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Communication Climate: Definition & Concept

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  • 0:01 Communication Climate Defined
  • 0:30 Good Communication Climates
  • 2:01 Bad Communication Climates
  • 4:38 Who Determines the…
  • 5:11 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Kasza
Communication climate refers to the tone of relationships between people who work or live together. This lesson teaches about the types of communication climates and how people behave within them.

Communication Climate Defined

A communication climate is the general tone of the relationships among individuals who interact with one another on a regular basis. Communication climates exist among people in all kinds of settings (at home, school, and work, for example). In general conversation, people might describe communication climate in terms such as 'my work team has a good vibe' or 'at work, most of us see eye-to-eye about things.'

Good Communication Climates

We all have enjoyed relationships with people where it's easy to talk together and understand one another. In these kinds of relationships, an exchange of information and ideas takes place, and virtually everyone is open to listening and discussing projects and issues. Maybe you once participated in a project group at school where the members were excited about the subject matter and eager to work together. Everyone made an effort to be friendly and helpful. You accomplished a lot at your meetings, and conversation seemed to flow without effort. That easy flow was characteristic of a good, or supportive, communication climate. Other characteristics of that good communication climate probably included people treating each other with respect by listening without interruption, promptly responding to one another's email messages, and considering each other's viewpoints even when there was honest disagreement.

Researchers have studied workplace communication climates for many decades. One result of this ongoing research is a list of seven traits common to good communication climates:

  1. Employees are valued
  2. A high level of trust exists
  3. Conflict is invited and resolved
  4. Creative dissent is welcomed
  5. Employee input is solicited
  6. Employees are well informed
  7. Feedback is ongoing

Not every good communication climate has all seven traits, but at least four or more are important to creating an overall tone of cooperation and respect.

Bad Communication Climates

The flipside of the good communication climate is—you guessed it—a bad one, sometimes referred to as a defensive communication climate.

Let's use a small business environment to illustrate a bad communication climate. Typically, when a small business has a bad communication climate, people do not know for certain what is expected of them, which leads to misunderstandings about what they are supposed to be working on. People may even make assumptions about what they or others are supposed to be doing. That increases the chances for misunderstanding. Sometimes a strictly enforced hierarchy in the company—the levels of job titles and responsibilities such as president and support staff—makes it impossible for people on different levels to communicate clearly with each other.

Consider Bethany's experience. Between her sophomore and junior years of college, she landed a coveted internship at an advertising agency. A marketing major, Bethany couldn't wait to learn from seasoned advertising professionals and maybe even contribute to a big ad campaign. From her first week on the job, however, Bethany sensed something wasn't right.

She asked a lot of questions—her college advisor had told her that was a good idea—but her supervisor always seemed to avoid answering them directly. Bethany suspected her supervisor was protecting her own position by not sharing clear expectations with Bethany. Not having the right information could make her look bad, and Bethany became very worried. At meetings, people argued a lot, often saying things like 'I thought you were supposed to be working on the hospital account,' and 'that writing project was supposed to be mine!' Somehow, these arguments never seemed to be resolved.

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