Communication Pathways

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Sep 01, 2006

There are two types of communication pathways present in any social/working environment:

  • Apparent (superficial structure)
  • Underlying (the real pathway)

The apparent pathway of communications presents itself within the hospital as a memo, a staff meeting or an oral directive from an administrator or owner. These are the apparent rules and methods of doing things. It would be a mistake to assume that most communication occurs within this channel.

The apparent structure of communication is superficial at best. There is so much variation and so many exceptions to the rules that in order to get anything done, a secondary system takes over—the underlying pathways of least resistance. These include:

  • Gossip (conversation that, whether intended or not, hurts other people or their reputations).
  • Grapevine.
  • Conversations within cliques.
  • Impromptu small-group discussion.

Although gossip in its most pernicious form must be expunged if at all possible from the work place, its kissing cousin "the grapevine" has value.

"The grapevine" is an underlying and ongoing line of casual conversation that if listened to carefully can help reveal problems that are occurring within the workplace.

If owners and administrators will "tune in" and listen on the right frequency they can solve problems in a more direct way, thereby using the natural system of communication for the benefit of everyone. I recommend that you take 20 minutes to read the "One Minute Manager" by Ken Blanchard.

David Lane is a graduate of the University of Illinois. He owns and manages two practices in southern Illinois. Dr. Lane completed a master's degree in agricultural economics in 1996. He is a speaker and author of numerous practice management articles. Dr. Lane also offers a broad range of consulting services and can be reached at
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