice that never changes speed becomes boring.

Speakers who talk at a constant pitch will also find it difficult to hold the audience’s attention. Use wide


variations in pitch for emphasis and interest. Usually, failure to vary pitch is a habit, commonly known as monotonal speaking. Read the following sentence aloud three times, raising the pitch on the italicized word each time. It is easy to see that understanding can be drastically affected by pitch.

I never said he promoted her. (Give him some credit. He has better insight than that.) I never said he promoted her. (I just said she got promoted, not by whom.) I never said he promoted her. (But I might have implied it in a number of ways.)

The third voice quality, volume, can add to a presentation by making it lively and easy to follow. The correct volume depends on group size and the physical surroundings; however, regardless of the situation, changes in volume improve emphasis and add variety. A speaker who is difficult to hear may be perceived as incompetent and shy. Keep in mind one special warning about volume: A speaker does not gain attention or make stronger emphasis merely by being loud.

You can use several exercises to prepare your speaking voice. One simple but effective technique is to read aloud a few paragraphs from the editorial or sports section of the newspaper as though you were giving a presentation. This tactic draws attention to your voice quality. You might also pay attention to the way professional speakers, such as TV newsreaders and announcers, vary their rate, pitch, and volume to convey information and emotion.

In summary, research shows that 55 percent of your impression is the result of how you look, 38 percent is the result of how you sound, and just 7 percent is the result of what you say.31 So when you announce, “I’m delighted to be here tonight,” while your voice shakes and your eyes dart to the door and you fumble with your notes, the audience is more likely to believe that you are not delighted to be here.


Stop and Think 1. In addition to rate, pitch, and volume, what other aspects of voice affect your impression of the speaker? How about

regional accent? Quality or tone? 2. Do you listen more carefully or does your attention wander when listening to a speaker’s unusual vocal style?


Media Presentations

The camera and microphone appear everywhere. A manager needs to learn to use these devices to maximize their potential. The media offer many possibilities, from public service announcements to televised speaking events, from internal informative or motivational messages to videoconferences, social media posts, and virtual presentations.

To take advantage of these media, managers need to know the special rules that apply to the microphone and the camera. The first rule is to speak as though the audience is right there. Think of the microphone or camera as a friendly, trusting person. This approach reduces the likelihood of insincere, overly dramatic, inappropriate communication styles.

A second rule is to use the face, hands, and body as in ordinary conversation to keep the presentation as natural as it would be in person. Normal gesturing helps to communicate honesty, and it can complement the ideas being expressed. Some caution, however, should be exercised. Excessive facial expressions and sweeping gestures are magnified by the camera and may distract. Keep gestures close to your upper body so they can be seen in close-up shots.

A third rule is to use a script. What may seem to be an ad-lib presentation by a professional performer is probably the result of an extensive script. A script allows coordinating the audio, visual, time, content, and human variables. In addition to the words, it also contains instructions about production matters for crew members, enabling them to visualize how to integrate their responsibilities with the overall show. It helps establish the occasion’s structure, organization, and timing. In other words, the script helps all parties know the sequence—how it will begin, move, and conclude.32

A fourth rule is closely related to the third: prepare and practice. We have already seen the importance of rehearsing for face-to-face presentations; however, practice is even more important for virtual presentations. For one thing, time limitations are in terms of seconds. In reaction to the tight scheduling, the novice media speaker should resist the tendency to speak rapidly and thus appear nervous.

In addition, practice is called for because of the higher level of refinement required for a media presentation. The audience expects polished, professional speakers onscreen. Remember, too, that every detail becomes a permanent record that can be shared with anyone.

A fifth and final rule relates to the speaker’s appearance. The obvious recommendation is to wear what you want others to see you in and what you feel good in, but you’ll also want your outfit to be unobtrusive.

Professor Tom Hajduk, director of the Center for Business Communication at Carnegie Mellon University, developed a communication audit form for evaluating media presentations.33 The audit provides a useful checklist of the unique delivery requirements for media presentations, as summarized in Table 5–5.

These rules should help managers take full advantage of the opportunities presented by the camera and microphone. Such appearances can be challenging but enjoyable experiences that provide a valuable service to


your company while offering a tremendous opportunity for professional self-development.


Team Presentations

Not all presentations will be planned and presented by an individual. When the stakes are high and the situation is complex, a single presenter may not be able to accomplish the task. For example, an architecture firm is bidding on a contract to design a new science complex for a university. The firm sends a team of experts to make a presentation to the planning committee. The team consists of the principal in charge of the project, a design principal or project manager, an interior designer, a laboratory designer, and a mechanical engineer. Each team member will speak about their area of expertise, and each will help achieve the goal, winning the bid. Team presentations allow shared responsibility, but they are difficult to do well. Clearly, presenting as a team requires advanced communication, organization, and planning skills.

Table 5–5 Delivery of Media Presentations

Vocal Impact Nonverbal Impact Visual Image Impact

Maintain normal volume (do not shout into the microphone)

Use a conversational rate (approximately 110 words per min.)

Project extra vocal enthusiasm and energy

Articulate clearly

Maintain fluency; avoid filled pauses (uh, ok, so)

Pause before important points for drama

Avoid white, black, stripes, large patterns, and distracting jewelry

Maintain eye contact with the camera

Stand tall and straight

Use natural but slower chest-high gestures

Move slowly and stay within microphone and camera range

Use natural facial expressions and head movements

Design clean, uncluttered visuals that can be read in thirty seconds

Avoid long, bland bulleted lists

Label chart columns, rows, and parts to help speed understanding (avoid legends)

Keep right side of visuals empty so presenter picture in picture (PIP) won’t mask visual image

Point to visuals on document camera or draw on computer slides

Team presentations can be divided into the following three phases: planning, design, and delivery:

1. The first phase is the planning phase. The team defines its purpose and analyzes the occasion of the presentation, selects a moderator, establishes channels of communication among themselves, and assigns segment speakers.

2. During the second phase, the design phase, each speaker on the team makes his/her individual presentation plans then shares them with the other team members. The team creates appropriate visual aspects (a single slideshow, coordinated outfits, handouts, and demonstrations); rehearses once or twice


together; and brainstorms how they will handle the question-and-answer (Q & A) session. 3. The third phase is the delivery phase. During this phase, the team delivers the presentation, each speaker

staying within time limits. Each speaker uses previews or summaries to smooth the seams. The team presentation begins and concludes with the moderator. All team members appear to listen closely to the others when not presenting. After the team’s presentation, each member is prepared to answer audience questions according to his/her individual expertise.

Here is a summary of the characteristics of successful team presentations:34

Content: Organized, supported, and relevant to audience Visuals: Creative, professional, and effective Delivery: Consistent, polished, and dynamic


Impromptu Speaking

So far, this chapter has focused on strategies for planning, organizing, and delivering formal presentations. In addition, business professionals frequently are expected to offer a brief statement when they have not had time to prepare. As a manager, you may suddenly be invited to “make a few remarks” or answer an unexpected question during business and quasi-social settings. What should you do? The natural reaction is to blurt out the first idea that pops into your head then hope that another idea occurs to you so you can say it as well. This approach is called “stream of consciousness” speaking, and it will suffice in ordinary conversations. However, in business settings you will need to know how to deliver informal, impromptu presentations with style.


Stop and Think Think of a time when someone was asked to “say a few words” in a meeting or at a special event that you attended.

1. To what extent did you judge the speaker according to what was said as opposed to how it was said? 2. How important is message content compared to speaker delivery style in impromptu settings?

Here are some techniques for making informal presentations and impromptu remarks:

1. Get mentally ready. Use nonverbal communication tools (vocal style, body language, appearance) to look and sound confident. Nonverbal communication is discussed in Chapter 11. As you will see, 93 percent of the impression you make is determined by nonverbal elements.

2. Work the question/subject around to fit your knowledge and interests. Restate the question as you plan a response. If you cannot talk and think at once, stall for time by asking the person who has called on you to repeat the question. In most impromptu speaking situations, you will be allowed to tailor the subject to suit your expertise.

3. Begin with a main point. Your opening sentence should be a generalization or a statement of opinion or belief. In writing, the main point is called the topic sentence or thesis, and it usually appears at the beginning of a paragraph. Similarly, in speaking, you should begin with a broad, sweeping statement.

4. Support your main point by developing it with facts, statistics, examples, analogies, reasons, illustrations, or personal stories. Supporting ideas are more specific, concrete, and narrow than main ideas. They help the listeners to understand your opening statement.

Table 5–6 Impromptu Presentation Techniques

1. Get mentally ready. Look confident. Breathe.

2. Work the question/subject around to fit your knowledge and interests. Restate the question as you plan a response.

3. Pick a main point.

4. Support your main point by developing it with facts, examples, analogies, reasons, and so forth.

5. Come back to your main point.

6. Stop talking.

5. Come back to your main point. By restating the main idea, you will reinforce it and aid the listeners’ retention.


6. Stop talking. A common mistake during impromptu speaking is to speak for too long, repeating yourself or talking in circles. A brief, well-organized comment will make a stronger impression than a long- winded speech consisting of random, scattered thoughts.

Table 5–6 summarizes impromptu presentation techniques.



To ensure an effective presentation, a manager should thoroughly analyze the purpose, time restrictions, and audience; complete all necessary preparations; and use appropriate delivery techniques. A thorough analysis of the purpose means the speaker should determine if everyone involved has the same goal for the presentation.

Once the goal has been clearly established, the necessary preparations must be completed. Preparation includes the development of an introduction, a sequence of main points that is appropriate for an informative or persuasive purpose, and a strong closing. The sequence of main points should be determined by the speaker’s purpose. Support for each main point takes the form of evidence, which can be facts or opinions. Transitions must be added to bring unity and coherence to the completed presentation plan.

In addition, visual aids must be prepared. Visual aids help to maintain interest and accurately communicate the key ideas. Visibility, clarity, simplicity, relevance, and timing are important to ensure that the visual aids complement the verbal communication.

Both nonverbal and verbal characteristics of the speaker are important for an effective, professional delivery. Eye contact, facial expressions, posture, gestures, and movement all need to be considered. Voice rate, pitch, and volume affect the impact of the presentation.

A speaker should schedule sufficient time for questions and answers at the end of the presentation. When this part of the presentation is well managed, feedback and two-way communication develop.

A special presentational situation that more and more managers face today is speaking before a camera and microphone. Most of the rules that apply to a traditional face-to-face speaking situation apply also to this form of a presentation. However, several additional rules dealing with nonverbal cues and the use of a script will help a manager to present an effective message via the electronic media.

A second special speaking situation is the team presentation. Together, team members should plan, design, and deliver their message. Successful team presentations are well organized, supported, and relevant to the audience. Visuals are creative, professional, and effective. The team members’ delivery style is consistent, polished, and dynamic.

A third special speaking situation is the impromptu. When there is no time to prepare remarks, a speaker should use a confident speaking style, begin with a main idea, support it with reasons or explanations, and conclude by restating the main idea.




Exercise 5–1 Choose an upcoming formal speaking situation, either at work, in your community, at a social organization, a special occasion, or at school. Complete the Audience Analysis Worksheet below as you prepare your remarks.


Audience Analysis Worksheet 1. How many do I expect in the audience? 2. Who are the most powerful or influential members? 3. What is their knowledge of the content area?

_________High, may be higher than mine _________About the same as mine _________Less than my knowledge of the subject _________Probably do not have even basic knowledge _________Varies

4. What types of evidence will most impress this group? _________Technical data _________Statistical comparisons _________Cost figures _________Historical information _________Generalizations _________Demonstrations _________Stories and examples _________Opinions of the speaker

5. What is the group’s attitude toward the subject? _________Exceptionally positive _________Somewhat positive _________Neutral _________Somewhat negative, reluctant _________Definitely negative _________Group varies, some positive and some negative

6. What is the group’s attitude toward me as the presenter? _________See me as credible and knowledgeable _________Neutral, probably do not have an opinion _________See me as having little knowledge and credibility

7. What is the group’s attitude toward the organization I represent? _________See the organization as reliable and trustworthy _________Neutral _________Might question its capabilities and reliability

8. What will be the group’s disposition at the time of my presentation? _________They will have listened to many other presentations similar to this one; they could be tired _________They will have been sitting for a long time; they may need a minute to stretch _________This presentation will be unique, so it should be easy to grab their attention _________This is an early item on the agenda; they should be fresh

9. What are the most important audience characteristics to consider in the presentation?


Exercise 5–2 Prepare a five-minute informative presentation for your class on the latest developments in office ergonomics. Begin by analyzing your audience and selecting your topics and their order of presentation. Your discussion should address the following elements:

How will you introduce your subject so that you grab the audience’s attention? What will be your three main points? What type of supporting information will most impress your audience? What should you say in the closing? How will you encourage questions at the end of your presentation? What would be the best type of visual aids to maintain the audience’s attention?


Exercise 5–3 Pick one of the following topics to use in the development of a five-minute persuasive presentation:

Lie detectors should (or should not) be used in the hiring process. Lie detectors should (or should not) be used by businesses in attempting to deter employee theft. Businesses should (or should not) be permitted to subject employees to random drug testing. Top executives should (or should not) be held criminally liable for their companies’ illegal (or unethical) actions. Social responsibility should (or should not) be a major concern of today’s corporations. A manager should (or should not) be concerned about the personal problems of his or her employees. An international code of ethics should (or should not) be developed. Unionization is (or is not) appropriate for today’s white-collar workers.

After picking a topic, visualize an audience to whom you would speak on the subject. Of the three persuasive presentation patterns described in this chapter, which would be most appropriate for your presentation? Given the topic you have chosen and the audience you have visualized, what type of evidence would you use to persuade them to accept your point of view?


Exercise 5–4 Pick one of the following scenarios and develop a ten-minute informative presentation that follows the guidelines in this chapter:

For an audience of graduating seniors in business administration, discuss the topic of appropriate dress for employment interviews at your company. For an audience of business executives, discuss the topic of appropriate dress for television interviews.

Student Study Site

Visit the Student Study Site at study.sagepub.com/hynes7e for web quizzes, video and multimedia resources, and case studies.



1. Cheryl Hamilton and Tony L. Kroll, Communicating for Results: A Guide for Business and the Professions, 11th ed. (Boston, MA: Cengage Learning, 2018), 304.

2. Charles Krauthammer, “Make It Snappy: In Praise of Short Papers, Short Speeches, and, Yes, the Sound Bite,” Time, July 21, 1997, 84.

3. This widely quoted advice is believed to have been given to FDR’s son, James, though it was first published posthumously in Paul L. Soper, Basic Public Speaking, 2nd ed. (Oxford University Press, 1963), 12.

4. Bill Steele, “Master Any Slide Deck,” TD: Talent Development, June 2017, 22–23.

5. Michael Barbaro, “Carly Fiorina’s Speaking Dos and Don’ts Detailed in Company Document,” New York Times, October 26, 2015. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/politics/first-draft/2015/10/26/carly- fiorinas-speaking-dos-and-donts-detailed-in-company-document/.

6. Ernest G. Bormann et al., Interpersonal Communication in the Modern Organization (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1982), 197.

7. Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2017), 20.

8. Steele, “Master Any Slide Deck,” 23.

9. Steve Kaye, “It’s Showtime! How to Give Effective Presentations,” Supervision, 78, no. 5 (May 2017): 8– 10.

10. William S. Howell and Ernest G. Bormann, Presentational Speaking for Business and the Professions (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), 122–130.

11. Daniel J. O’Keefe, Persuasion Theory and Research, 2nd ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2002), 181–264.

12. Anne Bradstreet Grinols, “Ethical Persuasion: Taking the High Road in Compelling Communication.” (Paper presented at the Association for Business Communication Southwestern United States Regional Conference, March 12, 2013).

13. T. J. McCue, “Why Infographics Rule,” Forbes, January 8, 2013. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/tjmccue/2013/01/08/what-is-an-infographic-and-ways-to-make-it-go- viral/#117743e67272. See also “Why Visual Teaching?” Visual Teaching Alliance for the Gifted and Talented (n.d.). Retrieved from http://visualteachingalliance.com/.

14. Lane Cooper, trans., The Rhetoric of Aristotle (New York, NY: Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc., 1932), 9.

15. William R. Hobbs et al., “Online Social Integration Is Associated With Reduced Mortality Risk,”


Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 113, no. 46 (November 15, 2016): 12980–12984, DOI: 10.10;73/pnas.1605554113.

16. Baba Shiv et al., “Investment Behavior and the Negative Side of Emotion,” Psychological Science 16, no. 6 (2005): 435–439.

17. Steele, “Master Any Slide Deck,” 23.

18. H. James Dallas, Mastering the Challenges of Leading Change: Inspire the People and Succeed Where Others Fail (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2015).

19. Mary Munter and Dave Paradi, Guide to PowerPoint (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007), 65, 94.

20. Robert P. Sedlack Jr., Barbara L. Shwom, and Karl P. Keller, Graphics and Visual Communication for Managers (Mason, OH: Thomson South-Western, 2008), 71.

21. Munter and Paradi, Guide to PowerPoint.

22. Martin J. Eppler and Friederike Hoffmann, “Does Method Matter? An Experiment on Collaborative Business Model Idea Generation in Teams,” Innovation: Management, Policy & Practice 14, no. 3 (2012): 388– 403.

23. Edward R. Tufte, The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Pitching out Corrupts within (Cheshire, CT: Graphics Press, 2006).

24. Joanna K. Garner and Michael Alley, “How the Design of Presentation Slides Affects Audience Comprehension: A Case for the Assertion-Evidence Approach,” International Journal of Engineering Education 29, no. 6 (2013): 1564–1579. See also Michael Alley, The Craft of Scientific Presentations, 2nd ed. (New York: Springer-Verlag, 2013).

25. Garr Reynolds, “Steve Jobs: ‘People Who Know What They’re Talking About Don’t Need PowerPoint’,” December 20, 2011. Retrieved from http://www.presentationzen.com/presentationzen/2011/12/steve-jobs- people-who-know-what-theyre-talking-about-dont-need-powerpoint.html.

26. David Wallechinsky and Irving Wallace, The Book of Lists (New York: William Morrow, 1977).

27. Amy Jen Su, “How to Calm Your Nerves Before a Big Presentation,” Harvard Business Review, October 27, 2016, 4.

28. Dave Clarke Mora, “Carly, Reconsidered,” Continental, September 2003, 31–33.

29. Su, “How to Calm Your Nerves Before a Big Presentation”; Mora, “Carly Reconsidered.”

30. Kaye, “It’s Showtime! How to Give Effective Presentations,” 10.


31. Albert Mehrabian, Nonverbal Communication (New Brunswick, NJ: Aldine Transaction, 2007).

32. Evan Blythin and Larry A. Samovar, Communicating Effectively on Television (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1985), 92–96.

33. Tom Hajduk, “Communication Audit: TV/Videoconference Presentation,” vol. 11.1, accessed August 11, 2014, Communication Consulting Group, http://www.ccg-usa.com.

34. Michael S. Dalis, Sell Like a Team: The Blueprint for Building Teams That Win Big at High-Stakes Meetings (New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education, 2017).


6 Communicating Visually

By acknowledging visual rhetoric, we recognize that visual choices make a difference—in readers’ attitude toward a document, in how readers process information, and in which information they value.

Charles Kostelnick, “Visual Rhetoric: A Reader-Oriented Approach to Graphics and Designs”

Although we may think of writing as the main component of effective communication, visual elements are often the first thing that people see when they open a report, skim a webpage, or look at a slide during a presentation. Visual communication is the use of graphics, color, typography, and layout to communicate with an audience. The visual elements of your documents can reinforce the message in the text, complement the message with additional information, contradict or clash with the text, and set a tone. In the past, composing text, creating graphics, and designing a page layout were often three separate jobs. But today, these jobs are often collapsed into one. Managers and other professional communicators are responsible for constructing reports, presentations, and other documents on their own, and audiences expect visual messages to convey information just as effectively as words.

Visual literacy is the ability to understand and compose visual messages. As children, our earliest “writing” used graphics to communicate ideas. As we grew older, we learned how to integrate words with graphics, and eventually words became our primary means of communicating with others.1 But visual communication never went away. We are surrounded by advertisements, videos, instructions, infographics, sales brochures, slide decks, and other messages that rely heavily on visual elements to convey their message. Through experience and education, we have learned how to focus our attention and interpret visual cues.

Visual communication can improve a document’s usability, present quantitative information accurately and efficiently, and enhance the persuasiveness of your message. When used effectively, visual elements can attract attention, organize information, and establish trust in the message and its author. In this chapter, we will help you use those cues in your own documents to create more powerful, effective, and accurate messages at work. By using the design principles and selecting or creating useful graphics, you can improve the impact of your reports, presentations, and other messages.


Document Design

Visual communication might seem intimidating to people who do not consider themselves artists or even very creative. With so many choices at your fingertips, where do you even begin? Visual design principles help you make decisions about color, typography, size, orientation, layout, negative space, and unity quickly and confidently. Design principles are based upon common practices by professionals and educators in fields like art, architecture, and graphic design. They are not rules but rather guidelines based on common experience. Your decisions to apply these principles must always be based upon the specific characteristics of the audience, purpose, and communication context.


Design Principles for Managerial Communication

The design principles for managerial communication (see Table 6–1) are a collection of design decisions that are commonly used in workplace documents. This list of design principles is not exhaustive. In a recent study, more than 70 design principles were identified by graphic design practitioners and visual rhetoric educators.2 The most common principles are based upon the Gestalt principles of perception: figure/ground contrast, similarity, repetition, balance, symmetry, closure, and continuation. We have adapted these principles, along with a few others, into visual design principles that managers are most likely to need when composing or reviewing workplace documents. The design principles for managerial communication are a starting point to help you become more conscious of the decisions you make and the ones that your word processor, desktop publishing, or presentation software may be making for you.


Building Blocks

The building blocks of document design are grid, alignment, typography, color, and conventions. These elements set the foundation of your document, whether a memo, a report, or a slide deck, and are the easiest to use with little or no experience. Word processor, desktop publishing, and presentation slide software offer a variety of templates that control the building blocks with style sheets, themes, or master slides, but modifying these preset combinations can create a custom look that sets your documents apart from the crowd.

Table 6–1 Design Principles for Managerial Communication

Building Blocks Relationships Emphasis Unity










Negative space




A grid is an imaginary table that divides the page or screen into columns and rows (see Figure 6–1). The grid helps you decide where to place items by marking areas in which you can place content and areas that are protected. The simplest design uses a single column grid to organize content, with margins on all sides. A two-column grid places text and graphics into columns of equal or different widths with margins on the outside edges and a gutter in between the columns. Newspapers, newsletters, and booklets often use grids with multiple columns to arrange content. Electronic slides use a two-row grid, with a narrow row for the headline and a wider row for body text or graphics.


Alignment refers to the arrangement of items along an invisible line to create an orderly layout. Without alignment, items might seem random or haphazard, suggesting carelessness in the composition and organization.

Figure 6–1 Sample Grids for Documents and Slides


Flush left alignment places words and objects against the left margin. In most text documents, the text and lists will often be aligned along the left margin with a ragged (or uneven) right edge. This alignment is comfortable for many users because we were trained through writing exposure and through reading books and other printed materials to read from left to right.

Flush right, by contrast, aligns text and other objects along an invisible line on the right side of the page or screen. In most cases, flush right should not be used for body text because the ragged left edge makes it difficult for readers to locate the beginning of new lines. (Arabic and Hebrew are examples of languages that do use the flush right alignment.) Because the position is somewhat unexpected, flush right text may be used for numbers, headlines, callouts, and other items that you want to emphasize.

Centered alignment places text equally on either side of an invisible centerline with ragged left and right sides. Centered text is commonly used for titles, headlines, column labels in tables, promotional text on posters and flyers, and formal invitations. In short line lengths, centered alignment can create a strong impact, but avoid using it for body text because readers may struggle to track new lines.

Justified text combines all three: balancing text on either side of a center line and forcing flush left and flush right margins. To create the justification, the word processor will insert extra spaces between characters or words, resize the characters, or hyphenate the text to force the alignment. These modifications may create inconsistencies in the look of the document, and readers often find hyphenated words difficult to read.

Flush left/ragged right is the default setting in word processing programs, so you may be using this alignment without thinking about it. In other applications, such as desktop publishing or presentation software, you will have much more freedom to manipulate objects on the page or screen. Turn on gridlines to guide your alignment, or create your own guides by drawing lines and removing them when your document is finished. In tables, align text and row labels to the left margin, but align numbers to the right.


Typography refers to the shape of characters like letters, numbers, and symbols. Through years of experience, we have developed mental models of what letters look like. Their distinctive shapes help us recognize letters


even when they are distorted, transposed, or upside down. In fact, our brains are so good at recognizing letters that they rarely read all of them. As we read, our brains are actually looking for patterns of letters and interpreting them as words. For example, when your eye sees two characters with ascenders and a rounded third character, your brain probably interprets the combination as the word the. When you notice misspelled words (like teh), your brain sends a small alarm because the characters do not fit a usual pattern or because the word doesn’t fit into the context of the rest of the sentence. This ability to read characters as words is the Gestalt principle of closure: A collection of letters is interpreted as words because that’s what you expect to see. Even when letters are partially obscured, your mind fills in the gap with what it expects to see, and usually the guess is correct.

But typographic choices can interfere with the brain’s efficiency. Messages written in ALL CAPS lose the distinctive shapes of the individual characters. Instead, you see blocks of characters that have roughly the same size and shape. Your mind must slow down and look at each character, combine them to create a word, and then string the words together to form sentences. Although this mental processing happens quickly, messages in capital letters require more cognitive work to comprehend and take longer to read. Try it yourself by reading Figure 6–2.

Your word processor, desktop publishing, or presentation software contains dozens of typeface options. A typeface is a style of alphabetic and numeric characters. A font is a group of characters in a particular size and style of the typeface. A professionally designed typeface might consist of several fonts, such as condensed, italic, bold, and so forth. An inexpensive typeface may consist of only one font that is manipulated by the computer to be thicker, thinner, or slanted. Early typefaces in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries simulated the calligraphy of handwritten texts that preceded the printing press. Over time, typographic trends shaped the way documents looked (see Figure 6–3).3

Today, typefaces are usually grouped into four categories. Serif typefaces are based upon old style or classical letterforms. They feature small projections on the edges of letters. Sans serif typefaces are minimalist designs that end simply, without serifs. Within each of these larger categories are decorative or novelty typefaces, which are useful for attracting attention and creating a tone, and script typefaces that imitate handwriting. Both decorative and script typefaces can be difficult to read, so they should be used sparingly.

As you select typefaces, consider the subtle effect your choice may add to your message. Studies have shown that people ascribe personality traits to typefaces.4 Using a style with personality traits that conflict with your message won’t prevent audiences from understanding your message, but it may weaken its credibility (and by extension, your own).5

Figure 6–4 contains a sample of some common text and decorative typefaces. As you look at the table, notice how much easier the serif and sans serif typefaces are for reading blocks of text. The decorative/novelty and script typefaces are more difficult to read and force you to slow down rather than skim and scan, which is how we normally begin reading. And you might be surprised to learn that all the typefaces in Figure 6–4 are the same size . . . point size, that is. Point size measures the distance from the top of the tallest ascender (think about the letters b, d, f, h, k, l, t) to the bottom of the lowest descender (g, j, p, q). When printers used metal


type—or individual characters carved from metal—point sizes were somewhat consistent. Modern digital type, on the other hand, is much more diverse. Today, point size is a way to estimate the size of your text, but as you can see, it’s not absolute. Most text typefaces will be easy to read at 10-, 11-, or 12-point sizes, but trust your own eyes by printing a copy of your document or slides to review yourself before giving it to others.

Figure 6–2 Messages Are Easier to Read in Upper- and Lower-Case Letters Than All Capital Letters

Figure 6–3 A Brief History of Typeface Styles

In general, there is a direct relationship between line length (the width of the page, column, or text box) and the size of your typeface and leading, the space between the lines of text. Longer line lengths need larger type sizes and wider leading—spacing—between each line of text. Smaller line lengths (such as multi-column grids) need smaller type sizes and thinner leading.

Informational documents must be legible and easy to read, so use traditional serif or sans serif text typefaces for most purposes. Create similarity by minimizing the total number of typefaces to two or three—one for headings, one for the body text, and perhaps a third for items that need special emphasis. Within that combination, experiment with variations in size, shape, weight, and color to create contrast and variety that help audiences skim and scan the text or slide. If you do use decorative and script typefaces, apply them sparingly. Their contrast with the text typefaces will create focal points that create visual interest and emphasis. In promotional documents, you can be more whimsical with typographic choices, but legibility is always the benchmark to meet.


Figure 6–4 Typographic Styles and Relative Sizes


One of the most multifaceted design principles is color. Color directs attention to specific elements and organizes content. Spot-color—or a single color in an otherwise black-and-white document—creates an immediate impact and draws the audience’s eye before they ever read a word. Adding color to the background of text boxes is another way to create focal points in a text-heavy document. Color can also help you organize your content by emphasizing hierarchies within the information or unifying elements into groups. Subtle shading in alternate rows helps audiences follow a line of numbers across the width of a table. Color-coding data can help audiences spot the connections across multiple data displays.


Stop and Think Some designers think typography should be like a crystal goblet filled with wine: Your focus should be on contents and not the container.

1. Have you experienced a document in which the tone of the typeface clashed with the content of a message? 2. Did the clash affect your understanding of the message? Did it affect your attitude toward the writer or organization that

created the message?

Finally, color can also be used symbolically to send subtle messages about the product or the organization that sells it. For example, green is often used to suggest natural or ecologically friendly products. Blue suggests calmness and responsibility. If you are trying to communicate low prices at your grocery store, green could cue viewers to think about the freshness of the produce and the health benefits of home cooking, but if you are trying to persuade people to invest their money at your bank, blue could suggest trustworthiness.6 Black, gray, green, and blue are often used for products or services that fulfill practical needs, while red, pink, yellow, and purple are more common for products or services that fulfill symbolic or social needs.7 Organizations often have custom color palettes that differentiate them from their competition and unite their messages across multiple media. Think about your favorite sports team, for example, and chances are that you picture the colors that appear on the team’s uniform, such as black and gold or black and red. By using symbolic colors, you connect your message to a bigger concept or reinforce your role as a member of your organization.

In short, color can tell audiences what to look at and suggest what they should think about as they read.

How do you choose one or more colors from the endless options available to you? One place to start is to find out whether your organization has preferences or requirements that you must follow; many organizations have preapproved color palettes as part of their visual identity or design standards. You can also consider whether the topic suggests one or more colors. For example, a presentation for a landscaping business might use green as a main color (connoting grass, plants, and leaves); brown or tan as a secondary color (connoting trees and earth); and a bright yellow or orange for emphasis (inspired by flowers).

Once you pick your main color, you can also use the color wheel to inspire its companions.8 Monochromatic color schemes use variations of a single color. These schemes are useful for low-budget projects. Analogous schemes use the adjacent secondary colors to accent the main color and create calm, often soothing, combinations. Complementary color schemes use colors that lie opposite each other on the color wheel; these colors have the highest contrast, but the effect can be jarring. Split complementary schemes use the colors that are adjacent to the complement instead. Triadic schemes use hues that are equally spaced around the color wheel. Table 6–2 lists some options for color schemes using green as the main color.

As you experiment with combinations, remember that you do not have to use the pure hue. Your software will allow you to manipulate the saturation and brightness to create interesting, sophisticated combinations. For more information about color palettes and color models for screen, print, and web pages, visit the U.S.


government’s usability website at https://www.usability.gov/how-to-and-tools/methods/color-basics.html.


When people pick up a document, open a website, or view a slide, they bring with them a collection of past experiences that influences their interpretations of what they see. For example, they expect blue, underlined text to be a hyperlink. They expect a budget to be organized as a table and numbers formatted as currency. And they expect an annual report to be bound as a booklet with thick, glossy paper and professional photos. If you violate those expectations (such as presenting the budget as a narrative or formatting the annual report as a trifold brochure), your audiences may become frustrated and will question your communication competency.

Table 6–2 Sample Color Schemes Based on a Common Main Color

Color Scheme Accent Color 1 Main Color Accent Color 2

Monochromatic Dark green Green Light green

Analogous Teal Green Chartreuse

Complementary Red Green None

Split complementary Vermilion Green Maroon

Triadic Orange Green Purple

Expectations about design are called conventions. Design conventions are tacit social agreements about graphics and visual communication.9 For example, in the United States and many other cultures, red signals danger. When red is combined with shapes, complex messages begin to form: A red octagon with the word “stop” directs traffic nearly all over the world. A red circle with a diagonal bar over an icon indicates something is forbidden.

You have probably been using several design conventions for years without realizing it. For example, in books, newspapers, and traditional letter format, each new paragraph begins with a small indent from the margin. In many memos and other workplace documents, however, the first-line indent is eliminated. The full-block format begins each paragraph flush with the left margin, but an extra line of leading or negative space separates each paragraph from the next. The purpose of the indent and the leading is to help readers quickly find the beginning of paragraphs as they skim and scan the document, but you don’t have to explain that. Your audience will know—or quickly learn—why they are used.

By adhering to conventions, writers help audiences quickly and easily understand what they are looking at and how to use it. Using conventions correctly can also help you prove that you are an “insider” within a larger group. For example, using jargon is discouraged when writing or talking to the general public because they may not know what the terms mean. But at work, jargon is an acceptable type of shorthand that shows you


respect your audience’s understanding of the material. Design conventions work the same way. Your organization may expect its employees to use a certain typeface in their documents or to use a preapproved template for slide decks. A visual identity is a set of conventions that creates a consistent look and feel to unify an organization’s communications. For example, your organization may require that its logo appear on the cover of every report, sales brochure, and web page. If your organization has an established color palette, you may be expected to use it when adding spot-color in headings, designing slide masters, or ordering promotional items.

For most users, conventions offer reliable solutions to common design situations. But use them with care. One danger of conventions is that they are based in culture, so elements may have multiple, even conflicting, meanings. Red might mean danger in the United States, but in Great Britain, it is the color of tradition and travel (think double-decker buses), and in Russia and China, it is associated with communism.10 On the U.S. flag, red, white, and blue represent hardiness, purity, and justice, respectively, but on the French Tricolor flag, the same colors represent the monarchy (white) and the city of Paris (blue/red). Symbols, colors, and other design conventions may vary even within the same culture. In the United States, red symbolizes not only danger but also patriotism, love, health, aggression, and speed.

Another potential problem with conventions is the ease with which they can misdirect audiences.11 For example, tourism maps often mark the locations of sponsors on the street plan. If users expect maps to be neutral and objective representations of the city, they may not realize that other restaurants or shops are also nearby. If a building plan faces south at the top of a map and the user expects that to be north, they may struggle to locate the entrance when they arrive for a meeting. In budgets, deficits are double-coded with red ink and parenthesis marks for emphasis. If you use only a minus sign, users may initially overlook the potentially bad news in the numbers.

The building blocks of document design are elements that you probably use every day. Typography and color are two design principles that may seem most familiar, particularly given the ease and control that word processor, desktop publishing, and presentation software have put at our fingertips. Grid, alignment, and conventions, on the other hand, create the structure of every document we create.


Stop and Think 1. What are some design conventions for documents that you use regularly? 2. How did you learn to understand those conventions? Did someone explain them to you?



As audiences move through a document, they instinctively try to connect what they are reading with other things they have read and with their own prior knowledge. The grouping strategies of similarity and proximity signal relationships in your data to help readers understand the organization of your content and form mental models of how things work.

When we see objects that look alike, we assume that they are alike. The principle of similarity suggests that a fundamental relationship exists between objects, even if that relationship is not obvious. Size, shape, and color are three variables that can be manipulated to suggest that a relationship exists. For example, bulleted points mark the items in a list. The shape of the bullets creates similarity, signaling that the items share a common characteristic, even though the content of the items will be different. Instructions use conventional icons and color to warn users about danger. When the warning in one document looks like icons we see elsewhere, we understand their meaning and pay special attention. The body text of your document or slide deck should be the same style and size from beginning to end. Meanwhile, headings are larger and use a different typeface. By making headings look similar to each other—but different from the body text—you tell audiences visually that the text blocks serve different roles.

Proximity is the relationship of objects in space. When we see objects that are clustered together, we assume they are grouped because they are related to each other in some way (see Figure 6–5). The application of proximity is sometimes called chunking. A business card often chunks name and title into one block and contact information into another. Website navigation groups hyperlinks into a column or row, and web ads are often grouped and aligned on the right side of the page. Captions are placed above or below the graphic they describe. Proximity organizes the document to help audiences see connections within the content.

Figure 6–5 Showing Relationships Through Proximity and Similarity in Size, Shape, and Color

When used intentionally, similarity and proximity help audiences understand relationships. When used carelessly, however, audiences may infer relationships where none exist.



Within your documents, some ideas, facts, or data are more important than others. Which ones they are might be obvious to you, but will your audiences recognize them, too? Emphasis strategies like contrast, hierarchy, and negative space create focal points that help audiences spot the essential ideas and use them to understand your message.

Contrast makes items stand out through differences in size, color, shape, or style. The first type of contrast users see is the figure-ground or the difference between the background or page and the items arranged on top of it. In this book, black text is printed on white paper, creating strong contrast and making the text easy to read. But if the black text were printed on red or blue paper, the contrast would weaken and audiences would struggle to see the characters on the page. Other forms of contrast help audiences skim the document and distinguish different sections or elements. For example, the body text may be black, which is comfortable for extended reading, but section headings might be larger and blue. The contrast in color and size helps audiences find the headings and understand that they have a special role to play on the page. As Robin Williams explains, “If the elements (type, color, size, line thickness, shape, space, etc.) are not the same, then make them very different.”12 But contrast works only when it is strong and purposeful. When contrast is weak, it may look accidental and confuse or distract audiences rather than help them.

Hierarchy is the real or implied order of importance. Arrangement and size are the two most common techniques for suggesting hierarchy. Placing items at the top of a page or grouping suggests that is the “starting place” for the design and thus it must be the most important element. Numbered lists suggest a sequence or rank order, with the first item usually considered the most important one. Bulleted lists do not suggest a sequence, but audiences still perceive the first item to be the most important. Relative size also suggests importance, with larger objects appearing more important than smaller ones. Headings in word processors and slide templates use the principle of hierarchy: The title is the largest text size and footnote text is the smallest, and levels of headings vary by size, color, and shape to suggest their relative importance.

Negative space is the unused portion of the page or screen, such as margins on the outer edges, gutters between columns, and leading in between lines of text. Like a soloist in a choir, generous negative space creates emphasis by allowing the focal point to be viewed without competition from other objects. (The term white space is also used, but negative space can be any color.)

Emphasis strategies work because they tell audiences “look at this!” To be effective, use the emphasis strategies in moderation. When used too often, the strategies lose their effectiveness. After all, when everything is emphasized, nothing stands out from the crowd.



Unity is the cohesiveness of the visual elements. Unified documents give the sense that everything belongs together and the entire message was carefully composed.

Repetition extends the principle of similarity by reusing design elements across multiple pages, slides, or files. It “teaches” people how to read the document by creating a local set of conventions. For example, sidebars have a light blue background and black sans serif type. Bold type identifies keywords, both to help you spot them on the page and to help you remember them later. As you advance, each page or slide fits in with the whole package.

But repetition does not mean objects must be exactly the same each time they appear. For example, if you are laying a textbox over a graphic on a presentation slide, the location of the box may change to improve its contrast with the background or to avoid covering the focal point of an image, but other elements like shading and typeface would be repeated each time. Color coding sections of a multipage document can help audiences locate information quickly, particularly if color conventions are used. For example, in a quick reference guide, green borders and headings can indicate the “getting started” section and red borders and headings can indicate troubleshooting instructions.

The key to unity is consistency. Contrast suggests difference, so inconsistency in design will be interpreted as something noteworthy. At best, inconsistency is a distraction. At worst, it can be misleading. A style sheet defines the roles that elements like color, size, and shape will play in your document. The advantages of using styles rather than formatting text and other graphical elements manually are consistency and flexibility. Suppose you write a memo using the default style, which uses Calibri for body text and Cambria for headings. If you change your mind later, you can modify the styles to change the body text to Book Antiqua and headings to Franklin Gothic Demi. In a matter of a few clicks, the typography of the entire document changes. Word processing, desktop publishing, and presentation slide software have style sheets of typefaces and themes of color palettes installed, but you can modify the default template to create your own combinations.


Using Graphics

Graphics are visual representations of data, ideas, and objects. They show relationships, convert concepts into tangible form, render the appearance of physical items, and even decorate the document. Informative graphics convey information needed to understand a topic, whereas decorative graphics evoke a feeling.13 In her book on document design, Karen Schriver describes five relationships between text and graphics:


Stop and Think 1. What is an example of design repetition that you have noticed and admired? 2. What design decisions do you make to create unity in your documents?

Redundant: The text and graphic reinforce each other by providing the same information in visual and verbal modes, or forms. Complementary: The text and graphic each present some of the information; together they provide a complete message. Supplementary: Either the text or the graphic presents the message and the other mode provides supporting information. Juxtaposition: The text and the graphic present different information. Stage setting: The text or the graphic sets a tone or forecasts information that will be presented using the other mode.14

In this section, you will learn about some of the common graphics that managers use to communicate their work. Data displays allow audiences to quickly and easily use data to understand a situation or make decisions. Data displays—tables and charts—are used to analyze data, to communicate with others, to monitor progress, and to plan for the future.15 Illustrations are pictures or diagrams that represent ideas, processes, or objects.


Data Displays

The main difference between tables and charts is simple: Tables present data. Charts summarize data. But how do you decide which form is appropriate? Think about how people will use it (see Table 6–3). When accuracy is needed, present data in a table. Tables organize data into columns and rows. Audiences can locate specific data points, tally multiple data points, or make comparisons within the data set. When the data set is small, audiences can make judgements or estimates fairly easily. But when the data set is large, it can be overwhelming and confusing. When patterns or trends are needed or when the data set is very large, present data in a chart. Charts create visual summaries of the data using symbols and conventional shapes.


Tables organize content into columns and rows, making it possible to find individual values or text quickly. Some of the data will be quantitative and some will be qualitative or categorical. To understand the difference between these types of data, think about numbers that are not intended to be used in calculations, such as your employee identification number, telephone number, or address. Data like these are often included in tables, but they are treated like text.

Table 6–3 Reasons to Choose a Table or Chart to Display Your Data

Reasons to Use a Table Reasons to Use a Chart

• Precise values are required.

• Users will look up individual values.

• Users will compare individual values but not entire sets of values.

• The quantitative data involve more than one unit of measure.

• Some of the data are text or categorical numbers.

• Precise values are not required.

• Users need to know the overall shape of the data.

• Users need to understand relationships within a data set or among multiple data sets.

• The data are only quantitative numbers.

The main feature of tables is the grid of intersecting lines that creates cells for the data, although you may choose to make some or all gridlines invisible. The goal of table design is to help audiences understand the organization of the data and find the information they need. Minimizing the visual clutter in the table will help you meet this goal. Heavy black gridlines throughout the table create visual clutter and hide the relationships within the rows or columns. In smaller tables, negative space is an effective way to separate rows, columns, and even groups within the data set. In larger tables, though, you may need to offer a little help. Subtle shading in alternating rows (or columns) can help audiences follow the data from one side of the table to the other. If you must use lines, weaken their contrast (for example, using light gray lines on a white


background) or reduce their thickness to keep the audience’s focus on the data.

In the top row of your table, insert a title that describes the data. (If you have multiple columns, merge the cells so your title spans the table width.) The body of the table is the section that organizes the quantitative data; use row and column labels to identify their content. Text should align to the left side of cells, but column labels are often centered. Your spreadsheet or word processor can probably rotate text to one side or stack the letters in a vertical column, but these techniques violate the English language convention of reading left to right and may be difficult to read. When space permits, format the text horizontally. Numbers should be aligned to the right to line up integers and decimals. (If some values have decimals and others do not, force the alignment by adding the same number of zero decimal digits to the end of each value.) When quantitative data are tabulated, the totals are usually shown in footer rows at the bottom of the table, but if the totals are the most important data to know, you can insert a line at the top of the table instead.

Tables often use sans serif typefaces because they are legible at small sizes. Use one typeface for all tables. When emphasis is needed, use bold, italics, color, or shading to create contrast with the other text or values in the table. Do not use word processor styles to format the text in your table because they can make formatting difficult and can present problems for visually impaired audiences.

Place the table following any text that introduces or describes it. If your table is small, you may choose to wrap text around it to reduce the total page length. For each table, add a caption that numbers the table and summarizes the data. Within the text, referring to the table by its number will help audiences confirm that they are looking at the correct one.

Figure 6–6 Elements of Tables


Charts present a summary of the data and suggest how the data “looks” using conventional patterns, which is particularly useful in very large data sets. The design principles for managerial communication will help you create attractive and usable charts that tell a story about the data, so make decisions that make that story obvious to others who haven’t analyzed the data set as thoroughly as you have. The terms charts and graphs are often used interchangeably. Graphs are displays of mathematical functions whereas charts may display either


mathematical or textual information (such as organizational charts or flowcharts). For the purposes of this discussion, we will use the more inclusive term charts.

Quantitative Charts

Quantitative charts show relationships between two or more variables to show similarities and differences in the data set. If audiences need to see a few individual values, you can add textual elements to emphasize them, but if they need to see many precise values then you should probably use a table.

Charts representing quantitative data usually plot values on a two-dimensional plane; the dimensions are represented by a horizontal x-axis and a vertical y-axis. The intersection of the axes is the zero-point. Most charts show only one quadrant along these axes, with the zero-point in the bottom left corner of the chart. This layout represents positive numbers, with the measures on each axis increasing as they move up or to the right. If your data set includes negative numbers, you may need to extend an axis below the zero-point to accommodate them.

Scatter charts illustrate the performance of a variable in repeated tests by plotting quantitative values as dots or coordinates on the x- and y-axis. Scatter charts show the cohesiveness of the data—how closely they group together and whether some data points are outliers. Trend lines (or the line of best fit) suggest a pattern within the data, such as increasing or decreasing from the zero-point.

Line charts illustrate performance over a period of time. By organizing the data chronologically, line charts show how the size or quantity of the variable changes, with the zero-point representing the start of the time period. The shape of the line(s) indicates trends or performance of the variable over the period of time being measured.

Bar charts illustrate total values of variables using the length of horizontal rectangles (or bars). When the data are oriented vertically, it is called a column chart. In either version, the bars can be arranged in any order. Pictographs replace the solid bars with icons that usually resemble the item being measured. Icons are the same size and represent standard quantities, but partial icons may be used to suggest fractions. Another variation of the bar chart is the stem and leaf chart (see Figure 6–7), which shows the frequency and distribution of values in a data set by arranging each value (the leaves) against a vertical axis (the stem).

Pie charts display the relative sizes of two or more categories in data sets. A circle is divided into sectors; the area of each sector represents a fraction of the whole group. Doughnut charts are a variation of the pie chart in which the center of the circle has been removed; the data are represented by sections of the ring. Although commonly used in business, both pie and doughnut charts are problematic because most people cannot accurately judge the size of the fractions, particularly when the chart features more than three or four sectors or when the sectors are similar in size.16 The problem is worsened when pie charts are “exploded” so that each sector is viewed as a separate shape.

Concept Charts


Concept charts describe abstract ideas, relationships, and processes. Like quantitative charts, concept charts use words, lines, and shapes to organize data and illustrate their structure. But the values in your data set will dictate the form of quantitative charts. You have much more flexibility when designing concept charts.

Figure 6–7 Example of a Stem and Leaf Chart

Organizational charts illustrate hierarchies and relationships of the personnel within an organization. Individuals or positions are arranged in terms of their rank within the organization, with the leader at the top of the page. Lines show relationships between individuals, such as between managers and their direct reports. Work breakdown structures are a variation of organizational charts that illustrate hierarchies of tasks in a project. The project is divided into main components; each component has one or more tasks and often several subtasks below.

Gantt charts illustrate the sequence of activities within a project. Gantt charts help project managers identify the critical path of a project, allocate human and other resources, and estimate time to completion. Each bar in the chart represents a task. The length of the bar represents the task’s duration. Overlapping bars indicate concurrent tasks, and arrows indicate dependencies. The bars can be shaded to indicate the progress toward completion.

Critical path charts illustrate the activities of a project by mapping tasks and their durations, dependencies, and milestones. By combining the task information with scheduling data for earliest and latest start and end times, the critical path or minimum amount of time needed for a project becomes visible. PERT charts, which


were developed by the U.S. Navy to plan large, complicated projects that contain lots of uncertainty, resemble critical path diagrams but lack the calculation of start/end dates.

Flowcharts illustrate the steps involved in a process. The three main elements of flowcharts are rectangles (activities), diamonds (decisions), and the flow lines that connect them. At decision points, the process branches to describe the possible outcomes. Other symbols include parallelograms to indicate data needed for the process to continue and ovals to mark the beginning and end of the process. Swim lane charts are a variation of flowcharts that organize the tasks or decisions into lanes that represent the person or group responsible for activities within the process. By including these responsibilities, the swim lane chart can identify areas within an organization where delays, problems, or errors occur.

Fishbone charts (or Ishikawa diagrams) illustrate factors that lead to problems in a system. The name refers to the shape of the chart, which resembles the spine, ribs, and head of a fish. A horizontal line divides the page, with the problem (or effect) placed at the right end. The causes and contributing factors splay out from the spine. Fishbone charts are commonly used in troubleshooting and brainstorming.

Successful charts follow conventions about their use and design. Through experience or training, your audiences will have learned how to interpret the graphic, so do not confuse them by violating their expectations. If you are using a chart that audiences may not have encountered before, explain how to read it and summarize the main idea in your text.17


Stop and Think 1. What types of charts are commonly used in your discipline? 2. Think about bad charts that you have encountered at work, at school, or in other areas of your life. What factors made

them difficult to understand?

Figure 6–8 Sorting the Data Influences the Story

Creating Ethical Data Displays

Tell a story with your data. A popular saying is “data speaks for itself,” but that’s not true. Data are shaped by the person who is using them. Choices like the type of chart, the colors used, and the depth (or shallowness) of the data being used will determine what audiences will see and how they interpret it. For example, spreadsheet software can create quick charts, but it is up to the writer to organize the data it uses. In a bar chart, should the largest data point be at the top or the bottom? Flowcharts map out a process, but how much precision is needed to describe the steps? These types of decisions mean you are truly a writer, not just someone reporting facts and figures.


Sort your data to focus on your story. Some common methods of organizing data are by chronology, size, category, or alphabet. Of these choices, alphabetical order is often the least effective. Sort data by alphabet only when the names of the person, object, or organization is the focus of your story. Otherwise, let the data help you choose the order. Is timing the important factor? Organize chronologically to show how past performance led to the current state or to compare data at intervals. Do you need to focus on quantity, such as highest sales, lowest errors, or meeting quotas? Organize your data by size and develop the chart from there. Do you want to compare groups within the data, such as department, age groups, or service providers? Create categories that make the grouping easy to understand.

Figure 6–9 Elevated Zero-Points Distort the Difference in the Data Set

Be accurate in how you represent the data visually. Inaccurate data displays deceive audiences, particularly those who may not examine charts closely. For example, Figure 6–9 shows two column charts using the same data. At first glance, the chart on the top suggests that there are significantly more women than men enrolled in the training program. But look closer and you will see that the chart has an elevated zero-point. The rationale may have been innocent, saving space by removing the area the two bars have in common. By returning the zero- point, the bottom chart shows that the two groups are nearly the same size. The actual difference—which would be evident in a table—is 1000 students or about 7 percent of the total population. To emphasize their similarity and increase specificity, data labels could be added to each column to show their percentages of the total enrollment.

A similar deception occurs when the scale for the axis changes, which may make values seem more similar than they really are. In Figure 6–10, data from two colleges were compared to understand faculty participation in an extracurricular event. Does it look like the faculty in the human performance department had the highest participation? Or was it the English department? Problems with the axes, including the discrepancy


shown here, can be introduced by spreadsheet software, so inspect your charts carefully and edit as needed before including them in your documents.

Figure 6–10 Changing the Scale Distorts Differences in the Data Set

Deception can also be intentional. Some writers may choose data that tell only the story they want audiences to know. For example, a line chart of new housing construction for the last five years would be drastically different from one showing fifteen years of data. Election results in urban areas are often quite different from those in rural areas, so showing only state totals rather than totals for individual precincts (usually illustrated with a chart called a heat map) can hide these ideological differences. The chart type can also create deception. When a sample size is small, it can be tempting to display the data as a pie chart to suggest greater significance than the numbers warrant.

Be clear and concise in your table and chart design. Clarity is an essential quality of data displays because it ensures that audiences will be able to comprehend the data.18 Edward Tufte, a guru of information design, says that minimalism and clarity work together to help audiences understand data displays. “Graphical excellence is that which gives to the viewer the greatest number of ideas in the shortest time with the least ink in the smallest space.”19 Tufte coined the terms data-ink and chartjunk to describe two common problems with quantitative charts. Data-ink refers to the parts of the graph that represent data; everything else— gridlines, borders, background shading, textures—is non-data-ink. Chartjunk refers to elements that do not help audiences comprehend the data. Three-dimensional designs, using graphics to fill bars or sectors, distracting patterns, and decorative graphics are all examples of chartjunk (see Figure 6–11). Simplify the design of your charts to maximize the data-ink. For example, if you add data labels to a bar chart, you can


eliminate the gridlines and the y-axis. By removing a shaded background, you improve the figure-ground contrast. By using color sparingly, you create emphasis.

Figure 6–11 Chartjunk Impedes Our Ability to Interpret the Data

Humanize the data when possible. Abstractions like tables and charts suggest a detachment or neutrality by focusing on numbers, but they hide the human stories that often lie beneath them.20 For example, charts about life expectancy, such as the stem and leaf chart in Figure 6–7, show that women typically live longer than men in countries with the highest GDP, and both sexes live longer in Japan than in any other country. But why? What factors might lengthen or shorten life expectancy in otherwise wealthy countries? Charts describing “displaced persons” tend to focus on migration patterns and numbers, sanitizing the misery of the refugees out of the story. If appropriate for your audience and context, consider humanizing charts with explanations through callouts, sidebars, or narrative in the body text. Icons or illustrations can complement text and charts, but use simple images and avoid cartoon-like clip art that may trivialize the subject matter.

Finally, consider that your story may not need a chart at all. Figure 6–12 shows four ways to report a university’s institutional data about the high school grade point average for its incoming class of students. The table shows specific values, which could be useful to administrators who must report student demographics for accreditation or other assessment materials. The data are sorted categorically by GPA rank (3.75 and above, 3.5 to 3.74, and so on). Adding a line in the table helps audiences find the groups of students who earned GPAs of 3.0 or higher, suggesting that this difference is part of the story. But does the table help the administrators talk about the new students with faculty, staff, or other stakeholders?

Since the data are presented as fractions of the incoming class, it is tempting to create a pie chart. But other than suggesting that the sizes of the categories are roughly equivalent (most of them, at least), what other information does the pie chart tell you? Can you make decisions or understand patterns based upon the pie chart? For example, can you estimate the percentage of students who have a 3.5 or higher GPA using this chart? As you try, notice the extra work the writer has given you by placing the series labels in a legend rather


than on the chart itself and leaving the data labels out entirely. The pie chart is less informative than the table.

Figure 6–12 Tell a Compelling Data Story With or Without Tables and Charts

The bar chart makes the sizes of the GPA ranks easier to compare. To minimize the design elements and improve clarity, the gridlines and y-axis were removed and the values were added as data labels. We can now see that most of the students had at least a 2.5 GPA, and the size of each rank decreases as the GPA increases. These factors suggest a normal distribution may exist in the high school population, which was not evident in the table, but why do the numbers drop off precipitously? Why is the university admitting students with low GPAs? Are these questions the narrative, or a distraction from it?

The fourth display removes all doubt. By removing all the other data and using the design principle of contrast in size and type style to emphasize the numbers, the sentence demands your attention and tells the story the writer wants you to remember.



Illustrations show what something looks like. They can help audiences recognize an object or envision the internal components that are usually hidden from view. Unlike tables and charts, illustrations like photographs, line art, and pictographs (or icons) may be used either to represent information or to decorate your website, slide, or promotional material.

Figure 6–13 Use the Rule of Thirds to Create Balance and Focal Points in Photographs

Source: Photograph by Jennifer Veltsos, 2011.


Photographs are realistic images of physical objects and people, providing visual proof of their appearance. They can also add interest and emotion to otherwise bland documents. Professional photographers use composition techniques to arrange the people or objects in an imaginary frame, creating focal points or areas of emphasis. If you are not using a professional photographer, you can use some of their strategies to take photos for your presentations, reports, or social media.21

The rule of thirds is an imaginary 3 x 3 grid within your frame (see Figure 6–13). Photographers recommend placing the most important elements of the photo at the intersections of the cells. Positioning your photo using the rule of thirds usually creates a sense of balance in the image, particularly if you use the rows or columns of the grid to contrast elements in the frame like sea and sky or natural and human-made objects.

Leading lines within the frame draw the eye toward objects in the foreground or background. Look for naturally occurring lines, such as railroad tracks, table edges, telephone poles, and buildings, to frame your subject. Keep natural lines like the horizon level because that’s what people expect to see. (As a last resort, you can also use a photo-editing program to rotate the image later.) When your photo includes people, pay attention to where their eyes are looking. Our brains are wired to notice other humans, so when there are


people in a photograph, our eyes turn to them first, before taking in the rest of the scene. And when we see the people in the photograph looking at something, curiosity makes our eyes turn in that direction, too. Eye lines are the implied leading lines that direct our attention to other parts of the image. To use eye lines to your advantage, place headlines or textboxes in the eye line (see Figure 6–14).

Figure 6–14 Use Leading Lines to Find the Focal Point and Insert Text in Photographs

Source: © Pexels.com / Donald Tong.

While framing your shot, take a moment to consider the background as well as the focal point of the image. A great shot can be ruined when it lacks sufficient contrast, when it is cluttered, or when something in the background competes for the viewer’s attention. When photographing products for sale or promotion, place them on a simple background and light them well from all directions to remove shadows. Position your camera directly above or in front of the object for a clear, accurate view. If the product’s shape varies, take multiple perspectives using the same lighting and distance.

Zooming adjusts the length of the lens to focus on objects that are far away from the camera. It can be tempting to zoom in close to your object to eliminate unwanted elements of the scene, but digital cameras use a digital zoom technique that can cause pixelation. (SLR cameras use special lenses to zoom, so the problem is not as pronounced.) Whenever possible, move closer to the subject of the photo rather than using the zoom feature. When you cannot get close, take a photo and crop it later. Cropping removes undesirable portions of the photograph, leaving only the main subject. Since cropping reduces the size of your image, use a high- resolution setting for the original photos. When resizing photos to fit into a layout, control the aspect ratio to avoid distortions in height or width.

Screen captures are photographs of the user interface of electronic devices. Use these composition tips to mark the edges of your screen capture tool or to crop the image to minimize extraneous information.

Line Art

Line art consists of two-dimensional images that represent two- or three-dimensional objects using straight


lines, curved lines, and little or no shading. Line art, which may be hand drawn or created using drawing software, allows you to reduce the image to only its most essential features. Photographs are superior when you need a realistic image, but sometimes they contain more details than necessary. Furthermore, photographs can only show what the human eye can see. When you need to focus on parts of an object, expose its internal workings, or show abstract concepts, line art is the solution. Exploded view diagrams show how components fit together by disassembling an object and aligning the pieces on a diagonal plane. Cutaway diagrams “remove” part of the surface of an object to reveal what lies underneath.

Maps illustrate physical spaces. Geographic maps show land features, like lakes, mountains, cities, and roads. They are usually drawn to scale and use compass directions to indicate orientation. Although many maps are oriented with north at the top of the page, not all follow this convention. Look for a compass rose to help you understand how the directions are arranged. Audiences expect maps to accurately reflect reality, but that is not always the case. Some of the decisions that cartographers or artists make can cause distortions, such as omitting elements, emphasizing others, or changing features. The London Underground map, for example, suggests that the train lines follow straight lines with smooth turns and have stops at nearly regular intervals. In reality, the shape of the rail lines (and the River Thames that runs through the middle of the city) is irregular, and the distances between stations can be misleading.22

Pictographs are illustrations that represent real objects, abstract ideas, or processes. Icons resemble the object they represent, like a drawing of a chair. Symbols, on the other hand, are arbitrary or habitual connections between the picture and what it represents. The question mark symbol is often used to represent a question or a place to ask for information. The floppy disk icon continues to signal the command to save a file to a computer hard drive long after floppy disk drives have fallen from use. Symbols can be powerful ways to communicate with diverse audiences, but it is dangerous to assume that they have the same meaning for all people.23 Test your documents with users to ensure that the meaning you intend is the one other people are likely to understand.


Designing Graphics for Accessibility

Some members of your audience may have vision or other impairments that require them to use a screen reader. Designing graphics for accessibility will make it easier for the software to interpret their contents for users. Accessible graphics are useful for everyone, so the guidelines below should become part of your document design repertoire.

To help audiences prepare for the explanation they are about to hear, number all figures and write a caption that includes a title and a brief description of what they are seeing.24 (The caption can also help you create lists of tables and figures in formal reports.) In web pages and electronic files, add “alt text” that describes the graphic.25

a. For tables, describe the number of rows and columns and the contents of each. b. For charts, describe categories of data and their relative size or shape. c. For illustrations, describe the main components and how they fit together. Move left to right or

start at the top of the image and move clockwise around the image. d. For photographs, describe the foreground, background, colors, and the orientation of the main

components. If an illustration is decorative, indicate that in the alt text.



If a table spans multiple pages, repeat the column labels on each new page so audiences do not have to flip pages to understand what the numbers mean. Use the table formatting options in your word processor or presentation software to turn on the “repeat row headers” feature.26 If your table spans multiple pages, do not allow rows to split across pages. Check the table formatting options to ensure that the option to “allow row to break across pages” is turned off. Do not use tabs, line breaks, or blank rows to create negative space because screen reader software will read each one to the user. Instead, adjust the cell padding or margins. To separate groups in the table, manually adjust the height of individual rows to create the extra space you need. If you have a simple data set of just a few rows and columns, consider avoiding the table altogether and using tab stops to align text instead. (Do not use the spacebar, though. Tabs create alignment using the ruler, which is particularly helpful if you change your typeface style or size later.) Create tab stops in the paragraph formatting option. Do not use a table to format a text document into two or more columns. Use the Columns feature in your word processor instead.



Charts present two special challenges for audiences with visual impairments. Screen reading software cannot interpret charts, which could limit their usefulness. Many charts rely primarily on colors to differentiate categories (bars, lines, sectors). Although colors are easy for many audiences to see, nearly 8 percent of men and 0.5 percent of women are color blind or limited in their ability to differentiate colors.27 Red-green color blindness is the most common; blue-yellow and total color blindness are rarer. There is a good chance that members of your audience have excellent vision but are color impaired and may struggle to read your chart.

Supplement the chart with text that summarizes the data. If you know that some people will be using screen readers or other assistance to read the document, consider replacing the chart with a table.28 Use data labels within the chart to identify lines, bars, or sectors directly rather than requiring audiences to repeatedly refer to a legend. When choosing color palettes, avoid the following combinations.29 If your chart does use these colors within a larger palette, do not place lines, bars, sectors, or other shapes using these colors adjacent to each other:

Red and green Green and brown Green and grey Green and black Green and blue Blue and purple Blue and grey Light green and yellow

Limit your color palette to three to four colors with good contrast. Color-impaired audiences can usually differentiate colors by their brightness. If you are using a monochromatic scheme, choose two to three shades with strong contrast to each other. Print a copy in black and white to evaluate the contrast between shades in your palette.30 Do not rely only on color to signal differences in charts. Encode the data using two signals, such as color, subtle texture, shape (pictograms or icons), labels, or callouts. In line charts, use line patterns or icons to differentiate the lines.31 If the chart represents a process or procedure, recreate it as an outline.


Copyright Considerations for Graphics

When writing text, you know that you must cite the sources of any outside information that you use. (Outside information, often called secondary research, is any text that you did not write yourself or data that you did not collect and analyze yourself.) Citations are both a sign of respect (to the original author and to your audiences) and a way of acknowledging copyright. According to U.S. copyright law, works of art and authorship are protected by copyright as soon as they are “fixed in a tangible medium of expression.”32 For our purposes, that means when you save a file to your computer’s hard drive, take a photograph with a digital or film camera, or put pen or pencil to paper to sketch a diagram or illustration.

The principle of fair use allows small excerpts of material to be used for the purposes of criticism, news reporting, teaching, research, or parody. If the use of a work is challenged by the copyright holder, courts will look at four factors to determine if infringement has occurred.

How is the item being used? Educational or nonprofit uses are more likely to be protected by fair use than commercial ones. What is the nature of the copyrighted work? Creative or imaginative works (such as a novel, movie, or song) and unpublished works are more likely to be protected than factual works (such as a technical article or news item). How much of the item is being used? Small portions of a work are more likely to be considered fair use than large ones. (A common guideline is no more than 10 percent of the original.) There are two important exceptions to this guideline, though. If the original work is small or the selection is considered the “heart” of a copyrighted work, any use might be a violation. What is the effect of the use on the potential market for the item? If the use is likely to harm the potential use or sale of the original item by the person who created it, it is unlikely to be considered a fair use.

The determination of a fair use is based upon all four factors. As a student, you might find a graphic online that seems like a perfect fit for a course assignment. In many cases, this type of use fits into the fair use doctrine. When you are creating documents at work, though, fair use is less likely to apply, particularly if the documents will be used for commercial purposes, like advertising on a website or in social media. For a complete explanation, visit the U.S. Copyright Office website (www.copyright.gov).

The safest course of action is to create your own graphics, photos, charts, and other graphical elements. If you cannot create them, you may be able to find items licensed under a Creative Commons license that permits use by others.33 You can also purchase graphics from design bureaus like Getty Images or The Noun Project. Even when you purchase an image, there are often conditions of use that limit how or where you may use the image. For example, you may not be able to use images of people in ways that suggest they endorse specific products. And you will probably have to include a source line that identifies the copyright holder in a caption or a credits page, which is similar to the list of references that you compile for text sources.




Visual communication helps audiences focus their attention; understand the organization and relationships of components or data; and understand concepts, take action, or make decisions. When used well, visual elements also give documents a professional polish and enhance the persuasiveness of your message. The design principles for managerial communication are guidelines that can help you make decisions about the visual components rather than relying on the default settings and styles in software. The grid and alignment create the page layout into which you insert text, graphics, and data displays. Typography and color help audiences focus on ideas and set a tone that should reinforce your content. Following conventions helps you give audiences what they expect to see. Once these building blocks are in place, you can use similarity and proximity to show relationships and create emphasis with contrast, hierarchy, and negative space. Repetition and consistency create a coherent look and feel that unifies the entire document or presentation.

When audiences need more than text to understand information or data, graphics help them envision the message. Tables list data for precision and charts summarize data to show patterns or make comparisons. Conceptual charts record systems and processes, which can be useful for understanding how things work together. Line art depicts physical objects, but it can also decorate documents and set the stage for explanations or ideas.

As you work, think about the audience who will read your document or watch your presentation. Who will use it? Where will they be? What experiences or cultural values might affect how they interpret your work? Look for examples of similar materials within your organization to understand the expectations that internal and external audiences might have regarding color, typography, layout, negative space, and the choice of graphical elements (and indeed, the decision to include them in the first place). Look for your organization’s style guide to help you make design decisions. And above all, make choices that help audiences locate and understand the information you are sharing with them.


Cases For Small-Group Discussion


Case 6–1


Identifying the Design Principles for Managerial Communication A style sheet is a combination of formatting characteristics, such as typefaces, colors, sizes, and layouts, that creates a standardized look. In web design, cascading style sheets—or CSS—modify the look and feel of a webpage while leaving the content unchanged. The website CSS Zen Garden (http://www.csszengarden.com/) demonstrates how a CSS works by allowing users to manipulate the site’s appearance with a single click.

For our purposes, CSS Zen Garden offers an opportunity to witness the design principles for managerial communication in action. Select two templates and compare their design elements. Which of the design principles are present? How are they used to suggest a mood and create unity? What kinds of businesses would be appropriate for the designs you chose? What kinds of businesses would be inappropriate for the designs?


Case 6–2


Cleaning Up a Cluttered Slide The founders of Quantum Clothing are preparing their second annual report for their start-up investors. Analyze the following slide using the design principles for managerial communication and offer suggestions for improvement.

Image credits: Clothing, FreeImages.com/Marcos Oliveira; background, Jennifer Veltsos.


Case 6–3


Telling a Story With Data Data displays help audiences understand a situation or make decisions by organizing data into an easily readable form. Tables, charts, and illustrations can help you tell a story that is grounded in facts.

1. The Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor (www.bls.gov) is a federal agency that collects, analyzes, and disseminates data about employment and the economy in the United States. Look for the most recent information about occupational employment and wages for three cities in your state or for three cities where you would like to live in the future. Create a chart that compares the employment rate for the following industries:

Architecture and engineering Business and financial operations Computers and mathematics Food preparation and serving related Healthcare practitioners Legal Management Office and administrative support Sales and related

2. The CIA World Fact Book presents an array of international data about people, government, economy, geography, communications, transportation, military, and transnational issues around the world. Use data from the CIA World Fact Book (https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/index.html) to create graphics that answer the following questions:

Where are the 10 countries with the highest median age? What are the energy production and consumption of the 10 largest countries by geographic areas and by population? What are the GDP (purchasing power parity) and taxes and other income as a percentage of GDP for the following countries: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom, the United States? Select a country in which you would like to live one day or one that is home to a client or business partner of your organization. How does that country compare to the United States on at least two of the following factors? Choose from people, government, economy, geography, communications, transportation, military, or transnational issues.

Student Study Site

Visit the Student Study Site at study.sagepub.com/hynes7e for web quizzes, video and multimedia resources, and case studies.



1. Robert E. Horn, Visual Language: Global Communication for the 21st Century (Bainbridge Island, WA: Macro-Vu, 1988).

2. Miles A. Kimball, “Visual Design Principles: An Empirical Study of Design Lore,” Journal of Technical Writing and Communication 43, no. 1 (2013): 3–41, doi: 10.2190/TW.43.1.b.

3. Rachel Bonness, “A History of Typography,” DesignBySoap.com, https://www.designbysoap.co.uk/a- history-of-typography-infographic/.

4. Jo Mackiewicz and Ryan Moeller, Why People Perceive Typefaces to Have Personalities (Minneapolis, MN: Proceedings of the Inter–national Professional Communication Conference 2004), doi: 10.1109/IPCC.2004.1375315.

5. Eva R. Brumberger, “The Rhetoric of Typography: The Awareness and Impact of Typeface Appropriateness,” Technical Communication 50, no. 2 (2003): 224–231.

6. Wouter A. Alberts and Thea M. van der Geest, “Color Matters: Color as Trustworthiness Cue in Web Sites,” Technical Communication, 58, no. 2 (2011): 149–160.

7. Paul A. Bottomly and John R. Doyle, “The Interactive Effects of Color and Products on Perceptions of Brand Logo Appropriateness,” Marketing Theory 6, no. 1 (2007): 63–83.

8. “Basic Color Schemes—Intro to Color Theory,” TigerColor.com, http://www.tigercolor.com/color- lab/color-theory/color-theory-intro.htm.

9. Charles Kostelnick, “Social and Cultural Aspects of Visual Conventions in Information Design: The Rhetoric of Hierarchy,” in Information Design: Research and Practice, eds. A. Black, P. Luna, O. Lund, and S. Walker (Abingdon, Oxon, England: Routledge, 2017).

10. Claudia Cortes, “Color in Motion,” http://www.mariaclaudiacortes.com/colors/colors.html.

11. Charles Kostelnick and Michael Hassert, Shaping Information: The Rhetoric of Visual Conventions (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 2003).

12. Robin Williams, The Non-Designer’s Design & Type Books, Deluxe Edition (Berkeley, CA: Peachpit Press, 2008), 13.

13. Christina Rosenquist, “Visual Form, Ethics, and a Typology of Purpose: Teaching Effective Information Design,” Business Communication Quarterly 75, no. 1 (2012): 45–60, doi: 10.1177/1080569911428670.

14. Karen Schriver, Dynamics in Document Design: Creating Texts for Readers (New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, 1997).


15. Stephen Few, Show Me the Numbers: Designing Tables and Graphs to Enlighten, 2nd ed. (Burlingame, CA: Analytics Press, 2012), 10.

16. Walter Hickey, “Pie Charts Are the Worst,” Business Insider, June 17, 2013, http://www.businessinsider.com/pie-charts-are-the-worst-2013-6.

17. European Environment Agency, “Chart Dos and Don’ts,” March 21, 2016, https://www.eea.europa.eu/data-and-maps/daviz/learn-more/chart-dos-and-donts.

18. Charles Kostelnick, “The Visual Rhetoric of Data Displays: The Conundrum of Clarity,” IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication 50, no. 4 (2007): 280–294, doi: 10.1109/TPC.2007.914869.

19. Edward Tufte, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (Cheshire, CT: Graphics Press, 2001).

20. Sam Dragga and Dan Voss, “Cruel Pies: The Inhumanity of Technical Illustrations,” Technical Communication 48, no. 3 (2001): 265–274.

21. Digital Camera Magazine, “The 10 Rules of Photo Composition (and Why They Work),” TechRadar, March 10, 2017, http://www.techradar.com/how-to/photography-video-capture/cameras/10-rules-of-photo- composition-and-why-they-work-1320770.

22. Johndan Johnson-Eiola, “Maps, Reality, and Purpose,” Work/Space (blog), April 25, 2007, http://people.clarkson.edu/~jjohnson//workspace/2007/04/maps_reality_and_purpose.html; Simon Rumble, “Daily Use,” comment on EdwardTufte.com, accessed on July 6, 2017, https://www.edwardtufte.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg?msg_id=00005W&topic_id=1.

23. Wendy Winn, “Increasing Accessibility With a Visual Sign System: A Case Study,” Journal of Technical Writing and Communication 44, no. 4 (2014): 451–473.

24. “Best Practices for Designing Accessible Views,” Tableau.com, https://onlinehelp.tableau.com/current/pro/desktop/en-us/accessibility_best_practice.html.

25. “Image Description Guidelines,” Diagram Center, http://diagramcenter.org/table-of-contents-2.html.

26. Karen, McCall, Accessible Word Document Design: Tables and Columns, Karlen Communications, http://www.karlencommunications.com/adobe/TablesAndColumnsOptimizeWordDocuments.pdf.

27. “Facts About Colorblindness,” National Institutes of Health, https://nei.nih.gov/health/color_blindness/facts_about.

28. “Charts and Accessibility,” Accessibility at Penn State, http://accessibility.psu.edu/images/charts/.

29. Robyn Collinge, “How to Design for Colorblindness, Usabilla (blog), January 17, 2017, http://blog.usabilla.com/how-to-design-for-color-blindness/.

30. Joshua Johnson, “Tips for Designing for Colorblind Users,” Design Shack,



31. “Charts and Accessibility.”

32. Copyright Law of the United States, 17 U.S.C. § 101, https://www.copyright.gov/title17/92chap1.html.

33. Curtis Newbold, “You Can Use a Picture If . . . ,” The Visual Communication Guy, March 24, 2016, http://thevisualcommunicationguy.com/2016/03/24/you-can-use-a-picture-if-guidelines-for-image- copyrights/.


Part III Writing as a Manager


7 Writing in the Workplace

If writing must be a precise form of communication, it should be treated like a precision instrument. It should be sharpened, and it should not be used carelessly.

—Theodore M. Bernstein, editor, New York Times

Conventional wisdom says that managers spend about 80 percent of their time communicating, and the higher managers go in their organizations, the more time they spend communicating. A recent study found that managers spend 25 hours per week reading and another 20 hours per week writing.1 While much of this communication involves oral, face-to-face interaction, some requires writing e-mails, memos, letters, and reports. All have the potential to play a critical part in the success of the manager and the organization.

Given the time and effort required to put things in writing, readers may wonder why managers would prefer to write a message rather than communicate it orally. Written managerial communication offers several strategic advantages: economy, efficiency, accuracy, and official permanence.

Writing is usually more economical than long-distance phone calls and much more economical than long- distance travel. Furthermore, it provides immediacy, in that the manager can write the message whether or not the receiver is immediately available to receive it.

Writing is efficient because the manager can work independently and use words selectively. Additionally, e- mail allows receivers to read messages at their convenience and thus avoids the time wasted in telephone tag.

Accuracy is another advantage of writing; writing permits greater control of words and message organization than does oral communication. Accuracy, in turn, often eliminates confusion, ensures clarity, and further contributes to economy and efficiency.

Finally, writing provides an official record that can be retained for recall and review. In our increasingly litigious society, the importance of documentation cannot be overstressed. Managers must understand that all documents generated by their organization are “discoverable.” Attorneys can compel their disclosure as part of pretrial procedures. This fact implies that all official records must be accurate and clear, able to stand up to scrutiny. The difference between a legal judgment for or against organizations and their managers is becoming more often a matter of adequate documentation.

Once a manager has decided to capitalize on the benefits of writing as a communication channel, the manager should consider the unique characteristics of managerial writing.


The Unique Role of Managerial Writing

In recent years, the various fields addressing composition have given much attention to discourse communities. A discourse community is a group of people who think in similar ways about how to communicate subjects to be dealt with and how to approach them as well as what makes up legitimate knowledge. These communities may be large or small, and any organization may contain a number of discourse communities.

Managers serve in sufficiently common roles and work in sufficiently common contexts to make them members of a unique discourse community. Managers are people who plan the organization’s objectives, organize the functions of the organization, lead people in the accomplishment of those objectives, and control activities to make sure they are proceeding in the right direction.

Equally important in defining the discourse community of managerial writers is the context in which they do their work. Context may be the most powerful variable affecting what writers in organizations do and how these writers perceive, interpret, and value their own activity. The following paragraphs examine several aspects of the unique context in which managerial writing occurs.

One of the most critical aspects of the context of managerial writing is the fragmented nature of a manager’s workday. Most people think of managers, especially higher-level executives, as having meticulously organized days overseen and protected by assistants. Henry Mintzberg found the opposite to be true. As he and colleagues recorded the activities of a number of managers, he found their days to be filled with interruptions. On the average, they had a full half hour of uninterrupted time only once every four days.2 More recently, Gloria Mark observed employees at two high-tech firms and found that the average worker spends only eleven minutes on any given project before being interrupted. IT workers have it worse, getting interrupted every three minutes.3 Most people faced with a writing task like to go somewhere quiet and work in sizable blocks of time. Such luxury is rarely available to managers.


Stop and Think 1. What are some other discourse communities that you have participated in? 2. What norms of behavior do they use? 3. What knowledge do they value?

Another aspect of the managerial writing context is the extent of collaboration and delegation that occurs. As was noted earlier, collaboration is becoming more common in business and requires managers who can work well with others. Additionally, managers have the option of delegating some of their more routine writing chores.4 This delegation, however, presupposes the manager’s knowledge of various employees’ abilities and willingness to handle the assignment.

The size and culture of the organization are also important elements of the context of managerial communication. Small companies can communicate many things orally, but the larger a company gets, the greater is the need to put things in writing for the record. With size also comes a tendency for greater formality in many written documents. With regard to culture, bureaucracies thrive on formality, while more participative organizations lean toward informality.

Authority and politics play a significant role in the context of managerial writing. Max Weber described three types of authority: traditional, charismatic, and legal.5 How managers communicate messages is greatly influenced by the type of authority they are perceived to have. Also, business organizations must be viewed as political systems.6 Managers who forget to consider the political forces at work in the company may soon find they no longer work at the company.

In our increasingly litigious society, and given the ever-increasing role of government in business, legal concerns represent another important element of the managerial writing context. Managers are considered legal agents of the organization in many types of writing they do. They must be conscious of such things as libel, slander, privacy, and equal opportunity.

For managers, the phenomenon of a discourse community means they face a unique writing environment (see Table 7–1). They must carefully analyze the organizational culture in which they work, they must find the best time and place to write, and they must always remember that writing has a unique role in the manager’s job.

A manager who has committed to using the written communication channel and who has considered the unique characteristics of writing in an organizational environment, as described in the previous sections of this chapter, is now ready to begin the writing process. This process consists of three stages: planning, composing, and revising. If the manager follows this process, the resulting document is more likely to be successful in reaching its goal.

Table 7–1 Elements of a


Table 7–1 Elements of a Manager’s Discourse


Fragmented workday

Extensive collaboration

Option to delegate

Organization’s size and culture

Lines of authority

Political forces

Legal concerns


Stage 1: Planning

Tim Glowa, cofounder of the marketing analytics firm Bug Insights, wanted to create more effective documents that would improve his professional reputation and generate business, so he studied the organization of reports and other documents that he admired. Today, he begins every memo and report with an outline of three main objectives. “You can’t just start typing and expect to go somewhere,” he says. “That’s like going for a walk and not knowing where the destination is.”7

The planning process for a managerial writer is a lot like the one journalists are trained to use. The parallel is logical since both might be characterized as professional writers. Both spend a significant amount of time writing at work, and both write for readers who are in a hurry. Thus, both might be expected to determine the five Ws—what, why, who, when, where—and how.



The what question deals with the nature of the message. A manager should have a fairly clear idea of what needs to be communicated early in the planning stages. Does he need certain information? Is she granting or rejecting a request? Is he informing employees of a policy change? Is she trying to secure the cooperation of workers in implementing certain procedures?

Any time readers see a message that seems to bounce from one side of an issue to another, any time readers are forced to wade through a message that rambles on endlessly and incoherently, any time readers wonder, “What is this person trying to say?” the chances are good that the writer did not know exactly what he was trying to say or what purpose he was trying to accomplish.



The answer to the why question is probably just as important as the answer to the what question. Furthermore, the answer should be just as clear to the reader as it is to the writer. Unfortunately, many miscommunications occur because the sender does not know why a message is being sent or does not bother to share with the reader the reason for the message.

Many corporate policies, procedures, and rules, for example, are imposed on employees without any accompanying justification. Personnel would probably be much more receptive to these directives if they understood why the directives were necessary. Humans are complex creatures who like to deal with cause and effect. When an effect is imposed and the cause is withheld, one likely result is resistance.



One of the most important elements of the planning that should precede any managerial communication is the answer to the who question—who is receiving the message?

Demographic characteristics, such as age, sex, education, political affiliations, and job title, may provide some indication as to how the reader will interpret a message. Within an organizational setting, however, these characteristics fall short of telling us about the writer-reader relationship and about the characteristics of the organization and the department that may be pertinent to successful message transmission.

To engage in a truly thorough reader analysis and to be fully attuned to the reader’s likely reception of a message, a writer should consider the following points:

The relative power position between the writer and the reader The communication requirements the organization exerts on the reader and the writer The business functions in which the writer and reader work The frequency of communication between the writer and the reader The reader’s reaction to past messages from the writer The relative sensitivity of the message

The time spent on reader analysis may vary with the relative importance of the message. For very important messages, a writer may scrutinize all the information available to determine the best wording, the most appropriate organization, the right medium, the best timing, and the best source and destination for the message. However, even routine messages will improve as a result of audience analysis and adaptation.



The importance of the answer to the when question may vary according to how routine the information being conveyed is. Many routine messages, such as sales reports, are distributed periodically. No actual decision has to be made as to when they are sent because dates have already been set. Likewise, trivial information is likely to be received in the same way regardless of timing.

For a nonroutine message, however, the decision on when to send it may directly affect how the message is received. For example, the managers of a textile mill had to tell employees they were not going to get a pay raise even though the company had shown a profit the preceding quarter. Management chose to convey this message in letterform just before the employees went on vacation. Not only did this timing likely ruin the vacations of many employees, but it probably encouraged as well a number of them to spend their vacations looking for another job.

On the subject of timing, managers need to keep in mind that it is possible to send messages too early as well as too late. For example, we noted in Chapter 4 that agendas should be sent to participants two or three days before a meeting. If the agenda and supporting materials are sent too early, the recipients forget the meeting by the time it is scheduled to occur. But if the material is sent too late, participants might not have time to get fully prepared for the meeting.



The where question sometimes has to be addressed at both ends of the communication spectrum: From where should the message come and to where should it be directed? Should the message come from a manager at a particular level, or should it come from a person higher in the organization, so as to carry the additional weight of authority?

At the other end of the spectrum, we may have to decide where the reader should be while receiving the message. To illustrate, some companies have grappled with the problem of newsletter distribution: whether to send it to employees’ homes or distribute it at work. Sending it to the homes might get the families interested, but it might also be viewed as an infringement of employee privacy or personal time.



The how question is largely a matter of media selection. Even when managers decide to put it in writing, they are still faced with a number of written media options: letter, memo, report, e-mail, brochure, newsletter, manual, or even bulletin board. The choice of medium is determined at least in part by how personal the message needs to be, how widespread its distribution, and how quickly it needs to reach the audience. Many of these factors were reviewed in Chapter 3.

Additionally, managers should remember a guideline that applies to media selection in general. If a manager regularly uses one particular medium, the choice of a different medium might communicate a sense of urgency or importance. For example, if a manager regularly communicates with employees in person, a memo might suggest something unusual and worthy of extra attention.

Though the preceding planning concerns were discussed separately and in a particular order, they are all interdependent and should not be treated in isolation. The good managerial communicator learns to see the interrelationships and to treat the five Ws and H as a decision package.


Stop and Think Think of a situation other than business writing where planning is the key to success. Try to answer the five Ws and H for that situation. Then decide to what extent going through that process will help you to reach your goal.


Stage 2: Composing

Once the planning stage has been carried out satisfactorily, the manager is ready to begin building the message that will accomplish the purpose to be served. More specifically, the manager must compose a message. Words need to be chosen with care and organized in a clear, comprehensive, and coherent fashion. The manager should follow the guidelines described next when selecting words and composing them into sentences and paragraphs. The result is a document written in contemporary style.


Selecting Words

Words are symbols that define the content of a message; thus, words should be carefully selected so the overall content will accomplish the communication’s goal. Each word carries the potential for contributing to the effectiveness of the message, and each carries the potential for causing misunderstanding. Great care should be taken to ensure message effectiveness and avoid misunderstanding. The following principles will help writers accomplish their goals.

Principle 1: Choose Words Precisely

While some business documents (contracts, job offer letters, performance appraisals) may call for high levels of precision, managers would be wise to exercise care in choosing words in all their writing. And as they strive for this precision, they should remember that words can have both denotative and connotative meanings.

Denotative meanings are objective; they point to; they describe. Most people think of dictionary definitions as denotative meanings because these definitions are compiled from the common usages associated with a word. Most people agree on the denotative definitions of terms—that is, they agree as long as there are no words similar in sound or appearance to confuse the issue. For example, can you pick out the correct word in each of the following sentences?

The advertising agency that we just bought should profitably (complement, compliment) our manufacturing and distribution interests. My computer printer has operated (continually, continuously) for the last five years. The manager assured us that he had (appraised, apprised) his superior of the shipping problem. The secretary made an (illusion, allusion) to what had taken place in the cafeteria. To persuade upper management to take this action, we will need the testimony of an expert who is completely (uninterested, disinterested).

Along the same lines, consider the following excerpts from letters written to a government agency:

“I am very much annoyed to find that you have branded my son illiterate. This is a dirty lie as I was married a week before he was born.” “Unless I get my husband’s money pretty soon, I will be forced to lead an immortal life.”

In business writing, wrong word choices can produce embarrassing humor at best and considerable confusion at worst. Neither is likely to provide a boost to a manager’s career.

Connotative meanings, on the other hand, are subjective. They can be different for different people because they are determined largely by a person’s previous experiences or associations with a word and its referent.

Though connotations are subjective, people can manipulate the language to bring forth either positive or negative connotations. An expression with intended positive connotations is called a euphemism. The words slim and slender are much more euphemistic than are words such as skinny and scrawny.


As advertisers and other interested parties try to portray life in the most pleasant way possible, euphemisms have become a part of American life. When, however, euphemisms are used in an effort to veil or gloss over major human and environmental tragedies, we must recognize the language abuse and the feeble cover-up. When collateral damage is used to describe the deaths of innocent civilians in war, for example, we must wonder at the value assessed to human lives by the people using these descriptions.

Managers as well as people in other careers bear a responsibility to their audiences to use the language as accurately as possible. Managers should strive to communicate precisely and honestly and to avoid insulting the reader’s intelligence. Additionally, they should try to act as responsibly as they can in using words as control tools and instruments of change.8

Principle 2: Use Short Rather Than Long Words

Winston Churchill once said, “Big men use little words and little men use big words.” People who are genuinely confident in their ideas generally feel quite comfortable using simple words that are easy to understand. Short words are usually less confusing than long words. Long words, especially when strung out with several other long words, can produce a communication barrier between writer and reader.

Written business communications should be economical and efficient. Table 7–2 provides alternatives for some of the many longer words used and abused in business writing.

We are not suggesting that the use of any words in the left-hand column will condemn a message to ambiguity and obscurity. The caution here refers to the unnecessary use of long, difficult words. When overused, they tax a reader’s understanding—and patience—and create a barrier to effective communication.

The U.S. Congress has recognized the importance of “plain language” in government forms, benefits applications, reports, regulations, and other documents. Beginning in 2007, Congress considered bills mandating that government agencies use language that is clear and well organized and that follows best practices of writing. The Plain Language in Government Communications Bill of 2007 (S.2291), cosponsored by ten senators, failed by just one vote in the fall 2008 session. One opponent was Utah’s Senator Robert Bennett, who voiced concern that such legislation would cause legal terms to become lost in translation, though he agreed that the measure would improve Americans’ access to their government. Another Plain Language bill (HR 946) was introduced in February 2009 and was signed into law by President Barack Obama in October 2010. The Plain Writing Act mandates that federal employees be trained to write clear, concise, well-organized documents to the public regarding their benefits or services or regarding filing taxes. Documents include (whether in paper or electronic form) letters, publications, forms, notices, and instructions. At the state level, more than twenty-two states now have plain language statutes on their books, notably New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Florida, Minnesota, California, Oregon, and Washington.

Principle 3: Use Concrete Rather Than Abstract Words

In discussing a topic, a writer can choose from a range of words. This range or continuum might be thought of as a ladder that the writer can climb. This ladder (see Figure 7–1) moves from concrete (specific) words on


the lowest rungs to the more abstract (general) words on the highest rungs.

Table 7–2 Words to Avoid and Acceptable Alternatives

Instead of Writing This Try Using This

advise tell

ameliorate improve

approbation approval

commence begin

demonstrate show

encounter meet

expectancy hope

explicate explain

locality place

modification change

perspicacity sense

subsequent to after

terminate end

usage use

utilize use

Concrete words tend to be specific; they create clear pictures in the reader’s mind. Abstract words are less specific and produce wider, more general interpretations of meanings. The ladder moves from something easily visualized to something that is more abstract, even vague, as shown by the examples in Figure 7–1.

The level of abstraction or concreteness depends in part on the reader’s background, needs, and expectations. Abstract words and phrases threaten some readers and generate mistrust and confusion. They give rise to questions that the text may or may not answer: When? How many? Who? How much? Which one? Notice


the differing amount of information in the pairs of expressions in Table 7–3.

Principle 4: Economize on Words

Concrete words and phrases frequently create sharp, vivid images and stimulate reader interest. Forming concrete phrases may take more time and thought, but such phrases are more efficient and stay with the reader longer than do abstract phrases.9 Additionally, concrete writing takes less time to read, produces better message comprehension, and is less likely to need rereading than abstract writing.10

Figure 7–1 Abstraction Ladders

The scientist Blaise Pascal wrote a twenty-page letter to a friend in 1656. In a postscript, he apologized for the letter’s length, saying, “I hope you will pardon me for writing such a long letter, but I did not have time to write you a shorter one.” Pascal was testifying to the fact that conciseness—economy of word choice—takes time and effort.

A practical, bottom-line reason exists to write concisely. Wordiness costs companies money. Unnecessary words take valuable time to compose and read; they waste paper and resources. Consider the following two versions of a business message.

Enclosed please find a check in the amount of $82.56. In the event that you find the amount to be neither correct nor valid, subsequent to an examination of your records, please inform us of your findings at your earliest convenience. Enclosed is a check for $82.56. If this amount is incorrect, please let us know.

The second version takes fifteen words to say the same thing said by the first version in forty-one words—a reduction of over 63 percent.

Why do people in business continue to be wordy when such reductions are possible? Two likely reasons stand out. One is that writers often use wordy phrases out of habits that developed when they had to write long essays in school. In evaluating students’ work, quantity is sometimes as important as quality to teachers.

The other reason is that untrained business writers often look to the files for a model when faced with a writing assignment on the job. When the files are filled with jargon and wordy expressions and when the novices mimic these writing patterns, the tradition of verbal waste continues. Note in Table 7–4 examples that follow how the wordy/redundant expressions on the left can be replaced by the more economical alternatives on the right.

Table 7–3 Abstract and Concrete Expressions

Try Using This


Try Using This

a good student student earned the highest semester total grade point in a class of sixty-eight students

in the near future by Friday, June 19

a significant profit a 28 percent markup

a noteworthy savings 50 percent off the normal price

at your earliest convenience

by the close of business this Friday

Table 7–4 Wordy Phrases and Concise Alternatives

Instead of Writing This Try Using This

due to the fact that because

for the purpose of for

for the reason that since, because

in order to to

in the event that if

with reference to about

pursuant to your request as requested

subsequent to after

along the lines of like

true facts facts

necessary steps required requirements

basic principles principles


enclosed herein please find here is

look forward with anticipation anticipate

consensus of opinion consensus

from the point of view of from

inasmuch as since, because

in accordance with as

on the grounds that because

at a later time later (or a time)

within a period of one year within one year

take into consideration consider

a check in the amount of a check for

for which there was no use useless

that could not be collected uncollectible

notwithstanding the fact that although

If today’s emphasis on controlling costs is to be applied to business writing, the expressions illustrated in the left column will have to be replaced by the alternatives in the right column.11 Though writing concisely is time-consuming at first, it eventually becomes a relatively easy habit.

A good example of economy in writing is text messaging. Students and workers alike have learned to extract main ideas from chunks of information and experiences and to communicate these ideas in cryptic messages. As discussed in Chapter 3, texting has replaced e-mail in many organizations as the channel of choice because of its simplicity and immediacy. Living in the era of information overload, readers ask, “What do we need to know? Why do we need to know it?” And texters limit their messages accordingly.

One might argue that economy in writing necessarily causes meaning to be lost. However, Larry Smith and Rachel Fershleiser have shown that messages can be short on words while deep in meaning. Founders of the online magazine SMITH, they asked the world to send in six-word memoirs. They used Ernest Hemingway’s example as a model. According to legend, when asked to write a novel in only six words, Hemingway came up with “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Over 15,000 people responded to the challenge. Some notable


examples posted on SMITH include these:

“My second-grade teacher was right.”—Janelle Brown “Secret of life: Marry an Italian.”—Nora Ephron “Took scenic route, got in late.”—Will Blythe “Became my mother. Please shoot me.”—Cynthia Kaplan “It’s pretty high. You go first.”—Alan Eagle12

Principle 5: Avoid Clichés and Jargon

Trite expressions or clichés have an accepted meaning; however, these words yield dull messages that lack creativity. Readers may understand what is written, but the message appears impersonal, since the writer has injected nothing original into it.

Additionally, trite phrases often go out of style quickly, so the writing (and writer) may seem timeworn. Table 7–5 presents some examples of overused phrases to avoid and their alternatives.


Stop and Think 1. Which of the two following statements is more powerful?

“Well, please stop me if you’ve heard this before, but I’ve been giving this matter a lot of thought, and I’m concerned about whether the solution we’re considering is actually going to help us to achieve our goals, don’t you agree?” “That won’t work.”

2. If you selected the second statement, what conclusion should you draw about the importance of conciseness?

The examples in Table 7–5 illustrate a significant shortcoming in the use of these hackneyed phrases. They can have more than one meaning. Furthermore, sometimes they are simply vague, and sometimes their logic can be questioned. These weaknesses are illustrated in the following examples:

“At an early date” or “at your earliest convenience”

Such phrases usually follow a request for information or for a favor of some sort. They are normally used by people who do not want to appear pushy. Such people do not realize two things. One is that the reader’s “earliest convenience” may end up being something quite different from what the writer had in mind. The second is that businesspeople deal with deadlines all the time. They are not likely to take offense when asked for something within a range of time if the writer concisely and courteously states the reason for the time range, as in the following example:

Table 7–5 Trite Expressions and Alternatives

Instead of Writing This Try Using This

white as a sheet pale

not enough bandwidth busy, working

smart as a whip intelligent

few and far between rare

follow in the footsteps of pursue the same career

run it up the flagpole try it out, test a solution

in this day and age, nowadays today

stretches the truth exaggerates, lies


clean as a whistle sanitary, clean

for all intents and purposes in every practical sense, in essence

really down to earth realistic, honest, sincere

as luck would have it unfortunately, luckily

“So that we may fill your order as quickly as possible, please send us this information by March 21.”

Some readers interpret these two clichés as presumptuous:

“Thanking you in advance” and “permit me to say”

Besides being timeworn, mechanical, and impersonal, the first expression seems to say, “I expect you to comply with my request, but I don’t want to have to take the time to thank you later, so I’ll do it now.” The second expression seems to seek permission, but the writer says what he or she wants to say before getting that permission. The second expression should be dropped, and the first might be replaced by,

“I appreciate any help you can give me in the matter.”

Jargon is the technical language or specified terms that become part of the everyday vocabulary of an organization or discipline. Insiders know what the words mean, but outsiders/customers may not. Jargon includes technical terms, acronyms, and terms used in special ways. When writing to readers outside the organization, managers should avoid using jargon. Rather, they should choose the layperson’s version whenever possible to reduce the likelihood that the reader will misunderstand the message.13 Additionally, some organizations are so large that the people in one functional unit may not understand the jargon of other units. The lists in Table 7–6 illustrate how some jargon used in business might be simplified.

With only one exception, the descriptions on the right are wordier than the jargon on the left. If these wordier versions ensure understanding and prevent inquiries aimed at clarification, then the extra effort and words used will have been worthwhile. This is a decision managers must make when writing.

Acronyms can be particularly troublesome. In some situations, an acronym may be perfectly appropriate, while in other situations, it may cause a problem. For instance, in one division of Exxon, a DHR is the director of human resources, but in other divisions, it is a by-product of the chemical scrubbing process.

Finally, a word of caution about business-ese. Expressions and terms can quickly become popular in business circles and then become obsolete just as quickly. A Texas entrepreneur, Ron Sturgeon, captured 1,200 examples of “biz jargon” in his book Green Weenies and Due Diligence. Some are funny and colorful (“herding


cats,” “circling the drain,” “mouse milking”), while some are more sober (“dilution,” “FTE,” “synergy”).14

Sometimes, in a misguided attempt to sound professional, business-ese makes longer words out of short ones, such as functionality for “functions” and objectivality for “objectives.” When deciding whether to use business- ese in your message, be guided by your receiver’s expectations, the communication climate, and the cultural context (see Chapter 2).

Table 7–6 Jargon and Simpler Alternatives

Instead of Writing This Try Using This

TQM Total quality management

Accounts receivable Firms or people owing money to the company

Amounts payable Amounts owed by the company

HVI bonus Extra pay for selling high-volume machines

Maturity date Date that final payment is due

Feedstock Raw materials used for manufacturing in the petrochemical industry

Duplexing Photocopyist’s term meaning copying on both sides of a sheet of paper

FAA Federal Aviation Administration

Abstract History of the property

Per diem Daily

Assessed valuation Value of the property for tax purposes

Current ratio Ratio of current assets to current liabilities

CRM Customer relations management

ROI Return on investment, expected outcome

Principle 6: Use Positive Words That Convey Courtesy

As stated earlier, written communications present stimuli and generate responses. Generally, the more positive the stimuli, the more positive the response. Conversely, the more negative the stimuli, the more negative the response. Behavioral scientists, for example, tell us that employees will live either up or down to the expectations communicated by their managers.15


Whether a manager is dealing with direct reports, superiors, peers, customers, suppliers, or others, she is likely to want her message to be well received. The positive wording of a request, of information, or even of bad news should increase the probability of a positive or at least neutral reaction by the receiver.

The difference between positive and negative wording is not a matter of content but of emphasis. Negative messages emphasize the least desirable aspects of a situation. As such, they are likely to arouse defensive or antagonistic responses from the reader.

The sender of an effective communication must establish credibility and goodwill with the receiver, and positiveness and courtesy aid the manager in developing these aspects. The following examples illustrate the different impacts that can be generated by positive and negative wordings of messages:

I cannot have the report ready by tomorrow morning. I can have the report completed by 3:30 p.m. Wednesday. You should not use Form A to file the weekly sales report. Form B is the weekly sales report form. We regret to inform you that we must deny your request for a promotion because you haven’t earned enough continuing education credits. As soon as you earn six more continuing education credits, we can process your request for a promotion.

In each of the alternative statements in the preceding examples, the writer uses positive and concrete words to state what can be done or what has been done rather than what cannot be done or what has not been done.

Let’s look at a real-life example. In the hospitality management industry, theft of hotel-room amenities is a major cost of doing business. Guests routinely steal towels, pens, even furniture from their hotel rooms. Instead of posting warnings or threats, Holiday Inn Express takes a positive approach. A notice placed on the bathroom countertop reads,

Dear Guest,

Due to the popularity of our guest room amenities, our Housekeeping Department now offers these items for sale:

Irons: $40.00

Ironing boards: $30.00

Blow dryer: $30.00

Bath towels: $15.00

Hand towels: $10.00

Each guest room attendant is responsible for maintaining the guest room items. Should you decide to take these articles from your room instead of obtaining them from the Executive Housekeeper, we will assume you approve a corresponding charge to your account. Thank you.

Is that not better than saying, “Don’t steal items from the room”?


Although we should not totally avoid negatives, we can minimize them. Some phrases, because they seem discourteous, are likely to irritate readers. Words and phrases like “inexcusable,” “you claim that,” “your insinuation,” “you failed to,” and “obviously you overlooked” should be avoided if possible. The next chapter on messages will explain this point further.

Being positive and conveying courtesy in word choice also involves using gender-neutral language. Rarely is it necessary for writers to identify people as male or female.

Today, we use gender-neutral terms to describe jobs. Also, pronouns and nouns that refer to one sex when both are being described (manpower) are unacceptable. Likewise, expressions that belittle the behavior or qualities of one gender should be avoided. Table 7–7 presents unacceptable and acceptable terms.

On the subject of sexism in writing, one particularly thorny problem is the generic or universal pronoun he. Until about thirty years ago, the standard practice had been to use he in impersonal constructions where both sexes were to be included: “Each person has his own problems to resolve.” Authorities have noted that such constructions can make women feel ignored in the business world.

Fortunately, managers have several options available for avoiding such pronoun use. One is the use of plural nouns and pronouns. Instead of “A manager should motivate his employees,” one could write “Managers should motivate their employees.”

Another option is the use of “he and she,” “his or her,” “s/he,” or “his/her.” Though not entirely graceful, this option is considered acceptable. Writers should be careful, however, not to use this option too often, for it could hinder style and readability.

Another technique, one used widely in this book, is to alternate masculine and feminine pronouns. One paragraph may use she as the generic pronoun, while the next might use he. While this technique avoids the generic he, it does not sacrifice style the way he or she sometimes does. Furthermore, traditional usage is spared, at least in part.

Table 7–7 Terms to Avoid and Acceptable Alternatives

Instead of Writing This Try Using This

man (when referring to species) humanity, human beings, humans, people

man (verb) staff, guard, mind, watch

man hours work hours

man-made hand made, artisanal, hand crafted

manpower employees, staff, workers, workforce


grow to manhood grow to adulthood, grow up, mature

businessman business executive, manager

cameraman camera operator

chairman chairperson

freshman first-year student

fireman firefighter

foreman supervisor, spokesperson (of a jury)

housewife stay-at-home spouse

lady doctor/lawyer/realtor doctor/lawyer/realtor

mailman mail carrier

middleman intermediary

policeman police officer

salesman salesperson

stewardess flight attendant

A fourth nonsexist technique is one that is not satisfactory to strict grammarians. It uses plural pronouns for traditionally singular antecedent references, such as each, every, everyone, everybody, or anybody. For example, “Everyone has their problems to resolve.” This technique, called the “singular they,” legitimizes popular use.

The last and best suggestion is to replace third-person pronouns (he/she) with second person (you). Not only does this avoid the gender issue, it directly engages the reader too. Thus, “If you are going to be late, call your supervisor” is better than “If an employee is going to be late, he/she should call his/her supervisor.”

Principle 7: Use a Conversational Style

Sentences communicate effectively when they use everyday language—when the words are those that would be used in face-to-face communication. A conversational style involves writing with words from a person’s speaking vocabulary. Usually, the words should not include colloquialisms, slang, or jargon; they should be the language most people would use in conducting everyday business.

The most successful business professional who exemplifies writing in a conversational style is billionaire


investor Warren Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, Inc. In 2005, The National Commission on Writing honored Buffett’s folksy annual report. “No annual report has had a greater impact on American business,” said Bob Kerrey, the commission’s chair and president of The New School, A University in New York.16

Buffett’s 2017 annual letter to shareholders, while maintaining his trademark style, communicated his strategy for investing. He used clear, direct words to connect with shareholders as he described the previous year’s performance. “As is the case in marriage, business acquisitions often deliver surprises after the ‘I do’s.’ I’ve made some dumb purchases, paying far too much for the economic goodwill of companies we acquired,” he wrote.17 Buffett’s conversational writing style is not an aberration. Other successful executives, such as Bill Gates, openly admire it. In an interview with Maria Bartiromo in February 2009, Gates admitted that writing an annual letter about his foundation’s activities was Buffett’s idea—and Gates “ran a few drafts by him. . . . His advice is very helpful.”18

A conversational style is particularly important in business letters, since it aids in developing the “you viewpoint.” The you viewpoint involves consideration of the reader’s point of view. It helps a writer personalize letters, something most readers appreciate in business correspondence.19 Before writing, the sender identifies who will receive the information; the reader’s need for the information; and as much as possible, her knowledge, expertise, interests, culture, and value system.

Even form paragraphs and letters can be written with a personal touch, an idea of typical audiences and their concerns that have to be addressed. Form paragraphs and letters can be written in a conversational style, as though they were composed by a human being rather than a jargon-stuffed computer. And technology makes it easier than it has ever been to personalize a form paragraph or letter.

These first seven principles have focused on the selection of words. Since each word can influence the total message, each word deserves attention. The manager also needs to analyze the combination and organization of words strategically to ensure effective communication. The remaining principles will address the ways in which words might be grouped for best effect.


Organizing Words For Effect

The next four principles discuss organizational guidelines for putting words together to convey a message. Comprehension is largely determined by the extent to which the writer uses these principles.

Principle 8: Keep Sentences Short

We sometimes encounter long-winded sentences in business writing. These seemingly never-ending constructions stem from several possible causes. One cause mentioned earlier is the need to impress. Consider the following example from a government report:

It is obvious from the difference in elevation with relation to the short depth of the field that the contour is such as to preclude any reasonable development potential for economic utilization.

One would have to study the preceding message long and hard to figure out that the writer was, in fact, saying:

The field is too steep to plow.

On the other hand, some people write these lengthy, roundabout sentences to avoid appearing forward or pushy, as in the following example:

During the past two weeks, we have been wondering if you have as yet found yourself in a position to give us an indication of whether or not you have been able to come to a decision on our offer.

Most businesspeople who face deadlines daily would not be offended if they were asked a question more to the point:

Have you decided on the offer we made you two weeks ago?

Another possible cause for unnecessarily long sentences is the need to say everything that can be said about a topic in one sentence. Note the confusion created by the following example and the improvement in the alternative version.

Although seventeen people from our department (purchasing) attended the workshop, nine of them, including Jerry Stoves, had no background for the topic of the workshop (advanced negotiating technique) offered by the Purchasing Association of Chicago.

Last week seventeen people from our purchasing department attended a workshop on advanced


negotiating techniques. The Purchasing Association of Chicago offered the workshop. Of the seventeen who attended, Jerry Stoves and eight others lacked the necessary background.

One way to shorten sentences is to avoid expletive constructions: “It . . . that” and “There is . . .” or “There are . . .” An expletive has no grammatical antecedent in a sentence, and it often diffuses the focus of the message by displacing or even eliminating people in the sentence. For example, in the sentence “It is thought that interest rates will fall,” the word it has no antecedent, yet it gets the main emphasis. The person who holds this opinion is unknown. A better wording would be “I think that interest rates will fall.” Instead of “It is suggested that you rewrite this proposal,” say, “Please rewrite the proposal.” Generally, “there is” and “there are” constructions merely add length and waste time. Rather than saying, “There are three options from which you can choose,” say, “You can choose from three options.”

Unnecessarily long sentences require readers to spend too much time trying to understand the message. And the more time and patience required to understand a message, the less likely the reader is to understand the purpose.

Effective writing is easy and quick to read. Studies show that good business sentences are fifteen to twenty words long. They also use no more than ten long (three-or-more-syllable) words in every one hundred words.

Effective sentences express one main point. Any connected phrases or clauses should explain that point. When we place two or more important ideas in the same sentence, we reduce the importance of each and often confuse the reader.

Principle 9: Prefer the Active to the Passive Voice

The active voice presents the parts of a sentence in the normal order expected by English-speaking people. The subject of the sentence is the actor, who is acting in a way portrayed by the verb, and the action is directed toward the object. The following sentences illustrate the active voice:

David Lopez directed the meeting. Donna Hebert enforced the policy. Ridley Gros promoted the university.

The passive voice reverses the order of the parts so that the subject is being acted on by the object in a way depicted by the verb.

The meeting was directed by David Lopez. The policy was enforced by Donna Hebert. The university was promoted by Ridley Gros.

Besides the reversed order and the slight additional length, the passive voice weakens the sentence construction by making the doer of the action the object of the “by” phrase. Furthermore, the passive voice carries the hazard of luring the writer into longer, more roundabout expressions.20 For example, instead of



The new president reorganized the administration,

we see

A reorganization of the administration was effected by the new president.

Though managerial writers should favor the active voice in the majority of the sentences they construct, they may occasionally prefer the passive voice. Passive voice is more diplomatic. Notice that by eliminating the by phrase from a passive-voice sentence, we eliminate the doer of the action. In sensitive matters or when addressing people of higher authority, this may be appropriate. Note the following diplomatic transformation.

Active: The director of purchasing has been soliciting bids from unauthorized vendors.

Passive: Bids from unauthorized vendors have been solicited by the director of purchasing.

Passive minus the by phrase: Bids from unauthorized vendors have been solicited.

Principle 10: Organize Paragraphs Logically

Paragraphs bring separate thoughts together and arrange them to convey a single important idea. A paragraph is a device to combine sentences to form messages. Alone, these sentences might seem illogical and would not make the same point.

Five guidelines can help writers develop effective paragraphs (see Table 7–8). First, present one major idea in a paragraph, along with whatever support is necessary for the development of that idea.21 This paragraph quality is called unity.

Second, determine if a deductive or an inductive pattern is appropriate. Deductive paragraphs present the main idea in the first sentence and the supporting ideas in the sentences that follow. Inductive paragraphs begin with the details or the support and end with the main idea. The deductive pattern is the most commonly used, but the inductive pattern is useful for persuasion.

Third, use a variety of sentence structures in a paragraph. A paragraph that contains all simple sentences can be tedious; interest builds when a combination of sentence structures is used.

Fourth, structure paragraphs to emphasize important points. Emphasis can be accomplished in a variety of ways:

Repeat key concepts. Use attention-getting words, such as action verbs and the personal pronoun you. Use typographical devices, such as bullets, text boxes, italics, boldface, or numbers.

Table 7–8 Developing Effective Paragraphs


1. Present one major idea in a paragraph.

2. Decide if a deductive or an inductive pattern is appropriate.

3. Use a variety of sentence structures in a paragraph.

4. Structure paragraphs to emphasize important points.

5. Keep paragraphs relatively short.

Be sure that bulleted lists, repeated phrases, and compound structures are in parallel form. Sentence elements that are alike in function should also be alike in construction.22 Look at the following examples:

Parallel: The company has a mission statement and a code of ethics. Not parallel: Citizens are concerned with whether the president has lied under oath or looking directly into the cameras.

Excellent examples of parallel structure can be found in the words of great orators. Look at this excerpt from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech: “So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania. Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado.” Notice how the repetition and parallel structure of these sentences add rhythm, balance, and a buildup of emotion.

Fifth, keep paragraphs relatively short. Short paragraphs are easy to read and give more emphasis to the information they contain. Readers need visual and mental breaks so they can assimilate the message; short paragraphs help to achieve these breaks. In business letters and short memos, paragraphs usually average four to six lines in length; in reports, they average eight to ten lines. Exceptions, however, will sometimes be justified by the need for emphasis (shorter paragraphs) or by the complexity of the material (longer paragraphs).

These guidelines for composing short, strong, clear messages are followed by prominent leaders in fields other than business. One example is Lieutenant General Gus Pagonis, who was the officer in charge of logistics during the Persian Gulf War of 1991. His book Moving Mountains: Lessons in Leadership and Logistics from the Gulf War tells how he delivered meals, fuel, ammunition, and other supplies to 541,000 U.S. military forces in Kuwait during the 100-hour lightning ground war. Pagonis wrote that his operating principle was KISS— Keep It Simple Stupid. An important application of that principle was his communication patterns. He limited paperwork to an amazing 3-by-5-inch index card per report. Furthermore, he limited all e-mail messages to just six lines. Apparently no one could take time to scroll. Under harrowing wartime conditions, Pagonis’s insistence on good writing contributed to his success.

Principle 11: Be Coherent


With coherent writing, the relationship between sentences is clear. Sentences flow from one to another easily and smoothly. This movement from one thought to another is accomplished through transition, which is sometimes described as a bridge that connects thoughts. Transitions may be natural or mechanical.

Natural transition occurs when the content of the thoughts is such that the second flows naturally and smoothly from the first. Note the smooth movement from the first thought to the second in the following opening paragraph to a job application letter.

Now that the Dillon Pharmaceutical Company is expanding its Western region, won’t you need trained and experienced sales representatives to call on accounts in the new territory? With a degree in marketing and eight successful years in pharmaceutical sales, I believe that I am well qualified to be one of those representatives.

The first sentence introduces the ideas of training and experience, and the second sentence builds on that introduction.

Often, however, a writer cannot rely on the content of thoughts to show a clear connection between them. The writer may have to show that connection with mechanical transitions. A writer can (a) repeat key words, to show the reader that the same subject is still being addressed; (b) use pronouns and synonyms, to avoid being too repetitious; or (c) use transition words, words that are used to connect thoughts and show a particular type of relationship between them. Table 7–9 lists some frequently used transition words.

In addition to making sure the thoughts within a paragraph flow smoothly, writers should be concerned that this quality of coherence pervades the entire document. More specifically, paragraphs, like sentences, need to be clearly related. Sometimes this relationship is shown through the use of transitional devices, such as those previously discussed. At other times, an entire sentence at the beginning or end of a paragraph will be used to show the relationship of that paragraph to the one that precedes or follows it.

As we move into longer and more complex documents, such as reports, the task of ensuring coherence becomes more involved. For example, a five-page section of a twenty-five-page report may need an introductory paragraph to show what is included in that section. It may also need a concluding paragraph to tie up the section and show how it relates to the larger purpose of the report. A simpler kind of transitional device is a “Janus statement,” named for the Roman god with two faces—one looking backward and one looking ahead. The writer can accomplish both a review and a preview with a Janus statement, such as “Now that we have described X, let us turn our attention to Y.”

Table 7–9 Frequently Used Transition Words

but accordingly even so

next again on the other hand


thus consequently furthermore

then otherwise in summary

finally besides similarly

hence conversely as a result

still to illustrate in contrast

also in addition subsequently

and however for example

A final way to build coherence in long documents is by using headings and subheadings. Chapter 9 addresses report and proposal writing in more detail, including heading use.

Before we leave the subject of coherence, a word of caution may be in order. Though the transitional devices discussed here can show relationships to readers, logical organization is the foundation of coherent writing. Writers must clearly understand why information is being arranged in a certain way. They must have a logical plan of presentation, for transitional devices cannot show relationships that do not exist.


Stage 3: Revising

The third stage, revising and editing, is perhaps the most important to practice. Few writers possess the skill to write clear copy in one sitting.23 The multitude of writing principles, approaches, and grammatical rules requires all writers to check their work. Revising is a service to the reader. Thus, the writer should begin stage 3 by shifting perspective, distancing himself from the writing, and assuming the role of the reader. It is difficult to objectively examine the message from the reader’s viewpoint; however, the following questions can help systematize the revision process:

What is my purpose? Have I included all the information the reader wants or needs to know to understand my message? Does my message answer all the reader’s questions? Is there any information nonessential to the reader that I can delete? Have I included reader benefits?

Next, revising involves (a) reading what has been written for clarity, concreteness, and conversational tone; (b) determining factual accuracy; (c) organizing to ensure coherence;24 (d) rewording awkward sentences and phrases; and (e) rearranging content and adding illustrations and transitions. Writers should not assume their prose is satisfactory after only one or two drafts. Few people write that well.25

The final step is to edit the document for correctness. Running a spell-checker and grammar checker will catch most surface errors. However, these devices will not detect when the wrong word is used if it is spelled correctly, such as too/two or read/red. Grammar checkers also follow rules and may ignore elements that change the intended meaning. An amusing, well-known case where punctuation significantly changes a sentence’s meaning is the following:

A woman, without her man, is nothing. A woman: without her, man is nothing.26

The amount of revising and editing necessary will depend on the individual writer’s skill. However, all good writers rewrite. They even sometimes have someone else read their work before finalizing it. Others can often detect errors or confusing statements that writers miss because writers read into their messages what they want to communicate. For example, David McCombie, principal of the McCombie Group, uses his partner as a sounding board. “I send anything that’s important to my partner and he reads it over. We talk about whether there is a better way to convey an idea, how we can be more succinct.”27

At the very least, a writer should set aside a draft and let it “cool off” for a while before revising. When e- mailing, a writer can queue messages to be reread rather than composing and immediately clicking the Send button. Hastily sent e-mails can be embarrassingly incomplete or inaccurate.

Though revising and editing may seem time-consuming and tedious, the results are worth the effort. By making the message clearer and easier to understand, revising benefits the reader and reduces the likelihood of


requests for later clarification. In the long run, it saves time and money while enhancing the writer’s image.

When revising and editing, an easy way to keep your goal in sight is to remember the “Seven Cs” of good business writing. Table 7–10 presents these guidelines.

In a recent survey of business writers, 81 percent of respondents agreed with the statement “Poorly written material wastes my time.” They identify the characteristics of poorly written documents as too long (65%), poorly organized (65%), unclear (61%), using too much jargon (54%), not precise enough (54%), and not direct enough (49%).28 The planning, composing, and revising process described here can help you avoid these problems and compose more effective messages at work.


Collaborative Writing

A major development in the modern corporate world is the emergence of collaborative writing. It is becoming more prevalent because of the increased emphasis on teamwork. Also, these teams frequently consist of people with unique specialties that they bring to bear toward the successful completion of major projects.

Though it may assume any of many forms, collaborative writing is entrenched in contemporary professional writing. At America West Airlines, most of the reports are collaboratively written. The same is true at Accenture. One researcher notes that collaboration has increased by 50 percent in the last two decades, with collaborators contributing informational (knowledge), social (professional connections), and personal (time and effort) resources to projects.29 In spite of this surge, a recent study of U.S. employees found that 38 percent of workers want more collaboration at work.30

Collaborative writing comes in a number of different guises. Sometimes a supervisor has a staff member research and write a document, after which the supervisor edits it. Sometimes the collaboration comes in the planning of the document, which is composed and revised by an individual. Other times, an individual does the planning and composing of work that is revised collaboratively. Peers often critique one another’s work. And there are times when the collaboration pervades the entire writing process from start to finish.31 Recent research indicates that a typical document cycles through three to five revisions before it is sent to the intended readers.

Table 7–10 The Seven Cs of Good Business Writing

Completeness Answer all reader questions

Include the five Ws and H

Conciseness Shorten or delete wordy expressions

Avoid repetition


Focus on “you,” the reader

Show reader benefits or interests

Emphasize the positive


Use specific facts and data

Use active, not passive, voice

Rely on vivid, image-building words

Use short, familiar words


Clarity Avoid jargon

Follow a logical sequence of points


Be tactful and appreciative

Avoid discriminatory language

Respond promptly

Correctness Maintain accurate writing mechanics

Avoid “wrong word” errors


Advantages of Collaborative Writing

Collaborative writing is becoming more popular, largely because of the advantages of group decision making. It often works better than an individual effort because of the additional minds and perspectives being applied to creating the document. Furthermore, the understanding of and the motivation to carry out the directives of the document are greater among those who actually contributed to its development.


Stop and Think 1. Why do you think that businesses typically cycle documents so thoroughly before releasing them? 2. How important is it that business documents generated by a business have a clear and consistent “voice” or style?

Collaborative writing is also thought to be particularly advantageous when the size of the task and/or time limits call for the labor of more than one person, when the scope of the job calls for more than one area of expertise, or when one of the task goals is the melding of divergent opinions.32

Richard Gebhardt notes that the theoretical underpinnings of collaborative writing are “the rhetorical sense of audience; the psychological power of peer influence; the transfer-of-learning principle by which (people) gain insights into their own writing as they comment on the works of others; and the principle of feedback through which (people) sense how well their writing is communicating.”33 Terry Bacon has found that collaborative writing socializes employees in several fundamental ways. It helps to acculturate newcomers by teaching writers about the corporation’s capabilities and history and by modeling the corporation’s values and attitudes in the actions of the experienced members. It also helps break down functional barriers, and it fosters the informal chains of communication and authority through which the corporation accomplishes its work.34

Finally and perhaps most importantly, collaboration can improve writing quality.35 People, without outside direction, can respond to each other’s drafts with sharply focused and relevant comments.36 Recent developments in technology facilitate collaborative writing. As we explained in Chapter 3, communication technologies such as Google Docs allow groups to compose, revise, and edit documents synchronously and asynchronously, resulting in better messages. Aspects and Lotus Notes have been shown not only to result in better documents but also to avoid emotional conflict among collaborators.


Disadvantages of Collaborative Writing

Some disadvantages of collaborative writing are also those associated with group decision making. Some members do not do their fair share. Coordinating schedules for meetings can be complicated and vexing. Personality conflicts can all but stall the group’s progress. And some people believe that one person acting alone could probably complete the chore in much less time than it takes a group to do so. Finally, though one person may do a poor job on part of the project, everyone is held responsible for the entire end result.

Respondents in one study noted that the two major costs of collaboration were time and ego. One commented that in collaboration you had to “check your ego at the door,” you had to be “confident in your own abilities and yet able to take criticism.”37

Another surveyed group of professional writers cited several problems associated with collaborative writing. They spoke of difficulty in resolving style differences; the additional time required to work with a group; the inequitable division of tasks; and the loss of personal satisfaction, ownership, or sense of creativity.38

Probably the most serious problem associated with collaborative writing is ineffectively dealing with conflicts that arise. Some people see all conflicts as bad and try to ignore them or sweep them under the carpet. They do not realize that some conflicts are functional and can help the group to come to a more creative resolution of its problem.


Guidelines for Effective Collaborative Writing

In their extensive research into the collaborative writing of people in a number of professions, Lisa Ede and Andrea Lunsford came up with the following profile of effective collaborative writers:

They are flexible; respectful of others; attentive and analytical listeners; able to speak and write clearly and articulately; dependable and able to meet deadlines; able to designate and share responsibility, to lead and to follow; open to criticism but confident in their own abilities; ready to engage in creative conflict.39

Generally, this profile depicts people who are able to work with others, people who are going to be in greater demand as collaboration becomes more the norm than the exception.

In addition to the advice implicit in the preceding characterization of effective collaborative writers and groups, there are other ways to achieve successful collaborative writing experiences. One basic guideline is to make sure the work is divided equitably among group members. Nothing is surer to destroy a person’s morale than to begin feeling overworked compared to others in the group.

Second, writing teams should use electronic technology for collaboration; the media appear to buffer emotions while increasing efficiency.

Third, all collaborative writing groups should have a team leader, even though the person may not have any formal authority. The leader should be responsible for coordinating the team’s collaborative efforts, shaping the team’s vision, and resolving conflicts among individuals and functional departments. The latter task usually requires good interpersonal skills if the leader has no formal authority.40 Though no one can guarantee that all collaborative writing experiences will be problem free, we are confident that anyone who follows the preceding guidelines will encounter fewer insurmountable problems and will attain greater success in group writing projects.

The most surprising thing about effective collaboration may be that communication is more important than expertise. A series of studies on workplace collaboration suggests three characteristics of effective teams: energy, engagement, and exploration.41 Members of the team face each other and balance talking and listening, ensuring that no one dominates the conversations. Although the team leader is a hub, members connect directly with each other to discuss the project. Side conversations and “back channels” are encouraged to build team cohesiveness and trust. But team members also feel free to leave the group to collect information, which can help the team avoid groupthink.



Written managerial communication has several strategic advantages: economy, efficiency, accuracy, and official permanence. Managers are part of discourse communities that shape the way they communicate, and they work in an environment that makes special demands on their documents. Among the aspects of their managerial writing context are the fragmented nature of their time at work, the extent of collaboration and delegation, the size and culture of the organization, the authority and politics they must deal with, and the legal considerations of which they must remain aware as they write.

Once managers recognize these unique aspects, they are ready to write. The writing process consists of three stages: planning, composing, and revising. In the planning stage, the manager identifies what, why, who, when, where, and how. In the composing stage, the writer selects words and arranges them for proper effect, keeping certain strategic concerns in mind. The following principles guide the selection and arrangement of words for message clarity, comprehension, and coherence:

Selecting Words:

1. Choose words precisely. 2. Use short rather than long words. 3. Use concrete rather than abstract words. 4. Economize on words. 5. Avoid clichés and jargon. 6. Use positive words that convey courtesy. 7. Use a conversational style.

Organizing Words:

8. Keep sentences relatively short. 9. Prefer the active to the passive voice. 10. Develop logically organized paragraphs. 11. Be coherent.

In the revising stage, the writer examines the message for ways to improve on these eleven principles. Additionally, the manager edits for correctness of expression. Surface errors affect the success of a document in reaching its goals and also can damage the reader-writer relationship.

Collaboration is a fact of modern organizational life. In addition to the advantages of group decision making, it also socializes employees in several ways and can improve the quality of the writing. Good writers are flexible, respectful, attentive, articulate, responsible, and confident people who work well with others. In addition to the disadvantages associated with group decision making (e.g., domination, reluctant contributors), time, potential ego damage, style differences, and conflicts can work against effective collaboration. Guidelines for effective collaboration include dividing the work equitably among members. Conflict should be viewed as potentially constructive. The group’s leader should coordinate efforts, shape the


team’s vision, and resolve conflicts.


Exercise: Plain English at a Glance One of the goals of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is to help potential investors make good financial decisions. Therefore, in 1998, the SEC published a plain English guide that was designed to help writers create clearer business prospectuses and other disclosure documents. As a result, disclosure documents have become more informative and easier to read. The SEC’s Plain English Handbook is found at this website: https://www.sec.gov/pdf/handbook.pdf. The handbook reinforces the principles that you have read in this chapter for plain writing.

Follow the SEC’s plain English principles to improve the sentences below:

1. Change the following sentence from the passive voice to the active voice: A decision was made by the board to wear polo shirts when voting on important matters.

2. Change the nominalizations (buried verbs) in the following sentence: I came to the realization that the Fund’s performance is a reflection of the maximum sales charge of 5 percent.

3. Directly address the reader (use the you viewpoint) in the following sentence. Change any nominalizations into verbs. Change any passive voice constructions into active voice:

The volatility of the market should be taken under consideration by short-term investors in the selection and purchase of stocks.

4. Rewrite the following sentence into plain English: Your financial advisor should not be held accountable in the event you experience a decline in investment income or a net loss in total assets.

5. Eliminate the unnecessary words in the following sentence: In order to make progress in improving your writing skills, it is imperative that you devote yourself to the study of the principles of good writing.

6. Improve the tone of the following sentence by changing the negative words to positive: We were sorry to learn of the disappointing service you had from our sales force, which we are afraid will not improve until the current personnel are fired.

7. Put the following sentence into parallel structure: If you want to find out more about our offerings, visit our website after calling our toll free number with a request for a password.

8. Rewrite the following sentence into shorter units: According to Nancy Smith, director of the Office of Investor Education, three people, Ann Wallace, from the Division of Corporate Finance, Carolyn Miller, of the SEC, and William Lutz, professor of English at Rutgers University, poured their hearts and minds into the Plain English Handbook that inspired me to create these exercises, which you are enjoying as well as finding informative, I hope, and so all of the credit and none of the blame goes to them.

9. Revise the following sentence to directly address the reader (you attitude): We take pleasure in announcing that, effective today, the company will give a 20 percent discount on all purchases made by employees.


Case For Small-Group Discussion


Back to School Because you are known to be a good writer, the director of human resources has asked you to put together a seminar on written communication for employees in your company who need help. The seminar would cover basic principles of written communication, letters, memos, and formal business reports. Managers have complained to the HR director that their employees do not write well. They produce as evidence sloppily proofread e-mails. The employees, on the other hand, are grumbling that having to attend a writing seminar would be like going back to high school, where a fussy old English teacher berates them over minor punctuation concerns.


Questions 1. How would you determine who should attend the seminar? 2. How would you market it so that participants of the seminar would attend willingly rather than through coercion? 3. How would you organize the seminar? What materials would you use? 4. What topics would you address in the seminar?


Exercises for Small Groups A. Rewrite the following sentences to eliminate confusing, long words.

1. Bill received excessive remuneration for his promulgated work according to his professional colleagues. 2. What form of personal conveyance shall we solicit between the airport and the hotel? 3. The best operative unit for this interaction is the computer-assisted storage system. 4. Extel, the computer company, has an inordinate influence on your purchasing agent. 5. The company terminated their contract with the city as a consequence of their ineffectual payment procedures. 6. The audience was demonstrating engrossment with the audio-visually mediated presentation. 7. We received approbation from the executive committee. 8. This antiquated procedure could be liquidated with a new word processing system. 9. Last year’s profits were exorbitant in that division.

10. Our assets cannot be utilized to the maximum due to the unavailability of trained human resources. B. Rewrite the following sentences using concrete words.

1. We received a lot of responses to our survey. 2. The personnel department has expanded in the last several years. 3. Profits are up throughout the industry. 4. If we don’t receive the order pretty soon, we will have to cancel it. 5. Please send your reply as soon as possible. 6. We would like to receive as many bids as possible. 7. We need the shipment by sometime next month. 8. Extel is a large company. 9. Is it possible to meet next week?

10. We are expecting a rapid rate of inflation. C. Reduce the length of the following sentences.

1. Record sales were set by the top division, from $48.2 million to $51.4 million; the home appliance division decreased from $67.2 million to $58.4; the big shock was in the electronic division, which saw a drop from $17.2 million to $14.9 million; but all in all, top management was generally pleased.

2. Management attributed the decline to several significant business environment economic factor conditions including higher borrowing interest rates.

3. At this point in time pursuant to your request, we find it difficult to meet your stated requests as made in your letter. 4. The task force has been given the special responsibilities to accomplish the goals as stated in the letter sent yesterday by the

executive vice president to the task force chairperson who was assigned the position. 5. On the grounds that this action could be completely finished in a period of one year, it was not seen as a totally practical

action to take. 6. The past history of the new innovations indicates that the product innovation department should be terminated and

ended. 7. We received your recent inquiry of last week regarding our new products we just came out with. 8. For the reason that all the information was not completely available, no immediate decision could be made then.

D. Rewrite the following sentences to eliminate trite expressions and improve clarity. 1. Enclosed please find a check in the amount of $40. 2. Please be advised that your order will be shipped within a short period of time. 3. I enclose herewith an order to which you will please give your earliest attention and forward, with as little delay as possible,

as per shipping instructions attached. 4. Your letter dated July 25 has been duly received and noted. 5. Referring to your letter of the fifth, we wish to state that there has been an error in your statement. 6. With reference to your letter of the tenth, permit me to state that there will be no interference with the affairs of your

department. E. Change the negative tone and use more courteous words in the following sentences.

1. We cannot deliver all one hundred units by Friday, March 6. 2. We don’t provide second mortgages.


3. We are sorry that your total deposit on the trip cannot be refunded. 4. No. An extension will not be permitted. 5. We do not feel that you qualify for the excessive request that you made. 6. You are not qualified for this position. 7. The competition provided a much more favorable bid, and they have a reputation for fine service. 8. Sorry, but the product you requested is no longer available.

F. Clarify the following message by using paragraphs and transitions and by generally following the guidelines presented in this chapter.

Most managers would agree that there are advantages to both the telephone and letters. Letters are more effective in some situations whereas the use of the telephone is best in others. So now the question is, “What are the advantages of each?” The telephone has the advantages of speed, immediate feedback, consuming less time, and cost. An advantage of the business letter is that a hard copy is available. Also, future reference can be made to it for legal reference. Also, enclosures can be included. One of the disadvantages of the telephone is that the conversation cannot be filed for future reference. Another advantage of the letter is that it can be circulated to other people who may be involved with the topic involved. Another disadvantage of the telephone is that you may not know if you are disturbing the receiver at a busy time during the day. The letter can be read when the receiver is ready to read it. All of these advantages and disadvantages must be considered when strategically determining the most effective communication tool. The greatest mistake may be to communicate via the most “convenient” media without considering the alternatives. Analysis of the situations is required to ensure that the most effective technique is used.

Student Study Site

Visit the Student Study Site at study.sagepub.com/hynes7e for web quizzes, video and multimedia resources, and case studies.



1. Josh Bernoff, “The Sad State of Business Writing,” September 6, 2016, https://withoutbullshit.com/blog/new-research-on-business-writing-infographic-and-report.

2. Henry Mintzberg, Mintzberg on Management: Inside Our Strange World of Organizations (New York: Collier Macmillan, 1989), 8.

3. Sharon Begley, “Will the BlackBerry Sink the Presidency?” Newsweek, February 16, 2009, 37.

4. Marie Flatley, “A Comparative Analysis of the Written Communication of Managers at Various Organizational Levels in the Private Business Sector,” Journal of Business Communication 19, no. 3 (Summer 1982): 40.

5. Max Weber, The Theory of Social and Economic Organization, trans. A. M. Henderson and Talcott Parsons, and ed. Talcott Parsons (New York: The Free Press, 1947), 324–386.

6. James G. March, “The Business Firm as a Political Coalition,” Journal of Politics 24 (1980): 662–678.

7. Carolyn O’Hara, “How to Improve Your Business Writing,” Harvard Business Review, November 20, 2014, https://hbr.org/2014/11/how-to-improve-your-business-writing.

8. Barbara Czarniawska-Joerges and Bernward Joerges, “How to Control Things With Words: Organizational Talk and Control,” Management Communication Quarterly 2, no. 2 (November 1988): 170– 193.

9. Sarah Ellen Ransdell and Ira Fischler, “Effects of Concreteness and Task Context on Recall of Prose among Bilingual and Monolingual Speakers,” Journal of Memory and Language 28, no. 3 (June 1989): 278– 279.

10. James Suchan and Robert Colucci, “An Analysis of Communication Efficiency Between High-Impact Writing and Bureaucratic Written Communication,” Management Communication Quarterly 2, no. 4 (May 1989): 454–484.

11. “Weak Writers,” The Wall Street Journal, June 14, 1985, 1.

12. Larry Smith and Rachel Fershleiser, “Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure” (2008), www.smithmag.net.

13. Peter Crow, “Plain English: What Counts Besides Readability,” Journal of Business Communication 25, no. 1 (Winter 1988): 87–95.

14. Ron Sturgeon, Green Weenies and Due Diligence: Insider Business Jargon (Lynden, WA: Mike French, 2005).


15. Sterling Livingston, “Pygmalion in Management,” Harvard Business Review, September–October 1988, 121–130.

16. Associated Press, “Billionaire Buffett Gets an Award—for Writing,” February 4, 2005, http://msnbc.msn.com/id/6913932/print/1/displaymode/1098/.

17. Berkshire Hathaway, Inc. 2016 Annual Report (2016), www.berkshirehathaway.com.

18. Maria Bartiromo, “Facetime: Melinda and Bill Gates on Making a Difference,” BusinessWeek, February 16, 2009, 21–22.

19. Kitty Locker, “Theoretical Justification for Using Reader Benefits,” Journal of Business Communication 19, no. 3 (Summer 1982): 51–65.

20. Pamela Layton and Adrian J. Simpson, “Deep Structure in Sentence Comprehension,” Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior 14 (1975): 658–664.

21. Thomas L. Kent, “Paragraph Production and the Given-New Contract,” Journal of Business Communication 21, no. 4 (Fall 1984): 45–66.

22. For a comprehensive explanation of parallel structure, see Gerald J. Alred, Walter E. Oliu, and Charles T. Brusaw, The Business Writer’s Handbook, 11th ed. (New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s Press, 2015).

23. Larry Smeltzer and Jeanette Gilsdorf, “How to Use Your Time Efficiently When Writing,” Business Horizons, November–December 1990, 61–64.

24. Larry Smeltzer and Jeanette Gilsdorf, “Revise Reports Rapidly,” Personnel Journal, October 1990, 39–44.

25. Jeanne W. Halpern, “What Should We Be Teaching Students in Business Writing?” Journal of Business Communication 18, no. 3 (Summer 1981): 39–53.

26. Lynne Truss, Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation (New York: Gotham Books/Penguin Group USA, 2003).

27. O’Hara, “How to Improve Your Business Writing.”

28. Bernhoff, “The Sad State of Business Writing.”

29. Rob Cross, Reb Rebele, and Adam Grant, “Collaboration Overload,” Harvard Business Review 94 (January–February 2016): 74–79.

30. “The State of Workplace Productivity Report,” Cornerstone OnDemand, August 2012, https://www.cornerstoneondemand.com/sites/default/files/research/csod-rs-state-of-workplace-productivity- report.pdf.

31. Nancy Allen et al., “What Experienced Collaborators Say About Collaborative Writing,” Journal of


Business and Technical Communication 1, no. 2 (September 1987): 71.

32. Ibid., 85.

33. R. Gebhardt, “Teamwork and Feedback: Broadening the Base of Collaborative Writing,” College English 42, no. 1 (September 1980): 69.

34. Terry R. Bacon, “Collaboration in a Pressure Cooker,” The Bulletin, June 1990, 4.

35. A. M. O’Donnell et al., “Effects of Cooperative and Individual Rewriting on an Instruction Writing Task,” Written Communication 4 (1987): 90–99.

36. Rebecca Burnett, “Benefits of Collaborative Planning in the Business Communication Classroom,” The Bulletin, June 1990, 10.

37. Allen et al., “What Experienced Collaborators Say,” 82–83.

38. Lisa Ede and Andrea Lunsford, Single Tests/Plural Authors (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1990), 62.

39. Ibid., 66.

40. Bacon, “Collaboration in a Pressure Cooker,” 5.

41. Alex “Sandy” Pentland, “The New Science of Building Great Teams,” Harvard Business Review 90, no. 4 (April 2012): 60–70.


8 Writing Routine Messages

And, of course, you have the commercials where savvy businesspeople get ahead by using their Macintosh computers to create the ultimate American business product: a really sharp-looking memo.

—Dave Barry, humorist and columnist

As earlier chapters have emphasized, written communication is an important part of a manager’s job. Studies of business professionals with varying years of experience have consistently found that they spend a significant portion of their time at work writing e-mails, memos, letters, reports, and proposals.1 Writing is considered a “threshold competency” or a “tool skill”—a necessity for managerial functioning.2 Paul Glen, author of the award-winning book Leading Geeks, observes that “the most important thing you can do to ensure you have a vibrant career for years to come is to learn to write well. . . . Whether you are an executive, project manager or hard-core technologist, writing is the key to your future.”3

E-mails, letters, and memos are probably the forms of written communication that benefit most from the strategic considerations we discuss in this text. The conciseness of these messages and the relatively detached atmosphere in which managers usually write them can help ensure that the principles of reader adaptation and strategic analysis are used.

Unfortunately, too many managers take routine writing tasks for granted. Perhaps because managers write so many of them, e-mails, letters, and memos frequently can become impersonal things that convey information in a lifeless manner. Rather than being responses to a specific communication situation, many messages merely respond to types of situations. Thus, some managers write stock answers to claims and ignore or at least discount the factors making the claim unique and calling for adaptation.

Additionally, because e-mails, letters, and memos are such common and relatively informal media, managers often become lax regarding the quality of their messages. One study of correspondence in thirteen industries found punctuation errors in 43.7 percent of the correspondence surveyed, word usage errors in 52.2 percent, and sentence construction mistakes in 45.3 percent.4 “So what?” you might think. “Who cares about surface errors, so long as the message gets across.” In response, a mounting body of research indicates that grammar, mechanics, and sentence-level errors can indeed potentially damage a manager’s credibility.5 Perhaps because routine correspondence is so bound by conventions of format, the language used in it poses another problem. These media can easily become choked with stock phrases and clichés that turn the message into a ritual utterance: “as per your request,” “reference your letter,” “herewith acknowledge receipt,” and “please do not hesitate to contact me.” Such documents often communicate very little except a negative impression of a stuffy, impersonal author.

This chapter takes a strategic approach to e-mail, letter, and memo writing, emphasizing ways in which a writer can adapt correspondence to fit as nearly as possible to the needs of the intended reader. The chapter


also offers two general patterns for correspondence situations you are likely to face as a manager and specific types you can use for guidance in certain cases. Of course, use these models as a foundation only; as suggested in Chapter 2, each message a manager writes needs to be adapted to fit the audience and the situation.


Audience Adaptation

In many writing situations, a writer may not know the reader of the message very well. Indeed, the writer may not know the reader at all. Thus, managers must carefully consider the strategies of messages they send in order to achieve the maximum benefit. Fortunately, we can recognize some writing strategies that suit most correspondence situations.

The “you” attitude is the basis for the organizational strategies this chapter details. Writers who have this attitude prepare messages matching their readers’ interests. They do this by putting themselves in the reader’s place. A writer with the you attitude begins by asking herself, “How would I feel if I were this person in this situation? What would I want to read in this message?”

The you attitude requires empathy, the ability to understand another’s feelings; we show empathy when we say to a colleague who is having trouble solving a problem, “I know what you mean,” or “I know what you’re going through.”


Stop and Think 1. When you are thumbing through a magazine, what makes you stop and read an article? 2. Why does a particular billboard message or TV commercial catch your attention? 3. What is the implied strategy for capturing the attention of the intended reader?


Basis of the You Attitude

The great American film director Billy Wilder said, “An audience is never wrong.” Furthermore, every audience is unique. Just as you would not give the same birthday gift to every member of your family, you should not give the same message to every employee. Audiences want to know that you understand their specific needs and concerns, so you must address them personally.

The you attitude, which is reader oriented, grew out of an awareness that most people, especially when they are involved in business matters, are likely to be looking after their own interests. In reading a message, they want to know how they can gain or at least how they can minimize a loss. Thus, when communicating in a positive situation, good writers seek to increase the positive impact of the news. In a negative situation, writers seek to reduce negative impact while stressing reader benefits.

Few people have trouble using the you attitude in positive situations, but some balk at using it in negative ones, fearing that the you attitude shows weakness. This view is a misperception.


Anticipating Questions

To be effective, writers should anticipate the questions a reader might have. Thus, as they write, they ask themselves just what the reader might be uncertain about and then answer the uncertainties so no additional correspondence is needed. Remember the five Ws: who, what, when, where, and why.


Stressing Reader Benefits

Arguably, the most likely audience question is “What’s in it for me?” or WII-FM. With the you attitude, the writer always strives to show the reader how she benefits. This is not to say that the writer gives in to the reader. Rather, the writer designs the message to either capitalize on or overcome the reader’s attitudes about the writer as well as the issue at hand. Thus, a businessperson trying to collect on a past-due account might stress that the reader needs to pay the account balance to retain credit privileges at the store as well as an overall good credit rating. The potential for success in this case is far greater than if the credit manager had stressed only the company’s interest by writing of its need to receive payment.


Avoiding Negatives

A writer should avoid negatives and words with negative connotations, especially in negative situations. These words have a way of jumping off the page and putting the reader on the defensive. Watch, especially, words such as unfortunately, claim, allege, problem, damage, and regret. A negative word can affect a reader’s perceptions so much that he will not be able to read the rest of the message objectively. Stressing the positive, on the other hand, will improve the writer-reader relationship and make it more likely that the writer’s goal will be reached.

An easy way to find positive words for a negative message is to say what will happen rather than what will not happen. So instead of telling a customer, “Unfortunately, we can’t meet Friday’s deadline,” one could say, “Your shipment will arrive on Monday.” As described in the previous chapter, Holiday Inn Express uses this strategy well. Instead of warning hotel guests not to steal the towels from the rooms, a card simply announces, “Should you decide to take these articles from your room . . . we will assume you approve a corresponding charge to your account.”

Note the positive terms in the message: “take,” “approve.” Guests are not likely to be offended or insulted by this announcement.

Here is another example of a negative message couched in positive words. In early 2017, Wells Fargo agreed to pay $110 million to settle a class-action lawsuit related to the creation of up to 2 million sham accounts that customers didn’t request or authorize. On April 5, a full-page letter signed by Timothy J. Sloan, the CEO and president of Wells Fargo, appeared in the Houston Chronicle. It began with, “Thank you,” not “We were wrong.” The letter continued in the same positive tone, listing the “progress” that the corporation has made to “make things right for our customers . . . and ensure we always put our customers’ needs first.” The letter ended by announcing to readers that the corporation was building “a better bank.”6 The language in this message put a positive spin on bad news.


Nonverbal Elements and the You Attitude

The you attitude shows itself in a variety of ways, some more obvious than others. One of these ways is metacommunication. Without reading a word, an individual receiving a message can tell a lot about the sender and the sender’s attitude toward the reader.

Both the stationery chosen for correspondence and the keying job send messages to readers. A positive letter marred by smeared or pale print, typos, stains, hand corrections, or a cheap grade of paper creates static in the communication channel. While the written message says that the writer cares, the physical elements of the medium suggest indifference at best. On the other hand, error-free letters with crisp black print on white, high-cotton fiber-content bond paper suggest professionalism and respect for the reader’s feelings.

Similarly, the nonverbal elements of e-mail can make a positive or negative impression on the reader. A writer implementing the you attitude will send concise e-mails. How concise? Most readers prefer them limited to one screen in length so they do not have to scroll. Brief paragraphs with spaces between them improve readability. If the e-mail is a reply or the latest in a series of exchanges, the writer should delete all but the most recent message being responded to. Formatting is often lost when a reader opens an external e-mail, so the writer should limit the use of tabs and other design and formatting elements.



The you attitude also influences a message’s wording. If the reader’s interest is of central concern, show this by making the reader central as well. If the reader is asking, “What’s in it for me?” she will have a hard time determining that if you write exclusively about yourself, using I, me, mine, or we, us, our, ours. A better focus is on you, your, yours. Thus, rather than saying, “We are sending the samples of the ads we worked up for Reality Industry’s new pumps,” a writer should substitute, “You will soon receive three samples of the magazine ads for your new pumps.” The revision makes the reader rather than the writer the focus of attention.


Organizational Strategies

Thus far, we have looked at a variety of ways in which a manager can personalize messages to make them better understood and received by readers. However, one key element remains: overall strategy. The suggestions given so far for signaling concern for the reader will fall short if you do not organize the message in a manner that anticipates reader reaction. Let us look at two basic strategies that, when used properly, can appropriately address reader reaction. The strategies deliver the message while promoting a positive image of the writer.


Direct Strategy

The direct strategy is used for messages conveying good news or neutral information. Someone receiving good news is pleased after reading it and appreciates having the good news as quickly as possible. However, if the message’s main idea is buried in the middle or is located near the end, the reader, who probably began with some enthusiasm, loses interest and becomes frustrated at wasting valuable time searching for the main point. This frustration can affect the reader’s attitude toward the writer: “Why can’t she come right to the point?” Thus, such a message in a positive situation with lots of potential for building goodwill can instead weaken and even destroy the positive impact.


A better strategy is to put the main point first. A brief introduction might be needed to orient the reader, but this introduction should not delay the presentation of the main point. An easy way to remember this principle is the acronym BIF or big idea first. Beginning with a purpose statement answers the reader’s question, “Why is this person writing to me?”


A message using the direct strategy next provides the necessary supporting details: the reasons for the decision, background or history, specifics about the situation, or the procedures the reader needs to follow. Of course, these details promote the writer or the company she represents, especially when the message grants a favor.


A direct message has a positive ending. Among the choices can be an offer to help, a statement of gratitude, or a call for any further action the reader needs to take. Of course, closing with a goodwill statement as simple as “Thanks” leaves a positive impression.


Stop and Think 1. In addition to routine business messages, where else have you seen messages organized according to the direct strategy,

which puts the big idea first? 2. Consider the effectiveness of this organizational strategy for the non-business messages you’ve noticed. How did you



Indirect Strategy

Unfortunately, not all business messages communicate good news or even neutral information. Often, requests are denied, proposals are rejected, and job applications are turned down. The readers are naturally not pleased, but the documents need to be written. The effective bad news message conveys its information while creating a minimum of resentment. If possible, it should help build goodwill for the company since the reader may be desirable as a customer, client, or future employee.

A good strategy for negative situations is the indirect one. Using this strategy, a writer leads the reader logically to the bad news. Successfully developed, the message minimizes the reader’s negative reactions and builds goodwill. A comparison between the direct and the indirect approaches is presented in Table 8–1. Not all indirect messages convey bad news. The persuasive message is a specialized type of indirect message that will be detailed later in the chapter.


Instead of BIF, big idea first, the writer should use the BILL formula—big idea a little later. The indirect message begins with a buffer, some neutral or positive statement that clearly relates to the purpose that both reader and writer agree on. The beginning might be agreement with the reader, it might express appreciation for the reader’s candor in writing, or it might be a compliment.

A good opening begins to let the reader down gently. Ideally, it subtly sets up the explanation that follows in the body of the message. As we saw with the good news strategy, the reader expects things to go his way. When the indirect beginning fails to reinforce that expectation, the stage is set for the denial or bad news to follow.


Next, the message analyzes the circumstances or provides details about the facts that lead to the bad news being conveyed. The challenge here is to be convincing. The tone of this part is cooperative. The writer does not have to say, “Let’s look at the facts,” but the reader should have that feeling. A study of data breach notifications sent to customers by state and federal agencies found that over 75 percent of the messages followed this indirect strategy—they provided background information before stating the bad news that the readers’ personal information had been compromised.7

Next, one implies or directly expresses the negative information in as positive a tone as possible. Naturally, a writer should not be so subtle in implying the negative news that the reader is left hanging. But any direct statement should be tactful and not blunt. The best approach is to subordinate the actual point where the bad news is stated in the middle of a paragraph rather than allow it to appear at the beginning or end.

Table 8–1 The Direct Approach Compared to the Indirect Approach


Direct Indirect

Opening Opening

Main point Neutral buffer

Body Body

Supporting information Explanation and negative news

Close Close

Positive statement, action item, goodwill Goodwill


The next step is important: At the end, strive to rebuild goodwill. Depending on the situation, several options are available. One is to suggest another course of action open to the reader. In response to claims for goods, suggest others that are more durable or appropriate for the reader’s use. A letter rejecting a proposal, for example, might give another outlet for the idea.

Close the indirect message on a positive, friendly note. Often, the effort at building goodwill is enough. Sometimes a little more is necessary. A manager might want to offer services or information. For example, a letter written to an old customer might have a catalog enclosed and end by looking forward to the reader’s next order.


Stop and Think 1. In addition to negative business messages, where else have you seen messages organized according to the indirect strategy

or BILL? 2. Consider the effectiveness of this organizational strategy for the non-business messages you’ve noticed. How did you


Handling Negatives

Since an indirect message conveys bad news, it is potentially very negative. To minimize the damage to a company’s goodwill, good writers generally avoid negative words. Although the task is a challenge, avoiding negatives pays off in the long run because the practice helps to keep the overall tone positive. The following three rules hold the key:

Place negative information at points of low emphasis. Avoid no or not when possible. Avoid words with negative connotations.

De-emphasize negative facts by placing them in a subordinate structure (a dependent clause, a parenthetic expression, or a modifier) rather than in a main clause or a sentence. In a paragraph, negative information should not be placed in a prominent position. Compare the following two short paragraphs telling a job applicant that the company has no job openings in his area.

We do not anticipate any openings in the Baytown Company anytime soon, since we have been laying off people in your field. You might apply at Rumfield and Company or Bennington, Inc., since they are adding to their staffs.

The writer could easily have softened the negatives by placing them in a less prominent position, as you see below.

Please consider applying for one of the engineering positions now open at Rumfield and Company or at Bennington, Inc. rather than at Baytown Company. Currently Baytown’s personnel needs are in other areas.

The second suggestion for avoiding negative writing (avoiding no and not) is easier to follow than it seems. Recall the Holiday Inn Express example described earlier in this chapter, which uses positive words to ask guests not to steal items from the rooms. In the revision in the following examples, the writer emphasizes what she can do, not what she cannot do.


We cannot fill your order until you tell us what size grill your restaurant currently uses. We can fill your order as soon as you let us have your restaurant’s grill size. Please specify your grill size so that we may fill your order as quickly as possible.

The third suggestion (avoiding words with negative connotations) is one of the most important. Whereas claim and state might have very similar denotations, their connotations are widely separated. Writing to a person and saying, “You next claim that . . .” makes it sound as if the reader is wrong. Numerous words are likely to irritate or even inflame when they appear in bad news messages. (See examples of such words in the box below.)

allege argue

failure mistake

claim damage

regret error

careless broken


Specific Types: Direct Messages

The direct and indirect strategies are useful for most writing situations managers face. Nevertheless, because some situations are so frequent (for example, the inquiry) and because some are so sensitive (for example, negative responses to claims), several specialized versions of the direct and indirect patterns have developed. Table 8–2 lists seven specific versions reviewed here.

The patterns suggested here are not absolute. After strategic analysis, a manager may determine that a different approach is appropriate. That kind of adaptation is to be encouraged because it helps to prevent following a mechanical pattern. First, we look at correspondence using the direct pattern; then, we consider correspondence following the indirect. Remember to use a direct approach for good news and neutral, informative messages.

Table 8–2 Types of Direct and Indirect Messages

Direct Indirect

Inquiries and requests

Positive responses to inquiries and requests


Positive responses to claims

Negative responses to inquiries and requests

Refused claims

Persuasive messages


Inquiries and Requests

Perhaps the most common direct correspondence is the inquiry. Managers in all areas of business routinely need information to conduct their affairs. A manager might need to know about the performance of a product; another might want credit information about a client or wish to know about the qualifications of a job applicant. Since most readers see these requests as routine and reasonable, they are likely to respond to them willingly.

If you project yourself into the position of a reader receiving an inquiry, you’ll see why the direct approach is so appropriate. You are probably busy with other matters and need to know quickly what is required of you. When you receive an inquiry, you appreciate the reader’s efforts to be direct and to let you know from the start what she wants.


Make the inquiry clear from the start. One effective method is to begin with a question that summarizes the writer’s objective. For example, an inquiry about a potential employee could begin with “Would you please comment on Mary Keynes’s qualifications to become a management intern? We at Infovend are considering her for the position, and she has given your name as a reference.” The question beginning the inquiry makes the purpose immediately clear.


In many cases, the next step in the inquiry is an explanation of the inquiry’s purpose. In the example just given, you quickly made it clear that you are considering Keynes for a job. The amount of information a writer gives depends on the situation. In an inquiry about the potential employee, you also probably would want to assure the reader that her response will be kept confidential.8 The body of the inquiry needs to be efficiently organized; it cannot simply be a “fishing expedition” for information. Even after the purpose is clear, the reader usually needs guidance to answer the inquiry satisfactorily. Given as much of the sample letter about Mary Keynes as we have so far, it might be answered several ways depending on how the reader projected your needs—or it might not be detailed at all. Thus, the next part of the inquiry should set out the areas requiring information, plus any necessary additional information. Numbering the questions may also help the reader respond.


The close of the inquiry is friendly and builds goodwill. In some cases, it is appropriate to offer similar services. In situations where a purchase might follow, you might ask for a speedy reply.

Let us look at the complete inquiry about Mary Keynes. Note that in this inquiry about a person, you emphasized confidentiality, an advisable practice in this kind of correspondence.


Dear Professor Renton:

Would you please comment on Mary Keynes’s qualifications to become a management intern? We at Infovend are considering her for the position, and she has given your name as a reference. Of course, whatever information you give us will be held in confidence.

1. How well does Keynes manage time? Is her work punctual? 2. Did you have a chance to observe her under pressure? If so, does she manage well or does pressure adversely affect her

performance? 3. How well does she relate to her peers? Please comment on her relationship with them: Is she a leader or a follower,

gregarious or shy, and so on?

I look forward to hearing your comments on Keynes’s qualifications and will appreciate whatever insights you can share with us.


Tim Inman

Human Resources Manager


Positive Responses to Inquiries and Requests

Inquiries naturally need answers. The favorable response to an inquiry is a direct one, as the reader is pleased to get the requested information or item.


You begin by identifying the request you are responding to. This identification appears in the first sentence of the message. The opening also makes it clear the reader’s request is being granted.

I found Mary Keynes, the subject of your June 5 inquiry, to be one of the most promising students I have ever taught. As-Best-As Filing Cabinets have all the features you mentioned in your March 4 letter and several more you might be interested in knowing about. Here is my response to your September 14 inquiry about our experiences with the M-102 Security System.

You can begin by directly answering the most general of the questions originally asked (as in the first two examples) or by agreeing to respond to the question originally posed (as in the third example).


The way in which you organize the body of the message varies depending on the original inquiry. For an inquiry that asked one question, the details in response appear in order of importance. If you are responding to a series of questions, normally answer them in the order asked. If the original is really a request (for example, “May we use your facilities for a club meeting?”), the body gives necessary conditions for use.

Not all responses to inquiries are completely good or bad news. Thus, although a manager is willing to answer most questions, some topics are confidential. In these cases, the denial is subordinated and appears after the writer explains why. For example, the response to the inquiry about a company’s experiences with the M-102 Security System may withhold some details for security reasons.


The positive response to an inquiry continues to be positive in the close. Note the following closings to the messages whose beginnings we gave earlier.

If I can help you with any other information about Mary, please contact me. If you need any other information on how As-Best-As Filing Cabinets can meet your storage needs, please let me know. I’d be delighted to answer any further questions about our experiences with the M-102 Security System. I think you’ll be pleased with the system.




A third type of direct message is the claim. Usually, a dissatisfied customer writes about a problem and requests a solution or claim. Project yourself as manager and consider how you would feel receiving a claim letter. Customer dissatisfaction not only leads to a loss of goodwill and revenue but also reflects badly on your ability as a manager. Naturally, you would want to find out quickly what the problem is and resolve it.


Even though the claim deals with something negative, it is written directly. From your perspective, directness strengthens the claim. In fact, some readers may interpret indirectness as lack of confidence in the claim being made. Indirectness would thus be a strategic error.

Early in the claim, you should include details about the faulty product, service, or sale. Which details to incorporate depend on the situation, but they may include invoice numbers, dates, and the product identification or serial number.

Another good tactic that makes the message convincing is to include the significance of the problem to you or your business. For example, a warehouse manager whose new intercom system failed might write,

The new intercom system you sent us (Invoice #16789) has broken, thus considerably slowing the processing of orders in our company warehouse.


The next step is logical: The facts of the case need detailing. In the intercom example, you discuss how the system broke down and the possible cause. Naturally, you do not need to be an expert analyst, but the more facts you include, the more convincing your argument. If appropriate, you may also wish to detail the damage that resulted.

Of course, detailing the problem requires tact and forbearance. You feel justified in writing about the problem, but you do not attack the person who sold or installed the product or its manufacturer. Name-calling or accusations do little if any good and may create reader resentment, which usually precludes a favorable settlement. Abusive messages are best left unsent.

The next part of the letter states what you want: What will set things right? Unfortunately, some letters end before this point. An unhappy writer complains and then forgets to say what he wants. Specifying the action or amount of money needed for satisfaction is usually preferable. Occasionally, the settlement can be left up to the reader if the situation is routine.

You may also wish to include a deadline for action on the matter. Naturally, a deadline needs something to back it up. If you make a threat or ultimatum, be sure that you are willing and able to carry it out if the


situation is not resolved. Weigh threats carefully. They can be counterproductive.


Once again, avoid negativity in the close. If you threaten to take your business elsewhere, the reader may lose any motivation for cooperation. End by expressing confidence in the good faith of the reader or by expressing intended gratitude for the early resolution of the problem.

Let us look at the rest of the claim about the faulty intercom and see how it illustrates these points.

Dear Mr. Packard:

The new intercom system you sent us (Invoice #16789) has broken, thus considerably slowing the processing of orders in our company warehouse.

Although the system worked fine immediately after installation, we began to notice problems with it during stormy weather. When it rained, static garbled many of the messages. Finally, during one heavy downpour, the main transmitter stopped working and began smoking.

We are shipping the transmitter to you via Brown Express. We would like it either repaired or replaced. Your prompt attention will help our warehouse to return to normal.


Patricia Muranka

Purchasing Manager

In this message, the manager detailed the problem her department faced, yet she resisted accusatory language. She set out her experience with the system and provided enough information for the manufacturer to diagnose the problem. The ending is positive yet assertive.


Positive Responses to Claims

The fourth type of direct message is the positive response to a claim. While the use of the direct order is unquestionable, this type still challenges the writer who is aware of the unpleasantness the reader experienced. The reader may have lost sales or may have been uncomfortable or inconvenienced. The challenge here is to rebuild goodwill and, in many cases, restore faith in the product. The reader who does not believe in the product will buy elsewhere next time. Occasionally, especially when dealing with angry customers, you respond to a very unpleasant or accusatory letter. You must not rise to the bait.


Begin the adjustment grant with the good news. The reader needs a reminder to recall the situation, but this reminding should be done quickly. Thus, the letter responding to the claim about the faulty intercom might begin in the following manner:

Your transmitter is now in working order and should arrive in Cedar Rapids by truck in the next few days.


After the good news, the development of the body depends on the situation. Routine cases need little explanation. In many cases, however, the reader needs more. It is usually necessary to explain what went wrong, and it is often a good idea to stress that the problem is corrected and will not recur.

Occasionally, you will need to explain the proper use of the product to a reader who unintentionally misused the product. In such cases, the reader’s goodwill is worth the cost. This explanation needs to be tactful and is most effective when presented impersonally, as in the second example that follows:

You left the valves open on the unit. As a result, your heater was on constantly and wore out. The valves leading out to the unit must be kept tightly closed to reduce the demand on the heating unit.

In the explanatory material and the close, keep the tone positive. Common courtesy seems to dictate an apology, but it often serves to open old wounds. Instead, look to the future with a confident, positive approach:

You can expect many more years of trouble-free service from your transmitter.


The closing of an adjustment grant is positive. It anticipates continued good relations with the customer and may include information on other products or services the company offers. You build goodwill by discussing


the advantages of the product. You also refrain from stating the fault was the electrician’s rather than the manufacturer’s, although you have taken steps to protect the equipment in the future.

Dear Ms. Muranka:

Your transmitter is now in working order and should arrive in Cedar Rapids by truck in the next few days. Please call your electrician when it arrives, so his installation will protect the warranty.

You reported that the system had static in it during rainstorms and that it smoked when the system stopped working. I’ve checked the new patented fusible ground lead and found that it had melted, as it was designed to do, and protected the transmitter and you from electrical shock.

When your electrician installs the transmitter, have him check the unit’s grounding. At present, when it rains, the unit is shorting out because of incomplete grounding.

You might be interested in our new security alarm system that hooks into the existing intercom system. The enclosed pamphlet gives you the details. We will be glad to discuss its installation with you.


Robert Packard

Customer Service Manager


Specific Types: Indirect Messages

Most managers cannot comply with all the requests made of them. In those situations, the response is best organized according to the indirect plan.


Negative Responses to Inquiries

The strategy for constructing negative responses to inquiries requires thought and planning. When requests need denying, use a bad news strategy. Reasons appear first, followed by the refusal.


The opening should remind the reader of the request. This initial statement should also serve as a buffer that does not imply either a positive or negative answer. Furthermore, the opening should lead logically into the body.

Suppose, for example, you received a letter from a researcher inquiring into the population sample used to determine your company’s marketing strategies. Since such questions deal with proprietary information that the company keeps confidential, you must deny the request. At the same time, you do not want to refuse directly. Your request might begin with one of the following buffers:

Thank you for your inquiry about our marketing research and strategies. The results of your study of population samples should prove interesting.

This introduction gives no false hope for a positive reply, but it does not deny the request yet. However, it lays the basis for that rejection. The rest of the letter develops the approach.


From this beginning, you move into a discussion of why the request cannot be granted. You consider the reader and choose examples or reasoning likely to convince the reader that yours is the only viable solution. For example, in the preceding letter, you could appeal to the reader’s own experience as a researcher who has spent hours developing ideas. Similarly, after great expense, your company developed ideas that it applies to its own needs.

Once you have given the reasoning, you can state the refusal. Occasionally, writers refuse requests so vaguely that the reader still sees hope for the request. The well-written refusal reasons the reader out of the original request. However, the reasoning does not suggest the original request was ill advised or misdirected.


Close positively to build goodwill. The close can look to the future, such as a wish for success in the reader’s work or a suggestion for some other sources of information the reader could use.

In the letter refusing the request for information on marketing strategies, note how you imply the refusal rather than state it. Note also that you make no apology for refusing.

Dear Ms. Leeper:


The results of your study of population samples should prove interesting, as most companies protect these data because they are so central to their marketing strategies.

At Flo-Sheen Fabrics, we develop our marketing strategies only after our test market has had a chance to examine our new fabrics. As a researcher, you can surely appreciate the countless hours that go into any marketing campaign.

We keep the population sample used for our marketing analysis confidential both to protect their privacy and to help us keep our competitive edge. Our competition would have an unfair advantage over us if they were able to know in advance what products we planned to introduce or what strategies we would use.

You might look into any text on statistical sampling to learn the considerations managers must take in selecting population samples.


Sheila Hebert

Vice President


Refused Claims

A greater challenge than the negative response to an inquiry is the refused claim. In most cases, the person making the claim believes she is justified; her interests have been damaged by what she sees as bad products or services. However, for whatever reason, you have determined that you must reject the claim.

In doing so, you must maintain a positive tone and build goodwill. The key is empathy. Imagine how you would want to be treated in this situation—probably reasonably. To respond in an authoritarian or a condescending fashion would be foolish. The language must be positive and selective. Most likely, the reader will be sensitive to any possible nuances.


The claim refusal must begin as most negative messages would: with a buffer. This buffer can refer to the reader’s original claim as its subject, or it can be an expression of appreciation—some opening that brings the reader and writer together neutrally.

The effective opening also indicates the line of reasoning to be followed. Take, for example, the opening sentence, “Whitlow Co. does guarantee its sump pumps for eighteen months in normal operation under normal circumstances.” The reader is reminded of the original claim and is introduced to the line of reasoning in “normal operation” and “normal circumstances.” Another opening might be the following:

Your recent letter shows that you are a person who appreciates being treated fairly and openly. You will be interested in what we have found in our investigation into your questions.


The body details your findings. This explanation should be objective and convincing, but it should avoid a my-side, your-side dichotomy. One effective tactic in some situations is to describe the effort that went into investigating the matter. For example, a negative response to a warranty claim may emphasize the laboratory tests made on the broken part. This detail is useful because it projects a caring image; the decision made is not just some automatic response.

Give the refusal once the reasons are clear. Of course, the refusal should appear at a point of low emphasis. If the refusal is based on company policy, the policy should be clearly explained. But remember that customers generally resent managers “hiding behind” company policy. Use logic whenever possible instead.


Most claim refusals close with an effort at resale. If the customer has been treated fairly in a reasonable manner, she may stay with the product since the company was not at fault. Frequently, it is a good idea to move away from the immediate topic by mentioning an upcoming sale or by sending a recent catalog.


Dear Ms. Clark:

Whitlow Co. does guarantee its sump pumps for eighteen months in normal operation under normal circumstances. After your recent letter, we looked closely into the questions you raised.

Our laboratory examined the returned pump and found that the entire unit had been submerged for some time. This submersion was in keeping with the newspaper accounts of heavy flooding in your town last month. Apparently the area where your unit was located was also inundated. While the pump is designed to take care of normal seepage, it is mounted at least 18 inches above the basement floor to protect the housing and pump. Like most motor-driven appliances, the pump must be kept totally dry, as it is in normal circumstances.

You might be interested in another model pump we offer, the SubMerso. Its waterproof housing withstands even prolonged immersion. The enclosed pamphlet details its capacities. We’ll be glad to answer any questions you might have on it.


Lionel Naquin

Customer Service Representative


When composing a bad news message, such as a negative response to an inquiry or a refusal to a claim, you may be tempted to include an apology. This decision is controversial. Corporate attorneys have traditionally warned against apologizing because it implies responsibility for wrongdoing and even guilt, inviting legal action against the writer and her organization. Public relations professionals agree that apologies can be interpreted as an admission of error or carelessness, damaging a company’s image.9

Recently, however, the trend has been changing because of evidence that an apology can help rather than hurt, in terms of both image and legal judgments. In the field of medicine, malpractice-reform advocates say an apology can help doctors avoid being sued and can reduce settlements. This approach seems to be working. For example, since 2002, the hospitals in the University of Michigan Health System have been encouraging doctors to apologize for mistakes. The system’s annual attorney fees dropped by two-thirds, and malpractice lawsuits fell by half.10 As of 2014, thirty-six states have enacted apology laws; they are designed to protect health care providers who want to talk to patients and families when an adverse outcome occurs without fearing litigation.

The United States has witnessed a remarkable rise in the number of public corporate apologies. During the 2000 “summer of apologies,” company executives begged pardon for unreliable flights, bad phone service, and tire blowouts. Since then, the pattern has continued. In January 2014, after a massive data breach that affected up to 100 million shoppers, the CEO of Target quickly issued a public apology. “Our top priority is taking care of you and helping you feel confident about shopping at Target. . . . We didn’t live up to that responsibility, and I am truly sorry.”11 In April 2017, United Airlines was widely criticized for forcibly removing a customer from a flight when he refused to give up his seat for a crew member. CEO Oscar Munoz issued numerous profuse apologies. An open letter published in the Houston Chronicle on April 27, 2017, began, “We can never say we are sorry enough for the shameful way one of our customers was treated aboard United’s flight 3411.” A similar letter was published in United’s inflight magazine, Hemispheres, the following


month: “We broke that trust . . . we can never say we are sorry enough for what occurred.”12 If a manager

makes the strategic decision to apologize, either individually or on behalf of the organization, what are some guidelines? A good apology is genuine and timely. It should consist of four parts:

An acknowledgment of the mistake or wrongdoing The acceptance of responsibility An expression of regret A promise that the offense will not be repeated13

Perhaps the most critical issue is acceptance of responsibility or fault. A partial apology, where the manager expresses sympathy or regret without admitting guilt, softens the blow and may be wise when there is significant damage or injury. Partial apologies can also resolve disputes when the extent of fault is unclear or difficult to establish. In other circumstances, when a manager or company has clearly committed an egregious act, a more complete apology may be appropriate.

In either situation, the focus should be on the future and on making amends.14 In the Target identity theft case described above, the retailer offered all of its customers—whether or not they were directly affected—a year of free credit monitoring to compensate for their risk of data breach. In the United Airlines case, two weeks after the incident, the company announced sweeping policy changes including increased compensation for voluntarily giving up seats (up to $10,000), reduced overbooking on certain flights, improved automatic check-in processes, and increased training for employees. These changes were designed to restore credibility and brand reputation, according to Rob Britton, professor of marketing at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.15


Stop and Think Think of a time when you were wronged.

1. How important was it for the perpetrator to apologize to you? 2. If you did not receive an apology, what did you do? 3. Would you have taken different steps if you had received an apology? 4. Why is it difficult to apologize?


Persuasive Messages

The indirect strategy is appropriate for persuasive messages. A manager uses the indirect persuasive strategy when trying to persuade others to do things they might not ordinarily wish to do. You might need to write a persuasive letter to convince a reluctant client to pay his bill. Or you might write a persuasive e-mail to gain a colleague’s support on a project. Or you might compose a sales letter to potential customers.


The persuasive message opens by catching the reader’s attention. One effective way of doing this is to show the reader that her goals are your goals. The best way to show this identity of goals is to show her that the message deals with matters she is interested in. At the same time, since the message must catch the reader’s interest, the opening must be brief. Thus, a sales letter for a tropical resort hotel might begin, “Are you tired? Do you deserve a vacation?”


The body consists of several parts. First, it must convince the reader that you understand their problem. Then, it must reveal the solution to the problem—the solution that you want the reader to embrace. This section reflects careful strategy, since the reader’s possible objections must be anticipated and answered. In this section (which can consist of several paragraphs), you must stress the benefit accruing to the reader as a result of the solution. In the case of a resort hotel’s sales letter, therefore, the body might consist of a list of features and benefits in vivid detail.


The ending is important. The effective persuasive message does not end after the proposed answer is revealed. At the end, after the reader’s interest has been aroused, the interest must be channeled into action. Otherwise, interest will decline, with nothing resolved. The action item should be specific: a meeting, an order, a payment, an interview, a change in procedure. An action must be prompt. Delay only lessens the probability of action.16 The resort hotel’s sales letter might, therefore, end with an enticing discount offer “for a limited time only.”

The following job application letter illustrates the implementation of the indirect persuasive strategy.

Dear Mr. Harris:

Now that Lynch’s is about to open its third department store in Jonesboro, won’t you need a sufficient staff of part-time employees to supplement your full-time workers? I have the background and motivation necessary to become one of your most productive part- time workers.

As a junior marketing major at State University, I am currently taking marketing courses. I could apply what I learn over the next two years to my sales work at Lynch’s. The job references listed on the attached résumé will all attest to the fact that I am very energetic and enthusiastic about my work.


Another reason I would make a good part-time employee for you is that I am very interested in pursuing a career with Lynch’s after graduation. I would see these two years as a testing period to prove myself, and you would have the two years to decide whether or not you would be equally interested in me.

If I have described the kind of part-time salesperson you want at Lynch’s, may I have an interview to further discuss the position? I can be reached at 555–8403, and I can be available at a time convenient to you.


John Morris


Letter Formats

Thus far, we have discussed two strategies for organizing routine messages—direct and indirect—and showed how to use them when sending messages to external audiences, such as customers, clients, regulatory agencies, and other stakeholders. Typically, these messages are in letter or e-mail format. Good writers know that the appearance of a document can affect the reader’s reaction to its content, much the same way a speaker’s appearance affects the listeners’ response to her message. A word about contemporary letter format is therefore appropriate.

Many routine business messages are sent electronically, either as e-mails or as e-mail attachments. Formatting elements, such as tabs (indents) and centering, can change or even disappear according to the technology used to open the message. So the appearance of a message should be simple, plain, and as easy to read as possible. A standard contemporary style is to begin every part of a business letter at the left margin (flush left, ragged right).

Reliance on the concept of white space makes sense, too. Standard business letter style calls for single spacing within paragraphs, with double spacing between paragraphs and between elements of the letter. This line spacing format eliminates the need to indent when you begin a paragraph. Keeping paragraphs short, as discussed in Chapter 7, also builds white space. The persuasive letter in Figure 8–1 exemplifies excellent strategies for both content and format.

Figure 8–1 Sample Persuasive Letter


Source: Chase-Ziolek. Reprinted by permission of the author.

Regarding typography, a detailed discussion of the impact of type style in business documents is found in Chapter 6. Briefly, the selection of a font style depends on whether the message will be read on paper or on a monitor (see Table 8–3). For hard copy documents, Times New Roman, 12 points, is a classic, traditional standard in business. TNR, released in 1932, has a professional, formal look. It is a serif font, with projections at the edges of the letters that make the type easier to read, especially in the smaller sizes. Other popular serif fonts are Garamond and Cambria. In addition to business letters, paper documents such as newsletters, brochures, and manuals should use a serif font.

For electronic messages, Calibri, 11 points, is standard. Calibri is a contemporary sans serif font; sans serif fonts do not have projections on the edges of the letters. Sans serif fonts are easier to read onscreen and are often used for websites, posted announcements, and signs. Headlines and headings, which are usually in larger type size than the accompanying text, also may be in a sans serif font. PowerPoint slides, as you discovered in


Chapter 5, typically are in Arial font, one of the most popular sans serif fonts. Other sans serif fonts popular for business writing are Verdana and Helvetica.

If you are thinking that typeface is a trivial matter, consider the case of IKEA, the Swedish retail giant. In 2010, the company’s home furnishings catalog switched from a customized version of Futura to Verdana, a style invented by Microsoft and intended to be used for messages read on screens rather than on paper. This change touched off an uproar across the world. Design specialists as well as customers complained that the new font was plain and ugly, especially when enlarged to the size of a catalog headline or a billboard. IKEA defended the change by pointing out that Verdana is used in all countries and with many alphabets. “It’s more efficient and cost-effective,” said IKEA spokeswoman Monika Gocic. “Plus, it’s a simple, modern-looking typeface.”17

Table 8–3 Font Styles for Business Messages

Font Category Uses

Times New Roman

Serif Hard copy reports, business letters, and other documents

Garamond Serif Hard copy reports, business letters, and other documents

Cambria Serif Hard copy reports, business letters, and other documents

Calibri Sans serif

Soft copy reports, e-mail, websites, posted announcements, headings, and signs

Arial Sans serif

PowerPoint, e-mail, websites, posted announcements, headings, and signs

Verdana Sans serif

E-mail, websites, posted announcements, headings, and signs

Helvetica Sans serif

E-mail, websites, posted announcements, headings, and signs


Internal Correspondence

The writing strategies described in this chapter apply to internal as well as external correspondence. Letters are the most frequently used written format for communicating with external audiences, such as customers, regulatory agencies, suppliers, and other firms; memos and e-mail are the format most frequently used for written messages within an organization.18 The memo is an efficient, straightforward kind of communication. Often, memos are sent electronically, as e-mails. E-mail is becoming more commonly used for routine external communication as well. A hybrid format is a business letter or memo sent as an e-mail attachment, a practice that allows the sender to stabilize design and format elements when the document is opened.

As in the case of external correspondence, the writer needs to adapt strategically when composing internal correspondence. This is especially true when writing to employees at a different level within the organization, or who possess a less specialized knowledge of the subject, or when the memo deals with sensitive matters. While internal messages are often routine, informal exchanges of information, they should be composed carefully. After all, they are official, permanent records that might be accessed and read by multiple audiences, including external audiences, despite the writer’s intentions.19


Memo Format

Memo formats differ from one another in minor details, but they generally have four standard guide words at the top: To, From, Subject, and Date. In e-mails, these guide words are automatically provided. The From line offers few problems. However, if needed, a writer can add to her authority by including her job title after her name. She can add the names of others here as well—assuming she has their agreement.

The Subject line has obvious value in directing the reader’s attention. Be specific about your topic and purpose. For instance, “Subject: Request for Vacation Schedules” is more likely to stimulate reader response than the vaguer “Subject: Schedules.” Using key words in the Subject line will often aid in the memo’s later retrieval from archives and files as well.

Just as with face-to-face interactions, memos sent within an organization typically have a set protocol one should respect. This means paying attention to the format generally used as well as noting any subtleties related to whom the memo or its copies (C:) are sent.20 Often, by noting at the C: line that the memo is being sent to a boss, one is also sending the message of one’s easy access to that boss. Similarly, be sure to copy your immediate supervisor when contacting the supervisor’s bosses. In general, copying your supervisor keeps him or her aware of what is going on. Even in cases where that individual is not immediately involved, the supervisor will appreciate knowing about events. However, the proliferation of e-mail “copies” and Reply to All in most organizations is a caution not to flood people with excessive messages that are merely for your information or FYI.

Another format element to note is the need for either your initials or signed name on the From line of the paper memo. This authenticates the document just as a signature does on a letter. However, adding your name at the end of a memo or e-mail is redundant if it appears on the From line. Pithy quotations, illustrations, and similar “signature” elements at the bottom of e-mails add clutter and can be annoying distractions to business readers. Remember that short, simple messages have the most impact.

Finally, remember that design elements such as tabs and bullets may not be preserved in e-mails at the receiving end. If your e-mail needs a simple bulleted list, create it using characters on your keyboard, such as the dash symbol. If more complex formatting like tables or multi-level lists are needed, create a separate document and send it as an attachment to your e-mail.


E-mail Format

Beyond the standard guide words at the top, e-mail format varies from organization to organization and often from writer to writer. You have probably noticed differences in the following categories:

Forms of address—greetings and sign-offs Linguistic novelties—emoticons, jargon, and acronyms Punctuation and capitalization Spelling—conventional or “text shorthand” Endings—thought of the day, slogans, images

Rules have emerged for e-mail style or netiquette, but they are often ignored. For instance, some writers begin an e-mail with a salutation or Dear line, despite the To line at the top. Dear was born about a thousand years ago, meaning “honorable, worthy,” and took on the sense of “esteemed, valued” and “beloved.” In the age of the quill pen, according to William Safire, Dear was used as a polite form of address for anyone—friends, business acquaintances, or strangers. Today’s e-mails are as likely to begin with Good afternoon, Hello! or Hi as with Dear. Occasionally, managers address multiple audiences as All or even Folks.

Judith Martin, author of Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior, Freshly Updated, suggests that you may begin an e-mail “with almost anything civil. Or even nothing, because an e-mail is like a memo and doesn’t require a salutation. . . . But that is presuming informality is understood not to be a euphemism for rudeness or sloppiness.”21

Just as conventions for e-mail greetings vary from organization to organization, so do conventions for e-mail signoffs. While business letters typically end with “Sincerely,” that closing may seem too formal for routine e- mail messages. Instead you may see “Thank you,” “Regards,” “Cheers,” or “Warm regards.” Currently the most popular closing is “Best,” which is a streamlined version of “Best wishes,” a phrase that goes back centuries.22 All of these are safe and more succinct than “Have a good day” or “Make it a great day.” The popularity of texting as a business communication tool has resulted in internal e-mails becoming more informal, to the extent that a closing is often omitted. Good advice for e-mail writers, then, is to be courteous as well as concise. Overly formal formatting is as inappropriate as overly casual formatting.


Memo and E-mail Uses

Memos and e-mails serve a variety of uses within an organization. We have listed the most common below. You may see other practices where you work as well.

Communicating to Groups

Managers find memos and e-mail useful for communicating the same information to several individuals at once. Not only does the memo or e-mail save time over talking, but it ensures as well that each person has the same information.

Fixing Responsibility

The memo or e-mail can be a valuable management tool in other ways. For example, it can fix responsibility for actions. A manager who uses memos for giving assignments has a written record if questions of responsibility arise later.

Communicating With Opponents

Managers quickly learn to appreciate the memo and e-mail as a way of communicating with those they cannot get along with. Personal dislikes crop up in any organization from time to time, but memos and e-mails bridge the gaps that may ensue. Recently texting and Twitter have been added to the list of communication channels traditionally used for this purpose. The message gets delivered without bringing the two factions together. However, it is never appropriate to “flame” a reader with an emotion-packed e-mail, text message, or Tweet. Remember the permanency of all messages generated at work, whether paper or electronic. Never write something you could not defend in a meeting or courtroom.

Communicating With the Inaccessible

Memos and e-mails are handy for dealing with people (especially supervisors) who are hard to reach. Those who are busy or absent can be reached by memo or e-mail or, increasingly, by text message. A series of memos can also be proof of past attempts to contact a boss if problems arise. An example of a clear, concise, informative memo follows.


Types of Internal Correspondence

Memos and e-mails tend to fall into two groups: announcements and requests. Both these general types can be directed to large groups within an organization (especially announcements), and both can be directed to individuals.


Announcements concern policy changes, meetings and conferences, new products, and personnel changes (including promotions). By nature, they are informative, nonsensitive messages and follow the direct order strategy. Other types of notifications include status reports, such as progress and periodic reports. The following informative memo is an example of an announcement.


TO: All Salaried Employees

FROM: Alan Reynolds, Director of Human Resources

DATE: October 3, 2018

SUBJECT: Changes in Payroll Practices

We’ve made a couple of changes in the payroll procedures to alleviate some of the bottlenecks that have delayed paychecks in the past few months.

1. Paychecks will no longer be mailed out. You will receive your check for the month on the last working day of that month. Direct deposits will still be made to your checking or savings account provided you use direct deposit for only one account.

2. All travel and expense reimbursements received before the twentieth of each month will be included in that monthly paycheck. Requests for reimbursement will no longer be paid by individual checks as in the past. Of course, these expense reimbursements are not taxed.

These changes in payroll should help to guarantee timely paychecks.

Requests for Action

The nature of the request-for-action memo dictates its organization. When a manager requests action that typically falls under her jurisdiction, direct order is appropriate and the memo or e-mail begins with a clear Subject line that includes the writer’s purpose and topic (for example, “Subject: Request for vacation schedules”). When the requested action may meet with resistance, a less specific Subject line and a more persuasive strategy (indirect order) are appropriate (for example, “Subject: Upcoming procedure changes”). Direct or indirect, these memos and e-mails often require listing steps and careful wording for successful action. Remember, concrete language is always preferable to vague expressions, such as “please give your attention to this matter” and “reply at your earliest convenience,” when requesting behavior change (see Chapter 7).



Political Uses in Business

Recall from the previous chapter that managers belong to a discourse community with unique characteristics and uses for their writing. The memo and e-mail are examples of strategic tools for managers. In fulfilling their ostensible task of communicating announcements and requests for action within an organization, they are often put to other strategic uses. The uses are detailed next.

One political device is the copy list. Managers can protect themselves, publicize alliances, and show favor by including—and not including—certain people as cc: recipients.

Another practice that is widely used is to write a memo or e-mail summarizing a meeting. While the message is ostensibly “for the record,” its recording of the meeting or conversation can affect perceptions. The meeting minutes become the reality and may, for example, prove ownership of an idea.

Still another political tactic is to attach a cover memo to that of a colleague. If the original memo reflects poorly on the writer, the practice serves to offer another viewpoint.

Managers sometimes use memos to shape employees’ opinions. An announcement of a policy or procedure change that uses positive language and stresses reader benefits may influence readers’ willingness to comply with the new system. In summary, managers should remember that anything they put in writing, whether on paper or in digital format, is permanent. Think twice about how you commit yourself to paper or e-mail in controversial situations. “Routine” documents can have an important impact on a manager’s effectiveness and image.



Letters, e-mails, and memos can benefit greatly from strategic considerations. However, they are frequently mere impersonal messages written automatically. One key consideration for audience adaptation in routine messages is the you attitude. The writer with this attitude projects himself into the reader’s position and prepares messages to suit that reader.

The you attitude also influences the organization of ideas: Direct order is appropriate for good news and neutral information; indirect is for bad news messages and persuasive messages. Direct order places the main point first; indirect, later.

Common types of direct messages are the inquiry, the positive response to an inquiry, the claim, and the positive response to a claim.

Indirect messages are the negative response to an inquiry, the refused claim, and the persuasive message.

Negatives must be handled carefully in correspondence. A writer should de-emphasize the negative by using subordination, by avoiding terms such as no and not, and by avoiding negative wording or words with negative connotations. Apologies are a strategy that can improve a manager’s and organization’s image. They can also create the impression of guilt and liability.

Memos and their electronic equivalent, e-mails, are the most frequently used internal written communication. E-mails and memos are efficient, straightforward messages that require some strategic considerations in their writing. They have several uses for a manager, including communicating to groups, fixing responsibility, communicating with opponents, and communicating with the inaccessible. They fall into two categories: announcements and requests for action.

Memos and e-mails are frequently used in office politics.


Cases For Small-Group Discussion


Case 8–1


Claim Refusal Letter You are the sales manager for a furniture manufacturer and have just received a strongly worded claim letter from Hyram Blalock, who owns a large hotel in a nearby city. Blalock has been refurbishing his hotel and had placed a special order with you for 115 headboards to fit specifications he sent.

He ordered headboards an inch and a half narrower than for conventional king-size beds. He also specified a finish different from that normally used in this grade of headboard. Finally, he wanted his hotel’s logo imprinted on each headboard. You completed this order and shipped it to him about a week ago.

He ordered the mattresses directly from a manufacturer that has since gone out of business. They did, however, deliver his mattresses before going bankrupt, just a week before your headboards arrived. The problem is that all these mattresses were manufactured in the conventional dimensions rather than the narrower ones for which the headboards were designed.

Blalock is asking you to take back the current shipment and either change the dimensions to fit the conventional mattresses or send a different set (which would, of course, have the finish he specified and his hotel’s logo on them).

Obviously, you cannot comply with his request. Write an appropriate strategic claim refusal. The facts are on your side—he ordered the headboards in the size and finish that he received. However, the challenge is to tell him so without lecturing or using negatives. If you do choose to alter the headboards in the original order, feel free to do so—but be sure to charge him. Most importantly, you want to keep Blalock as a customer.


Case Note This case tempts the writer to respond to Blalock with the same kind of letter he sent. Those using the appropriate indirect negative response will avoid lecturing to the reader as they remind him of his role in the problem. The suggested option (remodeling the headboards) is one strategy, but it should not be presented as if the writer feels guilty. If the letter suggests guilt, then the writer can expect more problems.


Case 8–2


Inquiry Letter You are the assistant human resource manager for an insurance company whose territory includes your state and three surrounding states. Your company has recently revamped its retirement and employment benefits packages, and you have been assigned the task of communicating these changes to all employees.

Since some of the changes are complex, you will be traveling to four sites in your region to meet with the company’s agents and their personnel. You need to arrange hotel accommodations for the personnel at each of the sites, and you will need a meeting room with a screen and equipment for projecting your PowerPoint slide show. Since the company has had a very good year, management wants the employees to enjoy their stay at the hotels. So you also need to inquire into the recreational and banquet facilities available.

Write a letter of inquiry to the Hotel Beacon in a major city in one of your surrounding states. The letter should elicit the information you will need to decide if the hotel is the right one for your meeting. Make it clear that you will be looking at other hotels, seeking the best rate for services required.


Case Note The most common pitfall in this case will be the lack of clarity. The letter is actually more complex than it seems. The temptation for some will be to write a brief letter, which the hotel marketing manager will be unable to answer in proper detail. In addition to being thorough, the letter should also build goodwill; the writer may be interested in doing more business in the future with the reader.


Case 8–3


Request Refusal Letter You are the administrative assistant to R. D. Spenser, president of Flo-Sheen Fabrics. Flo-Sheen employs over three hundred people in its mill and corporate offices. Each year, these employees contribute generously to the city’s annual fundraising drive. Spenser also has developed a volunteer program that allows some employees to work on charitable projects on company time.

On your desk today, you found a letter that was sent to Spenser from a statewide youth organization requesting permission to conduct a fundraising drive in your plant for a new project it is developing. The organization wants to establish a scholarship fund for its brightest members.

Spenser jotted a note at the bottom of the letter asking you to deny the request. Do so, but build up goodwill. Be positive yet assertive; do not leave the organization wondering if the request is denied.


Case Note Since the letter must build goodwill, the writer must use tact in denying the request. One option would be holding out the possibility of putting the youth organization on next year’s list. But do not leave the reader feeling that another letter might get the results that the first one missed. The letter also needs to explain why the president of the company is not responding.


Exercise For Small Groups


Exercise 8–1 As you prepare to revise the following memo, consider purpose, audience, organization, and tone. Change the headings to standard format. Consider using design elements such as bullets, headings, or a word table to clarify the information in the memo’s body.

Interoffice Correspondence

     St. Louis, Missouri

To: Purchasing  From:

Date: January 21

Subject: Schedules

Well we had our team meetin just like usual this week. We talked about alot, but I thought I should remind you of a few things that are pressing. Don’t forget that we are supposed to send our schedules for the week to Buffi. These should be transmitted by EMail each Monday or Friday if you can get it done early. It’r really helpful to know where you are when we can’t find you.

Your vacation schedules should be estimated by now so please give them to me by the end of next week.


Student Study Site

Visit the Student Study Site at study.sagepub.com/hynes7e for web quizzes, video links, web resources, and case studies.



1. A review of research on the importance of written and oral communication for managerial success and for promotion can be found in N. Lamar Reinsch and Jonathan A. Gardner, “Do Communication Abilities Affect Promotion Decisions? Some Data from the C-Suite,” Journal of Business and Technical Communication 28, no. 1 (2014): 31–57.

2. Ibid. 47. For a list of the most important managerial skills, see also the Graduate Management Admissions Council, “Corporate Recruiters Survey: 2014 Survey Report” at http://www.gmac.com/~/media/Files/gmac/Research/Employment%20Outlook/2014-corporaterecruiters- final-release.pdf.

3. Paul Glen, “The Pen Is Mightier Than the Code,” Computerworld, December 20, 2010, 30.

4. Edward Goodin and Skip Swerdlow, “The Current Quality of Written Correspondence: A Statistical Analysis of the Performance of 13 Industry and Organizational Categories,” Bulletin of the Association for Business Communication 50, no. 1 (March 1987): 12–16.

5. Lucia S. Sigmar and Traci Austin, The Professional’s Guide to Relevant Grammar: The Sequel. Paper presented at the 42nd annual meeting of the Federation of Business Disciplines (Houston, TX: Association for Business Communication-Southwestern U.S., March 2015).

6. Renae Merle, “What Wells Fargo Dodged by Agreeing to Pay $110 Million to Settle Fake Accounts Lawsuit,” Houston Chronicle, April 2, 2017, B2. CEO’s letter appeared in the Houston Chronicle, April 5, 2017, sec. A7.

7. Jennifer R. Veltsos, “An Analysis of Data Breach Notifications as Negative News,” Business Communication Quarterly 75, no. 2 (2012): 192–207.

8. “Set Guidelines for Letters of Recommendation Requests,” Volunteer Management Report 20, no. 1 (Nov 2015): 4.

9. For a comprehensive overview of the philosophical issues behind corporate apologies and their applications to civil and criminal law, see Nick Smith, I Was Wrong: The Meanings of Apologies (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008). See also Nick Smith, Justice through Apologies: Remorse, Reform, and Punishment (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2014).

10. Stuart Shapiro, president and chief executive of the Pennsylvania Health Care Association, letter to the editor, The New York Times, June 6, 2013, sec. A22.

11. Excerpt from a full-page advertisement, “Open Letter to Target Guests,” from Gregg Steinhafel, chairman, president, and CEO of Target, Inc., published in the Houston Chronicle, January 13, 2014, sec. A9.

12. Oscar Munoz, “Actions Speak Louder Than Words,” Houston Chronicle, April 27, 2017, sec. A16. “A


Message from Oscar Munoz,” Hemispheres (May 2017): 10.

13. Peter W. Cardon, Business Communication: Developing Leaders for a Networked World, 2nd ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2016), 268.

14. Ameeta Patel and Lamar Reinsch, “Companies Can Apologize: Corporate Apologies and Legal Liability,” Business Communication Quarterly 66, no. 1 (March 2003): 9–25.

15. Andrea Rumbaugh, “United Revamps Policies After Dragging Incident,” Houston Chronicle, April 27, 2017, sec. B1, B7.

16. Jeanette Gilsdorf, “Write Me Your Best Case for . . . ,” Bulletin of the Association for Business Communication 54, no. 1 (March 1991): 7–12.

17. Lisa Abend, “The Font War: IKEA Fans Fume Over Verdana,” Time, August 28, 2009, http://content.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1919127,00.html.

18. Gerald Alred, Charles T. Brusaw, and Walter E. Oliu, The Business Writer’s Handbook, 11th ed. (Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2015), 319.

19. L. M. Sixel, “How You Say It Matters in a Big Way as Companies Get Training on Email,” Houston Chronicle, July 10, 2014, sec. D1, D6.

20. Alred, Brusaw, and Oliu, “The Business Writer’s Handbook”; Sixel, “How You Say It.”

21. William Safire, “To Whom It May Concern: Here’s How to Address E-mail,” Houston Chronicle, October 22, 2006, sec. E6.

22. Rebecca Greenfield, “No Way to Say Goodbye,” Bloomberg Businessweek, June 8, 2015, 86.


9 Writing Reports and Proposals

No one who has read official documents needs to be told how easy it is to conceal the essential truth under the apparently candid and all-disclosing phrases of a voluminous and particularizing report.

—Woodrow Wilson, twenty-eighth U.S. president

Reports are among an organization’s most important communication tools. They appear in a variety of forms, carry out a number of functions, and ensure the efficient transfer of data. Data transfer takes place both within an organization and between an organization and its stakeholders. Managerial reports carry verifiable information that addresses some purpose or problem. Business reports must present information objectively and clearly in order to help organizations achieve their objectives.1

Business reports can be classified according to six elements:

Function: inform, analyze, or recommend action Frequency: periodic or special Subject matter: accounting, production, finance, marketing, and so forth Formality: informal or formal Reader-writer relationship: internal or external, vertical or lateral Communication medium: print, digital, or oral2

In general, the stakes are high in managerial report writing. Common to all these diverse report situations is that managers must have the know-how to research business problems, solve them, and communicate the findings to their readers accurately, clearly, and concisely.3 This chapter describes principles that apply to the most frequent types of business reports.


The Report-Writing Process

Typically, managers write reports for one of three reasons. The most common is simply that someone has asked them to. A higher-level manager who sees an area where information is lacking or a problem that needs solving will ask a direct report to fill that gap or solve that problem. A report may also be part of a company’s regular business. Thus, writing progress or periodic reports may be one of a manager’s regular duties. Finally, a manager may write reports spontaneously, perhaps to fill gaps they identified or to share information with the rest of the staff or to propose changes.



Of course, managers do not just sit down and write reports one after another. Typically, they must lay the groundwork for the report. The prewriting process mirrors the “Stage 1: Planning” section on routine documents that is discussed in Chapter 7. This preliminary effort often takes more time than actually writing the report and can intimidate some writers.4

Defining the Problem or Objective

After accepting a report-writing assignment, a manager must make sure the process leading up to the report will yield optimum results. The writer’s time is valuable not only to the company but to the writer as well. First, the report writer must determine the problem under study or the objective. What does the person who authorized this report want to happen? The problem may be nothing more than an information gap— someone needs data or demographics on sales, for example. The problem may also be one requiring analysis. Thus, the writer must choose from among several options and recommend a plan of action.

Developing Recommendations

Once the problem and purpose have been determined, the next step before gathering data is to develop solutions or action items. The manager must analyze the need for change and determine the best plan for improvement. For example, productivity in a plant has dropped, and a manager wants to determine the cause (or causes) and propose a solution. Possible causes might be raw material shortages, equipment malfunctions, abuse of sick leave, or a host of combinations.

Once these causes are analyzed, the researcher develops solutions and considers constraints such as resources and time frames in identifying the most reasonable plan.


Stop and Think 1. How does thinking about a report’s purpose compare with the prewriting strategies you read about in Chapter 7? 2. When considering a report’s audience, how does the WII-FM concept (“What’s in it for me?”) apply?

Seeking Data

Once the manager has done the problem analysis and determined the information needed for the report, the next step is to gather supporting data. Most of the data needed for business reports are primary data—data the writer collects from interviews, surveys, experiments, and observation. Occasionally, writers draw from secondary research data—material already published. Numerous sources are readily accessible online, but managers should evaluate them for credibility, objectivity, and accuracy. In general, websites that pop up first when you use a search engine such as Google or Bing will provide free information aimed at consumers and the public. Managers researching business topics for reports should consider accessing professional databases and industry sources via search engines such as Biznar for high-quality, valid information.5

After gathering and analyzing the data, the manager transforms the results into a format that will clearly and easily be understood by the report readers. Strategies for presenting data in easy-to-read formats, including tables and graphs, are described in Chapter 6.


Report Parts

When deciding what the various parts of your final report will look like, writers should be guided by the appropriate level of formality. The most informal routine reports are short and may even resemble forms. The manager simply fills in several blank spaces and, in some cases, provides a brief narrative or description. Examples are the trip report, the expense report, and the attendance report.

Next on the formality continuum is the letter or memo report. Either of these may be several pages long (ten- page letter reports are not unheard of). As explained in Chapter 8, letter reports are addressed to external audiences, while memo reports go to internal audiences. Detailed descriptions of letter and memo reports, along with example reports, are presented later in this chapter.

As the report’s purpose becomes more formal, front matter appears, automatically lengthening the document. Thus, for example, the writer may precede a report with a transmittal letter, title page, and table of contents. Back matter, such as appendixes and glossaries, may be added as well. Later in the chapter, we describe what goes into those elements of a formal report, and you will see an example of a formal report with front and back matter.

Although the key analysis and solution components of informal and formal reports are similar, there are noticeable differences in the parts that are included. For example, compare the sections of an informal proposal and a formal proposal in Table 9–1.6


Stop and Think 1. If you want to recommend staff changes, how formal should your proposal be? 2. If you want to propose a new product to senior management, how formal should your proposal be? 3. If you are filing a report with a federal government regulatory agency, how formal should your report be?


Strategic Considerations

As with all other communications undertaken by managers, reports should reflect careful strategic decisions. These decisions fall into a number of areas, many of which are subtle but important.

Table 9–1 Proposal Sections

Informal Formal

1. Introduction and purpose statement 1. Letter of transmittal

2. Problem and need for action or change

2. Title page

 a. Background 3. Executive summary

 b. Causes 4. Table of contents

 c. Scope, significance, implications 5. Body

3. Proposed solution  a. Statement of problem

 a. Implementation details, including costs

 b. Proposed solution

 b. Rationale  c. Implementation details, including budget and schedule of work

 c. Benefits  d. Personnel qualifications

4. Call to action  e. Terms and conditions

 f. Benefits

6. Summary, agreement for action

7. Appendixes



The design of a report is one of the report writer’s deliberate strategic decisions. As we discussed in the previous section, generally, the more significant the contents of the report, the more formal it looks. Several other factors that determine a report’s design are discussed next.


A report’s intended audience guides, at least partially, the appearance and degree of formality. A manager preparing a report recommending the purchase of one component over another might choose e-mail format for the company controller but a hard copy short memo report form (with a title page) for the CEO. Just as we might dress more formally for an interview with the boss than we might for our employees, our reports’ appearance similarly should fit the readers’ expectations.


The report that requires a couple of phone calls and a half hour for the writing calls for a more informal design than does one resulting from several weeks of careful planning, the administration and evaluation of testing instruments, and several days of writing.


We also must consider the value of the findings the report shares. Some findings are more important than others. For example, a report on options for a new coffeemaker in the break room might conceivably reflect as much effort as one recommending a new product line. However, the significance of the second calls for a more formal design.


Stop and Think 1. When a business report is transmitted as an e-mail, does it appear to have taken more or less effort than a hard copy

memo? 2. Why do you think format indicates effort?

The Original Assignment

A report writer should use any clues given in the initial assignment. It might be unwise to prepare a formal report if the original assignment from your manager was to “shoot me an e-mail when you’ve found the answer.” If on another assignment that same manager indicated a different report might be forwarded to top management, you might give it a more formal look.


Precedent is also relevant to the format a report will assume. A new manager is advised to learn what format is traditional for certain types of assignments. Many global companies, such as ExxonMobil, Honeywell, and Accenture, specify strict guidelines. Precedent is especially relevant with periodic reports, which are expected to look like previous periodic reports.

Recently, some companies and government agencies have begun using graphics software such as Microsoft (MS) PowerPoint as a report format. Considered by some managers to be simpler and more user-friendly than word processing software, such as MS Word, graphics software will produce “decks” or “flipbooks” that include more text, data tables, and illustrations than are seen on traditional presentation slides and that can stand alone. On the other hand, this report format is more concise than traditional narrative reports because of space limitations.

Karl Keller, a corporate communication consultant in Chicago, notes that PowerPoint decks “are often used to marshal business arguments, e.g., ‘we should do X’ rather than reporting business activities in a broader sense. These decks accompany face-to-face or distance meetings with screen sharing.”7 Ulrike Morphett, a business professor at Nanyang Technological University, agrees, adding that for strategy consulting projects, companies in Singapore invariably want PowerPoint decks rather than traditional word-processed reports as the key document deliverable to accompany a presentation. Best practices for PowerPoint report formats have yet to emerge, but they seem to fill the gap between sparse bulleted lists on presentation slides and long, formal, corporate reports.8


Arrangement of Points

Another strategic decision that report writers must make is the order of the information appearing in the report.

Direct Order

As explained in Chapter 8, direct order puts the main point first, followed by the details. In routine messages conveying good news or neutral information, direct order is appropriate. Similarly, with short reports, when the reader is likely to agree with the writer’s main point, direct order is often best.

Most readers receive reports neutrally, and since recommendations are needed for deciding on actions to take, the sooner a reader gets to them, the better. Direct order is especially appropriate when the reader trusts the writer’s work. If the reader needs to check on any point, the specifics are in the text.

Indirect Order

Indirect order is often favored for long reports and proposals. The traditional inductive organizational pattern of introduction, body, and conclusion described in Chapter 8 is common for such reports. The indirect approach is unquestionably called for when a reader is likely to interpret the conclusions as bad news. Then, too, in analytic reports, proposals, or persuasive reports, when readers might disagree with the conclusions, the writer must lead the readers logically to the conclusions using indirect order.


Organization of the Body

Whether a writer uses direct or indirect order to arrange the ideas, the body of the report also needs organization. The body, the part that gives the reasons for the conclusions and recommendations, needs unifying elements to ensure that the material is in its clearest, most useful form and that the ideas are presented in a logical, easily followed sequence. When deciding how to organize the body, be sure that you include only the information that your reader(s) expect. Despite your experience with writing term papers in school, length is not a virtue of business reports. In fact, short business reports are more likely to be read than long ones. When deciding what to include in the body of your report, remember the advice of Elmore Leonard, the prolific, award-winning American crime novelist: “try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.”9

The organizational plan chosen is situational and depends on the problem under study, the nature of the information being reported, and the reader’s needs. If the report is a solicited business proposal—in response to a Request for Proposal (RFP)—the structure of the proposal should follow the dictates of the RFP. If the report is unsolicited, the writer may choose the organizational plan. The most common are by time, place, quantity, and criteria (or factors).


Time organization is obviously appropriate for chronologically sequenced material. Any report that narrates events uses this pattern. For example, a quarterly report might have main divisions for each of the three months covered. Once the writer chooses this order, questions about what comes next are easily resolved.


Organization by place is more complex than is organization by time. This pattern would be appropriate for an activity report dealing with simultaneous but separate events (for example, a monthly report on the activities of several branch offices of a company). It is also appropriate for descriptive reports. Using spatial organization in complex reports dictates some order in which to proceed. For example, a report describing a company’s new headquarters might have sections for each floor of the building, proceeding from the bottom floor to the top.


Organization by quantity or size is another option that is relevant when the data lend themselves to quantification. For example, a report discussing cities might organize by population ranges. And sales reports might give information about the best-selling product first.

Criteria or Factors

The final category, organization by criteria or factors, is a catchall. It is also the most useful since it is so broad. Here, the report’s body is organized by the relevant factors that led to the conclusions. In an


informational report, these factors are the categories into which the information falls. For example, a report

discussing the characteristics of a sales market that is largely homogeneous might deal with the income, age, education, and tastes of the market.

In an evaluative report, the conclusions and recommendations are based on a set of criteria or reasons on which a decision is based. For example, a writer may prepare a personnel report recommending the selection of a job candidate, organizing by the required characteristics of a new hire.

Recommendation reports may also be organized by the alternative solutions available. Each major section of the proposal would describe an option in detail. For example, a report recommending the fleet purchase of a particular car might begin with an overview of criteria used, such as safety, comfort, financial considerations, and dependability. Then, each of three or four car models under consideration might be described. The report would conclude with a recommendation based on the criteria.


Stop and Think Recall the concepts of BIF and BILL, also called the “Direct Strategy” and the “Indirect Strategy,” that were described in Chapter 8 as ways to organize routine messages. When organizing a report by criteria or factors, should you begin with the most important criterion/factor (BIF) or should you work up to it (BILL)?



All business reports (not just formal ones) benefit from the use of headings. Headings indicate to the reader the relative degree of significance of the material that follows. Headings are also useful signposts to guide the reader through the report. They make the structure of the report explicit. And headings provide white space in reports, which contributes appreciably to their visual appeal, as mentioned in the preceding chapter. The following paragraphs offer guidelines for developing report headings.

Content Headings

Write headings with the reader in mind. They should be descriptive of the content to follow but relatively short. Generally, seven words (or fewer) are appropriate for first-level headings, and even fewer than seven are usually needed for lower-level headings. Although single words and phrases are typical content headings, a question can serve as a heading. This format works especially well when the report is a response to an inquiry or a RFP that included questions.

The report writer can choose from a variety of heading systems. The heading system described next and shown in Figure 9–1 is suitable for most needs. Be aware, however, that when reports are transmitted electronically, the position of headings on a page or screen may change. If a writer is unsure, it may be wiser to left justify all headings, changing only the font size and other design elements to indicate levels.

Heading Levels

The first-level heading is used for all major divisions of the report, including headings for some prefatory parts (executive summary, table of contents); the introduction; the major divisions of the body of the report; and the closing sections. The writer may choose any type style, size, and position, using the guidelines in Chapter 6, but the design must be consistent throughout the report.

The second-level heading indicates material that explains, develops, and supports the main divisions of the report. The type style, size, and position should be noticeably different from first-level headings, but consistent within the level. The sample report at the end of this chapter provides examples of first- and second-level headings.

Figure 9–1 Report Headings Style Sample


Occasionally, routine reports require third-level headings, which indicate subsections of subsections. The principles of contrast and consistency apply at this level as well.



Report writers use other transitional devices besides headings. In moving from one major section to another, a writer should summarize the previous section and preview the next to show the change. In long, formal reports, internal summaries warrant their own heading and section. But in routine reports, a brief sentence may be sufficient to signal the shift and help the reader see the flow of ideas. Think of the Roman god Janus, who has two faces—one looking back and one looking ahead. A Janus statement thus consists of a review of the previous section plus a preview of what is to come in the report. Now that we have discussed strategic decisions about design, arrangement of points, organization, headings, and transitions, we are ready to examine three common types of business reports: memo reports, letter reports, and formal reports.


Memo and Letter Reports

The first specific types of reports we examine are routine, relatively short reports, which usually resemble memos and letters in format and design. They fall toward the informal side of the formality continuum for business reports. More and more often, short reports are delivered electronically, perhaps as e-mail attachments, rather than as paper documents. Whether hard copy or electronic, they should follow these guidelines.


Memo Reports

In addition to being the most informal type of report used within an organization, memos are crisp, efficient and suggest a no-nonsense approach. They invariably have some form of headings—To, From, Subject, and Date—at the top for efficient routing and a quick understanding of purpose. The comments made about Subject lines in Chapter 8 apply here as well. In an indirectly ordered report, the Subject line should not give away the conclusions.


The memo report begins with a brief introduction that usually tells the purpose of the report and who authorized it. For example, “Recently, you asked me to look into the purchase of a new copier.”

It is also appropriate to indicate how the writer derived the information: “I called sales representatives from three manufacturers,” or “I examined sales materials supplied by three companies.” A statement of the scope— how widely the research into the problem ranged—is appropriate as well, although it is often obvious.

Close to the beginning, a direct-order report indicates the conclusions and/or recommendations reached in the report. In the example on copiers, the writer using direct order might end the first paragraph with her choice of copier.


Whether the overall report uses direct or indirect order, the body of a memo report details the findings that led the writer to the conclusions the report makes. Headings and similar design elements such as lists and infographics will guide the reader through the contents and structure of the report body. Lists help to cut down on prose, and their simplicity can improve reader comprehension and retention of the material. To maximize reader comprehension, lists should be constructed in parallel grammatical form. For example, in the report on copiers, the writer might state the following:

“My evaluation of the copiers sought to determine four things about each unit:

Use of energy Cost of operation Speed of operation Frequency of repairs”

Writers must be careful not to let the memo report degenerate into an outline, a series of listed phrases, or a collection of graphics without narrative in an effort to be concise.


The end of a memo report needs planning. If the report uses indirect order, the last paragraph will give the


conclusions and recommendations reached. On the other hand, a report using direct order easily ends on the

last point. The writer might wish to introduce the last paragraph with a simple transition: “Finally, I evaluated the ease of operation of the copiers. I found . . .”

In the example of a memo report below, note the use of the direct strategy for organizing ideas. Also, note the use of design elements such as bullets and headings to make the message easy to read.


Letter Reports

The letter report is similar to the memo report, with three essential differences: format, tone, and audience. The differences in format are products of necessity (the inside address, for example) and convention (the salutation and complimentary close). The inside address is necessary because the report is to be sent to someone outside the organization.

A more subtle difference between the two is tone. Since the letter report goes to an external reader, it is a tool for building goodwill, and goodwill means increased business. Thus, the letter report stresses reader benefits more than the memo report and is likely to close with a goodwill statement that promises continued cooperation.


To: Sanjay Gupta, Plant Superintendent

From: Max Holder, Manager

Date: June 20, 2018

Subject:  Recommendation to Install Jetaire Hand Dryers

As you requested, this memo presents the results of my research about the relative cost effectiveness of installing hand dryers versus paper towel holders in the company restrooms. I recommend that we purchase Jetaire Hand Dryers.


Benefits Wilson Manufacturing will gain three benefits by installing hand dryers:

We will save $3,084 in three years, plus intangible costs. The restrooms will be more sanitary. The safety of our employees will be increased, since there will be less slipping on wet floors.


Analysis During the preceding three-year period, paper towels have cost us $3,168. The intangible costs are 50 percent of the three-year cost, which is $1,584 (see Table 1). The intangible costs come from issuing purchase orders, storing extra towels, hiring plumbers to fix clogged pipes, and the disposal of towels. In total, Wilson Manufacturing has spent $4,752 to support the use of paper towels.

By comparison, installing Jetaire Hand Dryers will cost just $1,668 over three years (see Table 2), saving the company an estimated $3,084.

Eliminating paper towels will have benefits beyond cost savings. For instance, the use of hand dryers will bring about a more sanitary environment. The toilets and sinks will not be as likely to overflow, thus reducing the need for repairs. This will make the workplace more enjoyable.

Another benefit is the reduction of safety hazards. Wet, slippery floors caused by clogged sinks and toilets could result in employee injuries. These will be eliminated when paper towels are no longer used.


Action Item Haworth, Inc., should be hired to install three Jetaire Hand units in each of the four restrooms. The machines can be installed in one afternoon with no interruption to our operation.

Table 1 Cost of Paper Towels

No. of employees 200

Towels avg. 2.5

Daily visits 4

Cost per towel 0.002

Days per month 22

Monthly cost $88

Three-year cost $3,168

Intangible cost $1,584

Total cost $4,752

Table 2 Cost of Jetaire Hand Dryers

Three Jetaire units @ $120 x four restrooms $1,440

Installation cost $84

Electricity cost for three years $144

Total cost for Jetaire $1,668


The letter report may use direct or indirect order, although most prefer indirect order because the reader’s reaction might be difficult to gauge at a distance. When the findings are unquestionably positive, direct order is advisable. In these cases, a clear Subject line can orient the reader to the nature of the problem and solution addressed in the letter report.


Like the memo report, the letter report needs a brief introduction. The opening acquaints the reader with the purpose. Often, the purpose and authorization (or reference to the request being granted) can appear in a single sentence. For example, “As you requested in your letter last week, here is a report on our experiences with Ace Maintenance Service.” If appropriate, the scope of the report and the methodology used for


developing the details can be included, although these may be clear from the discussion.


The letter report has no set length, and it is not unheard of for such a report to reach eight to ten pages.

Headings are appropriate in a letter report, especially a longer report, since they quickly guide the reader to whatever sections might be of special interest. Since managers write some letter reports in response to a series of questions submitted by the reader, the headings can reflect those questions. As with memo reports, bulleted lists and infographics are appropriate for the letter report.


If conclusions and recommendations are reserved for the end of the report, they precede the final short paragraph. The last paragraph of a letter report is a statement of goodwill. Readers appreciate the writer’s personal involvement, and writers appreciate an opportunity to close on a positive note, procuring the likelihood of future business transactions.

In the example of a letter report below, note the use of the direct strategy for organizing ideas. Also, note the use of design elements such as bullets and headings to make the message easy to read.

The final type of report to be examined here is the formal report. Though we will review all the elements of long, formal reports, not every element will appear in every report. Remember that as reports get longer, they tend to pick up the trappings of formality.


Elements of The Formal Report

Though you may not often write long, formal reports, when the situation arises, you will want the report to look right. Formal reports are delivered as paper documents more often than in electronic form, whether sent to internal or external audiences. In the next sections, we will first discuss front matter, then review parts of the report proper, and finally describe back matter (see Table 9–2).

Lamar Consolidated High School

4604 Mustang Avenue

Rosenberg, TX 77471

Main Phone: (832) 223-3000

Main Fax: (832) 223-3001

November 3, 2018

Mr. Alphonse Garcia

207 Pine Ridge Road

Rosenberg, TX 77471

Dear Mr. Garcia:

What a great privilege it is to report on Jennifer’s progress in Algebra I this year. I know Jennifer’s success in Algebra is important to you and Jennifer. Evidence suggests that the support systems at home and class must work together to facilitate learning for high school students.

The table below summarizes Jennifer’s scores on her weekly quizzes, unit exams, and homework.

Month Quizzes (20 pts) Exams (100 pts) Homework (10 pts)






















As you can see, Jennifer is exceeding expectations across the board.

Finally, I would like to invite you to attend the annual Open House on Wednesday, November 15, so we can meet and discuss the rest of the semester. Here are the details:

Date: Wednesday, November 15, 2018 Time: 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm (come-and-go event) Location: Lamar CHS cafeteria and classrooms


Additional information about the event can be found on the high school website at www.lchsisd.edu.

I am excited to partner with you this semester to help Jennifer learn and succeed in Algebra. Please contact me whenever you would like to discuss her work. I primarily rely on e-mail, but you can also phone me if you prefer. Conference Hours are Monday, Wednesday, and Friday between 3:30 and 4:30 pm, or by appointment. My phone number is (832) 223-3100. My email: [email protected]


Mark Riggins

Mark Riggins, MEd

Algebra and Mathematics Instructor

Source: Mark Riggins. Reprinted with permission.


Front Matter

These parts come before the report itself. They tend to be directly associated with report length and formality. The longer and more formal a report is, the more front matter it is likely to have. Each element appears on a separate page.

Table 9–2 Formal Report Elements

Front Matter Report Proper Back Matter

Title page Introduction References

Transmittal document Body Bibliography

Table of contents Summary Appendixes

List of illustrations Conclusions

Executive summary Recommendations

Title Page

The title page is the first page for most formal reports. Generally, it consists of four main components: the title, the complete identification of the reader, the complete identification of the writer, and the date. The report title should be a concise description of the report’s purpose and topic. Because of their charge of completeness, titles of business reports tend to be longer than titles of other literary works.

The identification of the reader and writer includes the person’s name, position, organization, city, state, and (if needed) country. The identifying blocks of information are generally preceded by expressions such as “presented to” or “prepared for” and “prepared by.” If the organization and/or location are the same for the reader and writer (internal reports), they may be omitted. These blocks of information should be spaced evenly down the page and laterally centered. See the sample report at the end of this chapter for a model title page.

Transmittal Document

The transmittal memo or letter is the next item found in most formal reports (although some writers actually clip it to the cover of the report). Generally, it replaces the conversation the writer would have with the reader if the report were being handed over in person.

The first paragraph serves three purposes. First, it announces the accompanying report. It also briefly states the nature of the report and mentions authorization details. Note that all three purposes might be accomplished in one sentence, as in “Here is the report on cost-cutting options you requested in your memo


of July 10.”

The content of the transmittal’s body may vary with the circumstances. Generally, it is viewed as an opportunity to motivate the reader to read, interpret, and use the report. Also, the writer might wish to acknowledge people who helped with the research and composition of the report. To keep the transmittal short, do not summarize the report here. That function is served by the executive summary.

Typically, the transmittal closes with a call to action (“After reading the report, please call me.”) and a goodwill gesture. It thanks the recipient for the assignment and looks forward to continued service. To some, the idea of thanking someone for giving them work might sound strange. Such skeptics should remember that report-writing assignments present chances to showcase analytical abilities and communication skills— abilities and skills that might be valued when promotional opportunities arise.

Table of Contents

The table of contents follows the transmittal document. Contemporary word processing software has a feature that allows automatic creation of the table of contents, following the order of headings and subheadings in the text. The real value of the table of contents is that it displays all the report sections at a glance and refers the reader to the page number of a section of particular interest.

If you create the table of contents by hand, be sure the entries use wording identical to that in the text. Also, to connect an entry to its page number, use leader dots (made by alternating periods and spaces on the line, aligned for all the entries). The page numbers should have their digits right aligned.

List of Illustrations

The list of tables and figures is an optional feature appropriate to a report with five or more visual aids, such as a technical report. If needed and if there is room, the list begins several spaces below the end of the table of contents. It is titled “List of Illustrations” and is set up like the table of contents. Most report writers divide the list into tables and figures. The table or figure number is followed by its title and is separated from its page number by leader dots.

Executive Summary

The next prefatory element found in formal reports is the executive summary. Also called the epitome, abstract, brief, digest, or synopsis, it provides a quick overview of the report.10 Managers are often interested only in a report’s highlights. They will use the executive summary as a replacement for the report. The challenge is to shrink the report down to its major facts, analyses, and conclusions, including everything that is key, while keeping it to about one-tenth the length of the report. The easiest way to accomplish this task is to first write the entire report; then go through it and highlight the key statements, generalizations, and topic sentences. Typically, they appear at the beginning of each section and paragraph. Then, just transfer the key statements to a fresh file or page, in the same order that they appear in the report. After polishing, this collection of the report’s highlights turns into the executive summary. See the sample report at the end of this


chapter for a model executive summary.


Stop and Think 1. Why is the executive summary so challenging to compose? 2. When composing a report’s executive summary, to what extent should you apply the strategies you learned in Chapter 7

for writing concisely?


The Report Proper

The report proper begins with an introduction, presents all the information, and ends with conclusions and/or recommendations. The following paragraphs detail the content of the various parts of the report proper.

Introduction: Required Elements

The first page of the formal report proper contains the introduction, which should be identified as such with a first-level heading. The introduction contains a number of required elements. No rule sets the order in which the elements may occur, although the order in which they are discussed in the paragraphs that follow is appropriate for most circumstances.

Every introduction should include the purpose statement and the problem addressed in the report.11 You can state the purpose as simply as “The purpose of this report is to . . .” or “This report recommends a new procedure for . . .”

Another element necessary to most reports is the authorization. The authorization is valuable because it establishes a clear chain of responsibility. The authorization justifies the time, effort, and resources that went into the preparation of the report.

A statement of methodology also must be included in report introductions. Readers want to know how a writer found the data because knowing that may indicate the degree of authority the contents possess. If the material was previously published, it is called secondary research. But if the data were the result of primary research, the writer should describe the methods (sample size, data collection instrument) in sufficient detail to allow the reader to judge the quality of the research.

The last necessary item is the plan of development in which the writer tells the reader how the body of the report is organized. This invaluable element of the introduction signals a major transition and sets the order of the report’s ideas firmly in the reader’s mind. The plan of development is usually simply written: “This report first . . . then . . . and finally . . .”

Introduction: Optional Elements

The introduction also might include other elements, depending on the reader’s and writer’s needs. For example, a statement of limitations details external factors that may have limited the range of exploration in developing the report, such as limited budgets or time.

Another optional element of the introduction is the scope. If any inconsistency exists between the reader’s expectations and the report’s content, the writer would provide an explanation. For example, in the scope statement for a report recommending a new plant site, the writer might note that the report covers only the top four sites and that architectural and engineering details are available elsewhere.

Definitions are another element required in some introductions, if key terms used throughout the report are


unfamiliar to the reader. On the other hand, if only a few unfamiliar words are used a few times, they should be defined the first time they appear in the text. If many terms need defining, a glossary should be added as an appendix.


The body of the report follows the introduction. Since most proposals are set up using indirect order, the conclusions and recommendations appear at the very end of the report proper (but before any back matter). If the report is informational or nonsensitive, it is written using direct order; those conclusions and recommendations will appear right after the introduction.

The body of the report should be clearly organized, using one or more of the bases of organization discussed earlier, and set off with headings. It should also be coherent, allowing the reader to move smoothly from one part to another via appropriate transitions.

The report body should employ the right degree of objectivity. Generally, persuasive reports, such as proposals to potential clients, are not as coldly objective as informational and analytical reports. In all reports, however, writers need to distinguish between facts and inferences. Assumptions and inferences need to be recognized with words like “Assuming that . . .” and “The figures suggest that . . .” One assumption or inference treated as a fact could jeopardize the credibility of the entire report.

The report body should also use the correct time perspective. The time perspective deals with the tense used in presenting the report’s findings and in cross-referencing other parts of the report. Present tense is suitable when the data are current, as in the case of a recent survey. The finding might be presented as follows: “Fully 68 percent of our employees believe that their benefits are adequate.” Using this perspective, a writer would also use the present tense to cross-reference other parts of the report: “Table II, in the previous (or next) section, presents the responses to questions 4, 5, and 6 of the questionnaire.”

When the data are not current, as in the case of secondary research referencing studies that are years old, the past tense is appropriate. For example, “In the Gifford study, 51 percent of the respondents reported dissatisfaction with their benefits.” For consistency, the writer uses the past tense in referring to earlier parts of the report and the future tense in referring to parts of the report ahead.

Summary, Conclusions, and/or Recommendations

The final elements in the report proper are the summary, conclusions, and/or recommendations. An informational report ends with just a summary of the main points in the report body. An analytical report might end with a conclusion or with a conclusions and recommendations section. A proposal ends with a separate recommendations section.

The conclusions section looks back to summarize the research and the findings and suggest what the reader should think about it all. The recommendations section looks ahead to suggest next steps or future actions that the reader should take. Occasionally, the person authorizing the report may want conclusions, that is, the


results of the investigation, but not the writer’s decision.

The conclusions should not introduce any new material; the report body should support all conclusions. Of course, the recommendations will be new material, but they should logically arise from the conclusions. The evidence should not point in one direction while the conclusions point in the other.

A summary is an appropriate ending for a report in direct order, since the conclusions and recommendations appeared at the beginning.


Back Matter

Back matter is optional. Many formal reports are complete without attachments at the end. However, under certain circumstances, the writer may choose to add one or more of the parts described next.


If secondary research was used in the report and if readers might want to trace back the information to its original sources, then a references list is helpful. Sometimes labeled “Works Cited,” the references section lists just that. Further, the writer may add a bibliography of relevant sources that the reader might find useful. The difference between a references list and a bibliography is that a bibliography identifies all the secondary sources that a writer looked at when composing the report, while a references list identifies only the sources that the writer specifically “referred to” in the report. Thus, the references list for a research report may be shorter than or the same length as the bibliography but not longer than the bibliography.

A standard bibliographic format should be followed for both lists—American Psychological Association (APA) style is the simplest and most popular for business research reports. Style guides for citations are readily available online, and a range of free reference manager software tools, such as Zotero, offer the ability to store and export author, title, and publication fields, making it easy to format citations and reference lists. The key for determining how much information to include in a citation is that the source must be recoverable.


Supplemental material should be added to formal reports as appendixes. Examples of such material are tables of financial data, graphs, work samples, pictures, interview transcriptions, survey results, and mock-ups. In short, if the writer feels that a reader may want to look at more information but that information does not fit into the report proper because it is too lengthy or detailed or would disrupt the continuity, then this information should be presented in appendixes.

Appendix format conventions are as follows: Each table, chart, or other type of information should appear as a separate appendix, numbered and titled, on a separate page. Page numbering for the report proper should continue through the appendixes. If the report has a table of contents, the appendixes should be included in it.

The sample report at the end of this chapter provides a model of the parts discussed thus far. The last section of this chapter reviews the common types of visual aids found in business reports and guidelines for their most effective use.


Visual Aids

Visual aids are a common, very effective means of clarifying trends and relationships that are not easily understood in verbal form. As discussed in Chapter 6, the great majority of the research done on visual aids shows that tables and graphics can boost the comprehension of material.

Visual aids can appear in a report of any length or level of formality, but they are most likely to be used in formal reports. They can be incorporated into the report proper or attached as back matter. Visual aids take a number of forms including tables, line graphs, bar charts, pie charts, and pictographs. As explained in Chapter 6, the choice a report writer makes depends on the nature of the material under discussion and on the audience.

Audience adaptation can best be explained by placing visuals on a continuum that ranges from dramatic to informational. In general, less sophisticated audiences and those not familiar with the workings of a business will appreciate dramatic visual aids. Thus, a pictograph might be effective in an annual report comparing a company’s production figures for the past three years. A glass company might use small drawings of bottles to represent millions of units produced. While such a dramatic visual aid gives a clear idea of any significant rise or fall in production, it may not accurately portray smaller changes. The fractions of a bottle needed to represent fractions of a million are difficult to interpret precisely. The exact quantities or percentages can be added to the side to increase the informational impact.

On the other hand, a formal report submitted to upper-level management would use visual aids fitting the readers’ need for precise data. For example, a comparison of several years of production figures broken down by products might appear in a table. A table, while providing large quantities of information, has very little dramatic impact. The reader has to analyze the data and even after that may see little that is dramatic.

Midway on the continuum between dramatic and informative visual aids is the line graph, which can emphatically show trends. Using this graphic aid, readers can easily determine what specific production rate, interest rate, or income the graph is charting. They simply read across to the scale representing the amount.


General Rules

Several general rules apply to all visual aids. By following them, report writers create visual aids that are clear and strategically suited to their readers.

Appropriateness: Visual aids should add value to the section of the report in which they appear. The type of visual aid chosen should be suited to the data being portrayed. Reference and placement: When using visual aids, writers should always refer to them in the text. Keep the visual as close as possible to the relevant narrative. If the writer decides to put the visual into an appendix, the reference will be “see Appendix 3” or something similar. Simplicity: Strive to keep visuals—especially bar graphs, pie charts, and line drawings—simple. The use of abbreviations and standard symbols is advisable, along with a legend, for simplifying complex visuals.



Reports are among an organization’s most important communications and help managers plan, organize, execute, evaluate, and improve an organization. They can address internal or external audiences. Managers write these reports because they have been assigned to do so or because they themselves see a need for one. In preparing to write a report, a writer must first define the problem to be addressed. Then, if the report is analytical, he must conduct research and determine a likely solution.

Reports can be classified according to their level of formality or according to their frequency. How formal or informal a report is depends on several strategic considerations: the audience, the effort expended on researching and writing the report, the report’s value, the original assignment, and the company policy. Reports can also be classified as regular (occurring every so often) or one time only (under special circumstances). Examples of special reports include analysis reports, proposals, and evaluations.

The order of ideas chosen for a report is significant. Direct order is appropriate for good news or neutral information. It places the main conclusions and recommendations at the beginning of the report. Indirect order, best for reports delivering bad news and proposals, puts the main points last. The material within the body may be organized by time, place, quantity, and other factors.

Headings guide the reader through the report. The appearance and placement of the headings indicate the relative significance of the material they cover. Transitions such as internal summaries are another tool for broadcasting a report’s structure.

The memo report is the most common informal report within an organization. The contents can be set off using headings as necessary. Letter reports are similar but are intended for audiences outside the organization. They also usually attempt to stress reader benefits and build goodwill, characteristics that are not as significant with memo reports.

The formal report, whether sent to internal or external audiences, typically consists of front matter, the report proper, and back matter. Front matter generally includes the title page, transmittal document, table of contents, list of illustrations, and executive summary. The report proper includes the introduction; the major subdivisions that make up the report body; and the closing sections made up of summary, conclusions, and/or recommendations. Back matter contains supplemental information that does not readily fit into the report proper—usually a list of references and/or appendixes.

Visual aids may appear in the report proper or as appendixes. They exist on a continuum ranging from dramatic to informational. The choice of visual aids depends on the audience. The visual aids should be appropriate to the text and placed close to the first reference or as an appendix.

Communication Audit Report






NOVEMBER 4, 2018


Executive Summary During October 2018, I conducted a survey on communication effectiveness between the district managers and the regional managers of our company. The survey was designed to identify areas that are lacking and gather input on improvements. District managers throughout the state were invited to participate in the survey. Secondary data regarding effective communication were obtained from business articles and books.

My research revealed the following:

E-mail is the communication method preferred by regional operations managers and regional sales managers. Meetings with both regional managers are harmed by tardiness, repetitive conversation, and lack of planning/agendas.

The frequency of face-to-face meetings between district managers and their regional managers is considered insufficient.

Recommendations for improvement are the following:

Do not use e-mail as a substitute for face-to-face communication. Provide regional managers with periodic business communication training. Require formal agendas and time constraints to be set to enhance meeting productivity. Require more frequent face-to-face meetings. Make the regional managers accountable for correcting miscommunications. Develop standards for what must be communicated to both regional managers and what can be reported to one. Expect regional managers to report pertinent information to each other.


Introduction The quality and consistency of communication of supervisors with their direct reports is vital to the success of any organization. In the case of our company, district managers must communicate with two supervisors and the two supervisors must routinely communicate with one another. Each of the supervisors has a different focus. Efficiency and clarity of communication often suffer in this environment.

You are very familiar with the difficulties our organizational structure poses in regard to communication. This report evaluates the current model and includes my recommendations to improve communication between regional operations and sales manager partners and their district manager direct reports.

My primary data were collected via an electronic survey of eighteen district managers statewide. I also incorporated my personal observations from my prior role as a regional manager and my current role supervising the regional operations managers. I used an Internet article and a book as secondary resources.

In the report you will find general information about the benefits and pitfalls of current communication practices, including e-mail usage, various meeting forms, phone calls, and text messages. Finally, you will note my recommendations for improvement to overall communication.


E-Mail Regional managers and district managers employ various types of communication vehicles, but e-mail is used most frequently. While this is an efficient way to communicate to multiple parties, it is not always the right choice.


From Regional Manager to District Manager E-mail is overwhelmingly the mode of communication used between regional and district managers. When asked, it was the district managers’ preferred method to receive information from their regional managers. Although the district managers do not have a dedicated work computer, they have access to Webmail and centralized district manager workstations. Many reported their smartphone/multimedia equipment has been very useful.

Most messages are sent via e-mail in the interest of time and dual notification to individual district managers. Messages are easier to deliver to two busy people via e-mail. The “courtesy copy” to a regional partner is standard practice. Communicating with two busy people verbally by phone or in person is generally more complicated. However, the nonroutine or time-sensitive messages would often be better delivered face-to-face or by phone.

The district managers also receive information as regional groups from their regional managers. The nonroutine nature of some of these e-mails has the same complications as e-mails received individually. “When your message is sensitive or contains an emotional component, no communication channel is superior to being there” (Deep & Sussman, 1995, p. 70).

Providing the regional managers with periodic training on the importance of choosing the appropriate communication method would keep their perspective fresh and improve the quality of communication received by the district managers.


From District Manager to Regional Manager The district managers’ preference to receive communication by e-mail matches their preference to use e-mail to communicate upward. The same underlying reasons apply—time and dual notification.

District managers often use e-mail to clarify conflicting directives they receive. If one boss tells them something contradictory to the other, e-mail is an effective way to ask both simultaneously for a consistent answer. The responsibility of sorting out the conflict then rests on the regional manager team.


Meetings Meetings can be an extremely effective way to communicate goals, disseminate information, and solve problems. The district managers attend various types of meetings involving their regional managers: conference calls, face-to-face with their region’s team, and individual meetings with each boss or both bosses. These meetings are discussed below.


Conference Calls Regional managers generally meet with their district manager groups on conference calls. Some of them meet weekly and some bimonthly. While these meetings are seen as necessary and generally productive, improvement is possible.

These meetings are reportedly plagued by tardiness, repetitive topics, and a lack of proper planning. This creates “wasted time and deflated energy for the participants, not to mention a culture of meeting-dread” (Walters, 2003). Therefore, corrective action should be taken. Primarily, setting an agenda and following it would alleviate most of these shortcomings. The agenda would establish a time frame, ensure relevant topics are covered, and encourage preparedness, if published in advance.


Regional Meetings These meetings have some of the same challenges as the conference calls. Formalized agendas would have the greatest positive impact.

The frequency of these meetings is another area to be considered. Most district managers surveyed felt that they needed more face- to-face interaction with their direct superiors. The majority felt that monthly face-to-face meetings would be helpful. Instituting a monthly standard for all regional managers to follow would aid all of the regional teams.


Interpersonal Managerial Communication District managers meet with one boss or with both depending on what is needed. Many district managers felt they would benefit from increased contact with regional management.

Any time there is communication with one regional manager without the other present, an additional burden is placed on the district manager to tell any issues discussed to the absent regional manager. The district managers need to be able to report issues to one manager without fear of conflict with the other regional manager. The regional managers should communicate with one another to reduce the bureaucracy their more hands-on direct reports shoulder now.

Additionally, standards of “who to tell what” could be instituted. If a district manager is meeting with his operations manager, there should be certain topics that are clearly her responsibility—for example, teller outages. The regional operations manager could then be responsible for notifying the regional sales manager, if necessary.


Phone Calls Phone communication is typically used when there is a time-sensitive issue. Some regional managers call their district managers individually each day to stay connected. The phone is a vital communication link for regional teams who are all geographically divided.


One Regional Manager With One District Manager The phone provides a quick answer to many questions. Most calls from district manager to regional manager are to report issues and get answers. Reporting issues involves two conversations under current guidelines, unless the district manager is able to get both regional managers on a conference call.

Instituting standards of “who to tell what,” as mentioned with face-to-face meetings, would alleviate this reporting burden from the district managers. The added stress of having two bosses was viewed as somewhat to very difficult by over 50 percent of respondents, as shown in the figure.

Figure Two-Boss Difficulty Rating by District Managers


Both Regional Manager Partners With One District Manager While this communication is unencumbered by an extra communication to the missing party, it can be complicated by logistics. However, the speed and unity of three-party phone calls are helpful to the district manager.


Text Messages Text messages are used frequently to communicate quick information by both regional and district managers. The reliance on pages as a replacement for phone calls speeds the work flow. Text messages are often used when an immediate phone call response is needed or to indicate that someone was sent a high-priority e-mail. The new phones have decreased text message use for full informational purposes because of a 160-character limitation on messages and more difficult keyboarding than prior pager hardware.


Summary To summarize, our organizational structure creates barriers to clear communication at the regional and district manager levels. While varying forms of communication used all have value, each has its own impediments. The main mode of communication between regional and district managers is e-mail, which is generally efficient but has limitations when nonroutine information is included. Alternately, meetings that include the district and regional managers are handicapped by a lack of planning. The district managers want to increase the frequency of interpersonal communication. Phone calls are a good tool but may not include all parties affected. This can lead to misunderstandings, just as other forms can, because of dual reporting responsibilities. Text messages are a useful supplemental form of communication.


Recommendations The following recommendations are thoughtfully submitted to help our company eliminate obstacles that hamper the success of the regional and district managers:

Do not use e-mail as a substitute for face-to-face communication. Provide regional managers with periodic business communication training. Require formal agendas and time constraints to be set to enhance meeting productivity. Require more frequent face-to-face meetings. Make the regional managers accountable for correcting miscommunications. Develop standards for what must be communicated to both regional managers and what can be reported to one. Expect regional managers to report pertinent information to each other.


References Deep, S., & Sussman, L. (1995). Smart moves for people in charge. Cambridge, MA: Basic Books.

Walters, J. (2003, January). Meetings 101: Was that a good meeting, or a bad one? Ivy Sea, Inc. Retrieved October 29, 2005, from http://www.inc.com


Cases For Small-Group Discussion


Case 9–1


Reports and Technology Jesse Matthews sat in his office with a puzzled look on his face. He had received a Word file from Ellen Linares, a report that was to be presented to upper management in the morning. Ellen’s e-mail message said, “The report is attached. Please let me know if everything is OK before I leave tonight.” The message had been sent at 2:45 p.m. It was now 6:15 p.m., and Jesse was just getting around to looking at Ellen’s attachment.

He opened the Word file. Title page: check. Table of Contents: check. Introduction: check. Table 1: uh-oh. Table 1 looked like a jumbled mess! Jesse clicked at various locations within the table, noticing that the formatting was haphazard and that the alignment was badly out of line. Table 2 looked worse. All of the pertinent information was there but all jumbled up in no apparent order. Jesse tried opening the file again, with the same results. The rest of the tables were in similar disarray.

Ellen had left work at 5:00 p.m. Jesse tried her home phone, with no luck. He didn’t have her personal cell number. Jesse made a half- hearted attempt at reworking the tables using his word processor’s table functions but only made things worse. He chastised himself for not looking at the report sooner. He was due to present it at 8:00 a.m. the next morning, and that was the exact time Ellen came in to work. There would simply be no time for her to try to revise it or to try to recover her originally intended format.

As software packages are updated, the way in which they process documents changes. Ellen had saved the file in an earlier format, although in the same software package, but her tables had slipped in transition. Without the original software version and perhaps even the same computer on which it was produced, it was unlikely that the updated software could recover the orderly format Ellen originally created.


Questions 1. What should Ellen have done in order to prevent this type of issue from arising? 2. Now that the problem is Jesse’s, what do you suggest should be done?


Case 9–2


Writing a Recommendation Report You are a middle-level marketing manager in a large wholesale organization. This morning, your boss called you into her office and informed you that 126 cars in the company’s sales fleet were ready for replacement. She asked you to do the research and write a report that would recommend a purchase to replace the cars about to be retired.

Pick four cars that are comparable—for example, the Ford Fusion, the Honda Accord, the Chevrolet Malibu, and the Toyota Camry. In selecting a particular type of car, you might want to make some assumptions about the products handled by your salespeople and whether they carry bulky samples. For the purposes of this report, we will assume you considered other, similar cars, but the four you chose are the top contenders.

Your next task is to identify the criteria to be used in selecting the car to be purchased. Remember that the quality of your research and report will hinge largely on how thoroughly you identify the relevant criteria to be weighed. Once you have identified the criteria to be used and all subfactors of those criteria, you are ready to begin your research. You will probably find Consumer Reports and websites such as cars.com to be invaluable sources of information, but do not overlook other, less obvious sources, such as dealerships.

After collecting and organizing your information, you will be ready to write your report. What format should that report take? Which strategic aspects ought to be considered in determining that format? If you choose to use a formal report format, which prefatory parts should you include? Which subsections should you include in the introduction? How should the body of the report be organized? What will the ending sections of the report proper contain?


Case Note This type of report should use a direct, formal format since it is being written for superiors and contains neutral information. Prefatory parts must include a transmittal memo reflecting the authorization of the senior management official who originally assigned the writer responsibility for this report. The introduction should include the research method used as well as the purpose and scope of the report. The report should be organized to include all of the automobiles considered and tables that report the necessary statistics on each auto to the deciding committee. Conclusions should be presented that will lead management to the same outcome outlined in the writer’s report, as specified in the recommendation section.


Case 9–3


Writing an Informational Report Develop a questionnaire containing at least ten statements about typical ethical dilemmas faced by businesspeople. Use “strongly agree— agree—undecided—disagree—strongly disagree” as response options. Possibilities might include “It is acceptable for a U.S. businessperson in a foreign country to bribe a public official if that practice is accepted and expected in that country.” Another possibility might be “It is acceptable to give a poorly performing employee a good reference to get rid of him or her.”

At the end of the questionnaire, ask for some demographic information that might make the analyses of your findings more interesting. You might ask for gender, employment status, age, marital status, years of work experience, educational level, and so on.

Next, circulate the questionnaire randomly on campus. Try to get at least one hundred respondents. Remember that the larger your sample, the better your findings will be statistically. You might consider having a ballot-like box with you to ensure confidentiality.

After you have collected your data and analyzed your findings, you will be ready to put your information into a report to be presented to your instructor. What format will that report assume? What factors should you consider in determining that format? What parts will the report contain? Will you use the direct or indirect order? On what basis will the body of the report be organized?

An interesting twist on this report might be to circulate the questionnaire to businesspeople. If it were possible for you to circulate the questionnaire to people on campus and to businesspeople, you might then be able to compare the results overall.


Case Note If addressing a business executive in this report, your results should be presented both informally and indirectly, since the findings and conclusions may not be welcomed.

Student Study Site

Visit the Student Study Site at study.sagepub.com/hynes7e for web quizzes, video and multimedia resources, and case studies.



1. Dorinda Clippinger, Planning and Organizing Business Reports: Written, Oral, and Research-Based (New York, NY: Business Expert Press, 2016), 2.

2. Ibid.

3. Joanne Feierman, “The 7 Deadly Sins of Report Writing,” Journal of Government Financial Management 61, no. 4 (Winter 2012): 50–52.

4. Barbara Shwom and Lisa Gueldenzoph Snyder, Business Communication: Polishing Your Professional Presence, 3rd ed. (Hoboken, NJ: Pearson Education, 2016), 332–333.

5. Dilip Kumar Sharma and A. K. Sharma, “Search Engine: A Backbone for Information Extraction in ICT Scenario,” in The Dark Web: Breakthroughs in Research and Practice, ed. Information Resources Management Association (Hershey, PA: IGI Global, 2018).

6. For a detailed comparison of formal and informal proposal sections, see Shwom and Snyder, Business Communication: Polishing Your Professional Presence, Chapter 9.

7. Karl Keller, Owner, Communication Partners, Association for Business Communication Consulting SIG (Blog), November 7, 2013, www.businesscommunication.org.

8. David K. Farkas, “Toward a Better Understanding of PowerPoint Deck Design,” Information Design Journal + Document Design 14, no. 2 (August 2006): 162–171.

9. “Elmore Leonard: 1925–2013—Prolific Novelist Rewrote the Crime Thriller,” New York Times, August 21, 2013, sec. A2.

10. Gerald J. Alred, Charles T. Brusaw, and Walter E. Oliu, The Business Writer’s Handbook, 11th ed. (Bedford/St. Martin’s Press, 2015), 191.

11. F. Stanford Wayne and Jolene D. Scriven, “Problem and Purpose Statements: Are They Synonymous Terms in Writing Business Reports?” Bulletin of the Association for Business Communication 54, no. 1 (March 1991): 30–37.


Part IV Understanding Messages


10 Listening

Listen at all levels. Some of the best ideas come from those on the front lines.

—Rosalind Brewer, president and CEO, Sam’s Club

During the past several decades, the essential role of listening in business and management has received increased attention. Business professionals typically spend half to two-thirds of their time listening. Over thirty-five studies reveal that listening is the form of communication that is

most important for entry-level positions, most critical in distinguishing effective from ineffective direct reports, and most critical for managerial competency.1

Yet many of these studies report that listening skills are seriously lacking in direct reports and managers. Seventy-five to 90 percent of what they hear is ignored, misunderstood, or forgotten.2

Communication is more than just talking and waiting to talk. Communication is a two-way process, an exchange of information, ideas, and feelings that requires participants to receive as well as send messages. Further, the process on the receiving side is often more difficult and complicated than on the sending side of the exchange. Listening is more than just hearing, and effective managers differentiate between the two. Hearing is mechanical, an automatic sort of thing often difficult to avoid. A horn blaring, heavy construction equipment groaning, children shouting in a playground—all these sounds, plus others, may be heard even though they are not listened to actively. Hearing usually requires little special physical or mental effort.

By contrast, listening results from a concentrated effort; it requires both physical and mental effort. Listening requires a special effort because physical and psychological factors work against the process. In this chapter, we review those physical and psychological barriers to listening and then analyze techniques to reduce these barriers. But first we examine why listening well is worth the effort.


Benefits of Listening

A number of essential managerial skills involve listening. First, many of the data necessary for decision making come through listening to employees, and poor listeners miss important information. One company that requires its managers to spend significant time listening to employees is Zappos, the online retailer of shoes, clothing, and accessories. In his best seller, Delivering Happiness, CEO Tony Hsieh wrote that he required his managers to spend 20 percent of their time away from their desks, informally interacting with their employees. The result, according to Hsieh, was a 20 to 100 percent increase in productivity that he attributed to the increased communication level.3

A second benefit is that listening makes a person more dependable. People who listen well follow directions better, make fewer errors, say foolish things less often, and generally become the kinds of people others will ask for advice or direction. Third, good listeners are more respected and liked by those they work with. Managers who listen to their direct reports, even when receiving bad news, will learn what’s really on their minds rather than just what the direct reports think that their managers want to hear.4 This trait can lead to harmonious labor relations, since employees generally trust and support managers who show respect by listening rather than merely “hearing them out.”5 Fourth, better listening enables a manager to be better informed overall. We learn about the world around us from listening, not talking. Fifth, good listening spares a person many embarrassments. In many situations, people may miss a name because of poor listening, or they may need to have critical information repeated because of daydreaming. Worse yet, a direct question may be unanswered because of inept listening. Such embarrassing situations can quickly label a manager as unconcerned or even apathetic.

Ultimately, the major reason for developing effective listening is to build relationships between people. All people need to be heard for their own emotional well-being and to create understanding among others. Mutual understanding leads to trusting relationships, which are required in any work group.

Several successful organizations provide models for including listening in the list of key managerial skills. Harley-Davidson has survived and grown over the past one hundred years to be one of the world’s leading motorcycle manufacturers. Jeffrey Bleustein, who served as CEO from 1997 to 2009, led the company to dominance in the industry. Under his leadership, Harley-Davidson increased its market capitalization by $13 billion. Bleustein attributes its success to respecting customers’ wishes. “Other companies talk about customer loyalty, but we have a loyalty that goes beyond most businesses,” he says. Further, Bleustein was known for listening to his employees. “He gets out and visits with his dealers and really promotes a strong team atmosphere in the company,” according to one retailer.6 Today, stakeholder engagement and customer loyalty continue to be values that drive the company.

Another corporation that understands the power of managerial listening is Procter and Gamble. A profile in the Harvard Business Review described how the company developed an elaborate system for surveying employees, customers, and other stake holders to gain new ideas for improving products, processes, and services.7 Despite good intentions and recognition of the benefits, managers’ listening success at work is


affected by many factors, some of which are beyond their awareness. For instance, managerial listening can be limited simply by the fact that they have authority over their employees. Recent research indicates that the more powerful the listener, the more likely they are to judge or dismiss advice and ideas they hear.8 Thus, managers might be listening from a concrete bunker of which they are not even conscious. On the other hand, there are a number of strategies that managers can adopt in an effort to improve their listening. This chapter takes closer looks at the most common barriers and offers strategies for overcoming them.


Barriers To Listening

Communication does not occur in discrete units, and the term barrier may remind us of something mechanical rather than an interactive, dynamic process such as listening. As a result, the term listening barrier may misrepresent listening somewhat; however, dynamic, interactive processes are easier to discuss when categorized and put in a list. Table 10–1 lists the listening barriers presented here.

One of the greatest barriers to listening arises from our own physical limitations. People speak approximately 25 percent as fast as they think. Thus, while most Americans speak at a rate of about 125 words per minute, they are able to think at least four times as fast. This barrier is known as the 25–75 problem.9 As a result, instead of listening carefully, some people think about other things and devote only a fraction of their capacity to taking in what is said. They become impatient with the slow rate of the spoken word and begin to think about topics other than the words being spoken; consequently, our inability to speak more rapidly becomes a physical barrier in listening situations. The listening–speaking differential or the 25–75 problem is listed first because our wandering attention partially causes many of the other listening barriers.

A lack of motivation is another barrier to listening. Many people find maintaining the continuous motivation required for listening to be a challenge. Managers who should be listening may be daydreaming, making private plans, or even focusing on an emotional problem. During that 75 percent void, many things can overpower the 25 percent listening.

Table 10–1 Barriers to Listening

1. Listening–speaking differential (25–75 problem)

2. Motivation

3. Willingness

4. Internal and external noise

5. Detouring

6. Debate

7. Time

Researchers have long known that motivation or incentive is a prevalent problem in the listening process. It’s important that managers practice emotional control and remember that client trust and employee loyalty are developed most effectively by those who can be relied upon to listen respectfully.10 Since listening is hard work, we can expect greater effort when the goal is known and listeners can observe a positive outcome of the effort. This is why the listening goal discussed later is so important.


A barrier related to motivation is lack of willingness. A manager may not want to listen. Before listening is even required, the manager may have lost any desire to listen. Since we have already discussed motivation as a barrier to listening, we must differentiate willingness from motivation. These concepts are closely related, but for this discussion, assume that a lack of willingness develops before listening even begins. This is why it may supersede all other barriers. If a person consciously or unconsciously decides not to listen, listening skills are of no advantage. Manny Steil, who does extensive listening training for companies such as Honeywell, often refers to the LAW of listening—Listening equals Ability plus Willingness.

Why would a manager lack the willingness to listen? Several reasons explain this attitude. First, most people would rather talk than listen; and even when they ask a question, they often interrupt the first sentence of the response. Second, the listener may quickly stereotype the speaker as one who has little to contribute and is not worth listening to. Third, a listener may lack willingness because she may not want to receive negative information. Defensive behavior works against listening. Some managers consider the slightest attack on one of their opinions as an attack on them personally; consequently, they will rise to the defense. This defense often involves verbal attacks that preclude the possibility for listening. Psychological barriers and attitudinal biases are not easy to control because often they are subconscious.11

Internal noise that cannot be ignored is another barrier. Our autonomic nervous system involuntarily pays attention to certain events, such as a headache, sore feet, or an empty stomach. It is difficult to divide attention between these internal involuntary distractions and concentrated listening. External, environmental noise that may compete with the main topic of interest is also a barrier. It is hard to listen to a direct report who speaks softly in a noisy foundry or to a phone conversation mixed with static on the phone line. In these situations, separating the speaker’s voice from all the surrounding noise can be exhausting.

Another barrier may be termed detouring. The listener may become distracted by a phrase or concept and detour toward the distraction. This distraction then stimulates thought on another subtopic more interesting than the central point of the message; consequently, thoughts detour to the more interesting topics. Detouring is closely related to bias. For instance, a listener’s negative bias toward a mannerism can distract from the content of the message. If a speaker places her hands over her mouth while speaking, or continually plays with a pencil, or looks away from the listener, such mannerisms can distract and get in the way of messages.

The debate represents a sixth type of barrier. A listener may suddenly find herself disagreeing with the speaker and begin to plan her rebuttal. As she plans the rebuttal, she blocks out the speaker and misses his message. For instance, a manager listening to complaints from another department might prepare a rebuttal as the other person explains the incident. As a result, the manager creates a defensive climate and misses the most important information.

Finally, time, an important factor in every manager’s day, can also be a barrier to listening. “I just don’t have time to listen to this” is a common reaction for managers. Time seems to drag when people have to listen to something in which they have no interest. When listening appears to take too much time, managers tend to stop listening. One way some terminate listening is by making a hasty conclusion. This time pressure may lead to the tendency to judge, evaluate, approve, or disapprove a person’s statement too hastily. To achieve real


communication, it is important to resist the temptation to form hasty conclusions.

The preceding review is only a summary of the many barriers to listening. All those personal factors mentioned in Chapter 2—knowledge, culture, status, attitudes, emotions, communication skills—can also create potential barriers to listening. Nevertheless, research indicates we can improve listening skills. When managers strategically analyze the critical components of communication and apply the techniques suggested in the following section, their listening skills and effectiveness as managers will improve.12


Stop and Think 1. Which of the listening barriers listed in Table 10–1 and described in this section can you relate to the most? 2. Under what circumstances do these listening barriers occur? 3. What are some consequences of your inability to overcome these listening barriers?


Preparing To Listen

Let us first identify two different types of listening, so we can select techniques that are appropriate for the situation: active and interactive.

For the purposes of this discussion, active listening occurs in situations in which a manager has little or no opportunity to directly respond to the speaker. People in a large audience use active listening as do those listening to a recorded message or reviewing an audiovisual replay. People use interactive listening when they have the opportunity to interact verbally with the speaker by asking questions or summarizing. Interactive listening occurs when a manager is involved in a conversation with another individual or in a meeting with many people.

Our commitment to listening is often determined by the relevance, the importance, or the significance of the information involved. Listening basically has three levels of intensity—casual, factual, and empathic. Table 10–2 shows examples of listening occasions for each intensity level. Casual or marginal listening is used when the specific or technical information being discussed is not critical. Because no goal for specific information is established, a manager need not be as alert as in other situations. For example, casual listening occurs in social conversations or when listening to music. Although it is not as intense as many types of listening, it is nonetheless important. Managers can indicate social support by simply listening to employees talk about special events in their lives. By listening, the manager is saying, “You are important as a person.” A variation of casual listening is the recent practice of “social listening,” usually wielded by companies attempting to follow consumer needs and trends through social media accounts. Reading customers’ and clients’ newsfeeds and Facebook posts, or following them on Twitter, can allow managers to network in an informal, noninvasive way. Jenni Fleck Jones, marketing manager of Belfint, Lyons and Schuman, a Delaware CPA and consulting firm, says “we listen a lot online” to clients.13

Table 10–2 Examples of Listening Situations

Active Situation Interactive Situation

Casual Podcast Social conversation

Factual Informative presentation Conference

Empathic Sermon Counseling session

A note of caution is important here. What one person considers casual another may consider critical information. The importance of the information is not inherent in the information itself. Therefore, in the same situation, different people could be listening with different intensities.

The next level of intensity, factual listening, is necessary when specific information needs to be obtained. Probably the most common type of listening in business meetings and conferences, factual listening is the


level that most people probably think of when they consider the topic of listening. At this level, the listener should ask questions and receive feedback to ensure effective communication.

A manager uses the empathic level of listening when she wants to understand another person from that person’s own internal frame of reference rather than from the manager’s own frame of reference. The empathic listener tries to get inside the speaker’s thoughts and feelings. The listener expresses empathy when she verbally and nonverbally communicates such messages as “I follow you,” “I’m with you,” or “I understand.” The empathic level of listening is not easy to achieve because we naturally tend to advise, tell, agree, or disagree based on our own view. It is well worth the effort to become an empathic listener, however. A speaker who sees that a manager is really trying to understand his meaning will trust the manager and be more willing to talk and explore problems. Empathic listening can be such a powerful form of listening that, even when it is only partially attained, the mere attempt can be enough to open communication.

To summarize, when preparing to listen, managers should first determine the level of listening they will need to achieve—casual, factual, or empathic. They can accomplish this by establishing a listening goal, a specific statement of the purpose for listening. In the give-and-take of most communications, the need to adjust one’s listening goal arises as the interchange develops.

Adjusting the listening goal is not always easy. Walmart, the biggest retailer in the world, considers listening to be a key skill for its managers. The founder, Sam Walton, is quoted on Walmart’s website as having said, “Listen to your associates. They’re our best idea generators.” To capture associates’ ideas, suggestions, and concerns, Walmart developed a number of programs. One requires every area to create a “Grass Roots” action plan to make good on associates’ ideas. Another, a policy called “Open Door,” permits anyone to bring complaints to officers at the highest level of the company. A third program, “Associates Out in Front,” is described in company documents as a way for Walmart to show workers “that we do appreciate you and that we have an ongoing commitment to listening to and addressing your concerns.”14 It requires every store manager to meet with ten rank-and-file employees every week.

Given the cultural values of this corporation, consider the listening levels used by a typical regional manager. She visits a different Walmart store at least every week, where she wanders around talking to customers, stock clerks, and store managers. One minute she may be listening to someone describe the weather in Salem, Oregon, and the next minute she may be discussing the drop in sales of bedding items. Soon after that, she may be listening to a manager describe why he is so frustrated with his work. Within five minutes, each of the different types of listening intensities is required, so the regional manager must be quick to adjust.


Stop and Think 1. What are some examples of casual, factual, and empathic listening in your day? 2. Which level of listening is the most difficult for you? 3. Which level of listening do you think is the most important? Why?

Once managers have established the level of listening, it is important to prepare physically and psychologically to listen. They should complete the following steps during the preparation stage.

1. Pick the best possible place. While it is not always possible to change the place, the manager should not overlook better facilities when available.

2. Pick the best possible time. As with place, it is not always possible to change the time. However, the astute manager must be careful not to eliminate more favorable opportunities.

3. Think about personal biases that may be present. 4. Review the listening objectives.

A brief review of these four steps shows why they are important in reducing the barriers to effective listening discussed earlier. First, selecting the best time and place helps one reduce internal and external noise. In addition, because time influences the psychological barriers of motivation, emotion, and willingness, the choice of time may significantly alter the outcome of the conversation.

Is it polite to tell another that you cannot listen at the moment? In a survey of more than two hundred managers, respondents indicated they would not be offended if someone asked them to wait before discussing something for fear that important information might be missed. Of course, if time cannot be changed, it is important that the parties be aware of the barriers present and make a special effort to concentrate on the listening process.

Managers’ personal biases may also have a drastic effect on the outcome of the communication. Managers who are unaware of personal bias may become selective and hear only what they want to hear. They may deal only with preconceived notions and even debate with the speaker on points of disagreement. For example, a manager who believes that young adults are unreliable may disregard any information indicating that a particular young adult is reliable. To control this psychological barrier of bias, first be aware; then, recognize the burden it places on the speaker–listener relationship.

Emotional words or phrases can also trigger listener bias. Such phrases as “typical humorless accountant,” “it really isn’t my job,” “we tried that before, and it didn’t work,” or “all engineers think alike” can lead to emotional responses. The danger in such phrases is that they cause a listener to attend (or not to attend) to different parts of a message. The listener should be aware of the possible emotional responses and not let them distract from the message.


Finally, it is important to review and be aware of the listening objective. Without the objective in mind, a manager may use casual listening when factual listening is required or factual listening when empathic listening would be more effective. The person who can state in one sentence the specific goal and the type of listening involved is well aware of the listening objective.

One typical situation when the speaker’s and listener’s objectives may be at odds is this: Chris approaches Pat, his supervisor, with a complaint; Pat assumes that Chris expects a solution to his problem, so Pat listens to determine the facts of the situation and identify alternative actions. If Chris resists these possible solutions by responding with “yes, but” statements, then the manager should probably rethink the listening objective. It may be that Chris is only seeking attention or “face time” with the boss or seeking a sympathetic ear. To check Chris’s objective, Pat might ask, “Is this an action item?”

Thus far, we have examined some general strategies to use when preparing to listen. The manager who is physically and psychologically prepared to listen should use additional, more specific techniques during listening. Let us next look at techniques that are appropriate for active and interactive listening.


Specific Techniques for Active Listening

A person uses active listening in situations where direct response to the speaker is difficult or impossible. For example, a person who is sitting in a large audience or listening to a recording cannot interact with the speaker. If asking questions is not possible, a listener needs to have a clear and complete understanding of the message the first time. An active listener should implement the following techniques.


Identify the Main and Supporting Points

A message usually has one or two main points followed by supporting information (examples, figures, or descriptions). One good clue to main points is the nonverbal techniques the speaker uses when giving them; she might raise her voice, speak faster, repeat key words, or use gestures. Later, we will detail nonverbal aspects that can be invaluable when identifying the main and supporting points. In the following example of a president speaking at an annual meeting, note the emphasis on main and supporting points.

The main points in this example are the four new products, expansion of the Western division’s sales force, and a stable home implement market; the remainder of the message is supporting information. Separation of main and supporting points helps the listeners retain the critical information.


Organize the Message

Often, a speaker has some type of organizational pattern that a listener uses to understand the message. For instance, a speaker may organize the message by pros and cons, advantages and disadvantages, likes and dislikes, similarities and differences, chronological events, or functional duties. Just as it is easier to remember the basic structure of a chapter rather than every word in it, it is easier to recall the structure of a spoken message rather than all the specifics. A skilled listener will pay attention to the signs, markers, or transitions that speakers use to indicate structure. Numbering the points (“My second point is . . .”) is one technique that speakers use, as described in Chapter 5. Another is the preview of points (“Today I’ll discuss . . .”). A third strategy to listen for is the summary (“So today I talked about . . .”).

The electronic division was pleased with the successful introduction of four new products (raised voice) in the last year. All four of these products sold at a better rate than projected. We were especially pleased with the temperature sensor that sold 14 percent above projections. This small sensor, which has many applications and is easy to install, should do as well or better next year.

Besides introducing four new products (pause), we expanded the Western division’s sales force by adding sixteen high-quality salespeople. These salespeople were recruited from all over the United States, and we’re confident of their ability to help us expand in the West. They all have a thorough understanding of the product and the changing nature of our industry.

No immediate changes are seen in the home implement division (lowered voice). It will be necessary to wait and see what happens with the entire housing industry. We’re stable here since garage openers, intercom systems, and burglar protection devices are all holding their own. We developed a new burglar protection system that can be programmed by means of a digital device. This has been an interesting project to watch as it developed.


Summarize the Message

Another active listening technique is the summary, which can take the form of a mental picture of the main points. The summary need not contain elaborate sentences and details; simple words or sentence fragments may suffice. In essence, the listener synthesizes the highlights of the message to provide a focus. Furthermore, summarization does not have to wait until the end of the message; it may be more efficient at major transition points. The president’s speech, shown earlier, could be summarized in three phrases: (1) four new products in electronics, (2) sixteen new salespeople in the Western region, and (3) a stable home implement market.

The three techniques tested so far—differentiating between the main and supporting points, organizing, and summarizing—operate together for accurate listening. The effective use of a fourth technique assists in the development of the others.


Visualize the Message

A fourth strategy for active listening, putting the message into a picture, will help keep the listener’s mind on the message. The beauty of this technique is that it allows listeners to use some of that 75 percent of their mental capacity not required to keep up with the message. Consequently, managers can commit more effort to listening, thus reducing the possibility of missing a major part of the message. Finally, retention of the message improves because a picture can now be associated with it. In the annual meeting described earlier, a manager might imagine the sixteen new sales personnel in the Western region as sixteen little people running from different points of a U.S. wall map to California. Absurd as the device might seem, these sixteen little people running across a wall map will help the manager remember one of the main points of the message.

Related to visualization is mnemonics. One mnemonic device is the acronym, a combination of letters, each of which is the first letter of a group of words essential to the message. For instance, suppose a person is presenting his main objection to taking additional training in computer programming. The objection may stem from the cost, the individual’s ability, and the time involved. The mnemonic CAT—cost, ability, time— can be used to record these main ideas whenever the speaker refers to them. Mnemonics have practical use in the business sector. At one popular restaurant in Houston, Greek salads are prepared at table side. The servers remember the order of ingredients by recalling this mnemonic: “Very Fast Leopards Die Old.” It translates to, “First add the Vegetables to the bowl, then the Feta, Lemon juice, Dressing, and Olives.” Mnemonics in general and acronyms specifically may be considered a type of visualization because it is easier to see and recall the acronym. Other types of memory games, such as word association and riddles, are also beneficial.


Personalize the Message

Effective listeners are those who search a message for information that has special meaning for the listener. A topic is naturally more interesting and easier to concentrate on if it personally relates to the listener. In fact, those who relate the message to personal experiences ensure that two key elements of listening—willingness and motivation—are present. At this point the listener might also form a tentative interpretation about the speaker’s feelings, desires, or meaning and attempt to find personal connections to that interpretation.15 The managers listening to the president in the previous example may also personalize the message by asking questions of themselves: “How will these four products affect my job?” “Will continued expansion of the electronic group affect me?” “Will those sixteen new salespeople increase my workload for the Western region?” “How will the stable market in the home implement group affect our division?” In answering these questions, the managers find how the message personally relates to them. Then their incentive to listen to the message increases.


Take Notes

All these techniques are strengthened when the listener takes notes. College students understand the importance of notes, but they may lose this good habit once they leave the classroom. Listeners can easily make short notes to help organize, visualize, and personalize a message. Not only do notes provide a written record of the communication, but they can also provide valuable feedback that tells the listeners just how well they are listening. If the notes are not well organized with main and supporting points, the listeners probably have not mentally organized the message. If a quick review indicates no notes have been taken for some time, the listeners may find that their attention has been wandering.

Notes also benefit listeners by keeping them physically involved. Listening is a predominantly mental activity; consequently, people who are accustomed to being physically active get restless or impatient when listening for long periods.

Of course, note taking can be a problem for people who overdo it. One can concentrate on the notes to the extent that major components of the message are missed. Instead, jot down just key words and phrases in outline form using abbreviations when possible.

A final thought on notes: Listeners who take notes indicate a sincere interest in both the message and the speaker. Seeing the note taking, the speaker will have a greater degree of confidence that note-taking listeners are paying attention to the message. The fact that it is important to demonstrate effective listening is discussed in more detail later.

Each of these techniques—identifying the main points, organizing, summarizing, visualizing, personalizing, and note taking—is useful in both active and interactive listening. However, the techniques are especially critical in situations where the ability to ask questions and observe nonverbal messages is limited. When questions are possible, the ideal is to ask questions of the speaker for clarity, in addition to the six techniques just discussed. The next section discusses situations in which it is easy to ask questions. We refer to this as interactive listening.


Stop and Think Imagine that you are listening to a disgruntled customer on the phone. What is the customer’s likely reaction if you say, “I’m taking notes on this. Will you spell the person’s name for me?”


Specific Techniques For Interactive Listening

Table 10–3 summarizes techniques to use in active and interactive listening situations. When managers are engaged in two-way communication, they can improve their listening effectiveness by responding with paraphrases and questions.

Table 10–3 Specific Techniques for Active and Interactive Listening

Active Situation Interactive Situation

Identify main and supporting points Paraphrase

Organize the message Ask open and closed questions

Summarize the message Ask primary and secondary questions

Visualize the message Ask neutral and directed questions

Personalize the message

Take notes



Paraphrasing is commonly thought of as simply repeating what a speaker has said. However, a true paraphrase does more than indicate awareness of the message; it reflects what the listener thinks the speaker intended to say. The listener uses different words to express the speaker’s meaning, thereby checking understanding. Further, a paraphrase reflects the underlying attitudes or emotional tone of the message. While many people are reluctant to paraphrase for fear of sounding like a parrot, paraphrasing is an excellent listening technique for two reasons. When properly done, paraphrases allow the listeners to not only be sure they have received the message as the speaker intended but also to strengthen the relationship between speaker and listener. When listeners paraphrase, they indicate effort, commitment, and good intentions, thereby increasing the likelihood that the speaker will respond in kind.

Knowing the important benefits of paraphrasing, you might wonder why we all do not do it more frequently when listening. It may be because we are afraid it will sound foolish. Consider a time when a family member came home from work or school and you asked, “How was your day?” If the answer was something like, “I hate that place; I’m never going back!” and you decided to paraphrase, you would not say, “So you hate that place and you’re not going back,” because that response would probably trigger derision and a comment like, “That’s what I just said!” Instead, as a good listener, you would say, “Sounds like you had a tough day.” Remember that a paraphrase should reflect the meaning of the message you think the speaker intended for you to receive, both verbally and nonverbally.



The skillful use of questions adds immensely to a manager’s ability to listen. This book recommends several situations when questioning techniques are appropriate: listening, interviewing, resolving conflict, and coaching. Questions are important because they provide the two-way process of communication that Chapter 2 discusses. Without the use of questions, feedback and mutual understanding are severely curbed. Questions serve to request more information and/or clear up any confusion. Thus, in the example just described in the previous section on paraphrasing, a good listener should follow the paraphrase, “Sounds like you had a tough day,” with a question like, “What happened?”

In an interactive situation, when the meaning of a message is either unclear or incomplete, a listener should ask questions. Questions can benefit both the listener and the speaker. First, questions can help the listener to clarify key words, phrases, or vague concepts and to resolve inconsistencies and contradictions in the message. Second, questions can help the speaker to clarify and reanalyze their own intentions and meaning.

Managers should strategically determine the most appropriate questions for different situations. Three types of questions are appropriate to this discussion: open–closed, primary–secondary, and neutral–directed. Question types are also described in Chapter 15 because they are critical in the context of interviewing.

Open–Closed Questions

The phrasing of an open-ended question gives the respondent a wide choice of possible answers. At the other end of the spectrum is the closed question, which calls for a narrow range of possible answers. Here is an illustration of this point. Suppose a frustrated direct report describes to you a major problem with a new project. In her agitation, the employee jumps from one point to another while describing the problem. Naturally, this disorderly description makes it difficult to listen, so you ask questions for both clarity and completeness of information. The following list includes open and closed questions that you might ask the employee for clarification:

What do you think are the major causes of the problem? (open) What more can you tell me about it? (open) Did you check the steam gauge? (closed) Where do you think we should go from here? (open) Would it be a good idea to wait until tomorrow? (closed)

While open questions ask for additional information, they also allow possible digression. Closed questions are more direct and help one to focus on the problems or facts. Closed questions also call for commitment (“Will you?”). Managers must use strategic analysis to determine the best type of question in each case.



Stop and Think Imagine that you are attending a company function and trying to start a conversation with a coworker. You decide to ask a question. What is a good open question to get her to talk? HINT: “How are you?” doesn’t count as an open question because the answer usually consists of one word.

Primary–Secondary Questions

Two other options open to managers are primary and secondary questions. A primary question is the first question about a topic. A manager may choose to follow up with a secondary question designed to obtain more specific information after the primary question has been answered. A secondary question is not merely an additional question; it also seeks to get at a deeper level of information than the primary question. Such probes call for clarification or elaboration. The following dialogue shows the strategic use of primary and secondary questioning.

Manager: Do you think you’ll be able to have the analysis done by Wednesday? (primary)

Employee: That shouldn’t be any problem, if everything goes right for a change.

Manager: What might go wrong? (secondary)

Employee: The accounting information is hard to get sometimes.

Manager: What specific part is hard to get? (secondary)

Notice that each secondary question seeks further information on the preceding answer.

Neutral–Directed Questions

The third classification involves neutral versus directed questions. A neutral question seeks information without attempting to lead the speaker to answer in a certain way. The purpose is to try to understand what the speaker is trying to get across and to show interest. Simple variations of a neutral question are a filled pause (“uh huh”) and statements such as, “Tell me more” and “Then what happened?” On the other hand, a directed question leads the speaker to a response that the listener desires. A directed question or leading question opens with such phrases as “Doesn’t it seem logical that . . . ?” or “Wouldn’t you agree that . . . ?” or “Surely you won’t . . . , will you?” Directed questions may be used to obtain confirmation or clarification on one specific point, whereas the neutral question can obtain an unintended response.

In summary, managers who use paraphrases and appropriate questions add clarity to communication because of the interactive process that develops. Interactive listening is clearly not a passive activity; rather, it requires the involvement of managers through the use of questions and paraphrases.



Responding to Negative Messages

Listening to negative messages from the boss, direct reports, customers, or coworkers is especially difficult. While the two techniques explained above, paraphrasing and questioning, are the most appropriate responses when managers are listening to bad news, more typical responses are to defend, disagree, resist, retaliate or deny. It’s natural to react negatively to negative information, especially when feeling threatened. But managers who show empathy in bad news situations will go far to create and maintain open communication channels. Once empathy is established, managers can move on to an exploration of solutions. Sometimes speakers don’t have solutions, but in a surprising number of situations, they do, and it’s wise to listen to them.16

Culture can affect the exchange of feelings and ideas, problems, and solutions, as explored in Chapter 12. Various cultures view feedback differently. For example, in the United States and Western Europe, workers typically prefer direct communication and expect honest feedback. In Eastern cultures, on the other hand, workers typically prefer communicating more indirectly, and they may expect feedback to be subtle rather than blunt. In many Asian cultures, silence is respected. Silence rather than talk communicates. As a result, when working with people from many cultures, managers can benefit from using silence as a type of response.17 Even if the manager is confident about what the speaker will say, it is important to be patient and let the speaker finish. Rather than assuming, an open attitude will help the manager see the other person’s side of a situation and strengthen the working relationship.

To help us see how listening and paraphrasing work in a bad news situation, let us examine a hypothetical interview between the general manager (GM) of a manufacturing facility and the shop supervisor. The topic is the delivery deadline for a customer order. The manager begins the interview by reviewing the contract and asking the supervisor what has gone wrong. The supervisor turns his chair toward the GM, leans in toward her, and makes eye contact. He begins his response by paraphrasing the question, making it much simpler to understand and demonstrating that he understood it. “So you are asking about the likelihood that we will deliver the order on time? The answer is no.”

He further clarifies that delays in equipment repairs on the line, caused by severe weather, prevented necessary parts from arriving the previous week. This cascade of events culminated in extended downtime and a reduction in product volume.

Rather than responding with anger or expressing frustration about the bad news, the general manager, also maintaining eye contact, instead reflects the answer and proceeds to probe the supervisor by asking if the equipment is now repaired and working. The supervisor again paraphrases and adds details, explaining that the repairs have been completed and the shop is now up and running. The GM, maintaining eye contact as well, summarizes and ends by saying, “So what is the new delivery date?” Both participants in the interview demonstrate good listening skills, including paraphrases, open and closed questions and probes, and nonverbal cues.



Listening To Informal Communication

So far, this discussion on listening has emphasized times in which a formal speaking–listening situation is established. But informal, casual listening can also be extremely important—what began as casual listening can quickly become factual or empathic listening. A manager should always be aware of the rumors that circulate on the grapevine. At times, these rumors can provide important information; at other times, it may be important to attempt to alter the content of the rumor; and at still others, it may be best to ignore the rumors. But managers must stay tuned in.

The term grapevine has an interesting history. It arose during the Civil War when intelligence telegraph lines were strung loosely from tree to tree in the manner of a grapevine. Because the messages from the line often were incorrect or confusing, any rumor was said to be from the grapevine.

What causes rumors in modern organizations? To answer this question, the following formula is helpful:

Rumors = Ambiguity × Interest

Rumors are created when the available message is ambiguous. If all information were available and clear from the formal channels, no rumors would be created. When the message is ambiguous but interesting, rumors will result.

This relationship has an important implication for managerial communication. Managers can determine what is interesting to employees by listening to the rumors. For instance, a vice president recently resigned from a computer company. But the rumors on the grapevine did not address the replacement; rather, a new relationship between two employees was the major topic. This would imply that the employees were relatively secure about the management team and that one replacement would probably not rock the boat. Compare this to a company where the president suddenly retired. All that was discussed whenever people gathered was the latest rumor about the replacement. Obviously, this matter was of great concern to the employees.

Research indicates that information transmitted via the grapevine in organizations is 70 to 90 percent accurate. However, some amount of distortion always exists.18 This core of truth along with the degree of distortion is often what makes a message on the grapevine believable, interesting, and durable.

As information proceeds from person to person on the grapevine, it tends to undergo three kinds of change. The first is leveling, the dropping of details and the simplifying of context and qualifications. This process is especially prevalent when the rumor is extremely complex. It must be made rather simple to pass on to the next person. The second kind of change is sharpening, the preference for vivid and dramatic treatment of data. Employees work to make a story better and more entertaining as it is passed from one person to another. Third is assimilating, the tendency of people to adjust or modify rumors, to mold them to fit their personal needs. This makes the rumor more interesting to those on the grapevine.19

Effective managerial listening requires that managers critically assess informal communication to determine


the extent to which leveling, sharpening, and assimilation have occurred. Inaccurate rumors can sometimes call for action. In one manufacturing plant, rumors maintained that a massive personnel layoff was about to occur because of the new machinery being installed. Management heard these incorrect rumors. Members of the management team met with employees to assure them no layoffs would occur. Listening to rumors helped prevent a loss of employee morale. As one manager once said, it is important to listen to “the talk on the street.” Research shows that employees prefer to get their information from the formal channels, and they turn to informal channels when the formal have dried up because no one can work in a vacuum. Managers concerned about rampant rumors should remember the relationship between formal and informal channels.


Stop and Think 1. Why do employees prefer to receive their information through the formal channels? 2. When the formal channels dry up, such as when a company is in decline, why do employees turn to the grapevine for

information? 3. How can managers minimize grapevine activity among their employees?


Listening To The Total Environment

This chapter primarily discusses listening to the spoken word. Chapter 11 discusses nonverbal communication. Managers must listen to spoken and nonverbal messages both separately and jointly in formal and informal settings. Strategic managerial communication requires listening to messages that are not always obvious. Figure 10–1 graphically demonstrates the three possible aspects of a message: formal to informal, verbal to nonverbal, and obvious to hidden. The three possibilities are displayed in a triangle with equal sides because all three aspects should be considered equally.

Figure 10–1 Three Dimensions of a Message

This implies it is necessary for managers to keep their eyes and ears open for all kinds of signals in their organization and its industry. When a person is aware of the signals of a forthcoming event, it is possible to take corrective action—but first the manager must listen to be aware. An online magazine, Madame Noire, recently featured an article called “The Fourth Quarter Curse? How to Tell If a Layoff Is Coming.”20 The article discusses signals of potential restructuring, such as employees who voluntarily quit but are not replaced, increased debt, layoffs at other companies in the industry, rumors, unannounced meetings, and departures of top executives. It is possible that most employees could know about pending layoffs long before they were formally announced.

Of course, restructuring is a drastic action. It is important that managers listen to and analyze many other events in the company that can affect their careers. For example, which departments seem to be getting the best budgets? Employees in these groups will probably have the greatest opportunities for advancement. Although it is not always possible to determine budget allocations, it is possible to watch for the results of greater allocations. The hiring of additional support staff, the purchasing of newer and better computer equipment, the acquisition of new office furniture, and more frequent traveling to professional conferences can each signal a favored department.


The point is that managerial listening goes beyond listening to the obvious words. It requires listening to nonverbal behaviors and the continuous signals that come from the environment. Recall our discussion of the strategic communication model in Chapter 2. The outer layer—culture and climate—is relevant here.


Developing A Listening Climate

In addition to actually listening carefully, managers must also seem to be listening and establish a climate that demonstrates receptivity. Without this climate, the communication environment in an office can become like that in some homes:

Parent: Why don’t you ever tell us what you are doing?

Child: I do, but you don’t listen. You’re always so busy.

Parent: We’re never too busy to listen to you, but you just don’t seem to want to tell us anything.

Are the parents too busy to listen, or do they just appear too busy? The same question may be asked of many managers. Is it possible that they appear too busy to listen? A manager may unintentionally establish a nonlistening climate by subtle behavior that says to the direct report, “Why talk if nobody is listening?” You might recall that an organization’s culture and climate were discussed in Chapter 2 and highlighted as the outer layer of the strategic communication model for developing a communication strategy.

While a manager is responsible for a tremendous amount of information and spends as much as 50 percent of the working day listening, one cannot listen if nobody is talking. Managers need to develop a listening climate to motivate people to open up. Today’s busy workplace discourages taking the time for meaningful interpersonal communication. In the age of digital distractions, it is critical that managers make an effort to limit multitasking and interruptions.21 Two levels of the listening climate require attention. The first is the micro level or the one-on-one situation. The second level is the macro or total climate. First we will review the micro level.


The Micro Listening Climate

Clearly, successful interpersonal communication requires time—the listener needs to give undivided attention to the speaker, who usually does not want to be rushed to complete the message. This fact relates to the 25–75 rule discussed earlier. The listener’s mind moves so much more rapidly than the spoken word that the listener’s impatience may show as she attempts to complete the speaker’s sentence. Even though the listener is paying attention, this impatience to complete the speaker’s communication may develop a negative listening climate. The same is true when the listener works on something else while attempting to listen. The speaker may soon get the feeling that the message being delivered is not very important.

Demonstrating a positive climate is most important when a manager is involved in empathic listening. As discussed earlier in this chapter, an empathic listener tries to understand the speaker’s feelings. Stephen Covey, the noted business consultant, described empathic listening as listening with your ears, your eyes, and your heart.22 Many people have a difficult time expressing their true thoughts to their boss, believing it is safer to tell the boss what they will want to hear. So an encouraging, supportive, receptive climate needs to be established. Managerial strategies include maintaining eye contact, leaning slightly toward the speaker, changing facial expression in relationship to the message, and taking notes. All of these behaviors demonstrate a positive micro listening climate, which leads to a trusting work relationship.


The Macro Listening Climate

Managers must take responsibility for ensuring that those who work around them are free to exchange information in a timely and accurate manner. They must develop a general atmosphere that promotes rather than hinders the opportunity to communicate. This macro level of listening is demonstrated by the manager’s general demeanor and style. One basic approach is managing by wandering around. For example, when Ed Whitacre stepped in as CEO of General Motors in 2009, one of the first efforts was to make over GM’s culture from an authoritarian, top-down environment to an open one. He preferred personal interaction to e- mail, making himself accessible to employees by using the employees’ elevators, bathrooms, and dining rooms rather than those set aside for officers. He regularly stopped by workstations to ask how employees were helping to sell more cars, and the employees grew to look forward to his visits.23 When managers are physically available and not locked away behind closed office doors, they create an atmosphere that says “I am here to listen to you.”

In his popular book Thriving on Chaos, Tom Peters presents a number of suggestions that create strong listening environments.24 First, he suggests that opportunities to listen be built into managers’ daily routines. This can be done by frequently visiting the cafeteria or break room. Unfortunately, many managers do not work these activities into their schedules because of time pressures and do not realize this is an integral and critical part of their jobs.

Another technique is to have informal meetings; “huddles” or spontaneous gatherings of a few people to discuss a problem indicate the manager wants and needs to listen to employees’ ideas. Another technique is to keep official titles and symbols of authority to a minimum. People are more willing to talk when they do not feel inferior to another. In some contemporary organizations, job titles have disappeared not only from office doors but also from business cards. The implication is that everyone works together—communicates together —to get the job done.

The open-door policy expressed in more traditional companies can be either a positive or a negative macro listening climate. Managers often pride themselves on announcing an open-door policy. They tell their employees to stop by anytime—their “office door is always open.” But managers become frustrated when employees do not come through the open door.

Why is the open-door policy not used? A negative listening environment probably exists. First, it may be necessary to make an appointment with an administrative assistant before the door is opened. Second, the office may be located far from employee work areas. Would it not be better to be easily and readily available? This would be a positive open-door climate. A supervisor in a large organization once remarked, “If they have to announce an open-door policy, it probably means that there really isn’t one!”25 The importance of the macro listening climate was aptly demonstrated by Celeste, a first-line supervisor in a foundry. Her company was on the far south side of the Chicago suburbs. Celeste was probably one of the most respected supervisors. She gained respect by always being available to the employees. For instance, one Saturday the company rented a bus and arranged for employees to attend a Chicago White Sox baseball game. Celeste was one of the first


to sign up. During the bus trip and at the game, she was part of the group even though she was the only supervisor to attend. This is probably one of the reasons her employees truly believed that Celeste always had an open door when it was time to discuss a problem. She developed a positive listening climate.

A number of elements influence employees’ perceptions that managers are willing to listen.26 Employees’ work and personal backgrounds, the organizational culture, the employees’ roles within the organization, and the little symbolic behaviors of the manager all affect the macro listening climate. Managers would do well to take a periodic audit of their personal listening behavior and their environment to ensure they have established a climate that says “Yes, I am willing to listen.”



Managers need to work on their listening skills. The major benefit is improved understanding between people. Many of the data necessary for good decisions come through listening. Listening makes a person more dependable. Good listeners are more respected and liked by coworkers. Better listening enables a manager to be better informed overall.

Managers must exert an active, concentrated effort to overcome listening barriers. One of the primary barriers is that people think about four times faster than they can speak; consequently, the listener’s mind tends to wander. Motivation and willingness are highly related barriers. Willingness develops before listening even begins, whereas poor motivation is largely caused by the 25–75 problem. Other barriers to listening include internal distractions, detouring, debate, and time.

Two main types of listening are active and interactive. Active listening occurs when a manager has little opportunity to respond directly to the speaker. Interactive listening occurs when the manager can verbally interact with the speaker by asking questions or summarizing.

Listening has three levels of intensity: casual, factual, and empathic. The level to use is determined by the importance and complexity of the message and occasion. Once the manager has determined the type and intensity level of listening called for, the manager must prepare physically and psychologically to listen.

Techniques for active listening include identifying the main and supporting points, organizing, summarizing, visualizing, personalizing the message, and taking notes. Techniques for interactive listening include paraphrasing and asking open–closed, primary–secondary, and neutral–directed questions. When listening to informal communication, a manager should remember that information transmitted informally undergoes some distortion. Leveling, sharpening, and assimilating occur. A manager who is a good listener will listen to the total environment—both spoken and nonverbal messages are important.

Finally, a manager should work to develop a climate that demonstrates receptivity so that people are motivated to communicate. On a micro level, a manager should demonstrate good listening habits, such as paraphrasing and asking questions. On a macro level, a manager’s general demeanor and style will indicate approachability.


Cases For Small-Group Discussion


Case 10–1


Listening and Technology Veronica Sharpe, marketing manager for Diamond Communications, an outdoor advertising company, arrived in the boardroom for her teleconference with Brad Jones, a potential client. She was extremely busy today and brought her smart tablet with her, checking e-mail along the way. She also brought her digital voice recorder so that she could record the conversation for reference later. She intentionally left the cameras off, opting to only use audio transmission. Brad called right on time, and they began to speak about Brad’s plan for utilizing advertising space on the variety of electronic billboards along Interstate 45, a north-south route through Houston, Texas.

About two minutes into Brad’s exposition of his plans, Veronica’s smart tablet buzzed. It was an e-mail she had been waiting on for two hours, and time was of the essence—she had to reply quickly to settle a payment before the 4:00 p.m. deadline, 5:00 p.m. in the Eastern time zone from where the e-mail was being sent. She thought to herself, “I’m recording all this, so I can just review it later—I have to answer this e-mail now. Time to multitask.”

About a minute later, in the middle of her e-mail response, she noticed a distinct pause in Brad’s speech. “Veronica?” Brad asked. “Still there?”

“Oh, yes,” Veronica answered, embarrassed. “Can you repeat that last thing?”

“I want to know if the plan is something that your firm can accomplish, or do I need to find another firm with electronic boards?” Brad asked.


Questions 1. What principles of effective listening was Veronica violating? 2. What do you think her best alternative is at this moment in time, given her lack of attention to Brad’s proposal?


Case 10–2


Holgate’s Listening Problems John Holgate, a section manager in a chemical plant, has several engineers reporting to him. As part of his job, Holgate attends meetings during any given day with some of his junior engineers as well as with people outside his immediate group. Occasionally, people higher up in the company (the technical director or vice president, for example) attend these review meetings.

The engineers who work for Holgate believe he often misrepresents them, and they also think Holgate does not listen to what is being said. He often interrupts the speakers and completes the sentence for them. Since the engineers do not want to disagree with their boss openly, they do not contradict him in front of higher management.

Naturally, this habit results in confusion, wasted time and effort, and poor morale. When members of higher management return for their next review, they usually find that the work they requested has not been done. In fact, they occasionally find that unrequested tasks have been carried out. As they listen to Holgate’s project status review, management has lately been wondering what is going on. This doubt reflects not just on Holgate but on his direct reports as well. The direct reports’ morale and productivity have been slipping.


Questions 1. Why does Holgate complete the speaker’s sentences? 2. How can Holgate improve his listening skills? 3. Assuming you are Holgate’s direct report, how could you point out this problem to him?


Case 10–3


Pardon Me! Bob Pierce, a gentleman of about fifty, is the president of ABC Construction Company. The company is considered the most progressive and innovative in highway, bridge, and dam construction in the area. Pierce has served in different functional areas of the company, is fairly well educated, and is oriented toward engineering.

Before becoming ABC’s vice president of field operations, Walter Horton was the chief engineer of a rival firm. He has a reputation for being a very good project manager and for knowing intimately the details of ABC field operations.

Pierce has just returned from sick leave. His bad cold is still slowing him down. It is now noon, and Pierce, who has finally caught up with the backlog of work, is preparing to go to lunch. Just then, Horton walks into his office. Horton has been trying to get in touch with Pierce the past few days for his decision about the construction plan for the new dam. Horton spreads his blueprints on the president’s desk and starts his presentation.

After the presentation, the following conversation occurs.

Horton (somewhat absently): Well, how do you feel about the plan?

Pierce Well, uh, pretty good . . .

Horton (a little too quickly): Is there anything I haven’t made clear?

Pierce: Hum . . . no . . .

Horton: OK, good. Now I would like to present the plan to the board of directors and maybe . . .

Pierce: Board of directors? Wait a minute. You’re moving pretty fast.

Horton (not with it at all): You agreed the plan’s a good one, didn’t you?

Pierce Well, yes.


Questions 1. What are the physical and psychological listening barriers Pierce faced during the presentation? 2. What assumptions is Horton making about Pierce’s ability to grasp the situation? 3. What could Pierce have done to prevent the situation? 4. What are Horton’s shortcomings as a communicator that would complicate the situation for anyone listening to him?


Case 10–4


Hearing but Not Listening Cedar’s Furniture and Appliance is a chain of five stores, two located in Youngstown, two in Akron, and one in Cleveland. Cedar’s main office is in Akron.

Jane Pyle is the office manager at the main office. She supervises four word-processing operators. Three of Pyle’s employees are efficient and thorough. She tells them what she wants done once, and it is done. However, the fourth employee, Harriet Enders, seems to get little done right. She finishes her daily work, but she frequently has to redo it, thus putting an extra burden on the other three operators. They have to make up the work Enders has no time for because she is redoing her original work. The other three employees are beginning to complain to Pyle about the problem.

Pyle does not want to terminate Enders because Pyle knows her direct report can be a hard worker. When she does follow directions, Enders is the first of the four word-processing operators to finish. The office manager wonders why Enders does not understand directions, while the other three people always seem to. She is almost sure that, although Enders is hearing, she is not listening. Enders’s problem is preventing the office work from running smoothly.


Questions 1. Write the dialogue Pyle might use to open the discussion with Enders about this problem. 2. What environmental factors might be responsible for Enders’s difficulty in listening?


Exercise For Small Groups This exercise offers practice in a disciplined approach to listening to others that provides focused support and clarity. It was developed by Dr. Mary Vielhaber at Eastern Michigan State University.


Prework Instructions Please take some time to think about a communication problem that you face in your job. The problem can be either a unique, unusual communication problem or a recurring communication problem that you continue to face in spite of several efforts to resolve the problem.

Select a problem that you are willing to share with your colleagues. Avoid problems with complicated technical details. You can disguise names and other facts so that people involved in the problem are not identified.

Briefly write down the problem in one or two paragraphs. Describe the context and key facts of the problem so that when you read your description, others will be able to quickly understand what you are facing.


Process Divide into groups of three or four members. Each person either reads their description of their business problem or briefly explains the problem to the group. After all people in the group have presented their problem, select one problem for the group to focus on. Ask the person to read his or her written problem one more time to the group. Take a few minutes to jot down open-ended questions you can ask the person about the problem.

Note: The questions you ask should be designed to help the person think through their difficult situation. You should not be trying to “solve” their problem. Instead, you are asking questions to help the person think through the issues involved.


Questioning Process Ask open-ended questions and probe for understanding the facts and the reasoning behind the person’s assertions and conclusions. The presenter responds to the questions unless he or she does not have a response. In that case, the presenter may simply say, “I don’t have an answer to that question.” There should be no discussion among the group members or any statements hidden in the questions.


Post-Questioning Process After approximately ten minutes, the group stops to discuss the process used. The presenter is invited to describe his or her experience answering questions. Did the questions lead to a new insight? Did the presenter feel that the group was listening? A second or third round may continue if time permits.


Discussion Questions 1. What are the advantages of disciplined listening? 2. When can this technique be used in the workplace? 3. What are the barriers to disciplined listening?

Student Study Site

Visit the Student Study Site at study.sagepub.com/hynes7e for web quizzes, video and multimedia resources, and case studies.



1. Deborah Roebuck, Communication Strategies for Today’s Managerial Leader (New York, NY: Business Expert Press, 2012).

2. Mary Munter, Guide to Managerial Communication: Effective Business Writing and Speaking, 9th ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2012), 173–174.

3. Tony Hsieh, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose (New York: Business Plus, 2010).

4. I. M. Sixel, “Permission to Speak Freely to the Boss,” Houston Chronicle, May 16, 2013, sec. D1.

5. P. Senecal and E. Burke, “Learning to Listen,” Occupational Hazard 1 (1992): 37–39.

6. Margot Denney, “CEO Drives Home Message,” Bryan-College Station Eagle, April 10, 2003, sec. 1A.

7. James R. Stengel, Andrea L. Dixon, and Chris T. Allen, “Best Practice: Listening Begins at Home,” Harvard Business Review, November 2003, 106–116.

8. Kelly E. See et al., “The Detrimental Effects of Power on Confidence, Advice Taking, and Accuracy,” Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes Journal 116, no. 2 (2011): 272–285.

9. Philip V. Lewis, Organizational Communication: The Essence of Effective Management, 3rd ed. (New York: Wiley & Sons, 1987), 146.

10. Joe Takash, “Motivation Needed Now More Than Ever: Four Steps That Work,” American Salesman 60, no. 6 (June 2015): 3–7.

11. Cheryl Hamilton and Tony L. Kroll, Communicating for Results: A Guide for Business and the Professions, 11th ed. (Boston, MA: Cengage Learning, 2018): 116–117.

12. A. N. Kluger and K. Zaidel, “Are Listeners Perceived as Leaders?” The International Journal of Listening 27 (2013): 73–84.

13. Danielle Lee, “Are You Listening?” Accounting Today 26, no. 8 (August 2012): 1, 50.

14. Michael Barbaro and Steven Greenhouse, “Wal-Mart Says Thank You to Workers,” The New York Times, December 4, 2006, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/04/business/04walmart.html?_r=0. See also Wal-Mart Corporation, “Working at Walmart: Our Culture—Beliefs and Behaviors,” retrieved from http://careers.walmart.com/about-us/working-at-walmart/.

15. “Ten Skills for Active Listening” (n.d.). Retrieved from www.NCLEXQuiz.com/blog/10-Skills-for- Active-Listening.

16. Graham L. Bradley and Amanda C. Campbell, “Managing Difficult Workplace Conversations: Goals,


Strategies, and Outcomes,” International Journal of Business Communication 53, no. 4 (2016): 443–464, DOI: 10.1177/2329488414525468.

17. William B. Gudykunst, Bridging Differences: Effective Intergroup Communication, 4th ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2003), 173–174.

18. Ieva Zaumane, “The Internal Communication Crisis and Its Impact on an Organization’s Performance,” Journal of Business Management no. 12 (2016): 24–33.

19. Lewis, Organizational Communication, 46–48.

20. Tanvier Peart, “The Fourth Quarter Curse? How to Tell If a Layoff Is Coming,” Madame Noire, November 24, 2013, http://madamenoire.com/325388/4th-quarter-curse-tell-layoff-coming/.

21. Sue Shellengarger, “Tuning Out: Listening Becomes a Rare Skill,” Wall Street Journal, July 23, 2014, sec. D4.

22. Stephen R. Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989), 240– 241.

23. Jason Buch, “His Repair Job: Texas Executive Ed Whitacre Steered GM at a Critical Time,” Houston Chronicle, August 22, 2010, sec. D1.

24. T. Peters, Thriving on Chaos (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1988).

25. Brian Horn, “Unlocked: How to Communicate an Open-Door Policy,” Smart Business Chicago 6, no. 9 (July 1, 2009): 10.

26. Marilyn H. Lewis and N. L. Reinsch Jr., “Listening in Organizational Environments,” Journal of Business Communication 25, no. 3 (Summer 1988): 49–67; and J. Brownell, “Listening Environment: Critical Aspects of Organizational Communication” (working paper, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, 1992).


11 Communicating Nonverbally

What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson, American essayist and poet

Understanding the importance of nonverbal communication is often difficult because it is such a natural part of any managerial interaction. To appreciate the contribution nonverbal communication makes to managerial communication, imagine yourself at a meeting with six others discussing an upcoming event—say, the opening of a new facility for your company. It is a meeting like any number you have attended before, yet it is radically different because you cannot see the others. Something keeps you from this. It could be a fabric veil, fog, wooden panels—you decide. Your location is also a puzzle. Is it the boardroom for the corporation, or is it a meeting room just anywhere? How important is this meeting in the whole scheme of things? Your environment provides no clues. In addition, you cannot really hear the others very well. All voices have been altered by the device used during investigatory reports on television. You can hear the words, but the voices have little or no character. The words are slowed down and slurred to some extent.

You are all seated in the same room, but because of the room’s setup, you cannot see who is seated where— who is at the head of the table (perhaps you are), or who is at the sides, or even who is seated next to whom. While you and several others flew in to attend the meeting, you did not have a chance to shake hands before the meeting began. In fact, today you have not seen the others or what they are wearing. Are they dressed as well as you are, or are they dressed informally? The only communication possible during the meeting is what you can get from you and the six others talking.

Unfortunately, even that part of the communication process is a challenge. You verbally trip over each other as the meeting proceeds since you have no efficient way to signal whose turn it is to speak. In addition, because speakers must identify themselves before speaking, the interactions take longer than usual. Furthermore, you must keep these verbal identities in mind as you listen because you have no visual or tactile cues to go on. As the meeting progresses, whenever you contribute, you are unsure of all but the verbal reactions because you cannot see the shrugs, posture shifts, or expressions on the other faces.

The interaction is also lengthened by the need to evaluate each remark for intent. Did he mean that ironically? Was she being sarcastic? Was that last remark meant as a joke? The audio scrambler makes quick judgments on these fine points nearly impossible. And while you can hear the voices, which voice belongs to whom? Someone suggests that all the employees in the store dress up as clowns. You are just about to say “ridiculous” when you check yourself—be careful, maybe the boss said that.

You know the meeting is scheduled to last two hours, but because you had to surrender your watch at the door, you have no idea about the time, although it seems an eternity. You know the agenda for the meeting, but are you going to be able to cover all the items in the time allotted? Are you giving enough time to each item? Are you going to get out of the meeting and find that only half the time has elapsed? Whatever the case,


you wish you were out of the meeting now.


The Importance of Nonverbal Communication

Nonverbal factors are clearly a crucial element of managerial communication. Without nonverbal communication as a source of information, most of the richness and much of the meaning in messages would be lost. In many cases, conversations would be complicated by the need to repeat messages for clarity, and the time required would multiply enormously.

Nonverbal communication accompanies oral and, by logical extension, written messages, while consisting of the signals delivered through means other than verbal. In short, it includes everything but the words. Managers send, receive, and interpret nonverbal messages in the same way they send, receive, and interpret verbal ones. The same communication dynamics come into play as the sender intends (although often unconsciously) to send a message and chooses some medium through which to do so (a gesture, for example) that receivers perceive and interpret just as they do with verbal messages. Nonverbal communication may bear a clear meaning in itself, but often it serves as an adjunct to the spoken words, adding nuance in one place and clarity in another. At other times, this complex source of messages may even contradict the words being spoken.

Nonverbal communication is an important part of our daily managerial interactions.1 Effective nonverbal communication improves the likelihood that others will comply with our requests.2 While the extent of the nonverbal aspect varies from interaction to interaction, one set of oft-cited statistics shows that 55 percent of a message comes from the speaker’s appearance, facial expression, and posture, while vocal aspects deliver 38 percent, and the actual words deliver only 7 percent.3 Nonverbal communication is a rich and complex source of communication data, and this chapter provides an overview of the areas relevant to the managerial function. But first, three generalizations about nonverbal signals should be stressed here. While the first two apply to most other signals, it helps to keep them in mind when interpreting nonverbal communication.


Stop and Think If a nonverbal message contradicts the verbal, such as when a speaker’s voice shakes and her facial expression is anxious, but she says, “I’m delighted to be here!” which do you believe?

First, with the exception of so-called emblems, nonverbal signals rarely have one set meaning. Rather, they usually add to the message’s meaning, as shown in the following section of this chapter.

Second, nonverbal signals vary from culture to culture and region to region in their meaning. Nonverbal signals derive from experiences within the communication environment (cultural, regional, or social) and are generally dispersed throughout it.4 It is not enough merely to translate the verbal language; the nonverbal must be expressed as well.5 The Japanese, for example, usually present a noncontroversial demeanor and are excessively polite by North American standards.6 In negotiation, the accompanying nonverbals can create confusion across cultures.7 In cross-cultural situations, in fact, while the verbal takes on greater importance, knowing and using basic nonverbal signals—for example, bowing in South Korea—can communicate respect.8

Third, when nonverbal signals contradict verbal ones, the nonverbals are usually the ones to trust. When verbal and nonverbal disagree, credibility can suffer.9 Law enforcement agents, trial attorneys, and insurance investigators are professionals who extensively study nonverbal behavior in order to improve their interrogation skills. They know that nonverbal signals can provide valuable clues to the truth of a message.

More specifically, the law enforcement community provides a contemporary example of nonverbal behavior’s importance. When attempting to identify terrorists and criminals in public places, such as airports and subways, officials are trained to “read” suspects’ body language. The technique is called behavior detection and is rooted in the notion that people convey emotions, such as fear, in subconscious gestures, facial expressions, and speech patterns.10 Since the September 11, 2001, attack on the United States, behavior detection has been adopted by police, the Transportation Security Administration, and other authorities at most airports, universities, and mass transit systems.

Telling people how to dress, talk, and even move is a far easier task than putting it all into play in one’s life. While we can read about the importance of smiling behavior, for example, how much is too much? Women and men aspiring to be managers can view excellent models for nonverbal behavior on business-oriented TV programs. To get the maximum impact of the nonverbal elements in the conversations, with the exception of vocal style, watch these programs with the sound turned off. Not only do they show the kinds of gestures leaders make, but they generally reflect current appropriate dress as well.


The Functions of Nonverbal Cues

Nonverbal communication is a broader concept than many realize. It is far more than just gestures and eye contact. A simple definition already offered is that in managerial interactions, nonverbal communication is everything but the words, but it is critical to appreciate the scope of that definition. Nonlinguistic signs are like any kind of sign in communication in that they are something tangible, capable of bearing meaning, just as linguistic signs are. They differ only in that they are nonverbal.

Even color and how it is presented in the context of a message can serve as a nonlinguistic sign. Some studies have looked at the impact colors have on cognitive performance. Researchers at the University of British Columbia conducted tests with six hundred people to determine the effects of the colors blue and red. Red groups did better on tests of recall and attention to detail. Participants in the blue groups tested better with skills requiring imagination and creativity.11 So if your team is tasked with brainstorming for a new product or service, you may want to have them meet in a room with blue walls.

Depending on the culture, color is a nonlinguistic sign of certain emotions. For instance, Western brides generally wear white, but Eastern brides wear red. In China, white is a sign of bereavement and loss, just as black is in the United States.

A study of emotional responses to cell phone ads demonstrates how color creates different emotions in different cultures. Thirty-two people from six cultures (Finland, Sweden, Taiwan, India, China, and the United States) were asked to interpret a Nokia ad’s external characteristics. The predominant blue and white colors, recognized by the Finnish respondents as their country’s flag colors, provoked a positive impression. Further, the Finns found the colors “reliable,” “natural,” “trustworthy,” and “comfortable.” By contrast, the Chinese and Taiwanese respondents said that white is a funeral color for them, creating a negative impression. The Swedes recognized that blue and white are “Finnish colors” and rejected them as “boring” and “cold.” The respondents from India thought the colors warm and summery. The U.S. respondents were inconsistent about whether the blue and white colors were warm or cold, summery or wintery. Interestingly, several Americans connected the blue and white colors to “unlimited freedom” and “innovation,” which no informants from other cultures mentioned.12 Unfortunately, nonverbal communication can result in frustratingly inexact interpretation. Scholars have carefully studied nonverbal communication but have only scratched the surface of the topic in many areas. If placed in the proper perspective, it can be a valuable source of cues in communication situations.

Burbinster identified six functions for nonverbal communication (see Table 11–1).13

Nonverbal signals that complement the verbal message repeat it. Typically, these signals accompany what is being said. For example, a technician explaining the varying gap widths in faulty components in a heating system might hold up her thumb and index finger and vary the gap between them as she discusses the problem. Or a supervisor welcoming a direct report back after a lengthy illness might give him a warm handshake to stress how pleased he is at the other’s return.

Table 11–1 585

Table 11–1 Functions of Nonverbal Behavior







Those nonverbal signals that accent call our attention to a matter under discussion. A common example is a person pounding on a desk as she makes an important point. People may also use vocalics, the nonverbal aspects of the voice itself, to highlight a point. Someone differentiating between one choice and another might say “I want this one and not that.”

The nonverbal signals that contradict are less obvious. These are usually sent unintentionally by the subconscious to say nonverbally the opposite of what is being said verbally. Either subtly or obviously, nonverbal cues will often tell the careful observers the truth when the verbal cues do not. This complex area of nonverbal communication will be discussed later under the heading “Nonverbal Signs of Deception.”

Repeating occurs when we have already sent a message using one form of communication and wish to emphasize the point being made. It differs from complementing in that it is not done simultaneously with the verbal comment. For example, a demonstration following a verbal description of a tool’s use is a nonverbal repetition.

Regulating, the fifth purpose Burbinster suggests, is a subtle and important one. Regulating occurs during conversations to signal to our partner to “slow,” “stop,” and even “wait your turn” and let the other person know when we are ready to listen or to speak. Watch an ongoing conversation, and you will quickly spot a variety of these cues. A speaker who is not finished with his point but is being interrupted might speak louder or faster to keep his turn (thus using vocalics). Another might hold up her hand to say “not yet, let me finish.” On the other hand, a speaker will usually look directly at the listener to indicate that the listener’s turn is imminent.

Substituting is a less common nonverbal signal than the others during face-to-face communication. When the environment prevents us from sending a message by speaking in words, we might choose to use nonverbal behaviors—especially emblems, which will be discussed in the next section on movement and gestures—to get


the point across to our receiver. For example, a supervisor in a loud factory might use the OK sign to signal an employee. This will likely be more effective than shouting.

In the case of written communication, on the other hand, we are seeing an explosive increase in the use of nonverbal signs and cartoonish images to substitute for words—emoji. Sometimes referred to as textual paralanguage, emoji are ubiquitous in electronic messages and have been called the body language of the digital age. Every day 41.5 billion text messages are sent by one quarter of the world, using 6 million emoji.14 Since body language and verbal tone do not translate in our text messages or e-mails, writers use emoji to convey nuanced meaning and emotion.


Stop and Think Which of Burbinster’s functions is exemplified by the following gestures:

1. A woman dropping her voice as she flirts with someone she is attracted to? 2. A man jiggling his leg as he is being interviewed for a job? 3. A grandmother putting her finger to her lips as her four-year-old grandson screams for candy?

Emoji were developed in 1990 by Shigetaka Kurita, a Japanese telecom employee of NTT Docomo, the world’s first major mobile Internet system.15 Kurita’s team created 176 icons to be used on mobile phones and pagers. Today, emoji are available in almost all messaging apps, and while different apps have distinct emoji styles, emoji can translate across platforms. Businesses have also adopted this hieroglyphic language. A recent study of thousands of social media posts from 22 corporate brands found that 20.6 percent of brand tweets, 19.1 percent of Facebook posts, and 31.3 percent of Instagram posts contained emoji as substitutes for words.16

From a theoretical perspective, Burbinster’s six functions of nonverbal behavior (Table 11–1) all contribute to another important function: communication redundancy. This concept refers to the phenomena built into any language system that combat the effects of noise. It simply means that much of the meaning of a message can be deduced from other elements in the message that have already appeared. Think of the television game show Wheel of Fortune. The longest-running syndicated game show in the United States, the program has also come to gain a worldwide following with sixty international adaptations. Contestants try to predict the letters in a blank word puzzle; the game is an example of redundancy in that not every word or letter must be on the game board before contestants can guess the correct phrase.

More generally, while part of a message delivers new information, much of it exists to ensure the points being made are understood. Far from being a negative phenomenon, communication redundancy is vitally important because it helps ensure that our message gets past the various barriers that environmental, organizational, or interpersonal elements erect. When a message is made more redundant, that is, when the information in it has been made more predictable to the receiver, the message has a greater chance of transferring the meaning the sender intends it to convey.

Every communication system is redundant. Verbal languages build in redundancy through a variety of means including grammar and syntax. Most of the functions addressed by nonverbal communication described above serve in some way as redundancy. Thus, as we discuss an issue with someone, we will use nonverbal signals to complement, accent, repeat, and even substitute to get a point across. This may be done without even thinking about it. Even when a nonverbal signal contradicts the verbal, additional nonverbal signals are likely to follow to underscore the contradiction. Thus, a shake of the head denying a request is followed by a smile to indicate goodwill.



Stop and Think Consider a time when you had to handle a customer’s or direct report’s complaint.

1. In addition to the words, what nonverbal behaviors did the customer or direct report use? 2. Which of Burbinster’s six functions were exemplified? 3. To what extent were these nonverbals redundant? 4. Why do you think the customer or direct report felt the need to use them?

Some nonverbal behaviors are innate, others are learned from the community around us, and some are mixed. For instance, eye blinking patterns and blushing appear to be innate—universal, involuntary behaviors that occur in certain communication situations. Other cues such as the eyewink and the two-fingered “V” gesture are learned, and they signal different meanings in different cultures. The thumbs-up “Like” button on Facebook is an example: a raised thumb can mean “No. 1” in Germany, a noncommittal “this is nice” in the Netherlands, and an unprintable insult in Iran. A third group of nonverbal behaviors is a mix of innate and learned in that they occur in every culture, but they can be controlled, and their meanings can change. In some Asian cultures, for example, a small laugh may occur naturally but a forced smile may convey discomfort and submission rather than affiliation and pleasure.

This chapter now explores several key types of nonverbal communication and suggests how managers can use them to their advantage. It also looks at how nonverbal indications of deception can be detected through careful observation.



Say “nonverbal communication” to most people, and they probably think of movement, which is technically kinesics. Nonverbal communication consists of far more than just one general category, but movement is the most studied of the categories. It includes gestures, posture, and stance as well as bodily movement.

As summarized in Table 11–2, gestures may include emblems, illustrators, regulators, affect displays, and adapters.17 While people usually use gestures without thinking, a conscious awareness of them can help a manager communicate more efficiently. An understanding of and training in effective signals can open up the possibility of our strategic, conscious use of them. A leader in customer service, The Walt Disney Company, understands the power of nonverbals. The Disney Institute, the company’s consulting division, teaches employees at all their theme parks to give directions by pointing with two fingers rather than one because it seems more polite. Similarly, if a teacher calls on a student by extending an open palm rather than pointing a finger at the student, it seems more respectful and welcoming.

Earlier, we noted that nonverbal signals usually suggest meaning; they do not give direct meaning. Emblems are an exception in that they actually stand for something else. The OK sign is one example; another is the time out—one palm held at a right angle to the other.

Illustrators complement verbal communication by providing an example of or reinforcing what is being said. When a person is trying to explain an item that is not present, what is more natural than drawing it in the air?

Regulators are gestures that both subtly and obviously control what a speaker says. They arise from a variety of sources, including the hands—for example, when one holds up the hand palm outward to keep another from interrupting. Turning the palm toward you and wiggling the fingers is a beckoning gesture in the United States. We also regulate to draw some speakers out and rein others in with gestures.

Table 11–2 Types of Gestures




Affect displays


The affect display is more complex than most gestures and involves several parts of the body. For example, suppose you are talking to someone who has a scowl on his face as he sits up straight but is turned slightly


away from you. His arms cross his chest, and you have little doubt this person does not like the idea under discussion. The affect display signals to another person what we are feeling and can show pleasure as well as anger, boredom as well as interest. Reading such nonverbal signals from others is rarely a problem. The challenge lies in controlling these within ourselves in some situations. Repeatedly clicking a pen during a meeting is an outlet for feeling impatient, but it may not be wise to display that affect. Since we may not always want to show what we are feeling, we must control these nonverbals, particularly if it could affect our current communication strategy.

The adapter may be the least appreciated source of kinesic messages; however, it can be quite important. In many situations, when one behavior might be inappropriate, the body will adapt by sending signals that would provide a solution, if one could only implement it. For example, the person wishing to leave, but unable to do so, might start to move his crossed leg in imitation of walking. Another person under stress may begin to twist the paper clip she is holding as a socially acceptable substitute for what she would like to do with the person she is reprimanding. That employee being reprimanded may wrap his arms around himself as a sort of substitute hug to provide the comfort he needs at that moment. A nervous speaker may rock or stroke her hair to calm herself. Adapters often appear as a pattern of seemingly irrelevant nonverbal signals, but to the careful observer, their presence may suggest discomfort. Similarly, in stressful situations when projecting an image of self-control is crucial, be aware of the nonverbal signals you may be sending. Keeping a calm face while clenching your fists may reveal more than intended.

While gestures may be the most obvious example of meaningful movement, other kinesic behaviors contribute significantly to message meaning as well. Take posture, for example. Slumping, leaning, standing with weight on one leg, and rounding the shoulders all connote weakness and lack of confidence. By contrast, standing at military attention (head up, shoulders back, chest forward, and weight evenly distributed on both feet) connotes power, alertness, and confidence. Managers who have mastered the elements of good posture often are attended to even before they begin to speak.

Another example of kinesic communication is head movement. As mentioned in the previous chapter, a good listener often indicates that he is paying attention by nodding and/or tilting his head. On the other hand, a speaker who nods or tilts his head while talking may be interpreted as unsure of himself or even submissive.

Mimicry is a form of gesturing where two people mirror each other’s movements. It is typically an unconscious and automatic behavior triggered by an abundance of mirroring neurons in the brain. Mimicry has been shown to positively influence the flow of conversation as well as mutual liking. The back-and-forth exchange of smiles, head nods, arm crossing, and hand movements creates this social circuit that leaves two people feeling better and better about the other person. Studies have proven this to be true in salary negotiations and job interviews, where ample mimicking correlated to strong feelings of trust and likeability.18 We also communicate meaning by the way we walk. When a speaker strides quickly to the platform, she seems energetic, bold, and in command of the situation. Her credibility is enhanced by this nonverbal element. However, if she walks around while speaking or perhaps sways, rocks, or shifts her weight from foot to foot repeatedly, her impression is diminished.


To summarize, movement is a very important category of nonverbal communication. We pay attention to various parts of a communicator’s body—head, trunk, arms, legs—as we watch and listen, drawing inferences from their movements. A list of common interpretations of kinesic cues appears in Table 11–3. But take note: As you will read in Chapter 12, our culture defines both verbal and nonverbal behavior, so keep in mind that the “meanings” of the kinesic cues in the table may change from culture to culture. For example, head nodding is a sign of affirmation in the United States, but it’s a sign of disagreement in Greece, the South Slavic States, and Iran.19 Managers in any culture must attend to kinesics when they communicate so that their body language contributes to rather than contradicts or detracts from the intended meaning.


Stop and Think The next time you are dining with friends or family, deliberately take a sip of water, or wipe your lips with your napkin, or lean away from the table. What happens next? Yes, within a minute everyone else at the table will mimic your nonverbal behavior.


Spatial Messages

Proxemics refers to the space around us and how we and others relate to it. Space and distance can reveal much and merit careful attention. Most people hearing “proxemics” think only of personal space, the personal “bubble” surrounding a person. That is a good place to start, but the concept encompasses far more than just that.


Spatial Zones

Edward Hall studied use of personal distances and determined that Americans have four arbitrarily established proxemic zones, described in Figure 11–1, in which we interact.20 Strategic managers are aware of these zones and appreciate how they and others react when their spaces are invaded.

Our language suggests we all are aware of personal space to some degree. We talk about someone “keeping his distance,” or we complain when we perceive others “invading our space” or say “They are crowding me on this issue,” when in fact what they are doing has little to do with territory. When someone is pressing another on an issue, the other person may respond, “Give me breathing room,” or less politely, “Keep out of my face.”

In the United States, businesspeople generally operate within four zones: intimate, personal, social, and public. In the discussion that follows, keep in mind that the figures are averages. They reflect the general culture, situational mandates, and the relationship between the parties. A number of factors enter into any interpersonal exchange. These can include personal appearance, culture, gender, and age. Thus, we may react differently to a tall person compared to a short person, and we may draw nearer to an attractive person than to another who is less attractive.21 As discussed in the next chapter, meanings for nonverbal behaviors differ from culture to culture. In the United States, the intimate zone ranges from physical contact to roughly 1.5 to 2 feet. It is reserved for those who are psychologically close. When others invade it, especially for more than a moment, a person usually feels uncomfortable and is likely to draw back or put up some sort of barrier, although often without consciously knowing why.

Table 11–3 Kinesic Cues

Body Segment Movement Interpretation

Head Gazing Attentive; honest

Shifting, darting eyes Uncertain; lying

Eyebrows up Challenging; open

Smiling mouth Enjoyment; pleasure

Nodding Listening; agreeing

Tilting head Interested

Head down Defensive

Trunk and shoulders Leaning toward Interested; rapport

Leaning away


Leaning away

Posture slouched Low self-esteem

Expanded chest Confident

Shrunken chest Threatened

Hands and arms Buttoning jacket Formal; leaving

Touching others Powerful

Touching self Nervous; anxious

Repetitive movements Lying; unsure of self

Hand over mouth while speaking Want to escape

Arms crossed Bored; closed to ideas

Fingers steepled Confident

Hands on hips Challenging; arrogant

Hands in pockets Secretive

Palms showing Trusting

Pointing Authoritative; aggressive

Clenched hands; wringing hands; picking cuticle Need reassurance

Figure 11–1 Spatial Zones


The personal zone extends from the edge of the intimate zone out to roughly 4 feet. Americans reserve it for close friends but permit others to enter it temporarily during introductions. Watch as two strangers come together for an introduction. As they shake hands, they will often stand with one leg forward and the other ready to back up. Then, when the greeting is over, both will usually retreat into the next zone. Cooperating on a task or simultaneously studying a document may bring people into their personal space, but they typically compensate by not making eye contact.

The next area is the social zone. It extends from about 4 feet to 12 feet and is the space in which we would like to conduct much of our daily business. Relationships between managers and their employees might begin in this area and continue for a time. They will often move into the personal zone once trust has developed, but this takes time.22 In the U.S. culture, the public zone extends beyond 12 feet and reflects the distance at which most would like to keep strangers. Little communication of a business nature takes place in this zone. Perhaps the only spoken communication that occurs is the public speech. We see the formal institutionalized reflection of this distance in the arrangement of public auditoriums or even in the layout of many political rallies. Even if the latter is not too crowded, the audience will often keep its distance.

For managers, the value of understanding spatial zones is clear. An observant communicator can gauge the relative warmth that exists in a relationship by the distances individuals keep during interactions. As trust grows, distances generally diminish. Thus, allies sit next to each other in meetings. However, other factors determine spatial differences as well. Let us consider some of these.


Spatial Differences

As we have said, proxemic zones vary from culture to culture. For example, businesspeople in many South American and Arab countries typically interact with people at far closer ranges than do U.S. businesspeople.23 Often, when people from the United States interact with individuals from these cultures, the varying proxemic zones expected by the groups create awkwardness until someone adapts to the needs of the others and either gives up some ground or extends the distance.

Distance preferences also vary by gender. Men tend to maintain larger personal space bubbles than do women. Women are more likely to allow men or other women to come closer than men, and women may be more tolerant of temporary violations of their own space.24 Men take up more space with their bodies and their artifacts, a tendency that is often perceived as indicating power.

A study of 850 workers at midsize companies resulted in interesting gender differences regarding workspace preferences. Women voiced preferences for privacy, natural light, and the option to personalize their space. Men, on the other hand, spoke out strongly for just one environmental attribute: the ability to control the room temperature.25 Naturally, circumstances may artificially affect our use of zones. The classic example of this is the crowded elevator, where people allow others to invade personal and intimate zones. Here, though, people will try to adapt by avoiding eye contact or blocking—by folding the arms across the chest or putting up their briefcases as a sort of shield. If someone accidentally touches another, apologies quickly follow.


Stop and Think The next time you are in a meeting, look around the table at the amount of space each person takes up, not just with their bodies but also with their belongings and artifacts.

1. Who spreads out and dominates the space? 2. Who does the opposite? 3. Do you see any consistencies across gender? Age? Power?

When traditional zones need to be ignored for an extended period, people will stake out their territory. One way is to create even spacing between participants, as when seated around a meeting table with movable seats. In other situations, people will erect some sort of barrier to signal the limits of their own space. Watch at meetings around a conference table as people unconsciously arrange notebooks, jackets, coffee cups, and other business artifacts around the perimeters of their territory. They are signaling where the boundaries of their personal space lie in that crowded environment. Similarly, students in a class typically occupy the same seat throughout the term, claiming it as “their” space and piling their belongings around them.

Permanent or “fixed” spaces, such as cubicles or large desks, often are perceived as barriers. It is rude to come behind the boss’s desk or peek over the top of the cubicle. But semifixed spaces, such as conference tables, can connote cooperation and shared responsibility (see Figure 11–2), as the next section explains.


Strategic Use of Space

Managers should be aware that intruding into another’s territory without an invitation can be an annoyance or even a threat, no matter what a person’s rank. Recognizing the boundaries of both fixed and semifixed spaces communicates respect to the individual. Artifacts belonging to another individual should be regarded as personal. One should never rifle through a coworker’s desk drawers for writing implements or sit on the edge of that person’s desk.

Managers can use space to create an air of power and authority or an air of collegiality and respect. Everyone reads the environment for nonverbal clues. The amount of space allotted to another, the amount of privacy that space entails, and where in the building that space is located can speak volumes about organizational power. Generally, more is better than less, bigger is better than smaller, and especially in the United States, new is better than old. In addition, the closer people are to the organization’s leaders, the more power they are perceived by others to enjoy.

On the other hand, managers who value open communication will work in proximity to their direct reports and coworkers; will minimize status-filled artifacts, such as heavy furniture; and will discourage territoriality. Indeed, contemporary organizations require that all employees share their “space” as a symbol of cooperation and teamwork. When Michael Bloomberg was elected mayor of New York City, he rearranged New York City Hall to resemble a giant, open bullpen, eliminating private offices. This look resembled the trading area at Salomon Brothers, the investment firm where he had been a partner. Again, his aim was to free the flow of information. In 2014, when Bill de Blasio became mayor of New York City, he decided to keep his predecessor’s open-air office arrangement, though he had criticized it during the campaign.

Figure 11–2 Fixed and Semifixed Space in the Same Office

Office design can put the right people together. At WPP, a British marketing group (formerly Wire and Plastics Product), walls were removed and coffee areas created. Rather than assigning accountants and media people to separate floors, they work side by side in teams to ensure that they keep talking to each other.26 Some studies have noted differences in office space preferences among age groups. In one study, 40 percent of younger workers, commonly labeled Generation Y or Millennials (born between 1980 and 2000), preferred to work in open office plans; only 18 percent said they preferred cubicles with privacy panels. Older workers, on the other hand, said they worked best in private offices (45 percent); just 16 percent said they preferred


collaborative spaces.27


Personal Appearance

The old saying “beauty is only skin deep” may not be true in the business world. Recent studies have identified a connection between wages and appearance. Daniel Hamermesh, a University of Texas economist who has studied the beauty benefit for twenty years, determined that above-average-looking men earn 17 percent more than below-average-looking men, and above-average-looking women earn 12 percent more than below- average-looking women. That translates into $230,000 more in earnings over a lifetime, on average.28

Further, there appears to be significant agreement about what is considered attractive. For one thing, height is a factor. In the United States, the average adult male is 5 feet 9 inches tall, yet 30 percent of CEOs are at least 6 feet 2 inches. Another aspect of appearance that equates with success is a strong chin. Among forty-two CEOs from the top 50 Fortune 500 companies, some 90 percent showed nonreceding-to-prominent chins, versus 40 percent of the U.S. population. Apparently, we equate such jawlines with business success and confidence.29 Aspects of our appearance such as height, chin prominence, and physical beauty are not easily changed. One might argue that they should not be relevant factors for business success, anyway. Nevertheless, most businesspeople try to maximize the positive impact of their appearance, and one relatively simple way to reach that goal is with our choice of clothing. What we wear says much about who we are or at least who we want to be perceived as. Dress is an integral part of the first impression we form on meeting someone and is often the key to initial credibility.30 Consequently, managers should pay close attention to what they wear in order to send the right message to others. This section will focus on general principles for effective dress, since clothing styles are so changeable. One piece of advice is enduring, though. Be neither the first nor the last to adopt a fashion.

The key to dress is to fit in with the organization’s culture, to show by your appearance that you have adopted the organization’s values. Thus, financial institutions expect employees to look conservative, assuring customers and clients of their stability. Ad agency employees are often expected to dress more fashion forward, indicating their flair, creativity, and contemporary style. High-tech organizations de-emphasize a “corporate” appearance, to the extent that executives are dressed as casually as the lowest-level employee. Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, Inc., is one of the world’s wealthiest and most influential business leaders and philanthropists. His typical casual style of dressing in a T-shirt, hooded sweatshirt, and jeans has become the norm for people in his industry. Why? Mr. Zuckerberg’s style reflects his personal values, as stated on his own Facebook page: “openness, making things that help people connect and share what’s important to them . . . minimalism.”

The occasion will also dictate personal appearance. While observing people at events such as weddings and funerals may lead one to conclude that our culture is moving toward more informality, in many business settings, casual dress is considered disrespectful. Job interviews, client visits, and sales presentations call for careful attention to appearance. Recruiters often draw conclusions about applicants based on the style and condition of their footwear and hair. Thus, when shopping for an “interview suit,” applicants should also shop for dress shoes.


Managers must remember that everyday appearance also conveys important messages. Many contemporary organizations have developed a detailed dress code or employee uniform in recognition of the importance of personal appearance. According to a 2006 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, six in ten employers allow a dress-down day at least once a week. But the number of employers allowing casual dress every day has plunged from 53 percent in 2002 to a low of 38 percent.31 The reason for the return to more dressy attire is, in part, because of the confusion generated by business casual standards. But mostly, managers have the impression that when employees dress casually, the quality of the work suffers.

Legal issues can arise from dress policies, too. Employers must be careful to enforce dress codes on all employees, not just one group (such as women) to avoid accusations of discrimination. In 2007, a Phoenix, Arizona, jury awarded $287,000 to a Somali employee who had worked at Alamo Rent A Car. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission argued that the company engaged in religious discrimination for firing her when, as a practicing Muslim, she wore the hijab, a type of head scarf, during the holy month of Ramadan.32 Employers whose dress codes require wearing certain apparel or refraining from wearing certain apparel need to show business justification for the requirements, reasonably accommodate their employees’ religious beliefs, or ask the employees to seek an exemption from wearing religious garb while on duty.

Observers always assign meaning to details such as accessories, color, jewelry, and emblems worn on the jacket lapel or hat. A prominent example of the symbolic nature of clothing is IBM. In Lou Gerstner’s book, Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?, the former CEO describes how he revitalized the failing corporation. One of his major efforts was culture change, and one of his methods was prescribing changes in employee dress. The famous “old” IBM look had been crisp white shirts, dark suits, and conservative ties. Originally, it had been adopted to match customer expectations. But by 1993, when Gerstner took over, it seemed anachronistic, stuffy, and emblematic of the company’s demise. The “new” IBM look was more casual and contemporary. Again, Gerstner advises, “Dress according to the circumstances of your day and recognize who you will be with (customers, government leaders, or just your colleagues . . .).”33


Stop and Think 1. Look around your workplace. Is the old advice, “dress for the job you want, not the job you have,” still true? 2. To what extent is appearance a relevant factor in hiring and promotion decisions in your organization?

In summary, no matter whether the organization’s culture is formal or casual, no matter whether the occasion is special or ordinary, managers’ appearance should reflect the expectations and values of their audience. By adhering to the principle of “fitting in,” managers will enhance their credibility and improve their communication effectiveness.



The final source of nonverbal signals this chapter will focus on is paralanguage or vocal style. The spoken word contains more than linguistic cues. Nonverbal aspects of vocal delivery include the pitch, rate, volume, tone, onset, and duration of messages. These cues are among the least obvious to most listeners, with the likely exception of tone, yet they can be as important as or even more important than the actual words used.34 The pitch of the speaker’s voice, the onset of the message—the time that it takes between the person’s taking the turn and the message’s beginning—and the length of the message send subtle cues.

The following is an example of the effect of onset. If we are asking someone about a serious issue and the person’s responses come more quickly than expected, we might suspect he is not serious or has rehearsed the responses. Similarly, when someone takes far longer to answer a question than expected, we begin to wonder if all that is being said is true. And as the discussion in the section on nonverbal signs of deception shows, we even monitor pitch and can read meaning into changes of it.

Here is another example of how pitch affects the impression. Spoken English sentences follow certain pitch patterns, depending on their meaning. Declaratory sentences (statements) end with a dropped pitch, and interrogatory sentences (questions that ask for a yes or no response) end with a raised pitch. A common violation of these pitch patterns, known as “uptalk,” occurs when speakers end their statements with a raised pitch, making them sound like questions. The listener, noticing the uptalk, often concludes that the speaker is unsure of the truth of their statements and is asking for validation. In a business meeting, when someone says, “Here’s what I think the customer wants,” with a raised pitch at the end, others may well conclude that the speaker in fact does not know what the customer wants.

The importance of vocal cues to managers is obvious in sending as well as receiving. It is important to monitor the signals being sent, particularly for tone, to ensure that the intended communication strategy is not being undermined by subtle nonverbal cues.

Speakers have a typical vocal style that distinguishes their voice from that of other speakers. The elements consist of a basic pitch, rate, pause pattern, and volume. Certain characteristics of voice are also regional in origin, such as articulation and pacing. The southern U.S. drawl and the northeastern U.S. clipped dialect are examples. In addition to these basic vocal characteristics, speakers can vary their pitch, rate, and volume to emphasize their meaning and to communicate emotion. Failure to vary these vocal characteristics results in what is commonly known as a monotonal vocal style. In the U.S. business culture, a monotonal speaking style connotes lack of interest and even lack of authority. Managers may unintentionally undermine their message by the style in which it is delivered. Chapter 5 described good vocal style in more detail, but these criteria apply to everyday speaking as well as to formal presentations.

To summarize, in business, speaking in a clear, firm, low-pitched voice connotes confidence and results in more attentive listening. Nasal, shrill, quiet, breathy, or harsh voices are devalued. Excessive use of filled pauses (“uh,” “well”) gives an impression of uncertainty. Managers must learn to use their vocal characteristics


to maximize the message rather than detract from it, just as they must use the preceding nonverbal categories.


Applications of Nonverbal Communication Research

Until recently, the impact of managers’ nonverbal behavior was impossible to objectively measure. However, researchers at the Human Dynamics Group of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab have developed a range of small, wearable electronic devices that can easily and accurately gather data on tone of voice, proximity, and body language.35 Their data about these nonverbal communication patterns can be applied to improving communication effectiveness in business settings.


Phone Sales and Service

In one case, the MIT researchers worked with a British call center outsourcing company, Vertex Data Science, to improve the effectiveness of call center operators. The MIT group used electronic sensors (or e- sensors) to measure the speech patterns of operators during calls with customers. The group did not measure the actual words used by the operators but focused on variations in tone and pitch as well as the amount of time that the operators spent talking versus listening to the callers. The researchers concluded that successful operators spend more time listening than talking and use strong fluctuations in their voice amplitude and pitch to suggest interest and responsiveness to the customers’ needs. After only a few seconds of measuring these factors, the researchers were able to accurately predict the eventual success or failure of a call the majority of the time.36


Teams and Meetings

The results of the MIT studies have implications for team communication. As discussed in Chapter 4, groupthink is a common problem in teams. Individuals often conform to the perceived group consensus despite their personal reservations. E-sensors measuring nonverbal communication behaviors could potentially help prevent groupthink by raising awareness of nonverbal communication patterns of individual team members. For example, one or two individuals in the team might be overbearing while not realizing that their nonverbal behaviors discourage others from voicing their opinions. The MIT group believes that they could eventually use e-sensors to select team members with complementary nonverbal communication styles so that the team would be “optimized” for communication effectiveness. Further, they believe they can create “smart environments” by using e-sensors to identify negative nonverbal behaviors in real time, thereby allowing them to prevent communication breakdowns.

The MIT research results can also be applied to formal meetings. Managers may inadvertently sabotage meetings by using inappropriate nonverbal communication or sending incongruent verbal and nonverbal messages. E-sensors can determine whether a manager is using enough vocal variation or body movement to convey the importance of a message. E-sensors also can show the manager what behaviors are confusing the meeting participants, eventually leading to more effective and efficient meeting management.

Body language can affect the outcome of negotiations during meetings. In a separate study, the MIT group simulated face-to-face salary negotiations and was able to accurately predict the “winner” of the negotiation with 87 percent accuracy after only five minutes of measuring body movement patterns.


Informal Communication

Informal coworker conversations are a common method of spreading messages throughout a company, and nonverbal communication is a part of how these messages are interpreted. E-sensors developed by the MIT researchers have been used to monitor nonverbal communication in informal settings; the data on proximity, body language, and vocal style allow more accurate sharing of information, with more people being on the same page.

For example, Bob from the accounting department has a habit of standing very close to coworkers when he talks to them, making listeners uneasy. Data from wearable e-sensors that compare the proximity of individuals during their informal communication events would make Bob aware that he stands the closest to others during conversations and that his messages are also least likely to be conveyed effectively. Bob would then give listeners more space, allowing them to relax and concentrate on what he is trying to tell them.


External Communication

Nonverbal communication has a powerful impact on business success. For example, research indicates that 60 to 70 percent of the interpersonal communication involved in effective sales is nonverbal.37 Even a simple smile has been shown to affect customers’ perceptions of a service provider’s competence.38

Customer service is another area where data about nonverbal communication patterns can be used to benefit the company. Vertex Data Science’s use of electronic monitoring of their call center operators (described above) is one example. Sales teams and customer service personnel (e.g., hotel reservation clerks) could also receive valuable information from studies like the one conducted at Vertex. Again, the goal is to improve the level of service that customers receive, resulting in more business and an enhanced company reputation.

Nonverbal communication research can be applied to customer service in the tourism and hospitality industry. Following service failure, customers want their problems resolved as quickly as possible and in doing so, they have certain expectations with respect to service providers’ behavior. During this period of anxiety, customers are particularly vigilant about nonverbal cues in attempting to discern the service provider’s intentions and attitudes. The display of inappropriate nonverbal behaviors, such as frowning, lack of eye contact, and closed body posture, is likely to create even more negative feelings.39 The ability to objectively measure nonverbal communication with e-sensors and use that information to train customer service employees would greatly benefit the organization.

Another application of this type of research is with managers who operate in the global economy. As you will read in Chapter 12, acceptable nonverbal behavior varies from culture to culture and country to country. E- sensor data could be used to train business travelers in the most effective nonverbal communication patterns for the country and culture that they will be working in.

Finally, independent agencies (such as advertising firms) and/or individuals within a corporation who participate in business-to-business (B2B) relationships with other professionals could benefit from the use of e-sensors that measure nonverbal communication. These individuals regularly make formal presentations and give briefings to clients and other executives. E-sensor data would help them learn the most effective nonverbal communication patterns, such as conveying confidence, during presentations. Other applications include effectively using nonverbal communication to convey negative messages and strengthen client relationships.


Stop and Think 1. What, if any, ethical issues surround the monitoring of employees’ nonverbal behaviors? 2. Does asking them to wear e-sensors violate their right to privacy? 3. Would you be willing to participate in similar studies/training programs at your organization? 4. To what extent is monitoring employees’ nonverbal behaviors during workplace interactions similar to monitoring their

computer usage?


Nonverbal Signs of Deception

In many situations, managers must evaluate other employees to determine if the data they work with are accurate. While the data set out in a report can usually be tested objectively, information derived from interpersonal interactions such as disciplinary and preemployment screening interviews frequently offers little opportunity for immediate objective verification. Fortunately, some nonverbal signals can help managers assess the veracity of verbal statements. As we have seen, nonverbal signals usually complement verbal ones and serve as needed reinforcement to reduce the uncertainty in communication. However, they may also unintentionally contradict the verbal ones they accompany.

When contradictory nonverbal signals betray deception, they are called leakage. During deception, certain types of nonverbal signals often escape from the deceiver despite attempts at control. The subconscious apparently betrays the speaker through this nonverbal leakage. People also often unconsciously read and interpret these signals. Managers can learn to spot nonverbal signs of deception.

Several patterns of nonverbal behavior crop up during deception.40 Since some sources of nonverbal signals can be controlled in deceptive situations better than others—for example, looking another in the eye while deceiving—we will focus on signals that are difficult to control consciously. These include movement, dress, personal space, and voice.

Remember that nonverbal behavior usually suggests meaning rather than having a one-to-one correlation with a specific word or concept. The meaning of nonverbal signs might vary, and a gesture might be motivated by something besides what is suggested here.

To detect possible nonverbal signs of deception, it is important to be in the right place. Often, interviewees are seated behind desks so significant cues go undetected. The face, always likely to be visible, can be a poor source of deception cues (although hand-to-face contacts are valuable cues). When possible, seat the other person in an open chair facing you. Nonverbal signs from the hands, trunk, legs, or feet then will be more evident.41



Deception signs are behaviors that differ from normal nonverbal interactions, so you also need to know what behavior is normal for that individual. Researchers have found that when observers see an individual giving honest answers before the person is seen lying, the observers’ ability to detect dishonesty increases significantly over situations with no behavioral baseline. You do not detect dishonesty by looking for the lie, according to psychologist Paul Ekman of the University of California–San Francisco, but by identifying the change in behavior that suggests a person is nervous when he/she should not be.42 The individual’s baseline is also invaluable because one person might behave differently from others in identical circumstances. A baseline allows one to gauge if nervous behavior reflects the overall situation or is a reaction to the question being asked.

In the job interview, a baseline is relatively easy. During the preliminary chat, ask nonthreatening questions. Begin with the résumé before moving into the unknown. Watch for nonverbal cues. An investigatory interrogation could use the same pattern. Small talk serves its traditional primary purpose of putting the other at ease and a secondary one of providing a behavioral baseline.

The following sections identify some typical signs of deception as summarized in Table 11–4.



Gestures and trunk movements, part of the broad category of kinesics, are probably the most valuable nonverbal signs of deception. Perhaps the most common deception-related gestures are the hand-to-face movements, and the most common of these is the mouth cover. More subtle is the single finger to the mouth, the moustache stroke, or the nose rub. Other gestures suggesting deception are nail biting and lip biting. Hiding the hands by putting them in pockets or pulling shirtsleeves down to the fingertips is a sign that the person is “hiding” something more than their hands.

Conversational gestures vary as well. Generally, when one is comfortable with honest responses, gestures are open and outward. During deception, people both limit their gestures and keep them closer to the body. And while smiling decreases and the frequency of gestures used to illustrate conversational points slows down in deception, the gestures suggesting deception increase. One of these is the hand shrug emblem. Researchers have found that deceptive speakers will shrug their hands—turning the palms up from palms down position— twice as frequently as in nondeceptive messages. This signal suggests a subconscious pleading for the listener to believe what is being said.

Table 11–4 Nonverbal Signs of Deception

Unexpected movements and gestures

Manipulation of clothing

Increase of personal space

Vocal variations

Some authorities also believe that an increase in leg and foot movements may indicate deception.43 Foot tapping, leg rocking while the legs are crossed, and frequent shifts in leg posture are examples of this kind of activity. A rhythmic “walking” motion with one crossed leg has long been recognized as an intention gesture suggesting the person would like to walk away. But keep in mind the need to compare behavior with the baseline.

Signals of deception are not just confined to the body. They can also involve dress, space, and voice.



With clothing, nonverbal leakage mainly shows up in the manipulation of dress, which may suggest a respondent feels threatened by a given question. An interviewee may suddenly close and button his or her coat or begin to tug nervously at a pants leg or skirt hem. This may betray a fear of having some deception uncovered. Other signals include straightening or tugging at the collar, smoothing the tie, picking at lint, or rubbing at a spot.


Personal Space

Proxemics, relating to the distance that one keeps from others as well as one’s relation to the surrounding environment, may be a rich source of deception cues. An interviewee might shift the chair’s position or might suddenly lean back on the chair’s rear legs. Moving away from the interviewer may show a lack of cooperativeness or be a feeble attempt to put distance between the interviewee and interviewer by altering the environment. Often, when a person physically backs up, the other person comes closer. In formal conversations occurring while standing, the interviewee may lean back or step back during a deceptive response even while blocking by folding the arms across the chest.

An interviewee who has been relaxed may shift under pressure. For example, deception may leak out when the person suddenly crosses her arms and legs and leans back. The vulnerable forward posture is less comfortable when facing the fear of discovery. Conversely, an interviewee might “open up” during a response, suggesting openness and honesty. An interviewee may also try to erect “signal blunders” to hide behind. These may be such subtle activities as placing a purse or briefcase in the lap as a barrier.



One’s personal possessions in the office and the physical environment of the office itself offer cues, and they can be manipulated to create the intended perception. Some people will meticulously decorate their offices in an attempt to manage the impressions of their visitors. Although many of these decorations can reflect honest identity claims, some can be strategic and even deceptive.44 How many times have you been lured back to a car salesperson’s office to find an overabundance of religious symbols? How about cute kiddie photos? They seem to say, “You can trust me. I’m a man of faith, and a family man, and I would never give you a raw deal.” Excessively showcasing awards, plaques, and framed certificates on a “brag wall” is an all-too-common attempt at self-promotion. Personal effects in the office should be used as clues toward the bigger picture of who the real person is, but the impression they give off needs to be interpreted carefully.



Voice is another rich source of cues. Most relevant in detecting deception are the voice’s pitch, tone, and volume, as well as the response’s onset and duration. Authorities have long known that deceptive answers have a slower onset than honest ones.

In addition, deceptive answers are likely to be longer and less specific than honest ones. The deceiver may be attempting to fill in the gap with needless material. Some see length as an attempt to make a deceptive answer more elaborate and thus more convincing than the deceiver knows it is. The answer’s length may also reflect the pauses and hesitations needed as the interviewee stumbles through the answer.

The final source of deception is pitch. Researchers have found that vocal pitch rises measurably in deceptive responses. While observers frequently could not say why they labeled such a response as deceptive, they knew it was, and research instruments could show the difference.45

In many interpersonal, managerial interactions, nonverbal elements are the source of most of the message. While not everything communicated nonverbally is done so consciously or intentionally, the unintentional signals may be as valid as the intentional ones and potentially more useful. Keep in mind, though, the suggestions about establishing a behavioral baseline for each person in specific situations. In addition, if deception is suspected, use that as an impetus for further investigation or at least caution, not as the final word.



Everything but the words themselves may be considered the domain of nonverbal communication. Every managerial interaction has nonverbal elements that add to or qualify the interaction. It is difficult to put precise meanings to nonverbal signals, and they vary from culture to culture; however, when nonverbal signals contradict verbal ones, the nonverbal signals are usually the ones to trust.

Nonverbal cues have six functions: complementing, accenting, contradicting, repeating, regulating, and substituting. In addition, nonverbal cues add redundancy to the verbal message and increase the probability that the verbal message will be understood as intended by the sender.

The study of movement includes gestures, posture, head movement, and walk. Gestures may include emblems, illustrators, affect displays, regulators, and adapters. The space around us and how we and others relate to it are also important. Four zones are presented and discussed in this chapter, but care must be taken in interpreting them because zones may differ among cultures. Inappropriate use of space may make a manager appear rude, while an accurate analysis of space indicates much about the importance of power in an organization.

Personal appearance is another integral part of the impression we give and often the key to credibility. Consequently, managers should pay close attention to their clothing, accessories, makeup, hairstyle, and grooming to be sure their appearance fits the expectations of the organization’s culture and customers.

Voice is the final source of nonverbal signals discussed in the chapter. Vocal delivery includes the pitch, tone, onset, and duration of messages.

The first step to detecting deception is to establish a baseline. Once this has been accomplished, movement, dress, space, and voice can each be used to evaluate the potential for deception in an interaction. But in all managerial communication situations, it is important to remember that no dictionary exists for the meaning of nonverbal cues.


Cases For Small-Group Discussion


Case 11–1


Jumping to Conclusions Julie D’Souza was a recent hire of Mantle Data, Inc. She was distressed as she walked toward the office of her supervisor. She had experienced some strange interactions with one of her male coworkers and felt compelled to say something about it.

Dana Kilpatrick, her supervisor, had an open-door policy. Julie knocked on her door and said, “Do you have a few minutes?”

“Sure, Julie. Come on in,” said Dana. “What’s on your mind?”

“I think one of my coworkers is hitting on me, or something. It’s Rick—when I pass him in the hallway he says, ‘Whoo!’ and he turns his head and looks at my backside. Oh, and the other day, he growled at me in the lounge. And he clicks his tongue . . .” Julie added.

“OK, that is strange,” Dana agreed. “Have you told him it makes you uncomfortable?”

“Well, no, I was hoping you could give me some advice about how to handle this. I’ve never had a guy act like this toward me before,” Julie said.

“Let me talk to the divisional manager,” replied Dana. “He knows Rick, and I think he hired him years ago. I’ll see what he says.”

“OK, thank you,” Julie said as she left the office.

About two hours later, Dana met with the divisional manager, Rob Watkins. Rob cleared things up rather succinctly; he explained that Rick had a very mild form of Asperger’s syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder that is characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication as well as restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior. Although Rick was categorized as high functioning (able to carry out typical requirements of living), he did retain some quirky behavioral traits, such as involuntary movements or sounds, and awkward social interactions. But Rick was also a very talented and efficient programmer and a valuable employee of the firm. Rob was certain that Rick was not hitting on Julie but that perhaps he did like her, and seeing her might trigger some behavior that may appear to be flirty, but it was more likely a by-product of the Asperger’s.


Questions 1. Do nonverbal communication principles apply in this case? 2. The U.S. federal laws governing physical or mental impairments would apply in this case, since a medical diagnosis was present.

What should Rick’s coworkers and managers know about his condition and how to interact with him? 3. What would you recommend to Julie if you were in Dana’s position?


Case 11–2


Facing a Series of Interviews Hanna Jenson recently applied for a position that involves supervising the work activities of a large comprehensive insurance company. She has just received a letter notifying her to report for an interview for this position in four days. The letter indicates Jenson will be required to attend a series of interviews as follows:

9:00 a.m. Rodney Custer, personnel manager 10:00 a.m. Ahmad Syed, department chief 11:00 a.m. Bobbie Kent, medical claims supervisor

If Jenson gets the job, she will receive a substantial raise in salary as well as her first opportunity to gain supervisory experience. Therefore, she wants the job very badly and is concerned about how to prepare for each of the interviews.

Although she has never worked in this particular department, Jenson has worked for the company for several years. She knows Custer and Syed on a casual basis, but she has never met Kent. Custer is thirty-eight years old, meticulous in dress, and obviously very proud of the managerial accomplishments he has made since he became personnel manager two years ago. Jenson’s friends in the department believe Custer is sexist and tends to hire men in supervisory positions if possible.

Syed is an elderly, rotund gentleman who will be eligible for retirement in two years. He is somewhat unkempt in appearance, but his knowledge of policy and regulations has earned him the respect of managers throughout the company.

Jenson is especially concerned about the interview with Kent. If she gets the job, she will be working directly under Kent, yet she knows nothing about her.


Questions 1. What positive and negative suggestions would you give Jenson about her choice of dress for this interview? 2. What effective nonverbal signals would you suggest Jenson send during the interview, given the profiles of two of the individuals

Jenson is to meet? 3. How could Jenson’s strategy differ in each interview situation?


Case 11–3


What Is Going on Here? Art Margulis is the forty-five-year-old director of marketing research for a Fortune 500 consumer products company. He joined the firm 19 years ago after he received his MBA with a marketing emphasis. Because of his technical expertise, management skills, and outgoing personality, he was made director of this fifty-person group four years ago. Six people report directly to him, but the management style is informal, so he frequently interacts with everyone in the department.

Two years ago, Margulis extensively recruited Maria Lopez, who had just completed her PhD in applied statistics. Margulis had a difficult time persuading her to join the company because she had many attractive offers. Although she was only 34 years old, she had outstanding experience in marketing research and a unique educational background. Lopez came in and quickly made a number of significant contributions to the department. As manager of statistical analysis, she reports directly to Margulis but has nobody reporting to her. Soon after joining the company, Lopez and her husband divorced. Many employees in the department believe her personal problems are why she has not been more sociable with other employees.

Lopez and Margulis have always gotten along well and often have lunch together to discuss various projects. They seem to have much in common as they both understand the advanced statistics used in the research. Recently, the conversations have turned more personal as Margulis went through a divorce and seems to be seeking more social support. In particular, he seems to miss his two teenage daughters and needs someone to talk to about it.

But Lopez sees a problem developing, and she recently talked to a human resource manager about it. She explained that she has a lot of respect for Margulis and enjoys visiting with him. But she notices a definite change in his behavior around her. The eye contact is more prolonged, and the personal physical space between them is reduced. Lopez feels uneasy about it and has tried to subtly change the trend. However, this only intensified what Lopez saw as pressure to spend more time with Margulis. Today, Margulis asked Lopez to have dinner with him so they could talk over a project. It seems they have not had time to cover the project during working hours.


Question Discuss this case in terms of nonverbal behavior and other topics presented in this chapter. What are the implications of this situation?

Student Study Site

Visit the Student Study Site at study.sagepub.com/hynes7e for web quizzes, video and multimedia resources, and case studies.



1. J. K. Burgoon, L. K. Guerrero, and K. Floyd, Nonverbal Communication: The Unspoken Dialogue (Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon, 2010).

2. Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference (Boston, MA: Little, Brown & Company, 2002).

3. Albert Mehrabian, “Communicating without Words,” Psychology Today, September 1968, 53–55. See also Albert Mehrabian, Nonverbal Communication (London, UK: Routledge, 2007).

4. Scott T. Fleishmann, “The Messages of Body Language in Job Interviews,” Employment Relations Today, Summer 1991, 161–166.

5. Roswitha Rothlach, “Anglo-German Misunderstandings in Language and Behavior,” Industrial and Commercial Training 23, no. 3 (March 1991): 15–16.

6. Haru Yamada, Orlando R. Kelm, and David A. Victor, The Seven Keys to Communicating in Japan: An Intercultural Approach (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2017).

7. Om P. Kharbanda and Ernest A. Stallworthy, “Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication,” Journal of Managerial Psychology 6, no. 2 (April 1991): 49.

8. Larry H. Hynson Jr., “Doing Business With South Korea—Park II: Business Practices and Culture,” East Asian Executive Reports 13 (September 15, 1991): 18.

9. Sandra G. Garside and Brian H. Kleiner, “Effective One-to-One Communication Skills,” Industrial and Commercial Training 23, no. 7 (July 1991): 27.

10. Paul Ekman, Emotions Revealed: Recognizing Faces and Feelings to Improve Communication and Emotional Life (New York: Henry Holt, 2004).

11. Pam Belluck, “For a Creative Boost, Go Blue,” Houston Chronicle, February 6, 2009.

12. Geraldine E. Hynes and Marius Janson, “Using Semiotic Analysis to Determine Effectiveness of Internet Marketing,” Proceedings of the 2007 Annual International Convention of the Association for Business Communication, www.businesscommunication.org.

13. S. Burbinster, “Body Politics,” Associate & Management, April 1987, 55–57.

14. Vyvyan Evans, The Emoji Code: The Linguistics Behind Smiley Faces and Scaredy Cats (New York, NY: Picador, 2017).

15. Drake Baer, “A World-Renowned Harvard Linguist Thinks Emoji Fill a Gap in the English Language,” Business Insider, August 12, 2015. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/why-steven-pinker-loves-



16. Andrea Luangrath, Joann Peck, and Victor Barger, “Textual Paralanguage and Its Implications for Marketing Communications,” Journal of Consumer Psychology 27, no. 1 (January 2017): 98–107. DOI: 10.1016/j.jcps.2016.05.002.

17. This classification system was developed by P. Ekman and W. Friesen, “The Repertoire of Nonverbal Behavior,” Semiotica 1 (1969): 49–98. More recent categorizations are based on Ekman and Friesen’s model, as described in D. McNeill, Hand and Mind: What Gestures Reveal About Thought (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992). See also S. M. Mather, “Ethnographic Research on the Use of Visually Based Regulators for Teachers and Interpreters,” in Attitudes, Innuendo, and Regulators, eds. M. Metzger and E. Fleetwood (Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, 2005), 136–161; Anthony Kong et al., “A Coding System With Independent Annotations of Gesture Forms and Functions During Verbal Communication: Development of a Database of Speech and Gesture,” Journal of Nonverbal Behavior 39, no. 1 (March 2015): 93–111.

18. Alex (Sandy) Pentland, Honest Signals: How They Shape Our World (Boston: MIT Press, 2008), 10–40, 105.

19. “Importance of Interpreting Body Language,” Accredited Language Services International (blog), August 13, 2013. Accessed at https://www.alsintl.com/blog/interpreting-body-language/.

20. Edward T. Hall, The Hidden Dimension (New York: Doubleday, 1966).

21. Mark L. Knapp, Judith A. Hall, and Terrence G. Horgan, Nonverbal Communication in Human Interaction, 8th ed. (Boston, MA: Wadsworth, 2014).

22. Ibid., 133–135.

23. Ibid., 133.

24. Lynn Cohen, “Nonverbal (Mis)communication between Managerial Men and Women,” Business Horizons, January–February 1983, 15. More recent research provides evidence consistent with Cohen’s theories about gender and spatial preferences in the workplace. See, for example, Christopher Uggen and Amy Blackstone, “Sexual Harassment as a Gendered Expression of Power,” American Sociological Review 69, no. 1 (February 2004): 64–92.

25. Elizabeth Woyke, “Work Life: What Do Men Want? A Thermostat,” BusinessWeek, May 29, 2006, 11.

26. “Press the Flesh, Not the Keyboard,” The Economist 364, no. 8287 (August 24, 2002): 50.

27. Woyke, “Work Life.”

28. Daniel Hamermesh, Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011).


29. Kristie M. Engemann and Michael T. Owyang, “The Link Between Wages and Appearance,” The Regional Economist, April 2005, http://research.stlouisfed.org/publications/regional/05/04/appearance.pdf.

30. Lynn Pearl, “Opening the Door to Rapport,” Agri Marketing 30, no. 2 (April 1992): 97.

31. Stephanie Armour, “Business Casual Causes Confusion,” USA Today, July 16, 2007, http://jobs.aol.com/article/a/business-casual-causes-confusion/20070716104409990002.

32. Ibid.

33. Louis V. Gerstner Jr., Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance? Inside IBM’s Historic Turnaround (New York: HarperCollins, 2002), 185.

34. Knapp, Hall, and Horgan, Nonverbal Communication, 323–355.

35. Pentland, Honest Signals.

36. Mark Buchanan, “The Science of Subtle Signals,” Strategy + Business, no. 48 (August 29, 2007), www.strategy-business.com/press/article/07307?pg=all.

37. C. Fill, Marketing Communications: Frameworks, Theories, and Applications (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1995).

38. S. A. Andrzejewski and E. C. Mooney, “Service With a Smile: Does the Type of Smile Matter?” Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services 29 (2016): 135–141.

39. D. S. Sundaram and C. Webster, “The Role of Nonverbal Communication in Service Encounters,” in Managing Employee Attitudes and Behaviors in the Tourism and Hospitality Industries, ed. S. Kusluvan (Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science, 2003), 208–221.

40. Mark L. Knapp and Mathew S. McGlone, Lying + Deception in Human Interaction, 2nd ed. (Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt, 2016).

41. Amit Kumar Kar and Ajit Kumar Kar, “How to Walk Your Talk: Effective Use of Body Language for Business Professionals,” The IUP Journal of Soft Skills 11, no. 1 (2017): 16–28.

42. Jeff Gammage, “Good Liars May Be Wired Differently,” Houston Chronicle, January 29, 2006, sec. 2D.

43. Knapp and McGlone, Lying + Deception in Human Interaction.

44. Sam Gosling, Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You (London: Profile Books, 2008), 13.

45. Knapp and McGlone, Lying + Deception in Human Interaction.



12 Communicating Across Cultures

The real death of America will come when everyone is alike.

—James T. Ellison, U.S. historian

Do you see yourself as a candidate for an overseas assignment? Depending on the company you work for, the extent of its overseas operations, and the rules and regulations of the host country, people at various levels may be offered assignments abroad. Some companies with limited operations overseas prefer to send some of their newest people to staff those sites. This point will be addressed in greater detail later in this chapter. But whether or not you plan to work for a multinational corporation, cultural sensitivity is an important quality for managerial success.



There are at least three reasons you should become familiar with intercultural business communication practices.


The Global Economy

First, the continuous increase in globalization as it relates to the U.S. economy is undeniable. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the total value of import/export trade in 2016 exceeded $2.14 trillion: over $1.19 trillion in imports and almost $958 billion in exports.1 In addition to international trade, foreign direct investment contributes greatly to the U.S. economy. In fact, the United States is the largest single recipient of foreign direct investment in the world according to the Department of Commerce. In 2016, the inflow of foreign money was $3.6 trillion, exceeding the outflow of U.S. investment abroad.2 Ben Bernanke, the former chair of the Federal Reserve Bank, attributed much of the U.S. economy’s strength to the fact that foreign companies are investing in the United States.3

The United States has steadily become more “open” over the last decade, which significantly contributed to its rapid recovery from the economic collapse of 2008; that is, exports and imports have grown faster than GDP. But the United States is not the most globalized country, by far. For over forty years, KOF Swiss Economic Institute annually has ranked 158 countries according to their degree of globalization, as measured by twenty- four economic, social, and political factors. Who is number one? The Netherlands. In addition to high levels of trade in goods and services, the Netherlands experiences the most foreign investment. Furthermore, the country is profoundly affected by ideas, information, and people from abroad. Ireland, Belgium, Austria, and Switzerland round out the top five most globalized countries. The globalization index for the United States has been continuously increasing since the 1970s. The United States ranked 27th in 2017, mostly because of economic activity rather than social and political globalization.4

Another indicator of the extent to which U.S. businesses function in a global market is the recent redirection of international trade agreements. In the decades after World War II, trade deals focused on lowering tariffs. Today, the purpose of trade agreements is different. Nontariff barriers are more important, and negotiators work toward agreement on regulations. As Joseph Stiglitz, a professor of economics at Columbia University and a Nobel laureate, points out, multinational corporations argue that inconsistent regulations make it more costly to conduct international business, so “regulatory harmonization” is the goal.5


Foreign Direct Investment

A second reason you should become familiar with best practices for intercultural business communication is that, even if you do not conduct business internationally, you may find yourself working for an affiliate of a foreign-owned company. In the United States, 6.1 million workers are employed by majority foreign-owned firms in manufacturing, transportation, utilities, mining, finance, insurance, real estate, and banking.6 The top investors in U.S. businesses in 2016 were the United Kingdom, Japan, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Canada, Switzerland, Germany, and France.7

You might be surprised by the following examples of businesses you may have thought were American but are in fact owned by companies headquartered in other countries: Texas-based Brinks Home Security and ADT Security Services are owned by Tyco International, a Swiss company. Dannon Co., the yogurt maker, is owned by Danone Group, a French company. Henkel, a German corporation, owns the Dial Corporation, makers of Dial soap, Renuzit air fresheners, and Purex. Great Britain’s Diageo PLC owns Johnny Walker scotch, Bailey’s Irish Cream liqueur, Ciroc, and Smirnoff vodka. A British company owns French’s mustard. A Mexican company, Grupo Bimbo, owns Sara Lee, Entenmann’s, and Mrs. Baird’s, all makers of bakery products. Two upscale shopping malls in suburban St. Louis, Missouri, are owned by Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, headquartered in Toronto. An Italian firm, Luxottica, owns LensCrafters, Pearle Vision, and Sunglass Hut. And Compass bank is a wholly owned subsidiary of a Spanish company, BBVA.


Stop and Think 1. If you own a car, in what country is the company’s headquarters located? Where was your car assembled? Where were the

parts manufactured? 2. What other items do you use that are products of international business and the global economy?


Stop and Think Can you find other examples of companies that you assumed were American but are actually owned by foreign-based companies?

Continuing our examination of global business connections, we find many products that we think of as American that are manufactured by foreign companies. For instance, Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream, Purina Dog Chow, Nescafé instant coffee, and KitKat candy bars are among the 8,000 brands made by Nestlé, the world’s biggest food company. Nestlé is based in Switzerland. On the other hand, products that we may think of as “foreign” may actually be domestic. Kraft Foods makes Grey Poupon mustard in the United States. Michelin tires are manufactured in South Carolina. And Evian water is distributed by Coca-Cola. These products are made by workers and bought by consumers in a global economy.


Culturally Diverse Workforces

A third reason to learn about intercultural business communication is the increasing likelihood that you will work with or for someone who is from a different culture than you. Immigrants make a big contribution to the U.S. population growth, accounting for a third to nearly a half of population growth for decades. Over the last ten years, immigration has been expanding the U.S. population at a rate of about one million people a year, which has had a significant impact on the size of the work force and, by extension, the productivity and growth of the economy.8 As a result, U.S. managers will be leading a noticeably different workforce in the years ahead.

Furthermore, employees often bring their culturally based behaviors to work. For instance, one of the five pillars of Islam includes praying five times a day. Dell Inc. and Electrolux Home Products accommodate their Muslim workers in U.S. plants with a “tag-out” policy that allows a few employees at a time to step away for prayers. As the workforce becomes ever more diverse, such cultural differences in behavior will have a major impact on the likelihood of successful business/worker interaction. Here is an example of the extent to which a commitment to cultural sensitivity has become ingrained in the business environment. Legal Sea Foods, a chain of restaurants in the northeastern and southeastern United States, lists its corporate values on its paper place mats for customers to see. The company’s first “pledge” is “to inspect and prepare the freshest, highest quality fish and shellfish.” That is to be expected, right? The second pledge is “to assure you of a clean and comfortable environment.” That is good but still unsurprising. Reading further down the place mat, we find the third pledge: “to promote diversity and respect for all human differences.” Clearly, cultural sensitivity is a priority at Legal Sea Foods.

In summary, whether or not they deliberately choose to conduct business internationally, managers will need to be culturally sensitive communicators. Unfortunately, the quality of the training given to people headed for overseas assignments differs widely by company and by country. It has been estimated that 42 percent of U.S. managers perform inadequately abroad because they have not been sufficiently prepared for adjusting to the foreign culture. The most common methods of preparing employees for foreign assignments are giving an overview of cultural differences and providing language training (particularly in Europe, the Middle East and Asia Pacific). Twenty-two percent of North American employers do virtually nothing. Companies in Japan and Australia, on the other hand, are noted for the high quality of training their workers are given before being sent abroad.9


Stop and Think 1. What are some benefits of a culturally diverse workforce? 2. What are some challenges? 3. What can managers do to encourage interpersonal relationships among culturally diverse workers?

This chapter will not cover everything anyone ever needed to know about being an intercultural managerial communicator in all parts of the world. That ambitious goal is the subject of thousands of books and articles in any library and could not possibly be condensed into one chapter. Our goal instead will be to introduce the types of issues, concerns, and mores that managers need to study to become successful in intercultural business communication. Additionally, we will make a number of suggestions about what managers can do now and in the coming years to better prepare themselves to conduct global business.


What Is Culture?

Before we review the many aspects of intercultural communication, we might want to get an idea of the meaning of the word culture. Though definitions of this term abound and vary widely in terms of their complexity, Gould defines it in a clear and straightforward manner.

Culture is what we grow up in. Beginning in childhood, we learn the behaviors, habits, and attitudes that are acceptable to those around us. These are transmitted to us orally, nonverbally, and in writing. As time goes on, we gradually acquire the knowledge, beliefs, values, customs, and moral attitudes of the society in which we mature. A body of common understanding develops with which we feel comfortable. We know what to expect, and we know what is expected of us.10

Defined in such a way, culture includes the religious systems to which we are exposed, the educational system, the economic system, the political system, the recreational outlets, the mores governing dress and grooming, the standards of etiquette, the food and how it is prepared and served, the gift-giving customs, the morals, the legal system, the quality and quantity of communication among the people, the greeting practices, the rituals performed, the modes of travel available, as well as the many other aspects of people’s lives that they come to take for granted.

Malcolm Gladwell explores the importance of culture in individual behaviors in his best-seller Outliers: The Story of Success. He concludes that

cultural legacies are powerful forces. They have deep roots and long lives. They persist, generation after generation, virtually intact, even as the economic and social and demographic conditions that spawned them have vanished, and they play such a role in directing attitudes and behavior that we cannot make sense of our world without them.11

Whether you like it or not, culture is all-encompassing and everlasting. When we recognize how pervasive a person’s culture is and how much it can differ from country to country, we can then begin to appreciate more fully the difficult job facing a manager in an intercultural environment. The people in or from another country are quite comfortable with a culture that may seem strange to a U.S. businessperson. Yet it is we who will have to make the adjustments and live with the uncertainty and the unusual occurrences and practices. If we want to succeed in this highly competitive global marketplace, we will have to learn to see and accept things as others see and accept them.


Intercultural Myths

Before we examine the various aspects of intercultural business communication, we need to dispel a few myths. The global village concept, end of history view, and universality myth are three theories worth examining.

The global village concept was introduced by Marshall McLuhan in his 1967 book The Medium Is the Message, and promoted more recently by Tom Friedman in his book The World Is Flat. This concept proposes that advancements in communication and transportation technologies will ultimately shrink the world to a point where we will be one big, happy global village. Some believe the global village concept has been realized because we now know instantly of happenings in even the most remote parts of the world.

Others believe we are nowhere near fruition of the global village concept. They contend that the great advancements in communication and transportation technologies have only created a greater proximity among the various peoples of the world and that proximity has only enhanced the perceived differences among those peoples.12

In conjunction with the latter view, it has been suggested that you, today’s students, are responsible for whether or not we ever do see the fruition of the global village concept. To be successful in the global marketplace, you will need to adjust to other cultures, and you will need to gain and maintain the trust of your intercultural partners. In other words, you will need to bridge the cultural gap. With each successful international business venture (successful for all parties involved), we move closer to the realization of the global village concept.

A second widely discussed theory is the end of history view advanced by Francis Fukuyama, a political economist at Stanford University. His assertion was that the end of the Cold War meant the end of the war of ideas. After the Berlin wall crumbled in 1989, he predicted that one relatively harmonious world would unite in liberal democracy. Somewhat modeled after the global village concept, Fukuyama’s theory included the idea that significant global conflicts would be a thing of the past as we blend into one.13 Unfortunately, a quarter century after Fukuyama published his vision of world peace, the world appears to be more like a clash of civilizations that threatens the forces of globalization, the basis for Fukuyama’s more hopeful projections.14

The third myth of which we should be wary is the universality myth. This myth is often promoted by people who have spent a short time in a foreign country. Initially, they notice all the differences between their own culture and that of the host country. Then, they start to note all the similarities. They come away from the experience concluding that we are all alike: brothers and sisters in the common family of humanity. Some promoters of this concept recommend the universal adoption of artificial languages, such as Esperanto, Unish, and Globish.15

Milton Bennett, a professor and author of the developmental model of intercultural sensitivity, which is used internationally to assess intercultural competence, describes six stages of intercultural sensitivity.16 He refers to the universality belief as minimization. He says that looking for similarities is a way to assuage our fears of


difference and make us feel better about each other. A short visit does not provide people the deeper insight into a culture that would have revealed major differences in beliefs, values, and mores. To illustrate, we might look at some of the results of a survey conducted in a number of countries. One of the questions asked of the respondents was “Do you agree or disagree with the statement: ‘Most people can be trusted’?” The levels of agreement are listed in the box below.

One could argue that language differences might have been responsible for some of the variation. But even if we allow for some margin of error, we would still have a significant variation in a very basic belief.

United States: 55%

United Kingdom: 49%

Mexico: 30%

West Germany: 19%

Italy: 1%

Another example of differences in basic beliefs is the notion of constructive criticism. Many business professionals from individualistic cultures such as the United States typically perceive corrective feedback as an opportunity for performance improvement, and managers often deliver it openly to their direct reports. By contrast, people from more collectivist cultures may be extremely uncomfortable when receiving constructive criticism in the presence of their coworkers.17 We differ appreciably, and those differences must be recognized, understood, and accepted if we are to do business with one another.


Some of The Ways In Which We Differ

One of the most extensive studies of cultural differences was conducted by Geert Hofstede in a very large U.S.-based multinational corporation. He collected more than 116,000 questionnaires from this corporation’s employees in forty countries around the globe. A massive statistical analysis of his findings revealed six dimensions of national culture as shown in Table 12–1: power distance, uncertainty avoidance, individualism/collectivism, masculinity/femininity, high/low context, and monochronic/polychronic time.18

Table 12–1 Hofstede’s Dimensions of Cultural Differences

High power distance Low power distance

High uncertainty avoidance Low uncertainty avoidance

Collectivism Individualism

Masculinity Femininity

High context Low context

Polychronic Monochronic


Power Distance

Power distance indicates the extent to which a society accepts the fact that power in institutions and organizations is distributed unequally. It is reflected in the values of both the more powerful and less powerful members of the society. According to Hofstede’s research, the Philippines, Venezuela, Mexico, and the South Slavic States are countries with high power distances; and Denmark, New Zealand, Austria, the United States, and Israel are a few of the countries with low power distances.19

A manager in a culture with high power distance is often seen as having dramatically more power than a direct report would have. This manager, who is usually addressed respectfully by title and surname, might favor a controlling strategy and behave like an autocrat. For instance, within the British Houses of Parliament, lawmakers can move to the head of the line at restaurants, restrooms, and elevators, whereas clerks, aides, and secretaries who work in Parliament must stand and wait. In a culture with a lower power distance, however, a manager is seen as having little more power than a direct report, is often addressed by first name, takes her place in line, and manages by using an equalitarian communication strategy.

A dramatic example of how power distance affects business is provided by the airline industry. Between 1988 and 1998, Korean Air’s plane crash ratio was at alarming heights—4.79 per million departures. That figure was seventeen times worse than the crash ratio for major U.S. commercial airlines in that time period.20 Several investigations and studies were done to examine the cause of Korean Air’s plane crashes. Finally, it occurred to someone to apply Hofstede’s power distance theory. What they discovered was fascinating. The first officers in the cockpit were too paralyzed with fear to say anything that questioned the captain’s ability. Afraid to speak up, they were trapped in subservient roles because of the high power distance ingrained in their culture. One Korean Air pilot revealed, “The captain is in charge and does what he wants, when he wants, when he likes, how he likes, and everyone else sits quietly and does nothing.” Fortunately, by understanding the underlying importance of culture and how it relates to the airline industry, dramatic improvements were made. The Korean Air flight crews were retrained and have enjoyed a spotless safety record since 1999.21


Uncertainty Avoidance

Uncertainty avoidance relates to the degree to which a society feels threatened by uncertainty and by ambiguous situations. It tries to avoid these uncertainties and ambiguous situations by providing greater career stability, establishing and following formal rules, not allowing odd ideas and behaviors, and believing in absolute truths and the attainment of expertise. According to Hofstede, Greece, Germany, England, Portugal, Belgium, and Japan have strong uncertainty avoidance, while Singapore, Hong Kong, Denmark, the United States, and Sweden have weak uncertainty avoidance.22

Belgium and Denmark are geographically close. However, when it comes to uncertainty avoidance, the two nations are far apart because of different histories, politics, religions, literature, and other cultural factors. Recall that earlier in this chapter Belgium was identified as the third most globalized of 158 countries. What do you think is the connection between that ranking and Belgians’ avoidance of uncertainty, their respect for rules and plans, and their insistence on following procedures regardless of circumstances? Uncertainty avoidance is probably a major dimension for most intercultural managers to contend with. Most likely, they will be expected to challenge the status quo and implement change, and uncertainty avoidance is a significant obstacle to change. Such managers ought to remember that using an equalitarian communication strategy to get people involved and highlighting the benefits of change can greatly help to reduce resistance.



On the individualism/collectivism dimension, individualism suggests a loosely knit social framework in which people are expected to take care of themselves and their immediate families only. Collectivism, on the other hand, is evidenced by a tight social framework in which people distinguish between in-groups and out-groups. They generally expect their in-group (relatives, clan, organization) to take care of them; and because of that, they believe they owe absolute loyalty to it. The United States, Australia, and Great Britain are the most highly individualistic countries according to Hofstede’s scale, while Guatemala, Pakistan, Colombia, Nigeria, Japan, and Venezuela are more collectivist countries.23

The huge social-psychological gap between collectivist and individualist cultures can be illustrated linguistically. In Chinese, for instance, there is no word for individualism. The closest one can come is the word for selfishness. In Japanese, the word I—meaning the unconditional, generalized self—is not often used in conversation. Instead, Japanese has many words for I, depending on audience and context. This reflects the Eastern conviction that one is a different person when interacting with different groups.24 Managers from individualistic cultures and collectivist cultures typically conflict in many ways. In negotiations, for example, managers from collectivist cultures generally do not want to make decisions. They often collaborate first, to reach consensus. But managers from individualistic cultures often have difficulty collaborating, want to talk to a decision maker, and have difficulty understanding why the other group prefers to spend so much time in conference.



Masculinity/femininity, as a dimension, expresses the extent to which the dominant values in the society are “masculine.” This masculinity, according to Hofstede, would include assertiveness, the acquisition of money and things, and not caring about the quality of life. These values are labeled masculine because, within nearly all societies, men scored higher in these values. Japan, Austria, Venezuela, and Mexico were among the most masculine societies. Feminine cultures, by contrast, value family, children, and quality of life. Denmark, Sweden, and Norway are considered feminine cultures.25

Consider the following comparison. In the United States, men are historically judged on their ability to make a good salary. Frequently, this judgment precludes traditional U.S. feminine values of caring for children. In Helsinki, Finland, however, a man may be called away from a meeting to tend to the baby in the child care center in the next building, and no one considers this a wrong priority. Despite the passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act in 1993, far fewer working men than women take the full time they are eligible for when dealing with family and medical problems in the United States.


Stop and Think Think about a person you work with who comes from a different culture. How do Hofstede’s dimensions of cultural differences help to explain some of the differences you have experienced when communicating with that person?



A fifth cultural difference an intercultural communicator needs to keep in mind is whether the culture is a high-context or low-context culture. These terms were first used by Edward T. Hall in 1977.26 In a high- context culture, much information is either in the physical context or environment or internalized in the person. In such a culture, people look for meaning in what is not said—in the nonverbal communication or body language; in the silences, the facial expressions, and the gestures. Japan and Saudi Arabia are high- context countries, as are Chinese- and Spanish-speaking countries, according to Hofstede’s research.27

In a low-context culture, most information is expected to be in explicit codes, such as words. In such a culture, communicators emphasize sending and receiving accurate messages directly, usually by being highly articulate. Canada and the United States are low-context cultures according to Hofstede.28 As one might suspect, negotiations between low-context and high-context cultures can be fraught with peril when the parties are not warned of the differences in approaches.29 The value of contracts also varies widely between high- and low- context cultures. U.S. business-to-business transactions rely on documents, not handshakes or personal relationships.

A global approach to business has implications for companies’ websites, which may be relied on for the sale of their products and services internationally. Website designers should consider the relevant business cultural values and conventions of the target countries, which numerous recent studies have identified. For example, one recent study compared the “About Us” feature of Western and Eastern companies’ websites. The results demonstrate how low-context and high-context cultural values can manifest in subtle but important ways. The researchers found that Western companies projected a strong image in the About Us page of their websites by directly stating their achievements, status, industry rank, and profits. By contrast, high-context Eastern companies used indirect methods to promote themselves, such as describing their heritage and history, relationships with high-status others, and links to the home country.30



The sixth dimension of cultural differences, according to Hofstede, is monochronic vs. polychronic time. In a monochronic culture, such as Germany, the United States, and most Westernized nations, we talk about saving time, wasting time, making time, and spending time. We measure time by the clock, often in nanoseconds. In hyper-punctual countries like Japan, pedestrians walk fast and bank clocks are accurate. In Western businesses, we read quarterly returns and define “long-term” projections as those going out three to five years into the future. Time is linear.31

In polychronic cultures, such as Spain, Latin American nations, and most Asian countries, time just is. These cultures trace their roots back thousands of years. Time is measured by events, not the clock. Thus, promptness diminishes in value, and being “late” is a sign of status. In Ecuador, for instance, politicians, military officers, and business people are less punctual than blue-collar workers. The story goes that when Ecuador’s President Lucio Gutierrez realized that chronic lateness was costing his country $2.5 billion a year, he started a national campaign to promote the importance of clock time. But his spokesman arrived late at the television studio to make the announcement.32 This example demonstrates how deep culture goes and how difficult it is to change.


Stop and Think 1. How does the concept of high- and low-context cultures explain an experience you have had at work when communicating

with someone from another culture? 2. How does the concept of short-term and long-term orientation explain an experience you have had working with someone

from another culture?

In polychronic countries, “long-term” thinking is over generations and even centuries. The moment does not matter, by comparison. People in polychronic cultures are more patient, less interested in time management or measurement, and more willing to wait for their rewards than those in monochronic cultures. To them, time is flexible, unfolding naturally. A culturally sensitive manager is wise to keep these perceptions in mind when determining “How late is late?” arrivals for a scheduled meeting.33

Given the globalization of today’s marketplace and the increasing pace at which firms are becoming multinational, it has been suggested that organizations around the world will begin to look very much alike. One theory states that as the companies become more similar, the organizational culture might dominate or diminish the effects of the larger culture. Research thus far does not support the likelihood of these developments. Employees of different cultures generally maintain and even strengthen their cultural differences.34 The implication is that we must accept, even value, our cultural differences for business success.

One way that multinationals are demonstrating cultural sensitivity is in their hiring practices. PepsiCo, for instance, named Indra Nooyi as the company’s CEO in 2006. By 2016, she was ranked the 82nd most powerful woman on the Fortune list. Nooyi was born in India. Since 2001, half of all new hires at Pepsi are either women or people of color. And managers earn their bonuses in part by how well they recruit and retain them. Six of its top twelve executives are women or people of color. PepsiCo argues that a diverse leadership helps the company to better understand the disparate tastes of new consumers globally.35

Having explored some of the fundamental dimensions on which the people of the world differ and how profound the differences are, we now turn our attention to more practical matters. The next sections present approaches to success as intercultural communicators. More specifically, the rest of this chapter discusses dealing with language differences, being nonverbally sensitive, being a good intercultural communicator, and preparing for assignments or careers in international business.


Should You Learn The Language?

The first decision facing an international business traveler is whether to learn the language spoken in the country to be visited. People who have learned a second language will testify that it can be a long, involved, and tedious task. Furthermore, the difficulty level varies with the language to be learned. Some have many subtle nuances that non-natives have a hard time capturing. And the many dialects that exist within a country complicate the process even more. According to the American Community Survey, the Census Bureau’s primary source of language data, roughly 21 percent of U.S. citizens speak a language other than English at home.36 In contrast, a 2015 survey on Europeans and their languages revealed that 67 percent know one foreign language, over 20 percent know two foreign languages, and almost 9 percent of all working-age adults in the EU know three or more foreign languages.37

Which languages are the most important to learn? According to the U.S. Department of Education, Chinese, Arabic, Farsi, Korean, Japanese, Russian, Hindi, and Urdu are the languages most vital to this country’s future, although less than one percent of American high school students are studying any of these. By contrast, in China, English is mandatory for students from third grade onward.38

For short stays in a country, perhaps just to set up a partnership or sign a contract, most people would agree that one need not learn the language. Since English is the recognized language of business throughout the world, the chances are good that the people one deals with will speak it. If they do not, one can always use an interpreter. Great care, however, should be exercised in selecting an interpreter, for they vary widely in ability and loyalty.

When trying to communicate in English with a group of people who have varying levels of fluency, managers should be receptive, adaptable, and alert to the possibility of misunderstanding. Dr. Jennifer Jenkins of the University of Southampton offers the following tips:

Speak a bit more slowly than usual Enunciate carefully, especially during videoconferences and teleconferences Avoid slang and references specific to your own culture Use humor sparingly Keep it short, simple, and direct39

It is also important to be mindful of cultural style differences. “That’s interesting” is considered an understatement, synonymous with “that’s rubbish” among native speakers of British English, while U.S. English speakers would take the word “interesting” at face value.

As the length of the stay increases, the need to learn and the wisdom of learning the language also increase. While occasional errors are inevitable and are often overlooked when tourists try to participate in conversations, the stakes increase with more formal and prolonged interactions, where the consequences of errors matter. Most authorities agree that an extended stay would justify the time and effort of learning the language of the land.


Literal translation errors can cause revenue loss in multinational companies. For example, in 2009, HSBC Bank had to launch a $10 million rebranding campaign to repair the damage done when its catchphrase Assume Nothing was mistranslated as Do Nothing in various countries.

Furthermore, familiarity with the local language enables familiarity with the culture, values, traditions, and business practices. A deeply held belief in Japan is captured by the simple term kaizen, which literally means “to change to become good.” This concept has been widely adopted in U.S. businesses that stress continuous quality improvement through reliance on team decision making and sophisticated, comprehensive communication networks. In addition, organizations following the kaizen philosophy value cleanliness and order. Walking through the workplace, one finds no litter on the floor and no tools out of place. Waste is minimized. As you can see, it takes many English words to describe this approach to business that is explained in Japanese by a single word.

To find other examples of how closely language is tied to the culture, we can examine some translation issues. Here is one: Over 47 million copies of a children’s book, Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney, are in print in the United States, and the book has been translated into thirty languages, including Spanish, Japanese, Greek, Hebrew, Thai, and German. But the German version is titled I’m Surrounded by Idiots because there is no German equivalent for wimpy. The closest German word is ängstlich, which translates into English as “uneasy, anxious.”

Machine translators, such as Google Translate, should not be relied upon because they do not account for many cultural factors, including slang usage, metaphors, and irony. Thus, the slogan for KFC, a chain of fast- food restaurants featuring chicken dishes, is “Finger lickin’ good” in English, but in Chinese, this expression translates into “eat your fingers off.” And Pepsi’s slogan, “Come alive with Pepsi,” becomes “Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead” in Taiwanese. Ford had a backfire with translation of a truck model’s name, the Fiera, which in Spanish means “ugly old woman.” Clearly, these literal translations are sure to hurt sales and damage the company’s image. The more that managers understand about the culture, the more likely they are to be successful in that environment. Learning the local language leads to that end.


Stop and Think Think of an example of a slang expression in your native language that does not easily translate.

1. Where does slang come from? 2. To what extent does the origin of slang explain why it is culture specific?

One last caution is advisable about language usage. Some people choose a middle-of-the-road approach and learn only specific statements that are common or are pertinent to a particular setting. Such people should remember that in some languages, particularly the Eastern languages, the same word can be used to mean many different things. The tone of the voice varies to indicate a specific meaning. Sometimes a little knowledge can be more damaging than no knowledge.


Nonverbal Sensitivity

Whether or not traveling managers choose to learn the verbal language of the land, they should try to learn as much as they can about the nonverbal language common in that culture. Chapter 11 provided an overview of the range of nonverbal behaviors used in business settings to communicate meaning. Interpretations of greetings, dress, space, touch, posture, gestures, and rituals vary widely among cultures. Business deals have been lost over a seemingly harmless American signal that was interpreted as a grave insult in another part of the world.



From the start of any business contact, one should be aware that the form of greeting used may vary from culture to culture. Though the handshake is a fairly standard greeting in most parts of the world, the pressure used may differ. The high-pressure grip, which in America is supposed to suggest warmth and confidence, may be too aggressive where a lighter grasp is traditional.

In Japan, the bow is still practiced by older businesspeople. Sometimes the bow and handshake will both be used to signal respect for both cultures. Note, too, the different levels of bowing, each with significant meanings. In other parts of the world, a traditional greeting may be a hug, a nose rub, a kiss, or the placing of the hands in a praying position.40

On the subject of greetings, note also that business cards are treated differently in different parts of the world. In Japan, they are carefully offered to the recipient with both hands with the information facing the receiver. Also, they are never put away hastily or scribbled on but studied at length and then arranged on the table during a business meeting. Finally, in any non-English-speaking country, printing the information on the reverse side of the business card in a second language is expected as a courteous practice.41



While the business suit is considered acceptable attire for a business meeting in most parts of the world, it may or may not be acceptable for an evening of entertainment. For men in tropical climates, a guayabera, loose cotton shirt, worn over a pair of slacks is considered appropriate at even formal occasions. And in sunny Australia, businessmen may often wear dress shirts and ties with shorts and knee socks to the office.

On the subject of dress, we should exercise caution even when we are not in business meetings or at official social functions. Standards of travel and entertainment dressing are much more conservative in some parts of the world than they are in the United States. Bare legs, arms, shoulders, or heads on the street or in holy buildings are considered offensive in many Arab and Eastern countries.


Space, Touch, and Posture

The space maintained, touching practiced, and postures assumed in business and social encounters vary appreciably across the globe. As discussed in Chapter 11, Americans are said to have a spatial bubble of up to four feet into which strangers should not encroach.42 In Arab countries and Latin America, people typically speak almost face to face and nose to nose.

In some countries—Iran, Palestine, China, and Indonesia, for example—it is considered acceptable for two men to walk down the street holding hands as a sign of close friendship. However, in many of these same countries, it is not acceptable for a man and a woman to walk down the street hand in hand. This immodest public display of affection is frowned upon.

Also on the subject of touching, managers should exercise some care about what is touched. In Thailand, the head is considered sacred. It should never be touched, and objects should never be passed above it. In Tonga, touching someone’s head could get you the death penalty. Finally, in Muslim countries, it is considered insulting to show the sole of your shoe to someone else. Businesspeople are cautioned never to cross their legs with one ankle on the other knee and never to lean back in an office chair with the feet on the desk.



In Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania, Iran, and Sri Lanka, nodding the head up and down means “no.” In Italy, Greece, and some African countries, the gesture Americans use for come here means “good-bye.” The thumbs-up gesture means “everything is good” in the United States, but to Australians it is an obscenity. The V-for-victory sign means something entirely different when reversed, with the palm facing the signer. In Britain, it then becomes an insult. In Ethiopia, pointing and the one-finger come-here gesture are used only with children and dogs.

As demonstrated by the preceding illustrations, the gestures we use in international encounters can be fairly dangerous. A friendly or innocuous gesture can turn out to be a vivid and/or profane insult. Something that very clearly means one thing in one country may mean the opposite in another country. To increase our level of success in the increasingly competitive global marketplace, we are going to have to become interculturally sensitive.



Perhaps we become most aware of cultural diversity when we discuss food—what foods are used to celebrate special occasions, how the food is eaten, or even what is considered edible. Any traveler has tales of “exotic” meals, accompanied by value judgments.

Host nationals will want visitors to experience the culinary delights that bring so much pleasure to their taste buds, their national dining treasures. It can be hard for them to imagine or understand that these same treats might bring forth horror and revulsion in someone not experienced with them.

Thus, as the special guest at a banquet one might be called on to try sheep’s eyes in Saudi Arabia or Kazakhstan, shark’s fin soup in China, or a live fish brought to the table and carved in Japan. While U.S. businesspeople may be reluctant to try such dishes, it would be supremely rude to refuse.

On the other hand, visitors to the United States are often critical of our daily consumption of processed foods and snacks, such as popcorn and Jell-O. Corn is animal food in most parts of the world. Further, Americans’ tendency to nibble throughout the day rather than sit through long meals is considered uncouth. In Italy and Japan, for instance, most people do not eat on the street or while standing.

The importance of sharing food when building intercultural relationships is exemplified by this Pakistani proverb: On the first cup of tea, you’re a stranger. On the second, a guest. By the third cup, you’re family.



The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) of 1977 specifies that bribing someone during the conduct of business is illegal. A violator’s company may be fined up to $2 million, and the participants in the bribe individually may be fined up to $100,000 each and jailed for up to five years. Despite these stiff penalties, multinational corporations continue to take risks. Why would American corporations risk defying the FCPA? Anti-bribery laws are sometimes a source of competitive disadvantage when a company is trying to do business in a culture where gifts, fees, commissions, and “facilitation payments” to officials are normal practice and where other countries competing for lucrative contracts do not have anti-bribery restrictions.43

Gift-giving practices vary widely throughout the world. Common and expected in some countries, it is frowned upon in others. For example, while gift giving is important in Japan, it is generally considered inappropriate in Germany, Belgium, or the United Kingdom.44 Tipping for good service, a common practice in the United States, is not expected in China, Denmark, Italy, and France.

Even where it is practiced, the nature and the value of the gifts may differ greatly. Though flowers are often safe if one is invited to dinner in someone’s home, chrysanthemums should be avoided in many European countries because of their funereal association. In Japan, white flowers carry the same message, as do purple ones in Brazil and Mexico.45 Remember, too, that numbers and shapes might have some significance. The number four is associated with bad luck in Japan and China, as is seven in Kenya—though seven is seen as lucky in the Czech Republic. The triangle is considered a negative shape in Hong Kong, Korea, and Taiwan.46

Finally, investigate the interpretation of gifts bearing the company logo. While some people may interpret such gifts as a symbol of the business relationship being established or maintained, some might think the giver was simply too cheap to buy a gift on his or her own.

While not intended to be complete, the preceding discussion was designed to illustrate the very precarious world of the intercultural communicator. The dangers of nonverbal slippage are there whether or not a person chooses to learn the verbal language. In the end, the success of multinational firms will depend on how much effort their people expend toward being interculturally sensitive and thus sidestepping those dangers.


What is a Good Intercultural Communicator?

While not a comprehensive profile, the following description portrays some of the most important qualities and characteristics of a good intercultural communicator. You are a good intercultural communicator if you avoid the pitfalls described earlier and if you maintain harmonious relations with your intercultural partners.

First and foremost, you are a good intercultural communicator if you avoid ethnocentrism. As mentioned previously, Bennett designed a six-stage developmental model of cultural sensitivity (see Table 12–2). His model identifies three stages of ethnocentrism: denial, defense, and minimization. An ethnocentric person may acknowledge the existence of cultural differences but sees his or her country as the best in the world and looks down on others as inferior because they are different. For whatever reasons, the ethnocentric person builds resentment rather than good relationships.

On the other hand, Bennett identified three stages of ethnorelativism: acceptance, adaptation, and integration. An ethnorelativistic manager recognizes and respects cultural differences and finds ways to make the workplace amenable to all.47

Second, you are a good intercultural communicator if you are nondefensive about your homeland. For example, when someone from another country criticizes the United States for problems such as the high divorce rate, drug abuse, gang warfare, child abuse, teen pregnancies, AIDS, racial discrimination, and corrupt politicians, Americans should not defensively deny their validity. While you may not be able to explain fully how these problems came to be, a straightforward discussion of the problems and what things are being done about them would be appropriate.

Third, you are a good intercultural communicator if you are curious about other parts of the world and brave. You must have a genuine interest in the people and the places that exist outside your national boundaries. Intercultural managers realize that the comforts of home are not always available throughout the world and are willing to try new foods and lifestyle behaviors before condemning them out of hand.

Table 12–2 Bennett’s Stages of Intercultural Sensitivity

Ethnocentrism Ethnorelativism

1. Denial—no perception of differences 4. Acceptance—differences are recognized and explored

2. Defense—hostility against other cultures 5. Adaptation—ability to empathize

3. Minimization—differences are real but superficial

6. Integration—differences are embraced

Fourth, you are a good intercultural communicator if you are empathic, understanding, and nonjudgmental. You


are able to see the world through the eyes of your intercultural partners with some degree of objectivity. You understand that the initially strange behaviors and mores of others have locally very justifiable, long-standing reasons. You do not try to push your culture’s ways on people for whom these ways may not work.

Fifth, you are a good intercultural communicator if you are patient. You learn to live with ambiguity; you come to expect the unexpected. Meetings will not always go as planned. Businesses will not always be open during the hours posted. Conveniences will not always be readily available. Though many of your coping behaviors will involve riding out the unexpected, you will also sometimes use your industriousness to come up with alternatives to what was expected. If one mode of transportation proves too unpredictable, you simply look for another. If one means of communication fails, you just find another.


Stop and Think Given that today’s business environment is becoming more culturally diverse, what are the barriers to developing intercultural sensitivity?

Finally, you are a good intercultural communicator if you are genuinely personable to the people of the other country with whom you are dealing. A good intercultural communicator truly likes and respects those people. It cannot be faked.


Developing Interculturally Sensitive Managers

Interculturally sensitive managers will be the most successful whether working abroad or in their own country.


Cultural Competence in Foreign Environments

Ambitious managers in multinational corporations should expect to work abroad sometime during their careers. A recent study by the Columbia University School of Business reported that successful executives must have multienvironment and multicountry experience to become a CEO in the 21st century.48 In today’s digital business world, why do managers and executives need to travel abroad in order to become fully informed citizens? Is not everything available on the Internet? Probably not. The best way to get to know people who are different from ourselves, to understand and appreciate customs and beliefs that are unfamiliar, is to immerse ourselves in that new environment. Mark Twain observed over a century ago, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”49

In 2015, an estimated 7 million businesspeople were working as expatriates in more than 100 countries, and it is predicted that the size of the international workforce will increase with increasing cooperation among nations.50 IBM, a major corporation, has two thirds of its workers abroad, both foreign nationals and U.S. citizens. “Thinking globally” is part of IBM’s culture, values, and practices. IBM has integrated diversity and thinking globally into their onboarding, has a class called Deeper Insight for building competence in working internationally, and has other supports such as diversity networks and a “Global Buddy” mentor program. “Talking global all the time” creates curiosity and savvy and drives inclusive behavior—getting people excited about what this means in terms of having a global advantage. They offer expat and rotational assignments, language learning programs for eight languages, and opportunities for team members to work on projects with a global reach.51 Corporations primarily send their best employees on international assignments to grow new markets, maintain existing operations, or develop high-potential employees who can both contribute to the company strategy and craft a global view of the corporation’s business.52 Further, a survey of human resource professionals at three hundred “Fortune 1000” companies revealed that half of the responding companies selected their best employees for international assignments.53

Lant Pritchett, an economist at the World Bank and the author of Let Their People Come, argues that the global pressure for employment movement across national borders will continue to rise. Cheap communication technologies make relocation easier psychologically, too, since it is less stressful to move when one can stay in touch with home base.54

You can do several things to prepare for a successful foreign assignment. As specified earlier, you may want to learn another language. You should explore training and educational opportunities in multicultural communication at your organization, in your community, and at nearby universities. On the social side, you might look into hosting an international student. This experience will not only help the student become acculturated in the United States; it will also provide you with insight into the student’s culture. Finally, stay abreast of business, political, and economic developments throughout the world. Read newspapers with an international focus, such as the Christian Science Monitor or the Financial Times. In our increasingly global marketplace, your cross-cultural expertise will bring competitive advantage.



Cultural Competence in Domestic Environments

In the meantime, what can one do at home? Managers denied an overseas experience can still develop intercultural sensitivity. After all, managing diversity successfully brings high value to all contemporary organizations, not just multinational organizations. Despite the fact that diverse workforces are the norm, a 2014 Towers Watson Global Workforce Study shows that only about half of managers are viewed as effective at bridging differences among their direct reports.55 Michael Morris, a business professor at Columbia University, recognizes the common pitfalls managers face when trying to treat all employees fairly and respectfully. At one extreme, a manager may take the universalist approach, treating all employees the same. At the other extreme, a manager may take the particularist approach, adjusting the treatment according to the worker’s culture. Both behaviors can have a negative effect on employees’ perception of justice. “If justice issues are not well-managed in a diverse workplace, detrimental consequences ranging from poor morale and turnover to intergroup rivalry and balkanization may result.”56

Morris offers ten ways managers can create a more level playing field:

1. Rely on multiethnic strategies, not just on good intentions. For instance, a manager might implement a mentoring program to ensure that all employees develop important relationships.

2. Provide every employee constructive feedback so she/he may learn and grow. 3. Work to ensure that all cultural groups have access to opportunities. 4. Work to ensure that all cultural groups perceive that they are treated fairly. 5. Provide cultural competence training to supervisors who conduct performance reviews. 6. Monitor cultural boundaries to avoid engendering intergroup competition. 7. Manage misunderstandings by making staff aware that cultural differences may be the root cause of

clashes rather than personality differences. 8. Be sensitive to obstacles facing members of certain cultural groups and be flexible about performance

evaluations to even the playing field. 9. Call on those with cultural expertise just as managers would call on those with technical expertise for an

IT problem. 10. Include all employees and all cultures in diversity discussions.

Clearly, cultural competence has taken on great significance, both in recruitment and retention of multicultural workers and in reaching the multicultural consumer market. Managing diversity is every manager’s challenge. The strategies described in this book will help develop a welcoming culture that values individuals regardless of culture, intellect, talents, gender, or age. Strong communication skills will help managers connect with others in a deep and direct way and develop relationships that will bridge differences.



Given the changes occurring in the world marketplace and the increasingly competitive nature of markets both at home and abroad, firms must become more active internationally to survive and prosper. These trends and developments all suggest that today’s students have a noteworthy chance of becoming tomorrow’s international businesspeople. To be successful international businesspeople, they will have to be successful intercultural communicators.

A person’s culture is pervasive, a body of common understanding with which he or she feels comfortable. But cultures differ appreciably, and those differences must be understood and accepted if cross-cultural business ventures are to succeed. The world has not yet become one big global village, and people are not all alike. In fact, the opposite is true—as we become globalized, we hold onto aspects of our cultural uniqueness. International businesspeople must still work to bridge the cultural gaps that exist among the peoples of the world.

For short business trips to another country, it is probably not necessary to learn the language of that country. For longer stays, it might be a good idea to do so. Learning the language frees the businessperson from having to rely on interpreters. It also lessens the chances of encountering the interpretational disasters some companies have experienced in their advertising and product labeling. Most importantly, it offers insights into the local culture.

Regardless of whether or not the language of the land is learned, international businesspeople need to be as nonverbally sensitive as they can. They need to be aware of greeting rituals and standards of dress. They should be aware that space, touch, gestures, and posture are dealt with differently in some cultures. They need to accept patiently others’ interpretations of time, to be open to culinary adventures, and to be familiar with gift-giving rituals.

A good intercultural communicator is not ethnocentric, is nondefensive about his or her homeland in the face of questions about its problems, is curious about other people and brave with regard to the conditions he or she might have to confront, is empathic and understanding and nonjudgmental of intercultural partners, is patient in living with ambiguity and expecting the unexpected, and is genuinely personable to the people of the culture with whom he or she is dealing.

Finally, managers who accept the possibility of an international assignment or career should seize whatever opportunities are available to prepare themselves. They might consider learning the local language. They should investigate the social and academic programs available. Additionally, they need to stay abreast of business, economic, and political developments throughout the world and the opportunities that arise from them. Managers who are denied an international experience can still develop cultural sensitivity. By doing so, they ensure that their employees perceive the workplace to be just, respectful of differences, and fair.



Cases For Small-Group Discussion


Case 12–1


Intercultural Business Communication and Technology Bryan Kilter opened the e-mail from his Chinese supplier. It seemed to be a request to alter some of the garment patterns currently in Kilter Fashions’ standard inventory items. Bryan was beginning to become overwhelmed with his relationship with the Chinese garment manufacturer. He did not speak Chinese, and the supplier did not speak English, so they both depended on software translation when they exchanged messages. This particular e-mail read, “Sweetheart Bryan, The dress have cheap wide contraction joints in the seams, if you get the goods to wear inappropriate, you can own in a local sewing shop click on it. The Costs need to accept yourself, Hope you can understanding us. Approve changes please don’t correspond by click here.”

The e-mail had just come in, so Bryan quickly typed a reply: “Hello, Chin Lee. Are you saying that the new design will have an elastic panel in the sides, so that it will be easier to fit without alterations? I think I understand that the dress will cost $.70 more now. Please let me know if I understand you correctly. Thanks.”

Bryan went back to work on the end-of-month inventory. Before five minutes had gone by, he received a reply from Chin Lee: “Sweetheart Bryan, The seams wear inappropriate for contraction joints, why not question your meaning. Your own construction technician able to do construct. OK?”

Bryan scratched his head in bewilderment.


Questions 1. What challenges in conducting business across cultural divides does this case demonstrate? 2. What, specifically, would you suggest to Bryan as the next step?


Case 12–2


Preparing for Sonora You are a human resources training specialist working for a large automaker. Your company will soon complete construction of a plant in Sonora, Mexico. This plant will specialize in the production of your very popular subcompact, the Chaperone.

Initially, all the new plant’s management will be transferred from various locations in the United States. Later, supervisors will be promoted from the ranks of the Mexican nationals hired to work on the production line. It is hoped that many of these supervisors will eventually rise to the ranks of at least middle management.

The company now faces a twofold problem, however. First, it needs to identify the criteria used to select the managers who are going to be transferred from the United States to the Sonora plant. Second, it needs to train them to function in a different culture.

Because you earned an international business certificate along with your degree in human resources management, your boss has decided that this job is right for you. She believes this to be true even though your familiarity with Mexico is limited to two coastal vacations there three and four years ago.

She wants a three-page proposal, in memo form, on her desk in two days. The first page should cover the criteria to be used in selecting the managers to be sent to Sonora. She notes that you need not bother with their technical expertise. Others will screen the candidates on that basis. You should instead focus on the qualifications they should have to be good intercultural managers and communicators and how the company should assess those qualifications.

The remaining two pages of the memo should outline the training program through which the transferees would go. This program will have to cover, at a minimum, language training, the larger cultural variations, nonverbal sensitivity, managerial philosophies, and organizational cultures in the two countries.


Project As a team, write a memo that will establish the foundation for success in this international venture. Your selection criteria should single out the candidates with the greatest potential for success. Your training program should then ensure that they will achieve that success.


Case 12–3


Tsunami Relief A $245 million stretch of blacktop intended to be the signature goodwill gesture from the American people to the Indonesian survivors of the 2004 tsunami instead became a parable of the problems of Aceh Province’s recovery.

Construction of the 150-mile road along the devastated coast never started, stalled by a host of obstacles like acquiring rights of way through residential areas and farmland and, particularly, through several hundred graves of mystical and religious significance.

Though some villagers welcomed the idea, some had reservations about a U.S.-style thoroughfare with a wide shoulder on either side that would replace the existing ribbon of mostly churned dirt and mud. Villagers said they feared speeding traffic—they threw rocks at fast- traveling cars of foreign aid workers—and wanted to be able to sell snacks and tea from stalls snug by the roadside, as they had always done.

A demonstration outside the main Indonesian reconstruction agency turned violent when protesters complained that they still lacked basic services and demanded more financing for education.

The patience of U.S. officials wore thin, too. They complained that the government had been too slow in buying up the land and resolving the issue of graves. Finally, the Americans had become so disconcerted about delays that they had tried to pry more action from the Indonesians by suggesting that the money for the road would be diverted to the reconstruction efforts in Lebanon.

“It was threatened they would take the money away,” said Kuntoro Mangk Usubroto, the director of the Indonesian rehabilitation and reconstruction agency in Aceh. “That’s standard.”

The Indonesians said the Americans were imposing First World standards of efficiency on a poor region that was pounded by civil war and then swamped by the tsunami, which killed more than 100,000. Records of land titles were washed away, and questions of inheritance among devastated families take a while to decide what they say.

The idea for the road evolved soon after the tsunami when the Bush administration wanted to show that the United States cared about Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, in its moment of need.

It was decided early on to finance one substantial project rather than a number of smaller ones. At first, rebuilding a significant portion of the provincial capital, Banda Aceh, into a kind of “signature city” was discussed. Instead, a well-engineered road from the capital to Meulaboh, the southernmost coastal town, which was nearly completely wiped out, was considered a more fruitful project that played to the U.S. strength of fast and modern construction. The new road would connect the poor fishing communities of the wasted west coast of Aceh to the outside world. <