How Communications Can Change Over Time
11.2 – Downward and Upward Communication
When leaders and managers share information with lower-level employees, it is called
downward, or top-down, communication. While downward communication may
sometimes invite a response, it is usually one-directional rather than reciprocal–the
higher-level communicator does not invite or expect a response from the lower-level
Examples of downward communication include explaining an organization’s mission
and strategy or explaining the organizational vision. Effective downward
communication gives employees a clear understanding of the message they have
received. Whether informative or persuasive, effective downward communication
results in the recipients taking action or otherwise behaving in accord with the
In the workplace, directives from managers to employees are the most basic form of
downward communication. These can be written manuals, handbooks, memos, and
policies, or oral presentations. Another example of downward communication is a
board of directors instructing management to take a specific action.
Business communication experts John Anderson and Dale Level identified five
benefits of effective downward communication:
• Better coordination
• Improved individual performance through the development of intelligent
• Improved morale
• Improved consumer relations
• Improved industrial relations
Ensuring effective downward communication is not necessarily an easy task.
Differences in experience, knowledge, levels of authority, and status can make it more
likely that sender and recipient do not share the same assumptions or understanding of
context, which can result in messages being misunderstood or misinterpreted.
Creating clearly worded and non-ambiguous communications and maintaining a
respectful tone can overcome these issues and increase effectiveness.
“Downward Communication. Boundless Management” is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
Upward communication is the transmission of information from lower levels of an
organization to higher ones; the most common form is employees communicating
with managers. Managers who are open to and encourage upward communication
foster cooperation, gains support, and reduces frustration among their employees. The
content of such communication can include judgments, estimations, propositions,
complaints, grievances, appeals, reports, and any other information directed from
subordinates to superiors. Upward communication is often made in response to
downward communication; for instance, employees answering a question from their
manager. In this way, upward communication indicates the effectiveness of a
company’s downward communication.
The communication channel, or mode of sharing information, strongly influences the
upward communication process. Information sharing can be face-to-face, over the
phone, or in writing. Subordinates should make an effort to identify the preferred
means of receiving communication from their manager or other higher-ups. For
instance, sending a written report to someone who prefers to receive information in
the form of a concise email is less likely to bring about the desired effect.
The availability of communication channels affects employees’ overall satisfaction
with upward communication. For example, an open-door policy sends the signal to
employees that the manager welcomes impromptu conversations and other
communication. This is likely to make employees feel satisfied with their level of
access to channels of upward communication and less apprehensive about
For management, upward communication is an important source of information that
can inform business decisions. It helps to alert management of new developments,
levels of performance, and other issues that may require their attention. Whistle-
blowing involves upward communication when employees communicate directly with
top management about matters requiring attention or discipline (e.g., harassment from
another employee), including perceived ethical or legal breaches.
“Upward Communication.” Boundless Management” is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0