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? COMPLEX SOCIAL CONTEXT
There are any number of issues affecting communication in the complex social context of organizations today. Of continuing interest, for example, is the study of male and female communication styles. In her book Talking 9 to 5, Deborah Tannen argues that men and women learn or are socialized into different styles and as a result often end up having difficulties communicating with one another.50 She sees women more oriented toward relationship building in communication, for example, while men are more prone to seek status through communications.51 Because people tend to surround themselves with those whose communication styles fit with their own, a further implication is that either women or men may dominate communications in situations where they are in the majority.52
More and more people are asking a question related to the prior discussion: “Are women better communicators than men?” A study by the consulting firm Lawrence A. Pfaff and Associates suggests they may well be.53 The survey shows that supervisors rank women managers higher than men managers on communication, approachability, evaluations, and empowering others; their subordinates also rank women higher on these same items. A possible explanation is that early socialization and training better prepare women for the skills involved in communication and may make them more sensitive in interpersonal relationships. In contrast, men may be more socialized in ways that cause communication problems—such as aggression, competitiveness, and individualism.54 In considering such possibilities, however, it is important to avoid gender stereotyping and to focus instead on the point of ultimate importance—how communication in organizations can be made most effective.55
Among the controversies in organizational communication today is the issue of privacy. An example is concern for eavesdropping by employers on employee use of electronic messaging in corporate facilities. Progressive organizations are developing internal policies regarding the privacy of employee communications, and the issue is gaining attention from legislators. A state law in Illinois now makes it legal for bosses to listen in on employees’ telephone calls. But the law leaves the boundaries of appropriateness unclear. Such eavesdropping is common in some service areas such as airlines reservations, where union concerns are sometimes expressed in the context of “Big brother is watching you!”56 The privacy issue is likely to remain controversial as communication technologies continue to make it easier for employers to electronically monitor the performance and communications of their workers.
Our society also struggles with the political correctness of communications in the workplace. The vocabulary of work is changing, and people are ever more on guard not to let their choice of words offend another individual or group. We now hear references to “people of color,” the “physically challenged,” and “seniors;” not too long ago these references may have been different, and they may be different again in the future. Organizations are taking notice of this issue and are offering more training to their members to help eliminate in any communications possible overtones of intolerance and insensitivity.
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1 John R. P. French and Bertram Raven, “The Bases of Social Power,” in
Dorwin Cartwright (ed.), Group Dynamics: Research and Theory (Evanston, IL: Row, Peterson, 1962), pp. 607-623.
2 See French and Raven (1962).
3 John P. Kotter, “Power, Success, and Organizational Effectiveness,” Orga-
nizational Dynamics 6 (Winter 1978): 27; David A. Whetten and Kim S. Cameron, Developing Managerial Skills (Glenview, IL: Scott, Fores-man, 1984), pp. 250-259.
4 David Kipinis, Stuart M. Schmidt, Chris Swaffin-Smith, and Ian Wilkinson,
“Patterns of Managerial Influence: Shotgun Managers, Tacticians, and Bystanders,” Organizational Dynamics12 (Winter 1984): 60, 61.
5 Ibid., pp. 58-67; David Kipinis, Stuart M. Schmidt, and Ian Wilkinson,
“Intraorganizational Influence Tactics: Explorations in Getting One’s Way,” Journal of Applied Psychology 65 (1980): 440-452.
6 Warren K. Schilit and Edwin A. Locke, “A Study of Upward Influence in
Organizations,” Administrative Science Quarterly, 27 (1982): 304-316.
8 Stanley Milgram, “Behavioral Study of Obedience,” in Dennis W. Organ
(ed.), The Applied Psychology of Work Behavior (Dallas: Business Publications, 1978), pp. 384-398. Also see Stanley Milgram, “Behavioral Study of Obedience,” Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 67 (1963): 371-378; Stanley Milgram, “Group Pressure and Action Against a Person,” Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 69 (1964): 137-143; “Some Conditions of Obedience and Disobedience to Authority,” Human Relations 1 (1965): 57-76; Stanley Milgram, Obedience to Authority (New York: Harper & Row, 1974).
9 Chester Barnard, The Functions of the Executive (Cambridge, MA: Har-