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Sensemaking and distortion of critical upward communication in organizations.

Tourish, Dennis; Robson, Paul


Dennis Tourish

Paul Robson


Most research into feedback has focused on communication from managers to nonmanagerial staff. To a lesser extent, it has more recently addressed upward and 360 degree appraisal systems. In contrast, the role of informal upward communication continues to be largely neglected, especially when it concerns the transmission of opinions critical of managerial orthodoxy. There has been little examination of the sensemaking heuristics employed by both managers and non-managerial staff that stimulates the former to disregard much of the already muted critical upward communication they receive, and the latter to suppress its transmission in the first place. We therefore suggest that managers often over commit to particular courses of action, irrespective of whether they bode ill or well for the organization concerned. In so doing, they frequently demonise those who belong to stigmatised outgroups or who hold contrary value systems. We argue that the consequent elimination of critical upward communication (henceforth, CUC) leads to iatrogenic phenomena “ i.e. organizational problems that are derived from the treatment regime that has been prescribed, rather than from a pre-existing condition. Implications for practice and further research are considered.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Jun 30, 2006
Journal Journal of management studies
Print ISSN 0022-2380
Electronic ISSN 1467-6486
Publisher New Publisher Required
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 43
Issue 4
Pages 711-730
Institution Citation TOURISH, D. and ROBSON, P. 2006. Sensemaking and distortion of critical upward communication in organizations. Journal of management studies [online], 43(4), pages 711-730. Available from:
Keywords Critical upward communication; Iatrogenic organisational interventions


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