Strong and effective communication is very important in every workplace and plays a crucial role in long term survival of any organization. Right set of communication from the right desk at the right time extends positive vibes throughout the organization. Many time the conversation of a business communication centers around the branding of company and its effect on the consumer. For an organization to become efficient in consumer serving, they must focus on ways to enhance the internal dialogues of their own workforce. Every organization contains a workforce with diversity of personality types and differing styles of processing communication.

In any organization, formal communication works within a set of disciplines and is vastly structured. Communication may flow from bottom to top when grievances and criticisms have to be passed to the top management or from top to bottom when crucial announcements and decisions have to be communicated to the personnel. Understanding the different types of communication assists in determining the direction of communication. Two primary forms of communication will be discussed in this article which dominate the internal work environment, upward and downward communication.

Upward and downward communication are vital for the smooth functioning of activities within the organization. In both forms of communication, information flows vertically within the organization. The most significant and the main difference between the two forms is that in upward communication, messages are sent from subordinates to superiors and in downward communication, messages are sent from superiors to subordinates. In this article, these forms of communication will be discussed in detail along with their other key differences.

Definitions and explanations

Upward communication

In upward communication, employees initiate the interaction with managers and executives. These are classified by reporting the top level management of complaints, grievances and advising them with innovate ideas or suggestions that could be used to further enhance their operations. This type of communication is common in organizations that value an inclusive and democratic environment that gives confidence to employees to state their opinions about the activities that happen in the organization dynamically.

Upward communication is very vital and crucial source of information for the upper management to make their business decisions. It assists them to alert the senior most management regarding the changes required in the organization. Managers can gain feedback from employees that can aid in enhancing the development of organization. Employees who are motivated and urged to provide feedback feel a sense of belonging and respect that their opinion matters. Front line employees, who work every day, can usually tell managers if a certain operation or activity works or doesn’t work. Employees can be the contributing factor in making new policies or amending the outdated ones. Thus, upward communication can be extremely useful for an organization.

Downward communication

In this type of communication, formal messages are conveyed to the employees via a chain of command.  Downward communication is basically the opposite of upward communication. It is the process of sending a message from the top level management to the employees. These messages are authoritative and normally contain information concerning procedures, policies and vital notices that are important to the organization. The top level management can reach out to employees in numerous ways which includes memos, meetings, speeches and messages with the help of digital mediums. The main objective is to keep the entire workforce of organization in agreement with the messages conveyed. In any organization, orders from managers to employees are the very basic form of downward communication. These can be in the form of memos, oral presentations, handbooks, policies or manuals.

Downward communication follows the hierarchy of organization, which means member compliance and organizational discipline is easier to preserve. It also provides proficiency as the information and instructions come from the upper management who are in power that can manage activities in organization. Employees then get feedback from the superiors who manage those activities. With the help of downward communication, the upper level management can easily communicate goals and allot responsibilities in order to achieve those goals.

Difference between upward communication and downward communication

The main points of difference between upward communication and downward communication have been listed below:

1. Meaning

In upward communication, the messages or information is passed from the bottom of the organizational structure to the top of the organization, whereas in downward communication, messages or information is passed from the top of the organizational structure to the bottom of the organization.

2. Objective

The objective of upward communication is to give awareness to the upper level management of complaints, grievances, criticism and giving them new ideas or suggestions to improve their operation. In downward communication, the upper level management gives instructions, orders, notices, new responsibilities to its employees.

3. Nature

Upward communication generally includes complaints and suggestions etc. so it is non-directive in nature. Downward communication comprises of advice, instructions, orders etc. so it is directive in nature.

4. Application

Upward communication triumphs in participative and democratic environment. On the other hand downward communication prevails in authoritarian and autocratic situation.

5. Frequency

Upward communication is used less frequently than downward communication. It does not happen frequently. Conversely, downward communication is the most frequently used pattern of communication. It takes place numerous times to give order, directions and advice to employees. It happens frequently to keep the organizational functions active and smooth.

6. Initiative

In upward communication, the initiative to communicate is taken by the lower level employees, whereas in downward communication the top level management takes the initiative to start communication.

7. Methods

Upward communication uses methods such as reports, open door policy, meeting, suggestion system, complaint box, counselling etc. Downward communication uses methods such as brochures, circulars, bulletins, telephone, orders, memos, etc.

Upward communication vs downward communication – tabular comparison

A comparison of upward communication and downward communication in tabular form is given below:

Upward communication vs Downward communication
Sending message from employee to superior Sending message from superior to employee
To make complaints, objections, new ideas, feedback To give order, instructions, notices, new responsibilities
Nature of communication
Non-directive Directive
Application and environment
Found in participative and democratic environment Found in authoritarian and autocratic environment
Frequency of occurrence
Does not happen frequently Happens frequently to keep organizational functions smooth
Lower level employees Top level management
Method used
Reports, open door policy, meeting, suggestion system, complaint box, counselling etc. Brochures, circulars, bulletins, telephone, orders, memos, etc.

Conclusion – upward communication vs downward communication

Communication is a very crucial element in any organization as it influences the performance of employee and their attitude towards the organization. Both the top level management and employees need to have clear information about their organization policy, work conditions, services offered etc. in order to perform well. The success of downward communication is determined by upward communication. It assesses the efficiency of plans, policies and strategies executed by the top level management, with the help of response of those working at lower level of organization.