What is Informal Communication?
The dictionary definition of informal communication refers to unofficial or casual communication between team members, or between worker and employer. Informal communication avoids the usual office channels, which tend to be organised, formal, and planned out in detail. On the other hand, formal communication utilises company policies, rules, government regulations and the chain of command, such as supervisor to manager.
One key characteristic of informal communication is the uncertainty surrounding the channel of communication, and the wooliness governing when the communication began and ended. Colloquially, this is referred to as ‘hearing something on the grapevine’ and is an expression we all use.
Any workplace will have its social circles, and co-workers are known to discuss things online, over the phone, and at the water cooler. These relationships form outside of the workplace and help to blur the line between business relationships and personal relationships.
The office ‘grapevine’ as it’s known, is a form of communication that we are all familiar with, so it works well with all types of people. The phrase comes from the American Civil War days, where telegraph wires were strung through trees in a way that made them look like a grapevine. Sharing information through the grapevine communication is social, personal, and unofficial. However, don’t discredit it as a means of business communication.
Telegraph grapevine messages were often confusing, disorganised, and incorrect, but a lot of this was down to technology and sound quality. You won’t have this problem with your office grapevine!
One form of communication that will always be a part of your business is informal communication between your workers and senior staff. The only approach to take here is to find ways of managing it, at minimum, or better yet, find ways to use your office grapevine for business communication.
Informal communication can sometimes be more efficient and quicker than formal communication. Used in conjunction with official channels, the grapevine can supplement and enhance your formal business communications.
Some examples of informal communication include:
- Two co-workers discussing a new company policy at the water cooler, or in the staff room.
- A senior member of staff verbally reprimanding a junior member of staff.
- A co-worker telling someone from a different department about a change of manager.
- Two co-workers discussing rumours of a pay cut.
- Several co-workers discussing one person’s pay rise on social media.
Informal communication occurs whether you like it or not, but you can utilise it for your own means, and, as a form of communication between co-workers and managers, it’s completely free. It will also support your usual formal channels of communication and the grapevine tends to get the word around much quicker, too.