Vertical communication

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Vertical communication
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Vertical communication is a type of flow of information between members of organisation who are on different levels of its hierarchy. It can be used both in a downward and upward direction. Unlike horizontal communication, vertical communication takes into account organizational structure and it doesn't allow to pass information in other way (e.g. omitting supervising manager). Most communications in organisations are considered to be vertical [1].

Vertical communication examples are:

  • instructions,
  • business orders,
  • formal reports,
  • reports about work done.

Vertical communication can also be informal, but it is not its main purpose.

Downward communication

Vertical communication.png

In this kind of vertical communication a messenge is sent downwards: from higher to lower levels. The transmitted information can be for example: directives, instructions, directions or objectives. Literature shows that to make it most effective top managers should communicate directly with immediate supervisors and immediate supervisors then communicate with their staff [2]. There are five main purposes of downward communication [3]:

  • To implement goals and strategies. Introducing new strategies and objectives gives lower levels information about preferred actions.
  • To provide job instructions. Informing members about requirements on their tasks.
  • To explain procedures. Defining organisation's base rules and regulations.
  • To give feedback. Evaluating work of both inviduals and groups.
  • To socialize. Encouraging staff members to get to know and adopt institution's values.

Downward communication is the most frequently used way of transferring information in organisations [4].

Upward communication

In this type of communication information is transmitted backwards: from lower to higher levels. This communication is used in numerous situations such as [5]:

  • Making the leader aware of the difficulties that stuff members face.
  • Stuff members suggesting improvements for instistution.
  • Introducing reports regarding members’ results.
  • Informing leaders about members’ complaints and grievances.

A perfect way to communicate in an institution is to rely both on downward and upward communication [6]. However, it is often seen, that in organisation structure information from lower to higher level fail to flow as effectively as in downward communication. This results from several barriers such as [7]:

  • Leader's defensive attitude towards actions which don't meet requirements perfectly.
  • Lack of administrator's response to staff members’ communication.
  • Separation between higher and lower levels.
  • Too long period of time between members’ communication and leader's action.

There are some methods and strategies that can be performed to increase efficiency of upward communication [8]:

  • The open-door policy. A leader should always be ready to hear opinions and suggestions of staff members.
  • Conducting attitude questionnaires and exit interviews.
  • Making decisions based on group opinions using tools like suggestion boxes.
  • Listening to the grapevine. This phenomenon can give leaders information about members attitude and their feelings.

Two ways of vertical communication

The vertical communication can go:

  • downward (top-down),
  • upward (bottom-up).

Downward vertical communication is associated with instructions and orders, while upward with reports.



  1. Burleigh B. Gardner, David G. Moore 1950, p. 43
  2. T.J. and S. Larkin 1994
  3. Fred C. Lunenburg 2010, pp. 3
  4. Priti Verma 2013, pp. 64
  5. Priti Verma 2013, pp. 67
  6. Fred C. Lunenburg 2010, pp. 4
  7. Priti Verma 2013, pp. 67
  8. Joann Keyton 2011, pp. 156

Author: Izabela Pyszczek