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Horizontal Communication


Disciplines > Communication > Styles > Horizontal Communication

Process communication
Career communication | Social communication | Problems | See also



In organizations much of the communication is not so much downwards or upwards, but sideways, to peers and others.

Process communication

We all work in processes, whether they are formalized or not. Process take inputs, use resources and deliver outputs, any of which may involved other people at any level in the organization (although typically at a similar level to us).

In our work, then, we need to communicate with others in order to our jobs. Others also need to communicate to do their jobs. Much of the workplace communication is consequently about talking with one another.

Process communication includes:

  • Requests for information
  • Provision of information
  • Requests for actions
  • Acting on behalf of others
  • Asking for decisions, approval, etc.
  • Communicating decisions, etc.

This communication is often directly about doing the job. It can also be about reporting, telling others what we have done. This often happens as upward communication or downward management, although horizontal communication to peers also happens.

Process communications can use various channels including:

  • Formal documents based on approved templates
  • Informal documents
  • Emails
  • Telephone calls
  • Formal meetings
  • Informal meetings

Career communication

As well as talking about the job, we are also interested in how we are progressing and what opportunities there might be for us in the organization. In doing so we can spend a great deal of time investigating possibilities and garnering support.

Career-oriented communication includes:

  • Inquiring about other people's career plans
  • Investigating career possibilities
  • Actively seeking work that will enable us to excel
  • Communicating to impress others with our skills and achievements
  • Communicating in order to learn and develop
  • Communicating to make oneself appear better than one's peers
  • Communicating to make one's peers appear less able than oneself

Social communication

Beyond work and career, we are social creatures and usually enjoy the company of others. We hence talk about all kinds of things that, whilst not about work directly, can be beneficial in the way working relationships are developed.

Social communication subjects can include:

  • Inconsequential hellos and simple social ritual
  • Gossip about the company and other people
  • Romantic flirting, chat-ups and relationship building
  • Planning and talking about activities outside the workplace


Horizontal communication can be a problem in strictly hierarchical organizations where communication outside of one's immediate team is forbidden or discouraged. This is perhaps understandable from a manager's viewpoint, for example where they could be embarrassed by their peers complaining about the manager's people interrupting the other manager's people.

A key part of the problem is that processes often run horizontally across departments whilst the management goes vertically, creating structural conflict. Managers also worry about the loss of productivity from excessive social communication.

Many organizations today have got past the state of strict hierarchical control and are moving towards managing through processes, whereby the horizontal communication is better understood and utilized. Appreciation of human psychology has also improved and connections between social relationships and company benefits have been realized.

See also

Upward Communication, Downward Communication


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