What is Formal and Informal Communication? (Complete Guide)

In this article, we will provide comprehensive information on formal and informal communication: definition, difference between formal and informal communication, examples for both types of communication, importance, advantages, disadvantages, challenges, as well as tips and best practices.

What is formal communication?

Formal communication is communication through predefined channels set by organizations. It is backed by organizational procedure, and it is necessary to fulfill the goals of the organization.
Formal communication is used in professional and academic settings to provide information and discuss topics in a structured and organized manner. It typically involves the use of more formal language than informal communication, using terms and concepts that are specific to the subject being discussed. Formal communication is often used to convey information in an efficient way. It is also used to maintain a level of professionalism among the participants.

What is informal communication?

Informal communication is more relational than formal. Informal communication is defined as the type of communication that takes place between two or more parties in a casual and unstructured manner, and it is often characterized by the use of informal language. It is not backed by any predetermined channels and can happen anywhere within the organization. Since it is not defined by any channels, messaging moves a lot faster, but it is without any paper trail or official documentation.
Informal communication is often used to build relationships and facilitate conversations in social settings, and can be beneficial when developing new ideas or resolving conflicts. The primary goal of this type of communication is to preserve and establish relationships with colleagues. Grapevine communication is a common form of informal communication in a workplace.

Other types of communication in organizations include:
Vertical Communication and Horizontal Communication
Upward Communication and Downward Communication

Part 1Why Are Formal and Informal Types of Communication Important?

In its purest form, formal communication is created to increase efficiency within an organization. Predetermined channels of communication are meant to provide a smooth and streamlined method of communication that travels upward and downward. It is the way to easily communicate rules, procedures, and company policy to lower level employees. A formal notification is also favorable in situations where documentation is needed to prove or disapprove a claim or complaint. If someone violated company policy or broke a rule against another coworker, it is easy for employees to point to formal communications between staff and upper management.

Informal communication, as stated above, is all about relationships; if a culture of goodwill and relationship is adequately fostered by the company, then informal discussions can create solidarity and strengthen teams. However, one of the most important reasons for why informal communication is critical to businesses is that it allows employees to give feedback to their superiors. It facilitates the action of upward interface and enables messaging to go both ways efficiently. When employees are given the opportunity to comment on their experiences in the company informally, it puts the ball back in the court of upper management to improve and meet their expectations. This action then leads to higher employee morale.

Also, informal communication can pick up where formal discussions end. A great example of this is conflict resolution. If employees or managers and employees can resolve their problems informally, then this can prevent the need for upper management to have to get involved and elongate the matter.

How does formal communication differ from informal communication?

Formal communication is the exchange of information between two or more individuals in a structured and professional manner. It is often used in the workplace or in any environment where there is a need for clear and organized communication. In contrast, informal communication is more relaxed, open, and casual. It allows for freedom of expression as it does not require the same level of structure and etiquette as formal communication. Both forms of communication are important for different scenarios, depending on the context and the message being conveyed.

When do we use formal communication?

Formal communication is typically used in business and professional settings, such as in emails, presentations, or other written documents. It is also used when communicating with people outside of one’s organization, such as clients and customers. Formal communication can help create a professional image, as well as demonstrate respect for the recipient. It is often characterized by using precise language and avoiding slang or colloquialisms. Formal communication should be written with clarity and conciseness in order to ensure an accurate understanding of the message being conveyed.

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When do we use informal communication?

Informal communication is used in many different scenarios, including casual conversations between friends or colleagues. This type of communication is often more relaxed and informal than formal communication, and it does not follow the same strict guidelines that formal communication does. Informal communication gives us the freedom to express ourselves more openly and honestly, without worrying about making mistakes. It can help to build stronger relationships and foster an atmosphere of trust and understanding.

When to use formal or informal communication?

Understanding the difference between formal and informal communication is key. Formal communication should be used in professional settings, such as making a business proposal or submitting a report. In contrast, informal communication is best used in more relaxed settings with friends and colleagues.

What is the purpose of formal communication?

Formal communication is an essential part of any professional setting, as it allows for clear, concise and structured communication between individuals. It is used to convey specific information, such as instructions, policies or procedures and is generally done in a more formalized manner than informal communication. It also provides a sense of order and structure to workplace interactions and helps to maintain a professional atmosphere. Formal communication can take many forms, including written documents, emails, phone calls or face-to-face conversations. When it is used properly, formal communication can be an effective tool for conveying important information in a professional setting.

What are some examples of formal communication?

Examples of formal communication include:

  • business emails,
  • memos,
  • reports,
  • letters,
  • presentations,
  • formal meetings.

What are some examples of informal communication?

Examples of informal communication include conversations between friends and colleagues:

  • text messages,
  • emails,
  • social media posts,
  • phone calls,
  • informal face-to-face interactions.



What are some examples of formal communication in different settings?

  • In business settings, formal communication can take place in the form of emails, meetings, reports, presentations, memos and other documents.
  • In educational contexts, formal communication is often used to explain concepts or provide instruction to students.
  • In government settings, formal communication may be used to announce decisions or policies or to communicate between different branches or levels of government.

What is the process of formal communication?

Formal communication generally follows certain protocols in order to ensure clarity and understanding. It requires both the sender and receiver of the message to be aware of the rules, conventions, and expectations of formal communication. Formality can be communicated through the choice of words, tone, body language, and other nonverbal cues.

Properly managed formal communication can help ensure that information is accurately and quickly disseminated throughout the organization. Ineffective formal communication can lead to confusion, inefficiency, and poor decision-making.

Part 2What Is the State of Modern Internal Communications?

Many factors are impacting the state of internal communication in today’s workplace. Technology is changing the way people want to interact with each other, and it is creating a disruption in the workplace in ways never before seen.

RingCentral, a provider of cloud-based communications and collaboration solutions for businesses, listed some of their findings from a survey about modern communication trends in the workplace.

  • 97 percent of their respondents believed that communication impacted tasks on a daily basis.
  • 44 percent of respondents want more widespread adoption of internal communication tools.
  • When asked about how they would like these tools to evolve in 2015, 17 percent wanted better usage of these tools.

A conversation about formal and informal communication cannot happen without acknowledging the impact of technology. To see how information is funneling from management to employees and from employees to co-workers it would be helpful to gain insight on how email, text messages, and tools like have a hand in how these messages are happening. Here are a few other statistics that business leaders should be concerned about concerning formal and informal communications within the company.

  • An infographic and survey compiled by ClearCompany revealed that only 14 percent of companies have employees who understand the organization’s strategies, goals, and direction.
  • Another stat from that survey showed that only 5.9 percent of companies communicate the organization’s goals every day.

In today’s world, communication is as critical as it ever was. The only problem is that companies might not be utilizing all the tools and procedures at their disposal to better facilitate effective communications from upper management to lower employees, and from employees to their colleagues.


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What are formal communication advantages and disadvantages?

  • Advantages: formal communication allows for efficient, reliable communication in a controlled manner.
  • Disadvantages: lack of flexibility and the potential for misunderstandings due to the lack of personal interaction. Excessive use of formal communication can lead to decrease in creativity as it typically follows a set structure.

What are informal communication advantages and disadvantages?

  • Advantages: informal communication can help to build relationships quickly, as people can relate to each other more easily through informal communication.
  • Disadvantages: informal communication can lead to misunderstandings and conflict, as the lack of structure can lead to messages being misinterpreted or taken the wrong way. Informal communication can also lead to a lack of consistency and reliability in the workplace, making it difficult for teams to coordinate their efforts effectively.

Part 3The Challenges of Formal and Informal Communication

Formal Communication Challenges

  1. Acknowledging a New Generation

    With the increase of social media and a favoring of more informal communication methods by millennials, companies are going to have to go easy on the formal board meeting and email memos. Younger generations prefer having multiple ways of communicating whether it be through social media platforms, text messaging, and co-working software. Business leaders are trying to find effective ways to incorporate new mediums of communicating company vision, policy and procedures.

  2. Buy-In from Employees

    Many times, it can be more comfortable for formal messaging to be accepted by employees if it is done in a way that is more about the “why” than the “what.” Authoritative tones can be a turn-off, so upper management has to be sure to balance conversations about rules and procedures with how they align with the overall goal of the company. If not, employees may not be ready to buy in totally.

  3. Inflexibility

    As a result of the messaging coming through pre-determined channels, many voices in upper management have to be heard before a message is sent down the ranks. A lot of people have to agree and approve what is being sent out. This makes it difficult for anyone to change a formal message if something needs to be tweaked or left out.

  4. Contributes to a Lack of Understanding

    Mass formal communications that are not tailored to everyone’s communication style can create confusion and stress. A new procedure can be worded in a way that it means one thing to one employee and an entirely different thing to another. It is challenging for upper management to account for a general lack of communication.

  5. Slow Decision Making

    Some employees and departments depend on formal messaging from upper management to make important decisions. As mentioned above, because it takes a lot of people to sign off on a decision or message from top management it can take a lot longer to reach who it needs to. Therefore, formal communication can be frustrating to managers or employees who need it. It can even cause the demise of a product or project.

Informal Communication Challenges

  1. Rumors Can Spread Rapidly

    While informal communication is excellent for creating relationships and producing unity among staff, those same communication flows can also present opportunities for rumors to spread. Because messaging is not pre-determined or controlled, it makes this event even more likely. This means that other employees might be receiving incorrect information about procedures, critical changes, or policies from colleagues or managers.

  2. Lack of Control

    Informal communication is impossible to control. It is not affiliated with management-approved channels, and as a result, it does not necessarily obey the same messaging rules as formal communication. As a result, problematic issues such as harassment, bullying, or sensitive information sharing could be taking place. If an employee does not alert management about these predicaments, it would be impossible for them to know and stop any problems.

  3. An Increase in Conflict

    As in any setting, as humans interact with each other, a conflict has a higher chance of happening. It can breed competition among employees or departments or problems between superiors and subordinates. In turn, this can decrease or halt productivity.

  4. Contradict Formal Communications

    Informal communication can directly contradict information sent from pre-defined channels. Someone may say they heard something different than the official memo sent from upper management, or a manager might confuse formal communications and provide an inaccurate explanation to an employee with a question. Upper management can dictate when and how messaging flows from their channels, but they cannot determine how those messages are interpreted or spread to others.

  5. Lack of Secrecy

    Again, a lack of control increases the chance for company secrets to travel. A rumored promotion, coming retirement, or the advent of a new product not yet released to all parts of the company might be leaked to others who do not need to know. This can potentially damage a new product release or breach the trust of employees.

Part 4Informal and Formal Communication Best Practices

  • Foster a Culture of Effective Communications
    Employees respond well if they feel they can trust that upper management has their best interest at heart. Formal communication does not start when the messages are sent; it begins the second an employee begins their first day. Upper management should reach out to employees in ways that do not always feel rigid and formal to increase their trust and buy-in. This will make it easier for them to accept more essential messages and stay away from potential rumors.
  • Streamlined Decision Making
    Employees can become agitated if a work task depends on formal communication channels of upper management. Leaders can decrease this frustration by better assessing who needs to be involved in the decision-making process and utilizing an approach to get decisions to employees faster.
  • Talk About the “Why” Behind the Rules
    To ensure a safe environment for everyone, there should be established policies for formal and informal communications. However, business leaders should explain why these rules exist and why breaking them can impact the work environment of those around them. The conversation should center on behaviors and how they should align with the mission and vision of the company.

What must be avoided in formal communication situations?

  • Poor grammar, spelling, and punctuation must be avoided.
  • When engaging in formal communication, it is important to be mindful of the language and tone used.
  • Unprofessional language (slang and jargon) should all be avoided as they can create an impression of a lack of professionalism or can result in misunderstandings or awkwardness.
  • Unprofessional topics, such as politics or religion are considered inappropriate in formal settings.
  • Excessive use of exclamation points or emojis.
  • Sarcasm should be avoided in order to prevent any misunderstandings or misinterpretations of the message being communicated.
  • It is important to ensure that the language used is respectful and appropriate for the situation.

How to improve written formal communication?

  • Take your time to carefully craft the message.
  • Make sure that all relevant information is included, and that you are using language that is appropriate for the situation.
  • Make sure your message is clear and concise.
  • Ask questions to confirm understanding.
  • If applicable, consider including examples, diagrams, or charts to help illustrate your point in order to make it easier for your audience to understand.

How to improve formal communications skills?

To improve your ability to communicate formally, practice active listening, use appropriate language, and demonstrate respect for others. Active listening involves paying attention and responding to the speaker’s words with appropriate eye contact, body language, and questions. It is also important to use professional language and avoid slang, as well as being aware of cultural differences and avoiding bias.

Posted in: Communication