Communication vs. Communications


Are you more focused on communication or on communications? That little “s” at the end of the word can make a lot of difference in how we approach our work and how others view our role. Communication refers to an ongoing process and has an emphasis on strategies that deliver meaning and purpose. Communications refers to individual messages and has an emphasis on various tactics to deliver them.

The difference between communication and communications is the difference between a strategic and a tactical approach. In internal communication, it could be the difference between creating and enabling authentic, ongoing dialogues with and between employees, and simply imparting information and telling employees what to do. Here are some other key differences between the two approaches:

Communication Communications
Focused on getting through. Focused on sending out.
Seeks to influence and include. Seeks to command and control.
Communicates what and why. Communicates what.
Seeks to win hearts and minds. Seeks to win minds.
Messages are integrated and coordinated. Messages are fragmented and one-off.
Feedback is built into the process. Feedback isn’t integrated into the process.
Dedicated to meaningful outcomes. Dedicated to measurable outputs.

Employees in most organizations could use a whole lot more communication and a whole lot less communications.


Mike Klein

about 8 years ago

An important point, one always worth making. Perhaps the distinction may well be looked at as points on a spectrum, where one wants to tilt the balance towards "communication" without losing some of the more tactical benefits of "communications"--like measurability, for instance.


about 8 years ago

Great points. But, did you mean "Messages are integrated and coordinated."... not "ingrates"?

Paul Barton

about 8 years ago

Thanks for the comment and the catch Bev. I've corrected it.


about 8 years ago

Carolyn McCombs

about 8 years ago

This resonated with me hugely - I've always noticed the lack of emphasis on the two-way aspect of communication within many organisations, with the default being to drive messages and information out, out, out... I believe that meaningful engagement is only possible if the people being "communicated to" are actually "communicated with", if they are able and encouraged to "plug in" and actively participate in the conversation. Questions, challenges and shared opinions will often lead to greater clarity - and greater clarity often leads to better understanding. Leaders should be able to answer "why" and "why now" and "why not" - and as communication advisers, we should create tactics, platforms and channels that have the space and flow for this to happen.

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