Broad theories of internal communication
Before looking specifically at internal communication theory, it is informative to explore it firstfrom a broad perspective. In doing so, it is acknowledged that “Scholars have made manyattempts to define communication, but establishing a single definition has proved impossibleand may not be very fruitful” (Littlejohn and Foss, 2008, p. 3). This paper adopts Littlejohnand Foss’ (2008, pp. 24-25) requirements of theory that incorporate four aspects;philosophical assumptions, concepts, explanations and principles. Subsequent internalcommunication and employee engagement theories are reviewed with these aspects in mindwith an emphasis on the fourth aspect, principles (a principle “is a guideline that enables youto interpret an event, make judgments about what is happening, and then decide how to actin the situation”, (Littlejohn and Foss, 2008, p. 19)). As Easterby-Smith, Thorpe and Jackson(2008, pp. 5-8) observe, management research is distinctive from other social scientificresearch and “there is often an expectation that research will lead directly to action”.In a seminal text on communication, Littlejohn and Foss (2008) outline seven traditions of human communication; semiotic, phenomenological, cybernetic, sociopsychological,sociocultural, critical and rhetorical. This is not a complete list and is based on Craig’s (1999)metamodel of communication theory. Each tradition has relevance for internalcommunication. Littlejohn and Foss (2008, p. 55) highlight the sociopsychological,cybernetic, sociocultural and critical as being the contributory traditions for organisations.These four traditions are similar to Bryant and Heath’s (2000, pp. 305-8) identification of four paradigms; (a) structural functionalism, (b) psychological, (c) interpretivism, and (d) systemsinteraction which are reviewed briefly below.
prioritises information flow and the accuracy and clarity of messages – themes that are highlighted again later on in this paper. It also raises issues of communication underload and overload that impact commitment (Heath and Bryant, 2000, p.312). However, the approach is focused on identifiable flows, when a lot of information flowsacross organisations in informal ways. It is based on rationality when people are oftenirrational and ambiguity in communication is to be expected. Furthermore, it does notaddress issues of tacit knowledge or silo team management that often mitigate againstinformation flow.
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which is basedon the theory of organisations as systems and sub-systems that are hierarchically arranged.In essence, this is an input-output paradigm that informs stakeholder theory which is alsoreviewed in more detail later. One drawback of systems thinking is that it overemphasisesformal processes within organisations, when, as Wheatley (2006, p. 144) suggests that, “Lifeuses networks; we still rely on boxes. But even as we draw our boxes, people are ignoring
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