Informal Communication

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“Have you heard that there’s a new manager of Marketing?”

“Did you know that management is planning to give year-end bonuses early this year?”

“What do you think about the new product we’re coming up with?”

It is a common scene in any work environment when two or more colleagues spend time in the break room, pass by each other at the lobby, or wait in line at the cafeteria, that they will strike a conversation or participate in friendly banter. All of us, in one way or another, use informal communication at work. In this article, let’s talk a little about it and how it is part and parcel of the workplace. 

What is informal communication? 

Informal communication refers to any type of communication that is not conformed to a specific structure or formal method of communication. Simply put, it is unofficial and casual talk. Informal communication is often based on the social relationships among colleagues and peers formed outside of the organizational hierarchy. 

Informal communication does not have to be spoken. It can also be written as in text or instant messaging and non-verbal as in facial expressions, gestures, and body language. Also, the informal communication network is sometimes called “the grapevine” when employees and colleagues catch up and chat about people, events, and news about the company. 

What are the differences between formal and informal communication in the workplace? 

It is quite easy to differentiate between formal and informal communication. From the term itself, formal communication refers to official communication that is conveyed in a work environment. This type of communication is aligned with the formal structure, chain of command, and the established organizational hierarchy. For example, business leaders and managers can give instructions about official business tasks. Similarly, direct reports can give feedback to their supervisors. Laterally, employees from different departments can discuss business projects and tasks. Because formal communication conveys official business content, the reliability and accuracy of the information can be verified. 

On the other hand, informal communication is more flexible. Because it does not follow a formal structure, informal communication is multidirectional and spontaneous. It is based on social relationships instead of the chain of command. For example, the vice president of a company can participate in friendly conversations with employees in the office lounge, or peers from different departments can chat in the corridor about what’s going on with a business review. 

What are the benefits of informal communication? 

When used with good intentions, informal communication is beneficial in the workplace. Informal communication allows a free flow of ideas and insights on different topics. Because it is multidirectional and spontaneous, informal communication is fast and easy. When people participate in casual conversations in the workplace, it can be an avenue to form a sense of camaraderie, office spirit, and a sense of belonging. It can cultivate rapport and build relationships. For example, when a manager goes up to an employee and commends praise for a job well done, the manager can encourage the employee without resorting to a formal email to do so. 

Furthermore, informal communication allows employees to give feedback without feeling restricted, observed, or evaluated. For example, when a manager asks for feedback about a newly established rule or guideline through an informal conversation, employees can freely give their opinion and reactions without having to worry that they will be documented. 

What are the potential drawbacks of informal communication? 

The primary disadvantage of informal communication is when it is used to spread false information or even derogatory information about someone or something at work. Because information communication is fast and spontaneous, inaccurate information can also spread fast. As the message passes from one person to another, the information can become even more distorted. This may result in anxiety, stress, conflict, and even damage a person’s reputation. Another drawback is the lack of accountability in informal communication. For example, when negative news or misinformation reaches management, it is a challenge to get to the root of the problem and find out who triggered the false topic. 

How can the negative effects of informal communication be prevented? 

The key action to do to prevent the negative effects of informal communication is not to initiate or spread information that is derogatory or damaging. For business leaders and managers, they can promote open and frequent communication with direct reports, colleagues, and peers. By communicating business events, news, rules, and updates frequently, they can make sure that the information comes from them and that it is accurate. 

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