What Is Downward Communication: Examples, Types & How To Improve It

In this blog, we have detailed everything you need to know about what is downward communication with examples, objective, types, and how you can improve downward communication.

What is Downward Communication?

In a downward flow of communication, information is transmitted from one level of an organization to a lower level of the organization.

It is mainly used by managers or superiors in a company for assigning tasks/goals, informing policies and procedures, giving feedback, and reviewing the performances of subordinates.

Downward communication flow helps in establishing a hierarchical chain of command in the organization by clearly defining reporting relationships between superiors and subordinates. 

For examples:

  • Team leader updating members of the team about an upcoming deadline.
  • Managers inform subordinates about new policies.
  • Superior reviewing monthly performance of a subordinate.

Main Objectives of Downward Communication

The management in a company uses downward communication channels to achieve the following objectives: 

  • Transmission of information: The primary objective of downward communication in a business is to convey important information to subordinates about company policies, strategies, and goals, give instructions, business news, etc.
  • Training and education: The second key objective is training and education. Downward communication benefits the organization by using the knowledge base of experienced superiors to instruct and train subordinates into becoming proficient workers.
  • Boosting Morale: Effective downward communication occurs when subordinates are motivated and feel eager to work. Managers use downward communication to boost the morale of subordinates which helps in increasing productivity and creates a well-coordinated workforce.

Example of downward communication in an organization

The downward communication not only involves passing on crucial information to the bottom-level employees but is also used to seek important information. One such example is asking employees to provide feedback on various aspects of organizational function. 

One such example can be seen below where employees are instructed through mail to provide feedback on the new joiny employees within the team.

screenshot-of-Feedback-instruction-email-for-employees

Screenshot-of-Feedback-form-with-feedback-questions

Superior used downward communication to inform crucial information, but in a practical scenario how it is done is demonstrated in the below example.

After AT & T acquired BellSouth and Cingular Wireless, Ed Whitacre, then CEO of AT & T used downward communication to inform the former BellSouth and Cingular employees about the company acquisition strategy. Whiteacre held meetings to assure employees that he understood the changes resulting from the acquisition caused turmoil and confusion in the short term and asked them to continually provide excellent customer service during the transnational period. The face-to-face meeting gave employees the opportunity to ask questions.

Source” Erik S. Lesser/ The New York Times

Elements of Downward Communication

The following 3 elements of a downward communication model:

1) Instructions: Superiors communicate task directives and work instructions to subordinates using the downward flow of communication.

2) Feedback to subordinates: Feedback is a key element of downward communication as it is a manager’s duty to monitor and assess the performance of his/her subordinates.

3) Organizational information: Managers transmit information about company policies and procedures to employees, which is another important element of downward communication.

Usage of Downward Communication in an Organization

Downward communication is implemented for the following uses in an organization:

  1. It is used to instruct subordinates and offer them training to carry out work effectively.
  2. It is used to inform employees about important information such as policies, procedures, business goals, etc.
  3. It is used to review and offer feedback on the performance of an employee.

What is the Importance of Downward Communication in a Merger?

A merger or acquisition occurs when two independently existing companies join together to create a singular new legal entity. During such a stressful time, managers must ensure downward communication messages paint an accurate picture of what is happening. The members of an organization can only gain correct information about a merger through top executives.

Therefore, they must be given clear and direct information about key matters and legal formalities to avoid any confusion. Managers use effective downward communication during a merger by communicating information in a calm and confident manner. This helps greatly reduce anxiety in employees by providing them with transparent and updated information.  

What is Vertical Downward Communication?

A vertical communication flow observes the transmission of information in an organization in the form of upward and downward communication. Downward communication implies a message being transmitted from a top level to a lower level in the organizational hierarchy.

It is a part of a vertical communication system but mainly focuses on information that moves from top to bottom in the form of information, training, guidance, and feedback offered by superiors to subordinates.

What is Internal Downward Communication?

Downward communication is a form of internal communication as it serves the purpose of communicating information, instructions, policies, and procedures to existing members of the company by superiors.

This can happen in many forms such as staff meetings, team leaders discussing new projects, training managers explaining job instructions to new recruits, etc. This form of communication occurs only within the company between employed members and executives.

Advantages & Disadvantages of Downward Communication

In this section, we will look at the benefits and limitations of downward communication.

Advantages of downward communication

Downward communication and its essentials provide the following benefits to a company:

  • Maintaining hierarchy: Downward communication works on clearly defined reporting relationships between superiors and subordinates which helps in maintaining a strict organizational chain of command.
  • Instructions and directives: The management uses downward communication to direct objectives, provide important information and assign duties and instructions to subordinates.
  • Disciplined work environment: Downward communication helps in creating a disinclined and company-oriented workspace by creating a system that emphasizes more focus on work productivity from subordinates.

Disadvantages of downward communication

The disadvantages of downward communication are highlighted as follows:

  • Distortion: It is possible for a message to be distorted and lose accuracy as it travels down from one level of management to a lower level.
  • Employee resistance: The authoritative nature of downward communication can make subordinates resentful towards superiors and doubt their decisions.
  • The issue for under-and-over communication: Downward communication can lead to the transmission of under and over-communication of information due to interference of superiors at different levels of the organization. 

Types of Downward Communication

Downward communication can be categorized into five distinct categories. They are:

1) Job Instructions: This type of downward communication is used by managers to instruct employees on work directives and what they should be doing to achieve an objective. Employees often undergo training periods under a manager to effectively learn what the job requires.

2) Job Rationales: In this type of downward communication, employees are made aware by the management of how their job relates to the overarching goals of the company. They are also educated on how their job relates to their co-workers in order to create a cooperative and effective workforce.  

3) Procedures and Practices: The management must ensure that new employees are up to date with work procedures by issuing handbooks or employee manuals. They must also educate them on strictly following habitual practices required such as wearing the proper uniform, punching in and out on time, etc. 

4) Feedback: Feedback in communication is critical. Managers provide feedback to their subordinates and constantly review their performance. The feedback offered can both be positive or negative. This helps in employee growth and maximum work productivity.

5) Employee Indoctrination: Managers use downward communication to instill the ideological perspectives and goals of the organization into new members. This helps in strengthening the identity and culture of the organization. 

Forms of Downward Communication

Downward communication can be divided into two forms – oral and written. Oral forms of downward communication include face-to-face conversations, phone calls, speeches, team meetings, etc., whereas, written forms consist of employee manuals, handbooks, notices, circulars, etc.

What are the Barriers to Downward Communication?

Downward communication encounters the following barriers:

  1. Differing understanding of a language and comprehensive abilities of a decoder. 
  2. Psychological resistance by a subordinate towards the authority of a superior.
  3. The subordinate has a preconceived assessment of the information before it is transmitted.

How to Improve Downward Communication?

Managers who are effective communicators can make use of downward communication to greatly benefit a business. It is best done by following the following practices:

  • Managers can improve downward communication by first ensuring the information they deliver to subordinates is accurate and verified by credible sources. 
  • An effective technique to improve downward communication is when managers filter out information and present only relevant information which is adequate and can be utilized. This is done to avoid communication underload and overload.
  • The source of the message is an important factor in improving downward communication. Important messages should be delivered as directly as possible from the CEO or top executives to avoid serial transmission.
  • For effective downward communication, the management needs to select the most effective and efficient channel of communication to transmit the message to lower levels of the company. 
  • Depending on the purpose of the message, i.e, to inform, offer feedback or training, etc., managers must mindfully select the communicative medium. The medium could be a one-on-one conversation, staff meeting, email, etc.

Downward Vs Upward Communication

The differences between downward and upward communication are highlighted by the following points of comparison:

1) Flow: Upward communication implies a bottom-to-top flow of information where subordinates communicate with managers, whereas, in downward communication, superiors communicate with subordinates to the top to bottom flow. 

2) Objective: The prime objective of upward communication is for subordinates to report information and offer feedback to superiors. Meanwhile, downward communication is used by superiors to assign tasks, convey orders and review the performance of subordinates.

 3) Nature: Downward communication is authoritative and directive in nature whereas upward communication is reported and informative in nature.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1) What are downward communication and upward communication?

Ans: Downward communication is a form of vertical communication where communication flows from superiors to subordinates in a top to bottom manner.

Upward communication refers to the flow of communication from the bottom to top levels of management in the form of subordinates communicating with superiors. 

Must Read: what are the advantages and disadvantages of upward communication

Q2) What are the characteristics of downward communication?

Ans: Downward communication is an authoritative and directive form of communication. Members at higher levels of the organization communicate with subordinates to issue instructions, and orders and assign duties.

Q3) Downward communication flows from?

Ans: Downward communication is a part of vertical communication which flows from higher to lower levels of an organizational hierarchy. 

Q4) What is horizontal communication?

Ans: Horizontal communication, also known as lateral communication, occurs when employees at the same rank or level in the organization communicate with each other. Horizontal channels of communication are mostly oral and informal.

Q5) Purpose of downward communication?

Ans: Downward communication is used by superiors for the purpose of conveying important information about company policies and procedures, training, feedback, giving instructions, advice, etc.

Q6) What is the difference between diagonal communication and downward communication?

Ans: Diagonal communication or crosswise communication is an unstructured form of business communication that can occur between both managers and employees of two different departments, whereas downward communication follows a strict chain of command where communication flows from higher to lower levels of the organization.

Aditya Soni

Aditya is the head of content at clearinfo and is responsible for improving the site's organic visibility. He is a certified SEO trainer and has worked with SaaS companies and startups to enhance their digital marketing presence. He is also an ahref fanboy. Click to connect with him on Twitter, and LinkedIn.  

Leave a Reply