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Formal and Informal Communication

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In the words of Thill and Bovee, “Formal communication is that flow of information which follows an official chain of command.”

“Formal communication is a way of communication which passes through a formal and definite network.”

In the words of Thill and Bovee, “The informal communication network carries information along the organisation’s unofficial lines of activity and power.”

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“Informal communication network is a network which works outside the official and formal lines of communication. It is spontaneous and unplanned. No set of rules and regulations are followed in this communication network.”

In this article you will learn all  about formal communication  and informal communication – 1. Definition 2. The characteristics 3. Advantages 4. Limitations

Difference between Formal and Informal Communication – 1. Characteristics 2. Merits 3. Demerits

Formal Communication

Formal communication is that communication which flows along a prescribed network. The members of an organisation desire to communicate with one another following the formal communication network. 

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In formal communication networks, an organisational hierarchical system is followed wherein every employee has a predefined position and status. For instance, a shop floor worker cannot speak directly to the managing director. 

He will speak to his supervisor, who in-turn will talk to the manager (production) and the manager (production) will comm­unicate to the managing director.

The level in the hierarchical system increases or decreases depending on the nature and size of the organisation. A large organisation will have more hierarchical levels while a small organisation will have less number of hierarchical levels. In every organisation there is a formal communication based on clearly defined rights, duties and responsibilities.

Different levels and stages through which communication passes in an organisation is called communication communication. This communication is formed by the rules of the company. 

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Knowledge of the nature and flow of formal communication can be had from the structural pattern of business organisation. This golden formula of communication can be expressed by the clause “Through Proper communication”.


A. Definition of formal Communication

In the words of Thill and Bovee, “Formal communication is that flow of information which follows an official chain of command.”

“Formal communication is a way of communication which passes through a formal and definite network.”

In the words of Chester Bernard, “An Organisation is formal when the activities of two or more persons are consciously coordinated towards a common objective.”


B. The Characteristics of Informal Communication

Some of the characteristics of informal communication are as follows –

i. Written and Oral – Formal communication network may be both written and oral. Top level management normally communicates in the written form like memos, reports, notices, etc. While the lower level of management adopts an oral form of communication.

ii. Formal Relations – In formal communication, there exists an official relationship among the sender and the receiver.

iii. Prescribed Path – The total communication follows a prescribed path and any type of deviation from this path is not allowed. For example, if a shop floor worker wants to communicate something to the general manager (production), the path for the same may be as follows –

Worker → Supervisor → Manager → General Manager.

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iv. Organisational Message – This network is concerned with the authorised organisational message only any personal messages are out of its jurisdiction.

v. Vertical Communication – Formal communication is mainly vertical. Vertical communication refers to that communication wherein flow is from superior officer to the subordinates and vice versa.

vi. Definite and Direct – Formal message is definite and direct. It flows through the specific communications as per the rules of the corporation.


C. The Advantages of Informal Communication

1. It passes through line and authority and consequently ensures the maintenance of authority as well as accountability of the executives in charge. 

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2. It helps to develop intimate relations between immediate boss and his subordinates. 

3. It ensures authenticity and genuineness of the matter communicated because of the responsibility of the person involved. 

4. It keeps uniformity in the dissemination of information. 

5.  The messages are authentical verified; 

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6.  All persons may understand their responsibilities and accountability; 

7.  The sequence and continuity may be possible; 

8.  It makes possible to find out the sources of messages and information; 

9.  It helps in maintaining disciplines.


D. The Disadvantages of Informal Communication

1. It increases the workload of various managers as all communications are to be transmitted through them. 

2. It widens the communication gap between top executives and employees at the lower level. As a result it adversely affects their relationships. 

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3. It dilutes the accuracy of the message when filtering and coloring take place at the middle level. 

4. It encourages the tendencies of red tapism, delaying tactics and suppressing information by the boss for causing unnecessary harassment to the subordinate.

5.  There is some delay in the process of communicating messages; 

6. There are unnecessary and undesirable interventions due to different levels and positions in it. 

7.  It obstructs free, smooth and accurate circulation of communication in an organisation; 

8. It cannot develop personal contact and relationship; 

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9.  The distortion of facts may be possible particularly in upward communication. 


E. Merits of Formal Communication

It helps in maintaining the authority of line executives over their subordinates who are responsible to get the work done by their subordinates and are answerable to their bosses. The responsibility of the subordinates for the activities carried out by them can easily be fixed. 

In formal communication the official communications enable the routine and standardised information to pass without claiming much managerial attention. Essentially, executives and managers may devote much of their precious time on matters of topical significance. 


F. Demerits of Formal Communication

Communication through communications of command greatly obstructs free and uninterrupted form of information. It increases the workload of the line superior because all communications are transmitted through them. Thus, it leaves the superiors with little time to perform other organisational functions well. 

In most of the big organisations, contacts between the top executives and the subordinates at the lowest level are far remote. Very often they do not recognise each other. This adversely affects the relations of executives and subordinates. 

There are more points for filtering the messages because there is a long line of superior from the top to the bottom and at every point, the message is filtered or distorted. Thus, it reduces the accuracy of the messages.


G. The Limitations of Informal Communication

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i. Increased Workload – It increases the workload of the line executives because all communications are transmitted through them. Thus, it consumes much of the time of the superiors and they are left with little time to perform other organisational functions well.

ii. Possibility of Leakage and Distortion of Communication – There is a long line of superiors in formal communication networks and this increases the possibility of leakage and distortion of communication.

iii. Dilution of Accuracy of Message – In formal communication there is a chance that accuracy of information may be diluted. It is because of the chances of filtering the information at a large hierarchical level of communication network.

iv. Overlooking by the Officers – There are more chances of red-tapism and delay tactics in this method because executives generally overlook the interest of the subordinates. Any information upward or downward favouring subordinates is more often suppressed or delayed by the superiors.

v. Delay in action – In the formal organisation structure, the communication is done by following the formal and definite network. As a result there is delay in action and work.


H. Assumptions of Informal Communication

The assumptions of formal communication are as given here: 

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(i) It is communication which is based on some position and authentical status; 

(ii) It is interlinked between different posts and positions, not between persons or the group of persons; 

(iii) It can be perform on the basis of the rights and duties of the persons; 

(iv) There are predetermined a rules, processes and functions particularly mentioned in organisational charts; 

(v) It may be upward, downward and horizontal communication also.


I. Example of Formal Communication

  1. Letters, 
  2. Memos, 
  3. Circulars, 
  4. Notices, 
  5. Reports, 
  6. Departmental meetings, 
  7. Conferences, 
  8. Company journal, etc. 

Informal Communications

Parallel to the formal network lies the informal network, a secondary network consisting primarily of personal communication. It comprises thousands upon thousands of personal communications that occur in a business organisation. 

Such communications follow no set pattern; they form an ever-changing and infinitely complex structure linking all the members of the organisation. As people go about their work they have casual conversation with their friends in the office.

They joke and kid around and discuss many things – their houses, their families, electricity problems, world cup, football tournaments, movies, other people in the organisation, etc. 

Although many of these conversations deal with personal matters, business is often discussed as well. In fact, most of the information that travels along the informal communication network is not a planned or deliberately created communication of communication.

It is free from all formalities. No formal organisational chart is followed to convey messages. It is completely based on the informal relations of the sender and the receiver of the communication. It does not have a beginning or end.


A.  Definition of Informal Communication

In the words of Thill and Bovee, “The informal communication network carries information along the organisation’s unofficial lines of activity and power.”

“Informal communication network is a network which works outside the official and formal lines of communication. It is spontaneous and unplanned. No set of rules and regulations are followed in this communication network.”


B. Characteristics of Informal Communication

The characteristics of informal communication are: 

1. Informal communication is born out of social relations and it is beyond the restrictions of the organisation. 

2. It helps to collect the information about the work and the individual. 

3. It does not follow a definite communication. 

4. There is a Possibility of rumour and distortion due to lack of responsibility on individuals. 

5. It helps in developing better human relations. 

6. It helps to satisfy the social needs of the worker. 


C. Advantages of Informal Communication

i. Speedy Communication – Communication travels at a faster speed because there is no formal line of communication. People interact in formal groups which makes it possible to spread the message very fast.

ii. Multi-Dimensional – It is multi-dimensional. As the communication takes place in an informal group comprising individuals of varied nature, the topic of communication varies a lot. The communication may go to any extent. All limits with regard to direction and degree of communication are self-imposed.

iii. Dynamic – This system of communication is dynamic and reacts quickly because information communications have their say in the group and developed within the organisation.

iv. Supplementary to Formal communications – At times, informal communications supplement the formal communication. Certain matters which cannot be communicated through formal communications are effectively communicated through informal communications. 

There are various instances where top management has used informal communications of communication to clarify its point of view to the employees which otherwise were creating confusion or were not appealing to the employees.

v. Social Relations – Informal communication is born out of community meals, parties, social occasions, etc., therefore, it is free from all formalities. A superior can gather more information from subordinates which may be difficult to get through formal communication.

Some more advantages:

(i) It is more helpful in making cordial decision making; 

(ii) It is more flexible; 

(iii) It can develop the motivational aspects within working environment; 

(iv) It is more effective and applicable means of communication; 

(v) It satisfies the inner urge or needs of the people; 

(vi) It is more effective means for communicating the rules, policies, values and tradition of the organisation; 

(vii) It may provide needful feedback to managerial cadres on their decisions and actions. 


D. Disadvantages of Informal Communication:

The informal communication has certain disadvantages and drawbacks, discussed below: 

1. Misleading: It usually happens that informal communication carries half- truths, rumours, false and fabricated stories, etc. Because of their lack of accuracy and authenticity they misinform employees or executives or even mislead them. 

2. Distortions: The chances of distortion of the message are very high as every person hearing the message tries to add, subtract, mould or colour the message according to his whims and wishes. As a result, the original communication is lost in the maze of different opinions. 

3. Disastrous for organisations: Rumours, distorted messages, gossip etc. create misunderstandings among employees and adversely affect their relations. 

Sometimes executives make decisions based on wrong feedback or sometimes employees unnecessarily react to certain management decisions because of their wrong presumptions and prejudices. 

4. No responsibility: In formal communication responsibility for misinformation or misleading facts can be pinpointed. This is not so in case of informal communication. 


E. Limitations:

i. Distorted Communication – This system of communication often carries half-truths, rumours and distorted facts at a very fast pace. This is due to the fact that there is no system of checking the genuineness of the message.

ii. Erratic Message – Informal communication normally carries the erratic messages and thus no action can be taken on the basis of these messages. Even if the action is taken it may lead the organisation to a difficult situation because responsibility for erratic messages cannot be fixed.

Informal communication is a part and parcel of the organisational process. The management cannot check its existence in the organisation. The management can only minimise its adverse effects by controlling the distorted and erratic messages spread by it. 


F. Applicability of Informal Communication

The informal communication is sometimes referred to as ‘Grapevine’ communication to manage informal relations in the organisation. 

It may be applicable at the two levels as given here: 

(i) Individual Level: 

At the individual level, a person can communicate to a person or only one person. They can interact individually with each or a single person. Sometimes, this interaction may be called gossip or personal interaction etc. 

(ii) Group Level: 

At the group level, some persons or a group of persons can interact with other persons or a group of persons, i.e. called group level communication. 

7. Types of Informal Communication: 

There are four types of informal communications: 

(a) Single stand 

(b) Gossip 

(c) Probability 

(d) Cluster 

In a single stand each person tells the other in sequence. In gossip one individual tells all on a non-selective basis. In probability, the individual tells other individuals randomly according to the law of probability. In cluster, the individual tells the other selectively i.e. to persons whom he trusts. Of the four, cluster is most popular in the organization. 


Difference Between Formal and Informal Communication

Formal Communication 

Characteristics:

1. It is official.

2. It is correct and precise.

3. It follows a hierarchy or chain of command.

4. Flow of communication has a fixed pattern.

5. It is both oral and written but mostly black & white.

Merits:

1. There is accountability

2. No duplication of communication.

3. Usually, there is no ambiguity and less chance of rumours arising.

3. The flow of messages is effortless.

4. There is always a record of the communication.

Demerits:

1. It can be time consuming.

2. It is cumbersome.

3. Obstructs free and open flow of communication.

Informal Communication 

Characteristics:

1. It is not official but most of the grapevine is business related and quite accurate.

2. It is always oral.

3. It is pervasive and exists at all levels of organization.

4. There is no proof or record of such type of communication.

5. Grapevine is not always bad and is mostly used for faster communication.

6. It is most active when there is change taking place or when the level of fear is high – during layoffs, acquisitions, mergers, etc.

7. The grapevine is normal, or a vital part of any organization.

Merits:

1. A very fast method of spreading information.

2. May give some information that may otherwise be difficult to collect through formal communications.

3. An outlet for workers to share their anxieties, worries and frustrations.

4. Less expensive than formal communications. 

5. The managers get to know the reactions of their subordinates on their policies. Thus, the feedback obtained is quick compared to formal communication of communication.

Demerits:

1. No accountability

2. Chances of information getting distorted are extremely high.

3. May lead to misunderstandings and cause trouble.

4. Information cannot be verified.

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