Internal and external communication in the company



Today it is theoretically assumed that communication is an activity inherent to the life of the organization, it is “the network that is woven between the elements of an organization and that provides its essential characteristic: that of being a system” (Katz and Khan, 1986 ), “The cement that holds together the units of an organization” (Lucas Marin, 1997), the soul or “the nervous system of the company” (Puchol, 1997). But communication should not be understood only as the support that sustains the different activities of the organization; Communication is a resource, an asset that must be managed.

For the management of the different types of communication that are necessary in any modern company – internal communication downward, upward and horizontal and external communication – the “excellent” and innovative companies are endowed with a specific department called Department of Communication or Information Management or of a Communication Directorate or an Image, Public Relations or Press Office. Now, we must not forget that communication is not just the function of a department, but must be assumed by each boss and his team. So the existence of these departments can be both a reflection of the importance given to communication and an indicator of deficits that occur in other parts of the system.

And while in these companies an increasing value is granted to communication considering it a differential factor that affects its image, its productivity and the quality of working life; in many others the politics of deaf ears, of closed doors, continue to predominate and the mistake of identifying “communication” with “information” continues to be made.

The complexity of the communicative phenomenon requires framing it in interactive and dynamic relationships, as a circular process in which the transmitter and receiver exchange their roles alternately and which requires understanding among the people who intervene in it . Information is only part of that process-the content of what is communicated-and by itself does not produce communication . For N. Luhmann, information, communicative expression and understanding would be the three elements of the communicative phenomenon. Therefore, for a communicative process to develop, “information must be expressed and this communicative expression must be understood” (1995: 139).



The need for communication in an organization is reinforced when we observe the multiple advantages that derive from it, both for the organization and for the people:

            – The communication processes, from a systemic perspective, allow the organization to maintain coordination between its different parts and thus achieve its essential characteristic: that of being a system (Katz and Kahn, 1986). Coordinated action and teamwork, as opposed to working alone without cooperative and coordinated interaction, will contribute to achieving the strategic objectives.

            – Communication is also an instrument of change. Strategic thinking implies a message of change: the need to adapt to the changing environment in which the organization lives. In this context, internal communication allows the introduction, dissemination, acceptance and internalization of the new values ??and management guidelines that accompany organizational development .

            – On the other hand, one of the objectives that any organization pursues is that its workers are motivated, identified with the organizational objectives. Workers in turn need to be informed to feel an active part of the organization and that participation receives adequate recognition. In this way, communication, by increasing the possibility of participation, favoring initiatives and mobilizing creativity, becomes a factor of integration, motivation and personal development .

All this will contribute to the improvement of the quality of working life and the quality of the product or service offered by the organization, to the increase of productivity and the increase of competitiveness. It must be remembered that, given the competitiveness of the environment, the organization must not only compete in the quality of the services or products it offers, but also in the quality of working life it gives to its human assets. In the search for Total Quality, communication appears as a fundamental element of departure , making it increasingly necessary to plan the means of communication and the appropriate use of communication strategies, in such a way that they condition optimal effectiveness of the messages.

The good management of internal communication must achieve a basic objective: to cover the communication needs presented by the individuals or groups that make up the organization. And in this sense, communication is as important for employees as it is for management.



For a large majority of organizations, downlink communication exceeds that of upstream, usually causing saturation or overload problems . In the new information organizations, internal computer networks or intranets are gaining positions as a means of communication that displaces traditional communication through personal relationships and written media. But the enormous volume of data that it transports can generate an overload of information that hinders its processing and blocks communication processes. The new organization runs the risk of being, then, an organization of misinformation.

Downlink communication is characterized by having too specific content; transmits messages predominantly related to the execution and assessment of the task, orders and work specifications related to the functions to be performed, the objectives to be achieved, the lines of action that should be respected, the level of fulfillment of the task. Hidden data of an institutional nature: the objectives of the organization, the results achieved, the most important and significant events (investments of the organization, expansions, organizational changes, etc.). Although the dissemination of some of this information may compromise certain strategic objectives, others that do not entail any danger, are not disseminated either.

This downward communication that gives priority to the interests of the organization (achieve a certain level of productivity) and neglects the socio-integrative level(Information intended to achieve greater motivation and satisfaction of workers) is insufficient and frustrating for employees. In addition to personal information about your work (conditions of the same, salaries, promotion, etc.); the references on the life of the organization, its objectives, its projects or the results are all the more important the greater the degree of autonomy or responsibility of the worker in decision-making. Given that the better informed they are, the more data they know and the more empowering communication of a socio-integrative nature; in better conditions they will meet to participate.

Other problems that usually appear in the descending communications are: the ambiguity, imprecision and vagueness of the messages or the contradiction of the transmitted orders. The consequent confusion generated can be manifested in dysfunctions in the accomplishment of the task or breach of some of the contradictory orders.


Upward communication is of vital importance for organizations based on information given that, as P. Drucker points out, “knowledge will be at the bottom of the hierarchical pyramid, in the minds of specialists who carry out various works and are directed to themselves “(2000: 6).

On the other hand, many of the deficiencies or weak points of downlink communication could be avoided by using mechanisms that enable feedback. Upward communication becomes, in this way, a tool that provides important feedback on the effectiveness of descending communications and on the problems of the organization. It allows workers to make suggestions for solving problems or proposals for improvement and, in the worst case, complain or communicate discontent.

The advantages derived from all this are manifold: it allows us to know the social climate of the organization, it contributes to stimulate the creativity of the workers, it favors its enrichment and personal development, it makes the work and the direction more cooperative, disappearing elements of tension and conflict in interpersonal relationships, increases commitment to the organization, improves the quality of decisions , etc.

Despite the benefits noted, upward communication is often accompanied by many difficulties or drawbacks that make it scarce and more fictitious than real:

  1.  The (often illusory) functions of protection and psychological security   exercised by unidirectional communication (Petit, F. 1984) for the sender (manager) by allowing him to maintain a distance from the receiver (worker) that protects him from possible objections or criticism of your orders; it represents an obstacle to the implementation of the feed-back and the development of listening attitudes.
  2.  They also generate blockages in the upward communication of prejudiced attitudes, distrust of superiors towards workers.
  3. The system of rewards established in the organization conditions the content of the ascending communications. When positive information is encouraged on the work done and complaints are ignored or sanctioned (officially or unofficially), lack of understanding of the instructions received or actions that deviate from the prescribed course; the ascending messages suffer a process of distortion and enlightenment. Only favorable messages are communicated to the bosses, positive information is exaggerated, false elements are introduced and / or negative information is omitted. Individual innovations, spontaneous self-adaptations or “useful illegalities” that workers rehearse for the most effective solution to everyday problems are silenced, not communicated; so the organization can not assimilate and manage knowledge of inestimable value for it  . Workers suspect that transparency in upward communication is at the same time a form of transparency?
  4. Either for lack of trust in the boss, for fear of punishment or possible reprisals or for lack of participatory culture; workers preferentially practice criticism among friends. Seldom do criticisms of management’s ways of proceeding arise openly and formally through the channels established for this purpose.
  5. Along with this peculiar “culture of complaint”, the low self-esteem of a worker accustomed to receiving and obeying orders, causes excessively stealthy and hermetic behavior.
  6. Although in many cases the information is not transmitted upwards because the worker simply does not have an exact vision of the information that his superior needs to make decisions.



In relation to this type of communication, special attention has been paid to that between peers at management levels due to their impact on the coordination and integration of the subsystems of the organization and the development experienced by “intermediate management” as an essential mechanism of coordination and control in highly bureaucratized organizational structures.

However, with the introduction of participatory formulas such as quality circles or problem solving groups or new forms of work organization and especially with the redesign of group positions; groups become the basic unit of work organization, rather than individual workers. In this way, horizontal communication is stimulated and organized in the core of operations as a tool that facilitates coordination among workers, improves the social climate, satisfies social needs and self-realization of people and contributes to the development of a more innovative organization.A type of communication that in the Taylorist organization normally used the informal structure, being reduced to its minimum expression in the formal dimension.

In the post-Taylorist organizations it is, in short, to use the potential of the direct, affective and cohesive relationships of the natural and informal groups and to converge as far as possible the official structure with the sociometric. Achieving the right combination between the formal and informal, so that the formal system is oriented primarily to the achievement of the objectives and the informal system ensures the internal cohesion of the group.

Teamwork becomes the emblem of those companies that try to eliminate interactions based on competition and marked by lack of communication and replace them with cooperative and effective interpersonal relationships [4] . It can be paradoxical to observe how, at the same time, virtual teams are strengthened, in which the sense of belonging would be weakened due to the isolation of people from each other (Mazo, 1998).


Informal communications provide unquestionable benefits to the people involved in them, but they can also be useful to the organization.

Think about the potential of communication that takes place in the context of informal groups in terms of strengthening group cohesion, or to generate and strengthen the culture of the organization, or as a means to clarify ambiguous or deficient formal communications.

Or in communications with formal content that escape the established channels and means of communication, skipping one or several levels of the communication chain, as a strategy to increase the speed and accuracy of messages thanks to the reduction in the number of people participating in the communicative chain.

On the other hand, these types of communication can cause certain inconveniences:

In the form of communications with formal content that, in a strategy of “bridging”, do without one or more intermediate instances of the hierarchy of authority; dysfunctions arise as a result of having buried the function and authority of intermediate instances to which it has been ignored.

In its form of communications with informal content through informal channels, dysfunctions occur when cohesion develops around norms contrary to established guidelines or when these communications are translated into rumorology and give rise to a generalized and erroneous knowledge about topics that affect the organization or personal incidents of its members. These rumors are made especially dangerous because of:

1.- The processes of distortion to which they are exposed due to the influence of the values, beliefs and psychological needs of people in the processing of information . Indeed, as L. Puchol (1997) affirms, “the best rumor is worse than the crudest of realities because they distort and exaggerate reality”.

2.- The extreme speed with which they circulate and the large size of the audience they reach (being able to transcend the limits of the organization) as a consequence of the benefits obtained by the people who participate in its transmission: it allows them to find a meaning to events and eliminate uncertainties, can also improve their self-image to demonstrate knowledge of secret information.

3.- Their capacity for conviction and credibility because they rarely try to be verified because they are usually transmitted by trusted friends that are not usually questioned or because they help to rationalize or justify the most basic concerns and concerns of people and when they try to confirm it is difficult to identify their origin.


The improvement of internal communication processes requires the preparation of a strategic communication plan inserted in the culture of the organization that allows through the appropriate means and media to cover the communication needs presented by the individuals and groups that make up the organization.

This communication strategy necessarily involves several stages:

  1. The first step, the inexcusable condition, is to obtain a firmcommitment from top management. Without the support or with insufficient support from the top management, it is impossible to introduce any type of change in the organization.
  2. Making adiagnosis of the communication situationin the organization. Communication plans should be based on a communication audit and not   on the intuition or tastes of the management team. The audit should detect the communication flows, what are their weak points and where the problems occur, know the needs and expectations of the people involved with the new communication plan and project a vision of the desirable future state for the company.
  3. Plan design: definition of objectives, media selection, action planning, timing, establishment of mechanisms and procedures for monitoring during and at the end of the implementation. For an adequate choice of media, it is important to take into account the purpose to be achieved with the communicated message (motivating or integrating, transmitting issues related to work, informing, etc.) and the type of information to be communicated (objective facts , feelings, controversial or sensitive issues). Now, the implementation of these supports does not ensure the effectiveness of communicative flows if the change of values ??and organizational culture is not simultaneously contributed. Therefore, the following point is essential in the communication plan.
  4. Communication strategy, awareness and negotiation(Serieyx, 1994). It is necessary to sensitize, mentalize and train employees at all levels in communication so that they become aware of its importance. We have been able to observe that many of the problems of internal communication are of an attitudinal nature, that is, of predisposition to interrelate. The dissemination of the project to the entire organization, seeking and achieving attitudinal change and the commitment of the different actors involved is an essential condition for its success.
  5. Implementation and monitoring. The implementation must be accompanied by a system of constant follow-up and feedback (through work climate questionnaires and interviews with those responsible) to identify deviations from the objectives and their causes and to design corrective actions.


In taylorista-bureaucratic organizations, middle managers are a key element in the communication system whose primary function is to serve as a channel of communication and mediation between top management and those workers who are under their “sphere of influence.” Therefore, any problem, conflict or tension that they experience can have important repercussions on the effectiveness of internal communication.

In the post-Taylorist organization with the new forms of work organization, the more participative management styles and the new information technologies; middle managers can be threatened in terms of communication, adopting a negative attitude and little commitment to communication policy.

Communication plans can also be compromised due to insufficient involvement of top management, lack of will   or apathy of workers, weak implications or lack of skills of plan managers, competencies between departments, costs of the plan and the difficulty to evaluate its results in economic terms, its lack of continuity, the complexity or inaccessibility of its instruments , etc.

Although there are many reasons that prevent the effective implementation of the communication plan, in different investigations the middle line has been identified as one of the usual enemies so that information flows from top to bottom and vice versa. The adoption by some middle managers of closed attitudes to the use of personal forms of communication and participation usually responds, according to Straauss. (1992) and F. Gan (1996), to the fear of a loss of control or power as a consequence of access to workers’ information. For Klein (1984) it has to do with safety at work, that is, with the fear that their jobs will lose their reason for being due to the self-control of employees.

Some defensive strategies that they develop use information as a source of power. The intermediate command uses the exclusive possession of information as a means of maintaining its authority (Simon, H., 1993), tries to control through the information it has, believing that the greater the volume of information stored, the more control it will have. Now, only when data in organizations are scarce, can it be assumed that the more data, the more information and the more information the more power. But when there is an excess of data, it is difficult to perceive the true information, assimilate it (Drucker, P. 1988). Along with these perceptions we find (Puyal, 1999) that the power of information frequently coexists with the power of silence or incommunication.


The external communication with clients, intermediaries, suppliers, competition, media and public in general is as vital to the organization as internal communication. Among them there must also be a high integration.

Although external communication is linked to departments such as public relations and press, marketing, market research, corporate communication, etc. all members of the organization can perform external communication functions and dissemination of the organization’s own image. When the sense of belonging increases, when people feel identified with the organization and improve labor relations, they convey a positive image towards the outside.

At the same time, the image that the organization transmits to society will condition the satisfaction of certain status and prestige needs of its employees. When the person works in a solid, important company, concerned about social problems and that transmits a good social image; to some extent it also feels realized in their social consideration, also increasing their feeling of belonging.

Therefore, we are faced with two communication systems (internal and external) interdependent and that it is necessary to manage in a coordinated manner. However, innovation strategies in companies tend to fall preferentially on external communication, rather than internal communication. Gómez and Patiño (1998) illustrate this situation in a metaphorical way: “great importance is given to external clothing, which is seen, to which people can value, sometimes forgetting that the success of external clothing feels good resides in the quality and design of underwear. “


The communication is drawn as a resource of vital importance for the functioning of the organization. However, in the business world, attention has often been insufficient and the concept of communication, the process and the contents of what must be communicated have been understood differently.

The management of this resource should have as its basic objective, cover the communication needs of the different actors of the organization and their immediate surroundings. Success requires, as a starting point, achieve a change of values ??and organizational culture that predisposes to communicate.

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