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4.1: Introduction

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    Expanding Your View

    Up to now, your introduction to organizational communication has been fairly straightforward. The definition of an “organization” presented in Chapter 1 "Introduction to Organizational Communication" emphasized aspects of the workplace that you probably expected—structure, goals, personnel, etc., and the definition of “communication” featured elements that can be easily understood—source, message, channel, receiver. Then in Chapter 3 "Classical Theories of Organizational Communication" we explored classical theories of organizational communication that are driven by attitudes you have likely encountered on the job—your supervisor’s desire for machine-like efficiency, your company’s view of employees as “human resources” that must be beneficially managed.

    In this chapter, however, we are going to complicate these pictures. Yet by expanding your view of “organization” and “communication,” you can better understand the often bewildering and messy realities of everyday life on the job. Modern theories of organizational communication—the subject of this chapter—are driven by a recognition that “real life” in the workplace seldom conforms to such ideals as smoothly operating hierarchies and clearly transmitted messages.

    For example, has your boss ever yelled at you? Irrational behavior can be difficult to square with classical theories of organization and communication. Though a message is obviously being transmitted from a source (your boss) to a receiver (you), insults generate far more mental stimulation than is necessary and, in fact, introduce inaccuracies that will likely cause you to misinterpret the message. Cursing hardly reflects the scientific management advocated by Frederick Taylor, the impersonal environment espoused by Max Weber, and the precise wording of commands favored by Henri Fayol. So by these lights, your boss’s yelling is inefficient and counterproductive. Neither are curses and insults conducive to good human relations in the workplace—or to satisfying your hierarchy of needs, or giving you positive motivation and enjoyment in your job, or encouraging your involvement in workplace decisions. By all these accounts, yelling and cursing is bad management—and yet, as we will see in Chapter 13 "Technology in Organizations", it occurs daily in organizations worldwide. One study estimated that 37 percent of workers will be subjected to workplace bullying in the course of their careers. In the United States alone, that amounts to more than 56 million people.Namie, G. (2010). Workplace Bullying Institute 2010 U.S. workplace bullying survey. Retrieved April 22, 2012, from

    In this chapter, we will expand our view of organization and communication in ways that allow us to consider some new perspectives: Did your boss yell to assert power over you? Was this assertion of power rooted in historical prejudices or in attitudes that prevail in the surrounding society? Is aggression tied to the very nature of organizing itself? Or is aggression rooted in the culture of your particular organization, a pattern that employees past and present have established, so that yelling is way that people “make sense” of a super-competitive work environment?

    Learning about modern theories of organizational communication will help us explore such questions. Before describing these theories, however, we must first revisit the assumptions that we have built up in the preceding chapters. This is because modern theories are often based on different assumptions about the nature of organizations and communication than are classical theories. We are not asking you to discard classical thinking; the theories developed by Taylor, Weber, Fayol, and scholars in the human relations and human resources traditions address real issues in the workplace and remain influential. Rather, we are asking you to build on the foundation of classical theory and now expand your view.