Alongside formal communication, one must know how to partake in informal communication as well. Unlike the former, informal communication is best meant for informal relationships where you can afford to let your guard down. This may include friends, family, peers and other similar relationships.

In the workplace, informal communication is referred to as a “grapevine”. Mainly because one finds it challenging to define the boundaries of this type of communication.

Since grapevine  has no definite channel, information can flow from various chains. Here, communication is often initiated when a person strikes a conversation on the basis of personal interests, likes and dislikes.

How does Grapevine Work?

Because of the highly interconnected network structure, information flows insanely quickly among individuals via grapevine in an organization.

It’s worth noting that most information that travels through grapevine in an organization is typically harmless gossip. For instance, it could be the news of the boss getting a divorce or the lead accountant finding a new job elsewhere. While most of gossip is typically harmless and can spread cheerfully in an organization, matters can escalate if sensitive information is passed across a company.

Spreading rumors and confidential information in an organization can lead to misunderstandings. Needless to say, the flow of damaging information may not be well received and can lead to some disastrous consequences. This is why rumors and gossips should be immediately curtailed in an organization.

Characteristics of Informal Communication

There are a number of characteristics that distinguish this form of communication from formal communication. Here are a couple that you should know about:

  • Multidirectional Flow of Communication: The most prominent trait is that it flows in a multidirectional way. As the network is stretched and easily available to a large number of people, the information may cater to the interests of the majority. This could be workplace gossip that multiple people are interested in.
  • Not Controlled by Authority: With grapevine and other similar types of communication, the narrative is not controlled by the management or the authorities. And since regular people or employees are responsible for the flow of information, it could either be accurate or could be deemed as inaccurate.
  • Rapid Flow of Information: Unlike formal communication, its counterpart flows at an incredibly rapid pace. Because of this, rumors can spread at an alarmingly fast rate.
  • Generally Via Verbal Means of Communication: Typically, this type of communication takes place verbally instead of written form. (learn about types of verbal communication)
  • Message Can Get Distorted: As with the case of grapevine, you can expect the message to get distorted along the way because of the system.
  • Spontaneous: This form of communication is more spontaneous in nature. As a result of this spontaneity, the receiver may often not know what to expect.
  • Flexible: Unlike formal communication, its counterpart is more flexible in nature since it is free from formal restrictions.

Types Of Informal Communication

Informal communication can typically be categorized into four types of networks. This includes:

  1. Single Strand: In this type of network, each person communicates with the other in a single sequence.
  2. Gossip: In a gossip network, individuals communicate can communicate with others by simply using one source. However, the information spreads rapidly to a number of people.
  3. Probability: In this type of network, the person communicates with the other at random.
  4. Cluster: The cluster network is probably the most popular type of network in informal communication. In a cluster network, a person receives information and can choose to either convey it forward to selected people or keep that piece of information to themselves.

Advantages of Informal Communication

Most people assume that informal communication only has negative traits but that is not the case. If used correctly, it can be used to encourage the interchange of opinions, feelings and ideas in an organization to boost company morale and generate team spirit.

Another advantage  is that employees would be more open to express their ideas when they’re “off the record”. Having these conversations can be beneficial for the company from time to time and can help establish trust among managers and employees.

Disadvantages of Informal Communication

Alternatively, there are also a number of disadvantages of informal communication, particularly concerning to grapevine. For instance, as with the nature of grapevine, news is likely to spread rapidly, often without any sort of verification or gateway in place. In this case, employees may readily believe rumors, gossips and negative information without addressing or putting a second thought into it.

Another disadvantage is that the employees may choose to give more importance and prefer to believe information being spread by grapevine instead of official announcements. This can prove to be counterproductive and may also serve as an indication of how the team does not completely trust the management to deliver the full truth.

Also, as informal communication tends to distort messages, it can have a much more damaging effect when spreading rumors. This works similar to the game Chinese Whisperer where the meaning of the message gets distorted along the way. This leads to the spreading of lies and false information that can have detrimental consequences.

Wrapping it Up

We hope this detailed guide has helped you learn about the types, advantages and disadvantages of informal communication.

Is there something you’d like to add? Tell us about it in the comments section below.


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