Helen and Cecil,

who gave me a love of knowledge,


who has given me knowledge of love,


Travis and Hannah,

our gifts of love.


Ed, Helen, and Kim,

who are the foundation,


who built the home,



who keeps it warm

with all my love.


From its beginning more than 20 years ago, the goal of Strategic Organizational Communication has been to provide a unified description of the incredibly diverse array of ideas that make up our rapidly expanding field. Responses to the first six editions have been especially gratifying. Readers have been particularly complimentary about the level of sophistication of the book and its ability to integrate research from a number of academic disciplines. Responses to the later editions also have praised our efforts to place organizations and organizational communication within a broader social, economic, and cultural context and have appreciated our relaxed, engaging writing style. Of course, we have retained or expanded each of these characteristics.

We also have tried to maintain and strengthen the theoretical framework that has been central to the book since its inception. Each edition has focused on the two-level concept of strategic choice making. We believe that people make choices about the overall strategies that they will use to operate in the societies and organizations they will live within. Ironically, people tend to normalize and naturalize these choices, treating them as inviolable truths that need not be justified rather than as choices that are under their control. Eventually they institutionalize these taken-for-granted assumptions in social systems and organizational structures and practices that make some options seem to be the only “rational” choice and make others seem to be impossible. These overall choices, in turn, create the specific situations that people encounter every day – the challenges they face, the resources they have available to manage those challenges, and the guidelines and constraints that limit the options that are available to them. People adapt strategically to the situations that they create, but in adapting, they tend to reproduce those situations, creating a complicated cycle of acting, creating situations, and adapting.

Understanding this action–situation–adaptation cycle requires people to realize these things:


Readers also have been very open about changes that they would like to see us make. As a result, each new edition really has been a new edition. This one is no exception.

The New and Improved

The most obvious change involves our efforts to locate organizational communication within the new, global economy. We started to focus on globalization in the fifth edition, and have increased that focus as the world economy has become progressively more interconnected. The same progression has been true of our treatment of communication technologies, and for the same reason – their importance continues to grow. Both concepts are woven through this edition because they are woven into the fabric of contemporary organizations. We also have added a chapter on “Organizational Change,” since change is both the impetus and the outcome of strategic adaptation. We also have expanded the analysis of “Ethics and Organizational Rhetoric” (Chapter 12) that we introduced in the sixth edition, and have updated it to encompass the collapse of the world financial industry in 2007–2008, as well as subsequent taxpayer bailouts and the continuing Great Recession. We both have long been interested in ethical issues facing contemporary organizations, as evidenced in Charley’s The Ethical Nexus (1993) and a special issue of Communication Research on “Communication in the Era of the Disposable Worker” that we coedited in 1997.

Other changes are more subtle, and each one reflects recent advances in organizational communication theory and research. Chapter 7 deals with dissent and employee resistance in more detail, and now includes an extended case study on bullying in organizations. Chapter 8 revises and reorganizes the discussion of decision making to reflect important new research related to bounded rationality as the “default mode” of decision making, and links it to processes of human evolution. Chapter 12 includes new case studies involving organizational ethics, and many of the cases that we have carried over from the sixth edition have been substantially revised. Eleven of the 24 case studies in this edition are new, and six of the ones we retained from the sixth edition have been revised. Copies of the cases we deleted from all previous editions will be available on the book’s website (

Oldies but Goodies

There are two aspects of Strategic Organizational Communication that we never want to change. One is the extensive research base for the book. The bibliography for this edition is abbreviated in comparison to earlier editions, but as in earlier editions it identifies readings that are especially appropriate for graduate students. In general, we have focused on works published after 1990, and have cited earlier sources only if they are classics in organizational communication research and theory. As a result, the endnotes for each chapter provide a number of additional readings and web citations on virtually every facet of contemporary organizational communication research and theory.

The second aspect that we hope always to retain is the conceptual coherence of the analysis. Two beliefs underlie all that we say in this book. The first is that organizations (and societies) are sites in which various tensions and contradictions are negotiated through communication (this idea is explained at length in Chapter 1). The second belief is that understanding organizations and organizational communication requires an analysis of both symbolic and structural processes.

We realize that this both-and perspective is an anomalous position in a discipline that relishes either-or distinctions between functionalism and interpretivism, qualitative and quantitative research methods, and so on. We also realize that advocates of each of these polar terms often will feel that we are too sympathetic with the opposite pole and spend too little space examining their favored position. But we have consistently tried both to balance various perspectives and to indicate how each can be enriched by the key concepts of the others. Life is simply too complex for either-or thinking to capture its nuances; organizations are far too fluid and complicated for bimodal or trimodal paradigms to reveal much of importance.


Like the earliest editions, this book is divided into three units. Unit I introduces the theoretical framework that unifies the book, develops the concept of strategies of organizing, and introduces the frame of reference for thinking about and analyzing organizations that will be utilized repeatedly in the remainder of the book. Unit II examines those strategies of organizing in more detail, discusses the communicative strategies that members of organizations might use to strategically manage the situations created by applications of those strategies of organizing, and offers a critical analysis of each. Unit II concludes with a discussion of contingency theories of organizing, and of the process of choosing among available strategies. Unit III examines key issues facing organizations during the early twenty-first century – organizational power and politics, organizational decision making and conflict, organizational change, issues related to workforce diversity, globalization, and ethics and organizational rhetoric.


If they are to be effective, all communicative acts must be interactive. This dictum includes the writing of books. Consequently, our greatest vote of thanks goes to the many readers of the earlier editions who made thoughtful and valuable suggestions for improvement. Of the advice that we received on the different drafts of this edition, the comments of many colleagues were exceptionally helpful: Linda Putnam, George Cheney, Kathy Miller, Kevin Barge, Ted Zorn, Steve Corman, Bob McPhee, John Lammers, Peter Monge, Janet Fulk, Joe Folger, Michelle Shumate, and Trina Wright are constant sources of exciting new ideas. Our students are a constant source of insightful questions and valuable suggestions, and one, Elizabeth Odom, wrote much of the “On Death and Dying” case study in Chapter 7. A number of anonymous reviewers made many helpful comments for this new edition. The editorial staff at Wiley-Blackwell provided superb support at all stages of this project. We would like to express our deep appreciation to Elizabeth Swayze, Julia Kirk, Allison Kostka, and Margot Morse, and also to freelances Matthew Brown, Cheryl Adam, and Alta Bridges, for project management, copy-editing, and proofreading respectively. Private encouragement was provided by Betty Webber Conrad and Lisa O’Dell, and Travis, Hannah, and Sam helped us keep our priorities straight.

Charles Conrad

College Station, Texas

Marshall Scott Poole

Urbana, Illinois

June 2011