Formal vs. Informal Communication

Formal Communication

In an organization, there are two channels of communication – formal vs. informal communication. 

Formal vs. Informal Communication

Formal Communication

Formal communication refers to the flow of official information through proper, predefined channels and routes. To communicate properly, the flow of information is controlled and needs deliberate effort. Formal communication follows a hierarchical structure and chain of command. The structure is typically top down, from leaders in various departments and senior staff in the organization, which funnel down to lower level employees. Employees are bound to follow formal communication channels while performing their duties.

Formal communication is considered effective as it is a timely and systematic flow of communication.

Types of Formal Communication:

The formal communication is of four types:

1. Downward Communication

Downward communication represents the most stereotypical form of formal communication. Information flows from management level down to lower levels. It is the most common form of formal communication. Downward communication includes orders and instructions represented in oral or written format. Reports, emails, letters and manual communication are commonly used downward communication tools.

2. Upward Communication

Upward communication contains information which passes from subordinate levels up to management and senior levels. Common forms of upward communication include (from employees to managers and above) reports, suggestions, requests, instructions and complaints.

3. Horizontal Communication

This communication refers to communication between individuals who are at the same or similar levels within an organization but have different areas of responsibility. It is slightly more fluid and dependent on cross-individual communication. Typical examples exist as communication between managers of different departments (HR, Marketing, Sales, etc.

4. Diagonal Communication

This occurs when employees of different departments at different levels communicate with each other irrespective of the chain of command. Communication between a floor manager and a Sales team is a prime example of diagonal communication.

Informal Communication

In comparison, informal communication refers to communication which is multidimensional. It moves freely within the organization and is not bound by pre-defined channels and communication routes.

This type of communication is particularly quick. It is far more relational than formal communication and is by nature, a very natural form of communication as people interact with each other freely and can talk about a diverse range of topics, often extending outside of their work duties. Due to the inherent nature of informal communication, it moves a lot faster and does not have a paper trail.

Informal communication in the workplace is often called the ‘grapevine’ and generally begins with employees through social relations. In many cases this communications can turn to formal communication if they are added into the formal communication information flow of a company.

Informal communication is considered effective as employees can discuss work-related issues which save the organization time and money. It also helps to build more productive and healthy relationships in the workforce.

Types of Informal Communication:

The informal communication is of four types:

1.  Single Strand Chain: The communication in which one person tell something to another, who again says something to some other person and the process goes on.

2.  Cluster Chain: The communication in which one person tells something to some of its most trusted people, and then they tells them to their trustworthy friends and the communication continues.

3.  Probability Chain: The communication happens when a person randomly chooses some persons to pass on the information which is of little interest but not important.

4.  Gossip Chain: The communication starts when a person tells something to a group of people, and then they pass on the information to some more people and in this way the information is passed on to everyone.

Knowing when to use formal or informal English at work will depend on the business, the industry, who you are speaking with, and what you are talking about. When you are working cross-culturally or with people you do not know very well, using formal language helps eliminate any misunderstandings and helps you sound polite and professional.

Formal vs. Informal Communication

The following points are substantial, so far as the difference between formal and informal communication is concerned.

·  Reliability: In formal vs. informal communication, formal is the more reliable form, as there is a paper trail. Compared to informal communication which has comparatively less reliability, and is very unlikely to have a paper trail.

·    Speed: Formal communication is slower, sometimes feeling unbearably slow due to bureaucracy. On the other hand, informal communication is very quick, often being instantaneous.

·  Time-Consuming: Formal communication requires a number of different processes before the whole communication flow is complete, whereas informal communication requires very little process time.

·    Information Flow: Information through formal communication is only through predefined channels, whereas information through informal communication moves freely. In formal communication, the information must follow a chain of command. Conversely, informal communication can move in any direction.

·    Secrecy: Secrecy is maintained with formal communication, whereas informal communication makes it hard to maintain full secrecy due to its reliance on individuals.

·  Evidence- In formal communication, the documentary evidence is always available. On the other hand, in the case of informal communication, the supporting documents are not available.

·  Design- In formal vs. informal communication, formal communication is designed by the organization. Informal communication starts itself due to the urge of ‘humans to talk’.

· Name- Formal communication is also known by the name of official communication. Informal Communication is also known by the name of grapevine.

Nowadays, many big organizations have started an open-door policy, in which any employee of any department can communicate directly with the head of an organization, about their complaints, grievances, and requests. This results in reducing the complexity of formal communication.


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