Internal business communication is at the heart of a company’s success. It affects everything from employee happiness and customer relationships to brand identity and net earnings.
But despite its significance, 57% of US companies surveyed do not have dedicated internal communications specialists, and 60% of business professionals say they do not measure their internal communication outcomes.
Given these numbers, it’s no surprise that 65% of workers were reported to be “disengaged” in the workplace, according to a Gallup poll.
A report from the Economist Intelligence Unit points to why: This can be largely attributed to employees citing added stress (52%), delay or failure to complete a project (44%), and low morale (31%) as a result of poor communication.
To improve upon these findings, business leaders should make strides in fully understanding the four main types of business communication. We delve into them below, as well as how their effective implementation can have a positive impact on both internal teams and key external relationships.
Understanding the 4 main types of business communication
Generally speaking, the four leading types of business communication include upward, downward, lateral, and external. There is no one “right” way to communicate within an organization. However, carefully considering the pros and cons of each type will help you determine which strategies are best for your team/organization, and also if employing multiple types of communication would be best.
1 Upward communication
What it is: Upward business communication comes from a direct report to a manager, and from a manager to a top-level executive or owner. Upward communication allows those in charge to keep a finger on the pulse of what’s happening on the ground floor.
How it works in action: Example 1) A data specialist prepares a marketing report containing website analytics to feed decision-making at the top level. Example 2) Employee surveys provide the basis for executives to make changes to daily operations to improve productivity and satisfaction.
- Information received from team members helps management remain responsive to the needs of their employees. In contributing in this way, employees who feel valued will be more inclined to provide their best efforts at their jobs.
- Management can identify issues early before they escalate.
- Easy access to management allows employees to share their creativity and innovate, which could motivate company progress to be leaps and bounds faster than if business teams were completely siloed.
- Businesses with upward communication are typically known for fostering a friendly, harmonious atmosphere.
- The accuracy of employee-supplied information can be limited or skewed depending on their comfort level with communicating with their supervisors.
- Subordinates may be unwilling to share information with management, particularly if they feel like no action will be taken or there will be consequences.
- Upward communication can only be successful if there is a clear, accessible, and swift chain of command all the way to the top.
Tips for maximum effectiveness: Managers play the leading role in driving successful upward communication, so they will need to do the following:
- Keep an open-door policy.
- Engage employees in regular conversation.
- Listen to employee concerns while displaying empathy.
- Use multiple communication channels to ensure easy accessibility to all workers.
- Create an available, inclusive environment.
- Provide anonymous suggestion boxes, surveys, Q&A sessions, internal chat forums, or email chains to capture as much honest feedback as possible.
2 Downward communication
What it is: Downward business communication flows from management to direct reports. Messages flow through a predetermined hierarchy, from the top down.
How it works in action: Example 1) Leadership informs employees of a new operational procedure, safety requirement, or individual expectation through a company memo. Example 2) A manager communicates project information to the team. Example 3) The CEO holds a meeting to cover the previous year’s performance numbers and discuss next year’s goals.
- Necessary information (instructions, explanations of complex issues, and operational details) can be quickly disseminated in a downward flow.
- There’s an easier delegation of key responsibilities.
- Managers are empowered to take on appropriate authority.
- Company-specific standards, rules, and disciplinary consequences can be easily reinforced to uphold compliance.
- It can be a slow process, especially when information must flow through multiple levels of hierarchy.
- Like the game of “telephone,” the information can also become distorted or lose detail on its way through the chain of command.
- Heavy reliance on a downward communication style can make employees feel unimportant, frustrated, or unenthusiastic about their work.
Tips for maximum effectiveness:
- Keep leadership visible, approachable, and trustworthy.
- Provide a schedule of communication to ensure that employees will value and prioritize your messages, rather than feel overwhelmed or irritated.
- Management should utilize approachable body language, maintain a friendly disposition, ask employees how they’re doing, and keep their office doors open.
- Management should invite a healthy blend of upward and downward communication that can serve the workplace well.
- Management should keep detailed notes about employees, allowing them to add a personal touch to their communications when addressing individual employees.
3 Lateral communication
What it is: Lateral communication moves across departments and employees or managers of equal status within the organization.
How it works in action: Example 1) A team communicates back-and-forth via emails. Example 2) Coworkers participate in a team chat to resolve an issue. Example 3) Managers coalesce for a brainstorming session. Example 4) A member of the marketing team discusses modifying an ad campaign’s design with a web designer on the technology team.
- It is often necessary for information sharing, problem solving, and task coordination.
- It is especially vital for large-scale enterprises that rely upon interdepartmental coordination.
- It tends to synthesize organically, without the need for upper-level approval, serving as a rapid and morale-boosting mode of communication.
- Misunderstanding and conflict can often be nipped in the bud while simultaneously strengthening teamwork.
- Employees often feel supported both emotionally and socially.
- Employees may communicate in a more casual, unprofessional tone, causing potential squabbles.
- Can create an “us vs. them” culture if no other interdepartmental/hierarchical communication channels are properly established.
- Teams may grow territorial about the tasks they’re working on and resent interjections from other departments, thereby undermining collaborative efforts.
Tips for maximum effectiveness:
- Communicating through video chat, one-on-one conversations, or phone calls is most effective at avoiding or clearing up misunderstandings.
- A written follow-up like an email or memo also reinforces messages/meetings and helps alleviate confusion.
- Management must take care not to incentivize competitiveness between departments, communicating the significance of each group within the overall organization.
- Using modern project management tools to invite interdepartmental communications can go a long way in reducing barriers and bottlenecks.
4 External communication
What it is: External communication moves information from the inside of the organization to outside parties, such as prospects, customers, investors, vendors, partners, sponsors, lawmakers, regulatory bodies, the media, consultants, or the general public.
How it works in action: Example 1) A press release is deployed to inform the media about a new product coming out. Example 2) A sales proposal is presented to generate interest from investors. Example 3) A website informs prospects why they may want a company’s products or services.
- When performed successfully, external communication has a positive impact on the company’s public persona and reputation, making it more desirable to stakeholders and customers.
- External communication is also directly tied to customer communications and the ability to create and maintain those relationships, so the quality of this kind of communication is of the utmost importance.
- External communications are how outside businesses, customers, partners, investors, and the rest of your audience perceive your business and get to know it. Ensuring that every piece of external communication is carefully curated takes time, but when done right it is a significant attribution to company growth.
- When poorly executed, external communications can present customers with conflicting messages that tarnish the company’s reputation.
- One wrong piece of data, a missed target audience, or careless quote can sink an entire marketing campaign and have a lasting negative impact on a company’s ability to succeed, so each piece of externally-facing communication needs to be carefully curated and analyzed.
- Without good internal communication, employees will likely struggle with creating good external communication.
Tips for maximum effectiveness:
- Be straightforward and to the point; readers want value. In other words, remember that they want to know: “What is this about?” and “What’s in it for me?”
- Know your audience. Extensive research is key to external messaging, as you’ll want the right language, tone, imagery, and channel.
- Complement internal communication styles, but never replace them.
- Connect employees and customers, which can lead to a vital information exchange that encourages customers to engage with your brand more. It also allows employees to gain a deeper understanding of the target audience.
Since each type of business communication accomplishes a unique set of goals, most businesses utilize multiple communication strategies within their organization. Your business may already be practicing these forms of business communication without your realizing it!
Now that you know the proper terminology and use cases for business communication, you’re better able to create a sustainable communication strategy and train employees on best practices.
Company-wide training may sound like a daunting task, but there are tools you can use to streamline the learning and implementation processes.
Ensuring business communication success with Grammarly Business
Grammarly Business serves as a digital communications assistant that both coaches and improves upon internal and external business communications, all in accordance with your company’s custom style guide standards. Beyond grammar, spelling, and punctuation, Grammarly delivers real-time suggestions for improving clarity, tone, and engagement with every message. This dynamic tool meets every employee at their individual skill level, maximizing effectiveness and productivity rates.
The Grammarly browser extension integrates with a number of popular platforms—like Gmail, Salesforce, Google Docs, Zendesk, Slack, and more—making implementation and adoption that much easier company-wide.
There’s no denying that successful business communication is an integral part of a company’s ability to thrive in the hyper-competitive marketplace that exists today. Having a cutting-edge tool by your company’s side makes accomplishing this feat that much more feasible.
Employing the various types of business communication within your organization is much easier with Grammarly Business. Contact us to learn more about how Grammarly Business augments your business communications or upgrade now!