Formal and Informal Communication: Definition, Types & Key Differences

| December 29, 2021
Formal and Informal Communication

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In any workplace, there are two types of communication- Formal and Informal Communication. However, people usually get confused with these two channels. So here we are explaining the difference between formal and informal communication.

Good communication acts as a bridge between confusion and clarity. It is a mode for exchanging thoughts, ideas, opinions, and emotions. People use different forms of communication, like verbal, oral, or written. Some people also have the ability and skill to deliver their message through sign language, gestures, facial expressions, body movements, etc.

Formal and Informal Communication: Definition, Types & Key Differences

What Is Formal Communication?

Formal communication refers to the type of communication where information flows through pre-defined mediums and channels. The flow of communication requires control and deliberate effort to communicate. It follows a hierarchy and a particular chain of command.

The hierarchy flows from top to down, from leaders to senior managers to associates, and the junior staff. While employees are communicating in the workplace, they usually follow the formal mode of communication.

Formal communication is used in Bulletin Boards, Presentations, Letters, Meetings, Emails, Speeches, etc.

Types of Formal Communication

Types of Formal Communication

The formal conversation is grouped into the following:

  • Upward Conversation- Here, the flow of conversation starts with associates and ends with senior employees. It is also known as Bottom-Up communication.
  • Downward Conversation- Here, the conversation starts with senior employees and ends with junior associates. It is also known as Top Up communication.
  • Horizontal Conversation- The conversation flows between the employees of different departments. It is also known as Lateral communication.
  • Diagonal/ Cross Conversation- This conversation takes place between employees of two different departments working at different levels. It is also known as Crosswise communication.

What Is Informal Communication?

Informal communication is multidimensional. It refers to the type of communication that moves with no foundation of medium and channels. It’s pretty easy and quick. People use informal communication in their everyday lives, hence it’s far more relatable and moves a lot faster.

When informal communication is used in a workplace, it is known as “Grapevine”. It begins when employees interact with each other socially, beyond work. It is effective because people understand it faster and there’s no room for confusion.

Informal communication is used in public places, social interactions, chats, etc.

Types of Informal Conversation 

Types of Informal Conversation

Informal conversation is grouped into the following:

  • Single Line Chain- Here, the conversation moves forwards in the form of a chain. One person tells the second and the second one passes on to the third.
  • Cluster Chain- The conversation that takes place between a person and his best friend. Later on, the best friend passes on the message to their best friends and so on.
  • Gossip Chain- The gossip chain starts with a person conveying a message to a group of people and the group then transfers the message to another group. This way the message is conveyed to everyone.
  • Probability Chain- In this communication chain, one person randomly chooses another person to pass on the information.

Formal Vs Informal Communication: Quick Comparison 

Formal or informal communication, what should you prefer at the workplace 

Basis of Comparison Formal Communication Informal Communication  
Meaning A type of communication where information flows through pre-defined mediums and channels.  A type of communication that moves with no foundation of medium and channels 
Another name It is also known as official communication. It is also known as Grapevine. 
Speed  Message flows at a slower speed. Messages flow at a faster speed because of better understanding. 
Purpose Used at a workplace for exchanging vital information. Used at casual zones for social interactions.  
Reliability More reliable Less reliable 
Effectiveness Requires more time & effort Requires less time & effort, as there are no set boundaries 
Frequency Used only inside the workplace Used everywhere e.g. home, restaurant, shops, etc, hence the high frequency 
Secrecy High level of secrecy Maintaining secrecy becomes a challenge here 
Structure The information flows in a predefined structure  The information flows freely.  

Difference Between Formal and Informal Communication 

Both formal and informal communication are required to maintain a healthy flow of information. It helps maintain a cordial work environment. So what makes official communication different from casual communication? Let’s find out.

  • Formal communication is also known as Official Communication, whereas Informal Communication is known as Grapevine
  • Formal conversations maintain a certain level of secrecy for the shared message. However, while having a casual chat or while gossiping, it’s tough to maintain secrecy.
  • Formal communication plays an important role in achieving organisational goals. Whereas informal communication is important for developing personal relations.
  • Formal communication is time-consuming. On the other hand, informal communication is comparatively effective as it saves time and effort. It’s easier to grasp and navigate.
  • During formal communication, a document is known as MOM (minutes of the meeting). There is no record of informal communication.
  • Formal communication is more reliable, as it follows a set pattern for the flow of messages. Whereas, in informal communication, there’s no room for trust, because a message can flow in any direction.
  • Formal communication follows a structure set by the organisation. Where there’s no structure for informal communication.
  • Formal communication needs recognition, but informal communication doesn’t require any such structure.
  • The scope of communication is restricted to formal communication in the place of business.
  • Formal communication is often in the written format, whereas informal communication is usually oral.
  • Formal communication encourages the delegation of responsibilities.
  • Formal communication takes its own sweet time, whereas informal communication is transmitted quickly.
  • The chances of errors informal communication are less because people are more attentive while designing the message.

Examples of Formal and Informal Communication  

Some of the common scenarios where we use formal Communication are:

  • Communication between an associate and the human resource manager
  • Conversation between people from different departments
  • Conversation between a subordinate and the team lead
  • Business presentation
  • Marketing brochure, landing pages and pamphlets
  • Website content, etc.

Suggested Read: Top 10 Ways to Bring your Traditional Business to the Present Times

Some of the common scenarios where we use informal communication are:

  • A chat between two employees working in the same team.
  • A chat between two employees working in different departments at the same level.
  • A private journal.

Different Forms of Formal Communication 

Below is a comprehensive list of different forms of formal communication:

  • Meetings
  • Memos
  • Bulletin Boards
  • Letters
  • Formal one-to-one meetings
  • Presentations
  • Speech
  • Emails
  • Handouts
  • Professional blogs
  • Notice board

Different Forms of Informal Communication

  • Talking to a friend 
  • Talking to a family member 
  • Friendly email 
  • The casual occasion at social gatherings. 

Suggested Read: 5 Communication Skills That Are Crucial to Sales Success

Conclusion:

In this new age, most organisations prefer an open-door policy, which promotes a mix of formal and informal communication. It eventually enhances productivity, efficiency, and transparency among employees. However, the mode of communication should change as per the demand of the situation.  

Since everybody has a mix of official and unofficial associations, it is essential to balance the two forms of communication. In case your formal communication is not fluent enough, it may lead to poor customer relations and ultimately risk your job.  

While some people hold the skill to communicate fluently, others might need to develop the same with time. Therefore, it’s crucial to focus on the purpose of communication rather than fearing the skills of others.  

FAQs:

  1. Why are formal and informal communication important? 

    It’s important for people to strengthen their formal as well as informal communication skills. Formal communication yields better results in the professional world. Although to communicate in a more relaxed setup, we need informal communication. Here, the message is communicated faster and easier.  

  2. How does formal and informal communication differ? 

    Formal communication has a defined structure, while informal communication is performed in a casual setup. Formal communication happens in the workplace environment and informal communication occurs in gatherings and family meetings.  

  3. What are formal and informal communication in business? 

    Formal communication in business has a predefined structure designed by the business. The information passes through a hierarchy and an optimum level of secrecy is maintained.   
    Informal communication in business is unstructured communication that does not have any predefined guidelines.  

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