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The Keys to Effective Communication in Public Organizations

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By A. Hannibal Leach
April 19, 2016

An important component found within highly effective public organizations, is a strong culture of communication. Effective communication within a public organization makes an important and crucial contribution, both to its immediate and long-term success. Communication at all levels within an organization must flow smoothly and at a functional level. Senior-level management must be able to effectively convey information to the midlevel managers, who in turn must convey information to the line supervisors, and so forth. Communication within an organization must also allow for channels to open from the bottom-up.

AL- thumbnail_Persuasive CommunicationA generation of business books, management books and even military books, attest that leaders must be willing to empower those entrusted to do their jobs. This also means that leaders must strongly encourage a productive dialogue with their workforce and be able to listen carefully to their needs and professional input. As we have witnessed over the past few decades, it is also important for communication to travel horizontally in public organizations as well. When employees are able to share parts of their successes, trials and other experiences with fellow co-workers and counterparts, they become more aware of different ways to make a positive contribution to the trajectory of their respective careers and to the organization itself.

One form of communication that public managers and other members within the organization indulge while on the job is persuasive communication. Those who engage in persuasive communication seek to persuade their receivers to accept their particular points of view. Because all members within an organization engage in persuasive communication (some more than others), it is important to understand how to execute it most effectively. Denhardt, Denhardt and Aristigueta point out three keys to unlocking the secret to effective persuasive communication in public organizations.

One noted key to effective persuasive communication is the actual credibility of the source. Extensive research into this subject reveals that senders of information that are widely deemed as credible, are more effective in persuading others than senders of information with lower amounts of credibility. This means that in order to persuasively communicate most effectively, one must find ways to increase their own credibility, especially in the eyes of those most likely to receive the messages, as well as within the organization in general. Two things that can create or enhance credibility are expertise and trustworthiness. Expertise and trustworthiness gives receivers of information the confidence they need in order to rely on the senders.

Another key to persuasive communication is the character of the message. As the authors stress, “Although we think of persuasive messages as involving rationality and objectivity, there also are emotional elements that enter into the process of persuasion, and these elements can be addressed through either a hard sell approach or a soft sell approach.” This concept is important to understand because even though the contents of a message are highly persuasive, the way in which the message is delivered will significantly impact the way in which the receiver takes or understands the message.

The final key to persuasive communication involves the range of acceptance. According to Denhardt, Denhardt and Aristigueta, the range of acceptance is “A range within which [receivers] are willing to entertain beliefs or attitudes different from their own.” If an argument falls within this range of acceptance, then receivers will be more willing to accept it. However, if the argument falls outside of this range, then the opposite will occur and will prompt the receiver to close their door of acceptance. At this point, the message becomes just too much for the receiver to comfortably embrace. This final key means that senders should make a careful assessment of their receiver’s range of acceptance before beginning their approach or in deciding whether to proceed at all.

As members within an organization undertake their various operations, understanding the keys to persuasive communication may offer them another route to increase their level of performance and efficiency. Whether it is by a lower-level employee seeking to persuade a supervisor to adopt a newly discovered model that will boost productivity or a senior manager looking to persuade other relevant stakeholders to adopt a new set of community-friendly guidelines, mastering the skill of persuasive communication is something that should be aggressively sought.


Author: A. Hannibal Leach, MA, MPA, was previously employed as a congressional aide in the office of former Congressman Bart Gordon. He is chairman of the Center for Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy, a think tank that provides management consulting services. His scholarly research focuses on American politics, public management and foreign policy. You can reach Mr. Leach at [email protected].

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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