Category Archives: Organizational Communication

Discursive Space

Human organizations are unique social systems, because they employ both

human and nonhuman communication to construct and maintain shared meaning, coherence, and functional consistency (Aula & Siira, 2010; Putnam & Fairhurst, 2015; Kopaneva, 2015; Taylor, 2000). Constitutive Communication Theory is an institutional theory declaring that organizations do not exist as an object or entity separate from the ongoing communication between internal and external individuals who depend on each other’s function to achieve collective goals (Kuhn, 2012). These interactions create an experience for the individuals that is interpreted and shared through an informal communication arena. As these experiences are communicated between individuals, the style of communication, as well as the content and context, helps to construct a meaning of work for them. These constructed meanings then scale up to become discursive-structures that embed into organizational discourse. These discursive-structures are then communicated back down to the individuals through a formal communication arena or negotiated further in the informal communication arena (Aula & Siira, 2010; Fairhurst & Putnam, 2004).

This discourse is what informs present and future individuals on what to expect and how to function as members of the organization. The discursive-structures can function as a constraint on individual behavior by creating weighted decision-making processes toward the already established organizational meaning for that situation (Blaschke, et al. as cited in Kuhn, 2012); the result is a shared reality constructed from communication to inform what beliefs and behaviors create value and survivability for the individual in that system (McClellan, 2013; Fairhurst & Putnam, 2004; Anderson, 1999). The company is not a thing by itself, but through the collective communication and subsequent, regulated action of individuals, a function emerges that no single individual would be able to achieve without the organizational system informing their behavior (Taylor, 2000).

Kozlowski & Klein (2000), propose that all human organization has an individual-level, a group-level, and an organization-level of function. Each level emerges from the activity of the one below it, and the function of each varies in degree of influence on the company as a whole. These levels interact with each other through communication arenas invoked by the interdependent individuals of the system (Aula & Siira, 2010). For instance, the company communicates universal goals, expectations, and functions to its employees through uniform texts such as mission statements, training manuals, job descriptions, and vision statements. Management, a group that consists of individuals given the authority to interpret organization-level texts, then communicates these texts to the individual and group-levels that are responsible for behaving in ways that satisfy specific company goals (Kopaneva, 2015; Kuhn, 2012).

What gives management authority is the organization-level discourse that informs the individual-level interpretation of her or him as an authority figure that must be obeyed; the entire organizational system has established, and agreed to, a discursive-structure that supports the idea that a certain individual has power over others in the workplace; any manager has very little power outside of the discourse and behaviors perpetuating that meaning for their function. The managers would likely not, by default, be able to command these individuals outside of their work context. Further, in a complex adaptive system (CAS), feedback loops between individual behaviors and perceptions can construct or deconstruct established organization-level meaning for some or all of the individuals (Anderson, 1999; Kopaneva, 2015; Rost & Barker, 2000).

If the manager’s behavior does not live up to employee and/or organizational expectations for management behavior, the discursive structure giving the manager authority could be deconstructed by the dissenting individuals through an informal and spontaneous communication arena. If the formal institutional communication arena then insists on maintaining that manager or group as an authority, then incongruent meaning about organizational competence might be dissipated throughout the individual-level. This could create perceived differences between management and employee groups that could manifest into intergroup conflict (Kreisberg & Dayton, 2016) that undermines the cooperation needed for excellent organization-level outcomes. It could also cause individuals to resist each other and the organization (Prasad & Prasad, 2000) or leave the organizational system entirely (Hetzler & Speth, 2008), rather than continue working complacently under conditions they experience and agree to be negative.