Definition: Informal communication is the spontaneous and unofficial flow of information between leaders, employees, colleagues, and other people within the organization. It is based on understanding and informal relations and is often unstructured. It is also known as grapevine communication as it is verbal, personal, direct, and flexible.
Informal communication within the organizational environment may usually overlap employee positions as it is very casual. It is prevalent in scenarios where employees belonging to different levels work, gossip, and communicate with each other despite formal relationships. This type of effective communication helps with employee morale and leads to a better understanding of people.
Types of Informal Communication
Informal communication within a workplace may not follow a specific path or rules. There are four different types of informal communication and these are-
1. Single Strand Chain
In a Single Strand Chain type of communication, information passes from one person to another in a single sequence. The first employee will communicate with the second employee who in turn will communicate with the third person and so on. Here the person A talks to B who talks to C and to D and so on and this will create a chain. The chance of facts getting distorted in such channels of grapevine communication is very high as the chain might be very long.
In Gossip Chain communications, people communicate informally with each other in groups. One person may convey gossip or fact to people that cluster around him. This communication may be used for non-job-oriented work.
A vital form of communication is Probability Chain where each employee tells another person the same message randomly. He does not adhere to specific rules and might share this information with anyone in the company irrespective of the fact that he is his friend or simply a casual acquaintance. The Law of probability is a vital factor in this type of communication as some people might come to know about the information whereas others might not have any inclination about it.
4. Cluster Chain
A cluster Chain is a form of communication where one person may share the news with a specific group of person and these, in turn, will either keep the news to themselves or share it with their selected group.
Examples of Informal Communication
Some examples of informal communication are
1. Encourage peer communication
An important example of effective informal communication is people talking casually with each other in an organization. This form of communication believes in offering advice and providing tools that will make it easier for others to ask questions and clear doubts. It encourages peer communication as there is no need to go through formal communication
In some cases, the management tries to be too friendly and keep everyone in the loop and thus shares useful information with several employees and colleagues. This habit to over-communicate is a primary example of communicating informally.
3. Creating a happy work culture
When employees can talk freely with each other irrespective of their job positions it will create a happy work culture in the company. Here people belonging to leadership positions, management and employees are equal and can talk easily with each other.
4. Grapevine Rumor
Suppose a manager invites an employee in his cabin and talks with him for a considerable time. The manager wanted to clarify on certain points and the talk is work-related but the other employees may spread a grapevine rumour that the person will be promoted to a higher position or he is on the verge of being sacked especially if he returns from the cabin with an unhappy face
5. Open-door Policy
Suppose an employee Ram is having serious issues with a colleague and he is unable to resolve it. He then goes to his manager and lays out the issues he is facing. The manager calls the other employee in his chamber and all three of them try to sort out the misunderstandings and conflicts. Ram could approach his manager because of an open-door policy and this was possible because both were on good terms due to the prevalent informal communication in the workplace.
Difference between Formal and Informal Communication
Both formal and informal communication is an integral part of a business organization. Despite usefulness, there is some important point of differences between them. These are
- There is no accountability during the flow of information in informal communication whereas every person is held accountable for every information he shares in a formal communication process
- The channels used in informal communication includes unofficial discussion, gossip, suggestions, and personal conversation whereas formal communication is all about formal discussion, facts and professional discussion
- Management cannot take action against any information that they may receive from informal communication but there are legal and organizational consequences for wrongful information passed during formal communication
Flow of information
- Information spreads at a faster rate in case of informal communication than formal communication.
- A vital difference between formal and informal communication is that the former follows a structured channel whereas the latter is unstructured
- Keeping a check on formal communication is easy whereas informal communication cannot be controlled
- Formal communication is rigid and inflexible in nature whereas informal communication is dynamic and flexible in nature
Casual or Distant
- Informal communication is considered carefree and casual whereas formal communication may be seen as distant and cold
Friendliness or Rigid Position
- A major difference between formal and Informal communication is that the latter is considered friendly and creates a sense of belonging in the company whereas the former maintains the rigidity of positions and thus cannot be termed as friendly
Official or Unofficial
- Informal communication is unofficial and casual with an unlimited channel of communication and often does not adhere to the chain of command whereas formal communication follows the prescribed system, organizational rules, conventional formalities and chain of command.
Rate of Spreading
- The difference between formal and informal communication is that the first spreads at a slow rate whereas the latter is quick and fast
- There is an element of secrecy during formal communication whereas it is difficult to maintain full secrecy in informal communication
- In informal communication, one person can reach out to another even if he is at a leadership or management position to clarify things whereas this is impossible in a formal communication as all employees will have to follow a chain of command and use the prescribed channels to sort out issues and clarify things
- Formal communication is considered reliable whereas informal communication is less reliable
- Informal communication requires little process time whereas formal communication is a time-consuming process where every angle has to be verified beforehand
- During informal communication, the chance of conflict resolution is high whereas in a formal communication process it becomes very difficult to sort out issues especially if it happens with persons in management and leadership positions
- There is a lack of understanding in a formal communication process because people in high positions do not want to be bothered by employees at a lower level whereas it is not so in informal communication. As every employee can talk and freely mix at all levels it becomes easy to develop an environment and culture of understanding between employees of every level and position
Advantages of Informal Communication
The advantages of informal communication in a workplace are as follows
- It often encourages a feeling of togetherness and results in better social relationships
- Communicating informally is effective in itself as information flows easily. A team can work in a stress-free background that encourages increased efficiency and productivity
- During informal communications, the grapevine channels are most active. The management or leaders may easily spread a piece of information or gossip in the workplace
- During informal communications, information flows fast and this proves advantageous in emergencies
- The advantage of communicating informally is that it encourages a stress-free workplace that highlights the different aspects of management.
- The chance of misunderstanding between managers and other members becomes less as employees can speak openly about grievances because of the carefree atmosphere
- Communication informal helps to improve relationships between management and employees in a business. A time will come when managers and other leaders will openly encourage this type of communication and open conversation within the business setting
- The fear factor is negligible where communication is not formal. This may lead to valuable opinions and suggestions that will prove beneficial for an organization.
- An advantage of communicating informally is that every employee has the permission to approach anyone from the company irrespective of his position or level
- Informal communication helps to promote a happy workplace and keep all the employees in the company connected
Disadvantages of Informal Communication
The disadvantages of informal communication are as follows
- It is disadvantageous as facts often get overlapped by sentiments and emotions. This presents an unclear and incorrect picture
- Informal communication often distorts information and gives rise to speculation. The flow of information may be sometimes incomplete and subject to everyone’s interpretation
- In case a piece of wrong information is passed then it is impossible to find the source and punish the culprit.
- Informal communication is not considered reliable and cannot be used in situations that demand verification of facts beforehand
- Spreading rumors through the grapevine channels is an integral way of informal communication and it may create conflicts between team, colleagues, and coworkers in the organization
Grapevine or informal communication is an important way of office life and is often used by management to spread specific news in a company to achieve organizational goals.
It has proved a blessing in disguise by helping managers, colleagues, employees, and other co-workers in improving human relationships and creating a harmonious and happy workplace.