Understanding Horizontal Vs. Vertical Communication: 10 Major Differences Plus Examples

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Different types of communication

Communication in an organization can be categorized as vertical, horizontal or diagonal. Horizontal communication is when information flows between persons holding the same position in an organization.  Horizontal communication helps to share ideas, wishes, information and attitude between peers and colleagues. It also promotes mutual understanding and ensures cross-functional coordination.

 Vertical communication on the other hand, is when communication flows systematically between supervisors and subordinates (Up and Down). Vertical communications makes it easier for management to stay in control of the organization and enhance a better cohesiveness. Essentially, it allows management to control what information throughout the organization.

The Difference

The following highlights the differences between horizontal and vertical communication.

Definition

Horizontal communication is the transmission of information between people, divisions, departments or units within the same level of organizational structure. Conversely vertical communication is the transmission of information between different levels of the organization structure.

Purpose of Communication

The purpose of operating with a horizontal communication is to coordinate the activities of various departments and divisions of the organization. Effective use of horizontal communication in the workplace can enhance productivity by making information sharing, problem solving, and collaboration and conflict resolution more efficiently. Conversely, the main purpose of operating with a vertical communication system is to control the flow of information and decision-making. Top-down communication usually consists of orders, mandates, policy decisions, directions and instructions; and receiving suggestion, opinion and feedback from the subordinates in upward direction.

Flow of Information

In horizontal communication, information flows between people holding same rank and status while in vertical communication, information flows form superior to subordinates and vice-versa.

State of Formality

Horizontal communication is more often informal in nature. Vertical communication is more formal in nature than horizontal communication.

Medium of Communication

Horizontal communication is more often done through oral media such as oral presentation, whereas vertical communication is mostly done through written media and this can be written manuals, handbooks, memos and policies.

Probability of Distortion

The information passed through horizontal communication is usually free from distortion. The information passed through vertical communication may suffer from distortion especially when passed on verbally; the information may be tainted by body language, spoken nuances and personality of the informant.

Length of Communication Channel

The channel of communication is shorter in horizontal communication as it only involves sender and receiver. On the other hand, vertical communication passes through a long channel of communication i.e from Directors to managers to supervisors to subordinates.

Main Disadvantage

In horizontal communication, if there exist any hostility or rivalry between people of the same rank, information has high risk of being concealed by some managers who may decide that information is not necessary to be shared to the other management staff. Vertical communication on the other hand, movement of information is slow or can be stalled but after a few days the information will reach the junior staff. It’s difficult to conceal the information that is intended for junior staff.

Nature of the Communication

Horizontal communication may sometimes require or invite a response. Vertical communication is most often one-way and that the management at higher level may not invite or expect a response from the lower recipient.

Intention of the information

 Information shared through horizontal communication channel is intended to solve a problem, encourage collaboration and coordination of tasks, resolving conflict and resolve conflict. Conversely, information shared through vertical communication channel is intended to explain an organization mission or strategy, address complains, give new set of employee regulations, explaining the organization vision, invite suggestion, promote teamwork etc.

Examples

An example of horizontal communication is managers sharing information that is relevant in coordinating activities of various departments. However, an example of vertical communication is the board of directors instructing management to take specific measures and actions.

The difference between Horizontal and Vertical Communication in a Comparison Chart

Basis of Difference Horizontal Communication Vertical Communication
DEFINITION Horizontal communication is when information flows between persons holding the same position in an organization Vertical communication on the other hand, is when communication flows systematically between supervisors and subordinates (Up and Down).  
PURPOSE The purpose of operating with a horizontal communication is to coordinate the activities of various departments and divisions of the organization. The main purpose of operating with a vertical communication system is to control the flow of information and decision-making.
FLOW OF INFORMATION Information flows between people holding same rank and status.   Information flows form superior to subordinates and vice-versa.
STATE OF FORMALITY Communication is more often informal in nature. More formal in nature.  
MEDIUM OF COMMUNICATION communication is more often done through oral media Communication is mostly done through written media.  
PROBABILITY OF DISTORTION The information passed through horizontal communication is usually free from distortion. The information passed through vertical communication may suffer from distortion especially when passed on verbally.
LENGTH OF THE CHANNEL OF COMMUNICATION The channel of communication is shorter in horizontal communication as it only involves sender and receiver. Vertical communication passes through a long channel of communication i.e from Directors to managers to supervisors to subordinates.  
MAIN DISADVANTAGE If there exist any hostility or rivalry between people of the same rank, information has high risk of being concealed. Movement of information is slow or can be stalled but after a few days the information will reach the junior staff.
NATURE OF THE COMMUNICATION May sometimes require or invite a response. Most often one-way and that the management at higher level may not invite or expect a response from the lower recipient.  
INTENTION OF THE INFORMATION   Information shared through horizontal communication channel is intended to solve a problem, encourage collaboration and coordination of tasks, resolving conflict and resolve conflict. Information shared through vertical communication channel is intended to explain an organization mission or strategy, address complains, give new set of employee regulations, explaining the organization vision, invite suggestion, promote teamwork etc.  
EXAMPLE An example of horizontal communication is managers sharing information that is relevant in coordinating activities of various departments. An example of vertical communication is the board of directors instructing management to take specific measures and actions.

Summary

What is the main difference between Horizontal and Vertical Communication?

Horizontal communication is when information flows between persons holding the same position in an organization. Vertical communication on the other hand, is when communication flows systematically between supervisors and subordinates (Up and Down).