Difference Between Horizontal And Vertical Communication

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Organizational communication can take on a variety of forms. The most common categories of communication are diagonal, horizontal and vertical. Each of these types of communication has its own specific qualities, but at the same time, certain factors can overlap from one category to another.

In this article, I discuss the two most common (Horizontal and Vertical) communication separately, but I also compare and contrast them with one another to see where they converge and diverge. 

Horizontal and vertical communication both are communication techniques used in the companies all over the world, while some companies use the horizontal method of communication while some use vertical method of communication and some use both of them together. 

What is Horizontal Communication?

The term horizontal represents anything that exists on a similar line, and the meaning of horizontal communication can easily be inferred from the definition of horizontal itself. In other words, Horizontal communication also referred to as lateral communication, is is “the exchange, imparting or sharing of information, ideas or feelings between people within a community, peer groups, departments or units of an organization who are at or about the same hierarchical level as each other for the purpose of coordinating activities, efforts or fulfilling a common purpose or goal.

Horizontal communication is precise and short because the flow of communication is between peers and there is no involvement of any intermediary person or department. It decreases misunderstanding between departments working on the same project, thereby increasing efficiency and productivity.

Horizontal communication facilitates transmitting information across the organizational levels rather than pieces coming from top to down. The goal of this practice is to promote coordination and cooperation among employees with a similar rank, position, or status in the company. With this method, organizations aim to improve skills like problem-solving and teamwork by streamlining the flow of information among people at equal hierarchical levels.

An example of horizontal communication will be communication between purchase and finance manager who are at same posts or communication between executives working in the same departments like production or marketing department and so on.

What is Vertical communication?

The term vertical happens to be a synonym for the term diagonal and represents anything that exists between cross-sectional levels. In other words, it represents a channel of communication that is found between people who are situated at different levels of hierarchy in a given workplace. Vertical communication is mostly available in organizations that maintain a proper hierarchy system.

Vertical communication is a communication process in which information or messages flows between or among the superiors, supervisers, leaders, or manager to subordinates, employees or team members of different levels of an organizational structure in the downward or upward direction. In other words, in vertical communication, the communication is between superior and subordinate and not between the people working in the same department or at the same position.

In vertical communication, employees are given the chance to give feedback, although the final decision is taken by top management. With vertical communication, management interacts with employees and makes room to address their concerns. It creates an enabling environment for participation in decision-making.

However, vertical communication tends to be dominated by what flows in the downward direction. In other words, information often is filtered as it moves up and down the chain of command, watering down the message or changing the nature of the information.

As such, vertical communication may be upward or downward in nature. Some examples of vertical communication include instructions, formal reports, business orders, and work reports. This form of communication may be formal or informal.

Horizontal vs Vertical Communication In Tabular Form

Points of ComparisonHorizontal CommunicationVertical Communication
DescriptionHorizontal communication is when information flows between persons holding the same position in an organizationVertical communication is when communication flows systematically between supervisors and subordinates (Up and Down).  
PurposeThe 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.
Information FlowInformation flows between people holding same rank and status.  Information flows form superior to subordinates and vice-versa.
FormalityCommunication is more often informal in nature.More formal in nature.  
MediumCommunication is more often done through oral mediaCommunication is mostly done through written media.  
DistortionThe information passed is usually free from distortion.The information passed may suffer from distortion especially when passed on verbally.
Communication ChannelThe channel of communication is shorter as it only involves sender and receiver.Channel of communication is longer, information passes i.e from Directors to managers to supervisors to subordinates.  
BenefitsIf 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 CommunicationMay 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.  
Nature Information shared is intended to solve a problem, encourage collaboration and coordination of tasks, resolving conflict and resolve conflict.Information 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.  
ExampleAn 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 report back.

Advantages of Vertical Communication

  • Vertical communication brings all the people working at various levels of an organization within the scope of communication.
  • Information and work reports are easily collected via Vertical Communication.
  • It helps maintain good relations between the superior and the subordinates since the flow of information is effective and organized.
  • Vertical communication facilitates job assignment and job evaluation of the employees.

Advantages of Verbal Communications

  • Creative ideas may go unspoken or not reach decision-makers.
  • Lower-level employees may feel neglected.
  • Vertical communication system is a delay process. It maintains long chain of command.
  • In many cases, vertical communication becomes ineffective as the sender and the receiver differ in their respective positions or designations.

Advantages of Horizontal Communication

  • Promotes teamwork and a company-wide sense of unity.
  • Decreases misunderstandings because the same information is shared with everyone.
  • Improves problem-solving skills and boosts creativity.
  • Makes it easier to coordinate teams and tasks.
  • Horizontal communication is usually free from distortion. Since the sender and the receiver of horizontal communication can exchange information directly, there is no possibility of distortion of the message.
  • Helps employees feel empowered and this succeeds in increasing productivity and efficiency of the staff.
  • Horizontal channel of communication saves time. Many urgent decisions in the organization may be taken on the spot.
  • Horizontal channel removes jealousy, misunderstanding, etc. among the persons of equal status in the organization.
  • It may result in better implementation of top-level decisions because employees on lower levels are permitted to coordinate directly with each other in the implementation of the decision made at the top.

Disadvantages of Horizontal Communication

  • The success of horizontal communication depends on good relationship between sender and receiver.
  • Management may have a greater problem maintaining control as horizontal communication increases. It can be chaotic if not carefully managed.
  • Horizontal communication can also create conflict between employees exposed to each other through the communication process.
  • It may create a lack of discipline if strict procedural rules of communications are not imposed and followed.
  • Interdepartmental Rivalry can hamper effectiveness of Horizontal communication. If two departments do not get along, lateral communication will be useless.

Key Takeaways

  • All the communication taking place within an organization is categorized as vertical, horizontal and diagonal. 
  • Vertical communication refers to the communication of workers at different levels within the organization.
  • Horizontal communication refers to the communication that takes place between workers in an organization that are at the same level.
  • Horizontal communication is mostly done through oral media. Vertical communication is mostly done through written media.
  • Horizontal communication represents an exchange of knowledge, ideas and experiences.
  • Vertical communication is mostly characterized by technical or management interactions essentially focused on the success of the project.
  • Vertical communication is mostly available in organizations that maintain a proper hierarchy system.