Definition: Formal communication is the structured and official flow of information between leaders, employees, colleagues, and other people at various levels in the organization. It is a deliberate and controlled effort that is effective when it is systematic and timely.
Both formal and informal communication is part of most organizations but it is formal that is given more preference because of its legal value. This type of formal communication channel conforms to a typical organizational hierarchy where all the people have to follow the set regulation, standards, rules, and policy.
The formal communication channels are predefined in a company and everyone from the top leadership to managers and other employees in different departments has to follow the chain of command diligently within an organization.
Table of Contents
Types of Formal Communication
It refers to Vertical, Horizontal, and Diagonal forms of communication amongst which Vertical communication is further categorized into two subtypes. A brief overview of every type of communication are as follows-
1. Vertical Communication
Vertical communication is a type of communication where the flow of information takes place among people at different levels and positions from top to bottom and vice-versa. Here the communication moves both downward and upward from superiors to a subordinate or vice-versa as per the demand of the hour. The vertical formal communication is further subdivided into the following form of communication
a. Downward Communication
When communication moves in a downward motion and messages pass from the top management level to various subordinate levels it is known as downward communication. This type of communication channel is most common in an organization that moves in a typical chain of command motion and conforms to the organizational hierarchy. The nature of communication is directive and authoritative and the purpose is to get things done. Downward communication includes instructions, policies, information, and order. It may be written like displays, electronic news, notice, reports, handbooks, and manuals or oral like meetings, speeches, telephonic conversation, and face-to-face personal conversation. An advantage of this form of formal communication channel is that the information flow is timely to improve work performance and reach business goals within an organization.
b. Upward Communication
When communication moves in an upward motion and the flow of information is from the lower levels to the superiors it is known as upward communication. This form of formal communication channels starts from the lowest stage and travels to the next stage and so on until it reaches the upper level. The nature of communication is non-directive and non-authoritative and the purpose is to provide feedback. Upward communication includes complaints, requests, opinions, reports, reactions, suggestions etc. and proves helpful to people in management levels in taking important decisions for the company.
2. Horizontal Communication
Horizontal communication is also referred to as lateral communication and occurs when the flow of information is between two people belonging to the same level or status. As the name suggests this type of communication channel moves horizontally between employees belonging to the same level of departments even if their area of responsibility is different. Horizontal formal communication includes mutual issues, information, suggestions, requests, etc., and usually may occur between managers and colleagues of different departments like finance, marketing Human resources, etc. to establish effective communication between different departments in a workplace.
3. Diagonal Communication
When information flow and communication is neither vertical nor horizontal instead is diagonal or zig-zag it is known as diagonal communication. Here the employees belonging to the different departments may communicate with each other. This type of communication is not bound by a chain of command, position, or different levels. Diagonal communication is also referred to as Crosswise Communication and might occur between a manager and a specific team.
Here is a video by Marketing91 on Formal Communication.
Characteristics of Formal Communication
The characteristics are
1. Chain of Command
The chain of command is very important during formal communication. All the employees within the organization from leaders in management roles to managers, subordinate, and employees at the lower level have to maintain it at all cost
2. Defined Rules and Regulations
An important characteristic of a formal communication channel is that the rules and regulations are clearly defined. All the employees have to follow it no matter what within an organization
The employees at every level within an organization is bound by predefined rules, regulations and policies
4. Formal Relations
The characteristic of formal communication channels is that every employee has formal relations in the company
5. Recognition Value
Formal communication is formal and legal and thus has recognition value within an organization
6. Delegation of Authority
7. Reference Point
Documents are always recorded during formal communication. A person can use it as an example or a point of reference if required
8.Cooperation and Coordination
The characteristic of formal communication is that it is an integral part of both cooperation and coordination
One of the characteristics of formal communication is that the information flow is task-related and effective
10. Status Symbol
Formal communication easily shows the status symbol during information flow
11. Routine Communication
The characteristic of formal communication is that it is routine communication channels of the employees in an organization
12. Written and Oral
Formal communication is both written and oral where daily works are handled by the former and policy matters through the latter.
13. Organizational Message
Formal communication adheres to only organizational messages and not to any personal messages
Both formal and informal communication is an integral part of an organization but at the end of the day, a company cannot work, survive and grow without proper formal communication channels.
The direct and official contact works in favor of the company and helps it in maintaining decorum and achieving organizational goals and objectives.
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