Robbins: Organizational Behavior
Chapter Ten
After studying this chapter, students should be able to:
Describe the communication process.
Contrast the advantages and disadvantages of oral versus written communication.
Compare the effectiveness of chain, wheel, and all-channel networks.
Identify factors affecting the use of the grapevine.
Discuss how computer-aided technology is changing organizational communication.
Explain the importance of channel richness to improving communication effectiveness.
Identify common barriers to effective communication.
List behaviors related to effective active listening.
Contrast the meaning of talk for men versus women.
Describe potential problems in cross-cultural communication.
A careful review of this chapter finds a common theme regarding the relationship between communication and
employee satisfaction—the less the uncertainty, the greater the satisfaction. Distortions, ambiguities, and
incongruities all increase uncertainty and, hence, they have a negative impact on satisfaction.
The less distortion that occurs in communication, the more that goals, feedback, and other management
messages to employees will be received as they were intended. This, in turn, should reduce ambiguities and
clarify the group’s task. Extensive use of vertical, lateral, and informal channels will increase communication flow,
reduce uncertainty, and improve group performance and satisfaction. We should also expect incongruities
between verbal and nonverbal communiqués to increase uncertainty and to reduce satisfaction.
Findings in the chapter further suggest that the goal of perfect communication is unattainable. Yet, there is
evidence that demonstrates a positive relationship between effective communication (which includes factors such
as perceived trust, perceived accuracy, desire for interaction, top-management receptiveness, and upward
information requirements) and worker productivity. Choosing the correct channel, being an effective listener, and
utilizing feedback may, therefore, make for more effective communication, but the human factor generates
distortions that can never be fully eliminated. The communication process represents an exchange of messages,
but the outcome is meanings that may or may not approximate those that the sender intended. Whatever the
sender’s expectations, the decoded message in the mind of the receiver represents his or her reality, and it is this
“reality” that will determine performance, along with the individual’s level of motivation and his or her degree of
satisfaction. The issue of motivation is critical, so we should briefly review how communication is central in
determining an individual’s degree of motivation.
You will remember from expectancy theory that the degree of effort an individual exerts depends on his or her
perception of the effort-performance, performance-reward, and reward-goal satisfaction linkages. If individuals are
not given the data necessary to make the perceived probability of these linkages high, motivation will suffer. If
rewards are not made dear, if the criteria for determining and measuring performance are ambiguous, or if
individuals are not relatively certain that their effort will lead to satisfactory performance, then effort will be
reduced. So communication plays a significant role in determining the level of employee motivation.
A final implication from the communication literature relates to predicting turnover. The use of realistic job
previews acts as a communication device for clarifying role expectations (see the Counter-Point in Chapter 5).
Employees who have been exposed to a realistic job preview have more accurate information about that job.
Comparisons of turnover rates between organizations that use the realistic job preview versus either no preview
or only presentation of positive job information show that those not using the realistic preview have, on average,
almost 29 percent higher turnover. This makes a strong case for managers to convey honest and accurate
information about a job to applicants during the recruiting and selection process.
Robbins: Organizational Behavior
Chapter Ten
At the end of each chapter of this instructor’s manual, you will find suggested exercises and ideas for researching
the WWW on OB topics. The exercises “Exploring OB Topics on the Web” are set up so that you can simply
photocopy the pages, distribute them to your class, and make assignments accordingly. You may want to assign
the exercises as an out-of-class activity or as lab activities with your class. Within the lecture notes the graphic
will note that there is a WWW activity to support this material.
The chapter opens introducing six recent airline disasters where poor communication resulted in deadly
consequences. Obviously not every miscommunication is that extreme, however, poor communication can inhibit
any group’s effectiveness. We spend nearly 70 percent of our waking hours in some form of communication—
reading, writing, speaking, listening, etc. It is reasonable to conclude that one of the most inhibiting forces to
successful group performance is a lack of effective group communication.
Functions of Communication
1. Communication is more than merely imparting meaning. An idea, no matter
how great, is useless until it is transmitted and understood by others. It must
include both the transference and the understanding of meaning. There are
four major functions of communication:
2. Control:
Communication acts to control member behavior in several ways:
a. Organizations have authority hierarchies and formal guidelines that
employees are required to follow.
b. Informal communication also controls behavior. When work groups
tease or harass a member who produces too much, they are informally
communicating with, and controlling, the member’s behavior.
3. Motivation:
Communication fosters motivation by clarifying to employees what is to be
done, how well they are doing, and what can be done to improve
The formation of specific goals, feedback on progress toward the goals,
and reinforcement of desired behavior all stimulate motivation and require
4. Emotional Expression:
Communication provides a release for the emotional expression of feelings
and for fulfillment of social needs. For many employees, their work group is
a primary source for social interaction.
5. Information:
Communication facilitates decision making. It provides information by
transmitting the data to identify and evaluate alternative choices.
6. No one of these four functions is more important than the others. You can
assume that almost every communication interaction that takes place in a
group or organization performs one or more of these four functions.
Robbins: Organizational Behavior
Chapter Ten
The Communication Process
1. Before communication can take place a purpose expressed as a message to
be conveyed, is needed. (See Exhibit 10-2).
It passes between a source (the sender) and a receiver.
The message is encoded (converted to symbolic form) and is passed by
way of some medium (channel) to the receiver, who retranslates (decodes)
the message initiated by the sender.
The result is a transference of meaning from one person to another.
2. The communication model is made up of seven parts: the source, encoding,
the message, the channel, decoding, the receiver and feedback:
The source initiates a message by encoding a thought.
The message is the actual physical product from the source.
The channel is the medium through which the message travels.
The receiver is the object to whom the message is directed.
Decoding—the symbols in the message must be translated into a form
that can be understood by the receiver.
f. The receiver is limited by his/her skills, attitudes, knowledge, and
social-cultural system,
g. Feedback is the check on how successful we have been in transferring
our messages as originally intended.
Instructor Note: At this point in the lecture you may want to introduce the TEAM EXERCISE: The Impact of
Attentive Listening Skills box found in the text and at the end of these notes. A suggestion for a class exercise
follows the introduction of the material.
Direction of Communication
A. Downward
1. Communication that flows from one level of a group organization to a lower
level is a downward communication. This is typically what we think of when
managers communicate with workers.
2. Its purpose is to assign goals, provide instructions, communicate policies and
procedures, provide feedback, etc.
3. It does not have to be face to face or an oral communication.
B. Upward
1. Upward communication flows to a higher level in the group or organization.
2. It is used to provide feedback to higher-ups, inform them of progress, and relay
current problems.
3. Examples of upward communication are: performance reports prepared by
lower management for review by middle and top management, suggestion
boxes, employee attitude surveys, etc.
Robbins: Organizational Behavior
Chapter Ten
C. Lateral
1. When communication takes place among members of the same work group,
among members of work groups at the same level, among managers at the
same level, or among any horizontally equivalent personnel.
2. Horizontal communications are often necessary to save time and facilitate
coordination. In some cases, these lateral relationships are formally
sanctioned. Often, they are informally created to short-circuit the vertical
hierarchy and expedite action.
3. They can create dysfunctional conflicts when the formal vertical channels are
breached, when members go above or around their superiors to get things
done, or when bosses find out that actions have been taken or decisions made
without their knowledge.
Interpersonal Communication
A. Oral Communication
1. Oral communication is the chief means of conveying messages. Speeches,
formal one on one and group discussions, and informal rumor mill or grapevine
are popular forms of oral communication.
2. Advantages are speed and feedback. A major disadvantage arises when the
message must be passed through a number of people. This increases the
potential for distortion.
Instructor Note: At this point in the lecture you may want to introduce the OB IN THE NEWS: What’d He Say?
box found in the text and below. A suggestion for a class exercise follows the introduction of the material below.
OB IN THE NEWS -- What’d He Say?
Larry Kinder, the global chief information officer of Cendant, remembers well the confusion he caused when
he addressed some of Cendant’s 25 business unit leaders recently to talk about capital expenditures for
“I mentioned that we would be opening up Cendant’s technical architecture to wireless platforms,” says
Kinder. The room fell silent. Architecture? Wireless platforms? Instead of asking questions to gain clarity, the
business leaders incorrectly interpreted “architecture” to mean “infrastructure,” something completely different in
technology vernacular. “They thought I was talking about something expensive,” says Kinder. However, Kinder
was using the word “architecture” to refer to developing an overall strategy and design that did not involve big
expenditures on new servers and software. His plan was to actually lower the cost of running the company’s
Misunderstandings such as this are one reason why 30 percent of technology projects begun by companies in
the U.S. are cancelled before completion, at a cost to the American economy of more than $75 billion a year.
While jargon has always been a problem in organizations, the rise of computer and network-related
technology has unleashed a tidal wave of techno babble that often confuses those who do not live and breathe
the terminology. What, for instance, do the following terms mean: asymmetric digital subscriber line, dark fiber,
dynamic host configuration protocol, enterprise information portal, ERP, M-commerce, replatforming systems,
simple object access protocol, or zettabyte? Most chief information officers and technology executives understand
these terms, but for others, it can be overwhelming. How, for instance, can a chief executive decide whether to
invest in a “routing switch platform that has an MPLS enabled ATM core switch” if he or she does not understand
those terms?
Source: N. Hutheesing, “It’s All Geek to Me,” Forbes, September 10, 2001, p. 24.
Robbins: Organizational Behavior
Chapter Ten
OB IN THE NEWS -- What’d He Say? (cont.)
Class Exercise:
1. Ask the students to do a web search on the terms listed in the article. A good search engine for this activity
would be . Have them print off what they found and bring to class for discussion.
2. Are these terms difficult to understand once you have seen the definition? Why do people use jargon?
3. Have the students (either in small groups or as a class) develop strategies for effectively communicating
terms like these in meetings. For example, prepare a glossary in advance and put it up on the corporate
server, distribute as a handout in the meeting, etc.
4. Have students write the strategies on the board—which ones are the responsibility of the sender? The
Teaching Notes:
A glossary of the terms can be found with the original article at
Some of the definitions taken from the article are as follows:
Dark Fiber
Technology used to transfer voice and data over the same line
Fiber-optic cables that have been laid but are not yet being used
A networking protocol that allows Internet addresses to by dynamically allocated to Windows PCs
A web site that offers data analysis tools
Software that connects a company’s internal computer systems with those of their suppliers
E-commerce via a wireless network
A way for applications to communicate over the Internet regardless of the applications’
software or hardware
IDC says that by 2010 companies will need a zettabyte (1 sextillion bytes) of disk
B. Written Communication:
1. Written communications include memos, letters, electronic mail, faxes,
periodicals, bulletin boards, etc.
2. Advantages include that they are tangible and verifiable. A written record is
available for later use. People are more careful when communication is via
written word.
3. Drawbacks include: time-consuming, lack of feedback, and no guarantee of
C. Nonverbal Communication:
1. We send a nonverbal message every time we send a verbal one. At times the
nonverbal message may stand alone. They include body movements, facial
expressions, and the physical distance between sender and receiver.
2. We use body language to convey a message and typically do unconsciously.
3. The two most important messages body language conveys is the extent to
which an individual likes another and is interested in his or her views and the
relative perceived status between sender and receiver.
Robbins: Organizational Behavior
Chapter Ten
Instructor Note: At this point in the lecture you may want to introduce the MYTH OR SCIENCE? – “It’s Not What
You Say, It’s What You Do” box found in the text and below. A suggestion for a class exercise follows the
introduction of the material below.
MYTH OR SCIENCE? – “It’s Not What You Say, It’s What You Do”
Actions DO speak louder than words. People tend to give greater credence to actions. The implication is that
managers and leaders are role models. When words and actions diverge, people focus most on what they see in
terms of behavior.
There is an obvious exception to the previous conclusion. An increasing number of leaders (and their associates)
have developed the skill of shaping words and putting the proper “spin” on situations so that others focus on the
leader’s words rather than the behavior. Why people believe these spins when faced with conflicting behavioral
evidence is not clear.
Class Exercise:
1. Demonstrating this could be touchy, so monitor students’ discussion and reaction closely. The difference
between what someone says and then does often generates strong feelings.
2. Begin by brainstorming with students an incident when they have experienced this dichotomy of
communication and behavior. Some ideas:
 A public event covered in the news that the student(s) followed—a politician saying one thing and doing
 Some campus news event involving students and/or administrators
 A personal relationship where one party made some verbal claim but then behaved in a different way
 An interaction with an authority figure—professor, boss, parent—where the authority figure made a verbal
claim and then behaved in a contradictory way
3. Choose an event to discuss, or in the case of a personal event, one the student(s) are comfortable discussing.
4. If the discussion is about a personal event, ask students not to use names, and clearly ask the students for
permission to discuss the event in front of the class.
5. First, ask for a brief description of the verbal communication, then the behavior.
6. Discuss how the two elements contradicted; what were the signs?
7. Ask how this contradiction made them feel, how it affected (affects) the relationship with the other party.
A. Close with a discussion of how the situation could be rectified and why it is important for our
verbal communication and behavior to match.
Organizational Communication
B. Formal Small Group Networks
1. There are three common small-group networks: the chain, wheel and allchannel. (See Exhibit 10-3)
The chain rigidly follows the formal chain of command.
The wheel relies on the leader to act as the central conduit for all the
group’s communication.
The all-channel network permits all group members to actively
communicate with each other.
2. The effectiveness of each network depends on the dependent variable with
which you are concerned. No single network will be best for all occasions. (See
Exhibit 10-4)
Robbins: Organizational Behavior
Chapter Ten
B. The Grapevine
1. A recent survey found that 75 percent of employees hear about matters first
through rumors on the grapevine.
2. Three main characteristics of a grapevine:
First, it is not controlled by management.
Second, it is perceived by most employees as being more believable and
reliable than formal communiqués.
Third, it is largely used to serve the self-interests of those people within it.
3. One of the most famous studies of the grapevine:
The approach was to learn from each communication recipient how he/she
first received a given piece of information and then trace it back to its
It was found that, while the grapevine was an important source of
information, only 10 percent of the executives acted as liaison individuals.
Two other conclusions:
a. Information on events of general interest tended to flow between the
major functional groups.
b. No evidence surfaced to suggest that members of any one group
consistently acted as liaisons; rather, different types of information
passed through different liaison persons.
4. An attempt to replicate this study among employees in a small state
government office also found that only a small percentage (10 percent) acted
as liaison individuals.
This is interesting, since the replication contained a wider spectrum of
The flow of information in the government office took place within, rather
than between, functional groups.
5. The evidence indicates that about 75 percent of what is carried is accurate.
6. Research indicates that rumors emerge as a response to situations that are
important to us, where there is ambiguity, and under conditions that arouse
7. The grapevine is an important part of any group or organization’s
communication network and well worth understanding. It identifies for
managers those confusing issues that employees consider important and
8. It acts as both a filter and a feedback mechanism, picking up the issues that
employees consider relevant.
9. By assessing which liaison individuals will consider a given piece of information
to be relevant, we can improve our ability to explain and predict the pattern of
the grapevine.
11. Management cannot eliminate rumors, but it can minimize the negative
consequences. Exhibit 10-5 offers a few suggestions for minimizing
those negative consequences.
Robbins: Organizational Behavior
Chapter Ten
C. Computer-Aided Communication
1. Email:
Uses the Internet to transmit and receive computer-generated text and
Has greatly reduced the number of memos, letters, and phone calls
historically used to communicate among employees. The average
employee receives 31 emails a day.
Benefits include: they can be quickly written, edited and stored, they are
easily distributed, they are a fraction of the cost of printed communications.
Drawbacks include: information overload, the time to read excessive
amounts of email, lack of emotional content.
2. Intranet and Extranet Links:
Intranets are networks that only organizational members can access.
Extranets are links organizations create to connect employees with
suppliers, customers, and strategic partners.
3. Video Conferencing:
An extension of intranet and extranet systems. It permits employees in an
organization to have meetings with people at different locations. Can be
done in rooms with special cameras, or now via personal computer with
camera and microphones.
4. Computer-aided communications are reshaping the way we communicate in
organizations. Pagers, cell phones, and personal communicators allow
employees to be available for and instant access to communicating with
5. Organizational boundaries are less relevant—employees can jump vertical
levels within the organization, work from home, or be somewhere other than an
organizationally owned facility.
Choice of Communication Channel
1. People choose one channel of communication over another for several
reasons. A model of media richness has been developed to explain channel
selection among managers.
2. Recent research has found that channels differ in their capacity to convey
information. Some are rich in that they have the ability to:
handle multiple cues simultaneously.
facilitate rapid feedback.
be very personal.
3. The choice of one channel over another depends on whether the message is
routine or nonroutine.
Routine messages tend to be straightforward and have a minimum of
Nonroutine messages tend to be complicated and have the potential for
Robbins: Organizational Behavior
Chapter Ten
Choice of Communication Channel (cont.)
Routine messages can efficiently be communicated through channels that
are lower in richness. However, nonroutine messages can effectively be
communicated only by selecting rich channels.
4. High-performing managers tend to be more media-sensitive than lowperforming managers.
Instructor Note: At this point in the lecture you may want to introduce the OB IN THE NEWS – Don’t Push EMail Beyond It’s Limits box found in the text and below. A suggestion for a class exercise follows the introduction
of the material below.
OB IN THE NEWS—Don’t Push E-Mail Beyond Its Limits
E-mail is fine for some communications but it has its limitations. Unfortunately, many people are using it to
convey messages that are best expressed in other ways.
Relationships can suffer when people use e-mail as a substitute for face-to-face conversation or a phone
call. For instance, one writer tells of communicating with an editor by e-mail about an article he had written. The
relationship turned sour because each was taking the other’s comments as far more critical than intended. “We
had to get offline and apologize,” says the writer.
An expert on communication says, “There is a tremendous over-reliance on e-mail, which is leading to a
lot of confusion, misunderstanding, anger, and frustration.” The “over reliance” factor is due to the popularity of
the technology—for instance, in the United States, 55 percent of adults now use e-mail. The negative responses
to e-mail are due to its inherent limitations and misuse. These include:
Low feedback. Conversation is a give and-take exchange, but e-mail allows one to “talk” at length without
any response.
Reduced social cues. When we talk, we can hear the tone of a joke that might come across as stern on a
computer screen. Emoticons can hint that something is meant lightly but cannot replace voice or visual cues.
Excess attention. E-mail allows people to create carefully worded messages that can be interpreted as
more formal than verbal messages. The same words expressed off-handedly in a verbal conversation often take
on greater meaning and importance when read in an e-mail.
Wordiness. E-mail allows the writer to go on forever, often confusing the receiver as to what is important
and what is not. In face-to-face contact, senders get verbal and nonverbal cues—interruptions, quizzical looks,
glassy eyes—indicating the message is getting too long.
Source: Based on J. Kornblum, “E-Mail’s Limits Create Confusion, Hurt Feelings,” USA Today, February 5, 2002, p. 6D.
Class Exercise:
Email is so prevalent that people often take it for granted. The chapter raises several points, such as using the
right channel, however, email etiquette and authenticity are also issues to consider. Here are discussion ideas on
these issues:
1. Have your class do a web search on “netiquette” issues (or you can bring the results of a search to class).
What issues does this concept raise for organizations? Note: Aside from using appropriate grammar,
students should be aware that no email is private with an organization, and that email used to intimidate or
harass another is often grounds for dismissal.
2. Go to to learn more about hoaxes and legends on the
Internet typically spread through email. Students often believe at least some of them—but their real purpose
is not to communicate useful information—it is to clog the system. The best way to remedy it is to delete
them when received and never pass them along.
3. Never, ever respond to “spam” even when asking to have your name removed from the list. It confirms to the
sender that he or she has a “good” email address and the address is sold to other “spammers” creating more
unwanted email.
Robbins: Organizational Behavior
Chapter Ten
Barriers to Effective Communication
A. Filtering
1. Filter refers to a sender’s purposely manipulating information so it will be seen
as more favorable by the receiver. For example, telling the boss what she
wants to hear.
2. The more levels in an organization’s structure, the more opportunities there are
for filtering. Being reluctant to give bad news, or trying to please one’s boss
distorst upward communications.
B. Selective Perception
1. Receivers in their communication process selectively see and hear based on
their needs, motivations, experience, background, and other personal
2. Receivers project their interests and expectations into communications as they
decode them.
C. Information Overload
1. When the information we have to work with exceeds our processing capacity,
the result is information overload.
2. The result is they tend to select out, ignore, pass over, or forget information.
Or they may put it aside until the overload situation is over. The result is lost
information and less effective communication.
D. Emotions
1. How a receiver feels at the time a message is received will influence how her
or she interprets it. Extreme emotions are likely to hinder effective
2. During those times we are most likely to disregard objective thinking and
substitute emotions forjudgments.
Instructor Note: At this point in the lecture you may want to introduce the CASE INCIDENT—Have We Got a
Communication Problem Here? box found in the text and at the end of these notes. A suggestion for a class
exercise follows the introduction of the material.
E. Language
1. Words mean different things to different people. English—our common
language—is far from uniform in usage.
2. Individuals interpret word meanings different ways. For example, incentives
and quotas are often perceived as implying manipulation causing resentment
among lower levels of the organization.
F. Communication Apprehension
1. An estimated five-to-twenty percent of the population suffer from
communication apprehension. They experience undue tension or anxiety in
oral and/or written communication. They may find it difficult to talk with others
face to face or on the telephone.
Robbins: Organizational Behavior
Chapter Ten
F. Communication Apprehension (cont.)
2. Studies show those affected with communication apprehension avoid jobs
where communication is a dominant requirement.
3. Managers need to be aware there is a group of people who severely limit their
communications with others and rationalize the behavior telling themselves it is
not necessary for them to do their jobs effectively.
Current Issues in Communication
A. Communication Barriers Between Women and Men
1. Research by Deborah Tannen provides important insights into the differences
between men and women in terms of their conversational styles. What her
studies show is:
Men use talk to emphasize status, while women use it to create
connection. Not every man or woman, but “A larger percentage of women
or men as a group talk in a particular way, or individual women and men
are more likely to talk one way or the other.’’
Communication is continually juggling the conflicting needs for intimacy
and independence. Intimacy emphasizes closeness and commonalties.
Independence emphasizes separateness and differences.
Women speak and hear a language of connection and intimacy; men
speak and hear a language of status, power, and independence.
For many men, conversations are primarily a means to preserve
independence and maintain status in a hierarchical social order.
For many women, conversations are negotiations for closeness in which
people try to seek and give confirmation and support.
2. Male patterns:
Men frequently complain that women talk on and on about their problems.
When men hear a problem, they frequently assert their desire for
independence and control by offering solutions.
Men are often more direct than women in conversation. Men frequently
see female indirectness as “covert” or “sneaky,” but women are not as
concerned as men with the status and one-upmanship that directness
often creates.
Men can frequently misinterpret women’s less boastfulness incorrectly,
concluding that a woman is less confident and competent than she really
Finally, men often criticize women for seeming to apologize all the time.
3. Female patterns:
Women criticize men for not listening. Many women view telling a problem
as a means to promote closeness. The women present the problem to gain
support and connection, not to get the male’s advice. Mutual
understanding is symmetrical, but giving advice is asymmetrical—it sets
the advice giver up as more knowledgeable, more reasonable, and more in
Robbins: Organizational Behavior
Chapter Ten
A. Communication Barriers between Women and Men (cont.)
Women tend to be less boastful than men.
Women frequently use “I’m sorry” to express regret and restore balance to
a conversation. It is an expression of understanding and caring about the
other person’s feelings rather than an apology.
B. Silence as Communication
1. Silence—defined as “an absence of speech or noise—can be interpreted as an
“inaction” or non- behavior. However, it can be a powerful form of
2. It can mean someone is thinking, is anxious and fearful of speaking, and it can
signal disagreement, dissent, frustration, or anger.
3. Silence is a critical element of groupthink. It can also be a way for employees
to express dissatisfaction and “suffer in silence.”
4. Failing to pay close attention to silence can result in missing a vital part of the
C. “Politically Correct” Communication
1. What words do you use to describe . . . ? The right answers can mean the
difference between losing a client, an employee, a lawsuit, a harassment
claim, or a job.
2. Our vocabulary has been modified to reflect political correctness, and more
importantly, to be sensitive to others’ feelings. Certain words can and do
stereotype, intimidate, and insult individuals.
3. There is a downside to political correctness:
It is shrinking our vocabulary and making it more difficult for people to
communicate. To illustrate, these four terms have been found to offend
one or more groups:
Offending term substitute with Politically correct substitute
garbage with
women with
negative-patient outcome
post-consumer waste materials
educational equity
people of gender
4. The problem is that this latter group of terms is much less likely to convey a
uniform message than the words they replaced.
5. Politically correct language is contributing a new barrier to effective
When we eliminate words from usage because they are politically
incorrect, we reduce our options for conveying messages in the clearest
and most accurate form.
By removing certain words from our vocabulary, we make it harder to
communicate accurately.
We must be sensitive to how our choice of words might offend others, but
we also have to be careful not to sanitize our language to the point where it
clearly restricts clarity of communication.
Robbins: Organizational Behavior
Chapter Ten
D. Cross-Cultural Communication
1. Cross-cultural factors clearly create the potential for increased communication
problems. (See Exhibit 10-8).
2. Cultural barriers:
First, there are barriers caused by semantics. Words mean different things
to different people. Some words do not translate between cultures.
a. Finnish—the word sisu is untranslatable into English. It means
something akin to “guts” or “dogged persistence.”
b. English terms such as efficiency, free market, and regulation are not
directly translatable into Russian.
Second, there are barriers caused by word connotations. Words imply
different things in different languages.
a. The Japanese word hai means “yes,” but may mean “yes, I’m
listening,” not “yes, I agree.”
Third, there are barriers caused by tone differences. In some cultures,
language is formal; in others, it is informal. The tone changes depending
on the context.
Fourth, there are barriers caused by differences among perceptions.
People who speak different languages actually view the world in different
3. Cultural context:
Cultures tend to differ in the importance to which context influences
meaning. (See Exhibit 10-9).
Countries like China, Vietnam, and Saudi Arabia are high-context cultures.
a. They rely heavily on nonverbal and subtle situational cues when
communicating with others.
b. What is not said may be more significant than what is said.
c. A person’s official status, place in society, and reputation carry
considerable weight.
People from Europe and North America reflect their low-context cultures.
a. They rely essentially on words to convey meaning.
b. Body language or formal titles are secondary to spoken and written
Communication in high-context cultures implies considerably more trust by
both parties.
a. Oral agreements imply strong commitments in high-text cultures.
b. Who you are—your age, seniority, rank in the organization—
are highly valued and heavily influence your credibility.
In low-context cultures, enforceable contracts will tend to be in writing,
precisely worded, and highly legalistic.
a. Similarly, low-context cultures value directness.
Robbins: Organizational Behavior
Chapter Ten
D. Cross-Cultural Communication (cont.)
4. A cultural guide:
 Assume differences until similarity is proven.
 Emphasize description rather than interpretation or evaluation.
 Practice empathy. Put yourself in the recipient’s shoes.
 Treat your interpretations as a working hypothesis.
Instructor Note: At this point in the lecture you may want to introduce the ETHICAL DILEMMA—Is It Wrong to
Tell A Lie? box found in the text and at the end of these notes. A suggestion for a class exercise follows the
introduction of the material.
Instructor Note: At this point in the lecture you may want to introduce the POINT–COUNTER POINT—Open
Book Management Improves Bottom Line box found in the text and at the end of these notes. A suggestion for a
class exercise follows the introduction of the material.
Exploring OB Topics on the World Wide Web
Search Engines are our navigational tool to explore the WWW. Some
commonly used search engines are:
1. You can become a better listener. The website has a
number of tips and exercises to get you to think about your listening skills. Print the page and
complete the exercises under “listening for feelings” and bring it to class. Also jot down brief
responses to one or two of the role-plays listed on the page. If there is time, we will complete
some of them in class.
2. Listening requires more than a physical presence—it requires a mental presence too! Learn
more about how to develop your skills as an empathetic listener at:
Write a short journal entry describing how you plan to further develop one technique listed in the
3. Are there do’s and don’ts for email? Learn more by doing a search on “netiquette” which are
the courtesy guidelines of email. Print one of the better pages and bring to class along with an
email you have sent or received recently. Take off the names of the parties in the email. In
class, we will edit these email for breeches of Netiquette guidelines.
4. Organizational communication has been drastically changed by the introduction of modern
technologies just in the last 10 years. However, it does not just happen. There must be support
personnel and products to assist users with communication via technology. Go to to explore one vendor’s products and
services to support organizational communication. Write a short journal entry about what you
learn from this web site.
Robbins: Organizational Behavior
Chapter Ten
5. Learn more about effective cross-cultural communication. Go to the web site . The first four chapters are particularly interesting.
Write a paragraph or two about what you learned from this page.
6. Open Book Management has worked for many companies. To learn more, go to Inc.
Magazine’s web site and key in “pen book management” using the search feature. A number of
articles are available for review. Additionally, the following web sites also have more
information. Write a one page “summary” on what you learned.
7. What is an intranet and how does it work? Chances are if you have not been on one here at
school or at work, you will be in the future. Go to for
a comprehensive look at intranets and organization who have put them to work to increase
organizational effectiveness through communication.
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