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What is Informal Communication: Meaning, Purpose and Importance

what is Informal Communication

After reading this article you will learn about:-

  1. Meaning of Informal Communication
  2. Examples of Informal Communication
  3. Purpose
  4. Channels Used 5.
  5. Types
  6. Importance 7.
  7. Characteristics
  8. Advantages
  9. Disadvantages
  10. Effective Use.

Meaning of Informal Communication:

‘Informal Communication’ is the communication among the people of an organization not on the basis of formal relationship in the organizational structure but on the basis of informal relations and understanding.

It may overlap routes, levels or positions. Informal communication creates a situation where the different workers communicate with each other, work side by side, hour after hour and day after day irrespective of their formal positions and relationships.

It is referred to as the ‘grapevine’ which indicates informal means of circulating information or gossip. It is direct, spontaneous and flexible. It is personal, unofficial, and mostly verbal.

The term ‘Grapevine Communication’ originated during the American Civil War (1861- 1865). During the period the communication of intelligence information through telegraph was not effective and reliable because the telegraph system was unorganized. Telegraph lines were strung in a haphazard way through the trees like a real grapevine.

The messages received or sent through these lines were often incorrect and confusing. Rumors were rampant during the civil war. Thus any rumor, whatever might be the source, was presumed to be originated from the unarranged telegraph lines or grapevine. Later, in course of time, grapevine communication has become synonymous with informal communication.

Examples of Informal or Grapevine Communication:

1. The manager calls an employee to his chamber and talks with him for sometimes relating to official work. Rumor is spread that the employee will be promoted to higher position ignoring the promotion of other employees.

2. The employees of a company have come to know the profit figure for the year from the accounts department. Somebody among the employees within the company puts some imagination to it and tells others that the company is going to offer a bonus to the employees on the basis of profit earned.

3. Due to delay in supply and shortage of raw materials, the work in a factory has been stopped for a few days. The workers made it a rumor that the management authority is going to retrench a large number of employees soon.

The informal communication is a part and parcel of the organizational process. Proper analysis and suitable clarification of informal communication will be helpful in making its use towards organizational efficiency.

Purpose of Informal or Grapevine Communication:

The purpose of informal communication includes sharing of information, establishing personal contacts, making friends, influencing and motivating others, resolving conflicts, supplementing official channels, getting relaxation, searching escape from the monotony of work, etc.

Channels Used in Informal or Grapevine Communication:

Informal Communication is conveyed through verbal and gestural means in all directions with the help of the following media:

i. Personal conversation and gossip;

ii. Unofficial discussion;

iii. Spontaneous advice and suggestion;

iv. Facial expression;

v. Body movement;

vi. Silence, etc.

Types of Grapevine Communication:

Since grapevine works through informal channels, it does not follow any scheduled path or operate by specific rules. Like a grapevine, it spreads fast in any direction.

Specialists in the field have classified grapevine communication into four types:

1. Single Strand Chain.

2. Gossip Chain,

3. Probability Chain,

4. Cluster Chain.

1. Single Strand Chain:

In this type of grapevine communication, the information passes through a number of persons like a chain. A tells something to B, who tells it to C, who tells it to D and so on.

Single Strand Chain

It is generally a long chain. The longer the chain the greater is the possibility of distortion of the information.

2. Gossip Chain:

In Gossip Chain one person actively conveys information to other persons around him. A circle or wheel-like figure is formed in this communication.

Here, in this picture. A is at the center and transmits messages to ‘B’, ‘C ‘D ‘E ‘F, ‘G’, and ‘H’ around him/her.

Gossip Chain is generally used when information to be communicated is non-job oriented in nature.

Gossip Chain

3. Probability Chain:

It is a random process in which information may move from one person to any other person or persons according to the law of probability. Naturally, in this type of communication, some people of the organization will be informed and some others will remain outside the arena of the communication.

Here, in the illustration, E, F, G and K are outside the communication chain. This chain is used when information is interesting but less important.

Probability Chain

4. Cluster Chain:

Cluster chain is mostly used and the dominant pattern of grapevine communication. In this type one person tells something to some selected trust worthy persons. Some of these persons may inform a few selected other individuals. Here in the picture, A tells some selected and trustworthy persons, B, C and D. C again relays it to his selected persons, G, H and I. D tells J, a person of his choice. E and F remain outside The cluster.

Cluster Chain

Importance of Informal or Grapevine Communication:

Informal or Grapevine communication is an indispensable part of entire communication system. Formal communication is compared to arteries of a living being, whereas, grapevine or informal communication are like veins. The later is a supplement to the former. Where formal communication fails to operate, grapevine or informal communication is used.

Some­times, grapevine communication is more effective than the formal communication. In fact, it carries more information than formal communication. Not only is a large volume of information, important and vital information also conveyed through it.

In an organisation, small groups of people work together. It is quite natural that they will become interested about each other and want to know various information regarding each other’s service condition, salary, facilities available, appointment, retirement, transfer, punishment, etc.

They will also be interested to know any private, secret and confidential information which includes any romantic affair, family disputes, marriage, the birth of a child, examination results of their children, special treatment or favor by the boss to any member and so on.

The employees generally exchange their views with their peers openly during lunch break or at an interval and get emotional relief from monotony and stress. Thus, the informal or grapevine communication promotes social relationship among the participants. It helps to build up unity, integrity, and solidarity among them and boosts up their morale.

Grapevine or informal communication is faster than the formal communication. Being oral in nature, it has little or no cost and can reach a maximum number of people irrespective of their positions within a very short time.

Since there is no official procedure and formalities it is not binding and compelling, rather it is flexible and spontaneous. The managers can get feedback from their subordinates quickly on the plan and policies through grapevine. New ideas, suggestions, opinions may come out as people can express their feelings without fear.

Characteristics of Informal Communication:

The informal communication has the following characteristics:

i. It is based on informal relationship;

ii. It grows spontaneously;

iii. It takes the form of gossip;

iv. It is conveyed through conversation, facial expression, body movement, silence, etc.;

v. It does not follow any structured route or channel;

vi. Small groups are formed with like-minded people in such communication:

vii. It is direct and fast;

viii. It is flexible and dynamic in nature.

Advantages of Informal or Grapevine Communication

The advantages of informal communication are pointed out below:

i. Informal communication, being unofficial and personal, promotes a social relationship among the participants;

ii. Flow of information is fast and is suitable for emergencies;

iii. New ideas, suggestions, opinions may come out through such communication as people can express their feelings without fear;

iv. It can create an atmosphere congenial for work as the relationship between the managers and the employees improves;

v. The managers can collect information regarding the reaction of the workers, attitude of the employees of other departments, the intention of peer officers through such communication. It is not possible in the case of formal communication. Thus, informal communication supplements the formal communication to fulfill the objective of the organization;

vi. Sharing of information in a free atmosphere makes the picture clear, bringing out the hidden dimension of the management if any. It puts an end to misunderstanding and suspicion;

vii. It is an outlet of expression of complaints, dis-likings, grievances, etc.

Disadvantages/Limitations of Informal or Grapevine Communication:

Informal Communication has the following disadvantages or limitations:

i. Inaccurate, incomplete and half true information’s are spread through informal communication as everybody interprets it in his/her own way;

ii. In most cases it is emotional and full of sentiments which can change its meaning;

iii. No one can be held responsible as it is not possible to find out the supplier of wrong information in the case on an enquiry;

iv. It is not reliable. The managers cannot depend upon such information as it does not follow any norm and is too loose a system. No decision can be taken depending upon such communication;

v. It spreads rumors and endangers consolidation and unity of the organization;

vi. It creates conflicts between groups by spreading rumors against them and reducing their mental strength.

Effective Use of Informal or Grapevine Communication:

Since grapevine communication is an integral part of communication system it works side by side with the formal communication. The nature of grapevine communication can be guessed from its name. Like a grapevine plant, it grows fast, spreads to any direction and goes a long way in creating an informal relationship.

Here, information spreads very quickly in geometric progression from one to a few and from a few too many persons irrespective of their formal positions. The spread of half true information or rumor is not congenial to the organizational health.

It breeds conflict, weakens consolidation and unity, diminishes morale of the workers and creates a chaotic situation within the organization. It becomes more harmful for an organization when the managers take decisions depending upon such unreliable, inaccurate and incomplete information.

The efficient managers can make proper use of informal or grapevine communication and apply it for the well-being of the organization if some general steps like the following are taken:

i. The managers should keep a watchful eye on the leaders who spread rumors and keep them well-informed about the actual situation.

ii. The managers should contradict rumors as soon as possible.

iii. They should involve the employees in decision-making, etc.

The managers, on the other hand, can supplement formal communication with grapevine communication. They can feel the pulse of the organisation through informal communication. They can even use it to convey any official information with a bit of care.

Right Mixture of Formal and Informal Communication:

An appropriate mixture of formal and informal communication makes a business communication more effective. There is no golden rule of arriving at the right mixture but the experienced managers and executives who are familiar with the ins and outs of the department and understand the nature of the employees can find out a proper blend for a particular situation.

While formal communication will help the execution of official orders, informal communication will assist in improving human relations and work environment.

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About the author

Salman Qureshi

Salman Qureshi is an Accountant by profession & he loves to write on Commerce & Management Sciences Subject to assist Students. Hope you guys will like his effort.