In this article we will discuss about the channels of communication. This article will further will help you to learn about:-
- Five Channels of Communication
- Channels of Communication Notes
- Informal Channels of Communication
- Channels of Communication Diagram
There are many channels to connect the employees working in an organisation with the help of communication. The sum-total of these channels is known as Communication Network. The communication network mostly includes two types of communication – formal and informal communication. Both the types of communication are useful to the organisation. These channels are also called types of communication.
The communication that takes place in an organisation can be divided into two categories:
Formal communication means that exchange of ideas and information which is done under the planned organisational structure to create mutual understanding. It means an exchange of ideas which passes through a definite channel. The flow of communication is controlled and is a deliberate effort. This makes it possible for the information to reach the desired place without any hindrance, at a little cost and in a proper way. This is also known as ‘Through Proper Channel Communication.’
Following are the chief characteristics of the formal communication:
(1) Written and Oral:
Formal communication can both be written and oral. Daily works are handled through oral communication, while the policy matters require written communication.
(2) Formal Relations:
This communication is adopted among those employees where formal relations have been established by the organisation. The sender and the receiver have some sort of organisational relations.
(3) Prescribed Path:
The communication has to pass through a definite channel while moving from one person to another. For example- to convey the feelings of a worker to the manager, the foreman’s help has to be sought.
Here the definite channel will be like this:
Worker —> Foreman —> Manager
(4) Organisational Message:
This channel is concerned with the authorised organisational messages only and the personal messages are out of its jurisdiction.
(5) Deliberate Effort:
This channel of communication is not established automatically but effort has to be made for its creation. It is decided keeping in view the objectives of the organisation.
The formal communication has the following advantages:
(1) Maintenance of Authority of the Officers:
Formal communication maintains constant relations among the superiors and the subordinates as a result of which the dignity of the line superiors is maintained. Consequently, it is convenient to control the subordinates and fix their responsibility.
(2) Clear and Effective Communication:
In formal communication there is a direct contact among the managers and the subordinates. Both understand the capability, habits, feelings, etc. of one another. Managers know as to when and under which conditions their subordinates need information. In this way, this communication is capable of making available timely information. Hence, it is clear and effective.
(3) Orderly Flow of Information:
The information has to pass through a definite route from one person to another. Hence, the flow of information is systematic.
(4) Easy Knowledge of Source of Information:
In this type of communication, the source of each information can be easily located.
Following are the disadvantages or limitations of the formal communication:
(1) Overload of Work:
In a modern business organisation much information, many messages and other things have to be communicated. Under formal communication, they are routed through a definite channel and this consumes much of the time of the superiors and thus some other important works are left unattended.
(2) Distortion of Information:
This method can be a hindrance in the flow of information. Sometimes the distance between the sender and the receiver is so big that the information has to pass through many hands and by the time it reaches the receiver it is distorted.
(3) Overlooking by the Officers:
The officers do not pay much attention to the suggestions and complaints of the subordinates. They overlook them taking them to be works of daily routine. If the workers have to convey something to the directors, the superiors add something or the other from their own disfiguring reality.
Formal communication is of two types:
(1) Vertical Communication-
(i) Downward Communication
(ii) Upward Communication
(1) Vertical Communication:
(i) Downward Communication:
The communication by top hierarchy with their subordinates is called downward communication. The superiors take decisions in the enterprise and give orders and directions to implement them. For example- giving orders by the Marketing Manager to Sales Manager, by the Sales Manager to his Salesmen.
This communication includes orders, rules, information, policies, instructions, etc. The chief advantage of the downward communication is that the subordinates get useful timely information which helps them in their work performance.
(ii) Upward Communication:
This is quite the reverse of the downward communication. This flows from the subordinates to the superiors. The subject-matter of this communication includes suggestions, reactions, reports, complaints, etc. This sort of communication helps the superiors in taking decisions. A clean environment is created in the enterprise by removing the complaints of the subordinates.
A feeling of attachment towards the enterprise is created among them by implementing their suggestions. The superiors get alerted on receiving prior information about the possible dangers. Thus, the upward communication has a significant contribution in making the accomplishment of the objectives of the enterprise an easy task.
If the relations between the superior and the subordinate are not good, the upward communication can be presented in a wrong manner. No subordinate will give any information which may harm his interest. On the other hand, in order to please his superior he can sometimes give wrong information.
(2) Horizontal Communication:
Horizontal communication takes place when two individuals of the same level exchange information.
Horizontal communication is used by the same level officers to solve the problems of similar nature and profit by the experience of other people. An organisation cannot achieve success without horizontal communication. The subject-matter of horizontal communication includes information, requests, suggestions, mutual problems and coordination related information.
The way in which formal communication is done, is known as formal communication network.
Formal communication can be done in different ways-it may be vertical communication or horizontal communication.
The different forms of formal communication network have been shown in the following diagram:
(1) Chain Communication:
Chain communication refers to the communication between a superior and a subordinate. All the people in an organisation from top to bottom are linked with the help of a scalar chain as has been shown in diagram (1). A is placed at the highest rank, B is a subordinate of A, C is the subordinate of B, D is the subordinate of C and E is the subordinate of D.
(2) Wheel Communication:
In this form of communication all the subordinates of a superior talk to one another through his medium. The superior works as a hub of a wheel. In the second diagram, A is the superior and B, C, D and E are the subordinates. All the four subordinates communicate through the medium of A.
(3) Circular Communication:
This communication takes place among the members of a group. Every member of a group can communicate with the nearest two members. In the diagram (3), A can have communication with B and E. Similarly, B can have communication with A and C. The same applies to all the members of the group. In this case the communication moves at a slow speed.
(4) Free Flow Communication:
This form of communication also takes place among the different members of the group. Its special feature is that every member of the group can talk to all the other people in the group. This has been clarified in diagram (4). A can talk directly to B, C, D, E. In the same way B can talk directly to A, C, D, E. The same applies to all the members of the group. In this case, the communication moves at a rapid pace.
(5) Inverted ‘V’ Communication:
In this form of communication, a subordinate is permitted to communicate with the boss of his boss. In this form of communication the messages move at a rapid speed. In the diagram (5), C and D are the subordinate of B who in turn is a subordinate of A. Here C and D can talk directly to A who happens to be the boss of B.
Informal communication means the unofficial communication that takes place among the different people and groups.
This communication is based on informal relations (like friendship, membership of the same club, the same place of birth, etc.) and. therefore, is free from all the organisational formalities. The exchange of informal messages usually takes place on the occasion of community meals, social occasions, parties, etc. On such occasions, the superiors gather such information from their subordinates as may be difficult to get through formal communication.
Such communication includes comments, suggestions, etc. Under this, communication takes place through gesticulation, moving of head, smiling and by remaining quiet. For example- a superior wants to complain against his subordinate to his higher officer and at the same time he is afraid of giving it in writing. This can be conveyed to the higher officer through informal communication, say during the course of a conversation.
Informal communication is also called grapevine communication because there is no definite channel of communication. Under it some information passes through many individuals and covers a long distance making its origin obscure. This is exactly like a grapevine where it is difficult to find the beginning and the end.
Informal or grapevine communication has the following characteristics:
(1) Formation through Social Relations:
This communication is born out of social relations which means that it is beyond the restrictions of the organisation. No superior- subordinate relationship figures therein. A more sociable superior can gather much information through this channel.
(2) Two Types of Information:
Through this communication, information about the work and the individual can be collected.
(3) Uncertain Path:
Since it is beyond the restrictions of the organisation, it follows no definite channel. Like a grapevine it moves in a zigzag manner.
(4) Possibility of Rumour and Distortion:
Responsibility for the true or false nature of communication does not lie on any individual and, therefore, not much attention is paid to its meaning while communicating. Consequently, the rumours keep floating.
(5) Quick Relay:
Informal communication makes news spread like wild fire. Not only this, people start adding something of their own which sometimes changes the real meaning of the communication.
The informal channel of communication has the following advantages:
(1) Fast and Effective Communication:
Under this communication, the messages move fast and their effect is equally great on the people.
(2) True Environment:
Informal communication is done in a free environment. Free environment means that there is no pressure of any office—big or small. The attached reactions of the employees can easily be collected.
(3) Better Human Relations:
Informal communication saves the employees from tension. Freedom from tension helps the establishment of better human relations. This also affects favourably the formal communication.
(4) Easy Solution of the Difficult Problems:
There are many problems which cannot be solved with the help of formal communication. There is more freedom in informal communication which helps the solution of difficult problems.
(5) Satisfying the Social Needs of the Workers:
Everybody wants good relations with the high officers at the place of his work. Such relations give satisfaction to the employees and they feel proud. But this can be possible only with the help of the informal communication.
The defects or limitations of the informal communication are as under:
(1) Unsystematic Communication:
This communication is absolutely unsystematic and it is not necessary that information reaches the persons concerned.
(2) Unreliable Information:
Most of the information received through this communication is undependable and no important decision can be taken on its basis.
Informal communication is also known as grapevine communication because there is no definite route of communication for sharing information. In this form of communication, information converges a long way by passing from one person to another person leaving no indication from which point it started. This is quite similar to the vine of grapes. It is also difficult to find out the beginning and the end of the grapevine.
(1) Single Standard:
In this form of communication, a person says something to a person of his confidence who in turn passes on the information to a person of his confidence and in this way a chain starts moving.
(2) Gossip Chain:
In this form of communication, a person communicates something to a number of persons during the course of a gossip. A particular person in an organisation knows something specific that happens to be interesting. He tells this thing to all the members of his group and some other people also.
Normally such an information is not related to the job. For example- two employees of the organisation are going in for a love-marriage and some particular person has got this information, he passes on this information to a large number of people.
In this form of communication, a person remains indifferent about the fact as to whom he should pass on the information. There are numerous people around him. He passes on the information randomly to somebody around him. Those who get the information also have many people around them. They also pass on the information randomly to somebody else. In this way, this chain moves.
In this form of communication a person tells something to selected individuals. Those who receive the information further pass it on to another set of selected individuals. In this way, this chain moves on. In every organisation some people have good liaison with other persons. Such people pass on this information to persons of their choice with the purpose of getting some favour from them.
It is clear from the above description that both the types of communications have their merits and demerits. On the one hand, formal communication is helpful in attaining the objectives of the organisation very easily, but on the other hand, the informal communication is not less important if used properly. In short, informal communication is complementary to formal communication.
In this context it is said, both formal and informal communication are necessary for any group action just as two blades are essential to make a pair of scissors workable. In this context, it will also be appropriate to say that, the attitude of the management towards informal communication should be positive.
A communication channel is the route through which messages flow from the sender to the receiver. There are basically two types of channels—formal and informal—which are used by managers.
The formal communication channel is an official channel established by management to transmit messages from one unit (or person) to another. It is created deliberately so as to send commands, instructions and orders from top to the bottom in a systematic and orderly manner. The formal communication channel respects the ‘unity of command’ principle and prescribes, of course in a rigid way, a specified route for the flow of information between various positions in an organisation.
There are three ways in which formal communications can go:
ii. Upward and
i. Downward Communications:
Downward communication travels from the superior to the subordinate. The primary purpose is to transmit information (commands, orders, directives, instructions etc.) and instruct employees in the performance of their jobs. In most organizations, downward communication channels are put to extensive use—to transmit information regarding key policies, objectives, strategies and technical developments from higher level to lower level positions.
ii. Upward Communication:
Upward communication travels from subordinate to superior. It provides feedback on how well things are going. It reveals the degree to which ideas that are passed down are accepted. It enables employees to voice their opinions, concerns and ideas. Employees can ventilate their grievances and develop a comforting feeling that their voice is reaching top management.
Suggestions for improving the work climate can be taken up immediately thereafter. More importantly, upward communication keeps managers aware of how employees feel about their jobs, co-workers and the organization, in general.
Upward communication usually consists of:
(a) Ideas and suggestions for improvements,
(b) Requests for help or information, and
(c) Expression of attitudes or feelings affecting performance on the job.
iii. Lateral Communication:
Lateral communication takes place between people on the same level of the hierarchy. This channel promotes a horizontal flow of messages, enabling departments to work with other departments without having to rigidly follow the up and down channels. Strict adherence to organisational rules and regulations may result in delays, avoidable circuitous routes and frustratingly long channels.
Lateral communication encourages people to achieve coordination quickly by contacting the right person at the right time without waiting for instructions from upstairs or taking approval from the top. They can short-circuit the classical principles for the sake of achieving coordination and teamwork.
Formal communication channels only tell us part of the story of communication in organisations. They represent the way the organisation is set up, but not how it actually operates. Informal communication channels exist outside the official network and develop because of spontaneous interaction between people working in an organisation.
Informal communication is more unofficial. People gossip, the behaviour of superiors/bosses becomes the butt of jokes, people talk about how their favourite cricket hero played a recent innings; how a film ran for over 365 days in a single theatre in Mumbai, work teams tell newcomers how to conduct themselves and so on and so forth.
i. It is a product of social interactions, an inevitable part of organizational life.
ii. It exists outside the official network of communication prescribed by the organisation.
iii. There is no prescribed direction for the flow of messages.
iv. An active grapevine indicates employees’ keenness to interact with each other closely and share ideas, opinions etc.
The best known type of informal communication is known as the ‘grapevine’ (or the ‘rumour mill’). Normally people like receptionists, mail and message carriers, delivery persons, maintenance personnel and materials handlers are likely to be the important actors in the grapevine, carrying juicy bits of information from place to place. There is thus, no prescribed direction for the flow of messages, nor is there any ready available means for verifying them. The grapevine can carry erroneous messages as well as accurate ones.
According to Keith Davis, grapevines are a natural and inevitable part of organizational life. In fact, he says that it would be strange for employees not to take some part in exchanging informal information with their co-employees. A lively, active grapevine is an indication of the employee’s deep need to talk about his job, company, and co-employees. It can serve as an outlet for frustration, it is an important device for developing strong group identity, and for gaining social acceptance and recognition, and has numerous other functions, both good and bad.
Grapevine can be Destructive:
One important limitation of grapevine is that it tends to spread rumours and half-truths thereby rapidly tarnishing the image and reputation of people. For example, Davis found that in one plant the grapevine he studied was circulating a rumour that a welder was marrying the general manager’s daughter. The story was ninety per cent accurate in that the welder was getting married on the date and in the location mentioned by the grapevine. However, through the bride-to-be had the same name as the general manager’s daughter, she was actually someone else.
Grapevine Can Yield Good Results if Used Properly:
Of course, the grapevine could also be used to spread the right word, to allay fears, and to overcome the typical tardiness of formal communication channels. Managers can deliberately drop a piece of information (which they want to spread quickly) at a strategic point on the grapevine, watch it spread through the organization, and then observe how well it has been received by the employees.
The grapevine is an inevitable part of organisational life. No weed killer yet devised can eradicate it. “The manager’s job is to understand the nature of the grapevine, accept it, prune the distorted branches, and cultivate the good ones.” He must make a constructive use of the grapevine and use it to supplement formal communication.
Features of Grapevine:
a. It is an informal, person-to-person communication network of employees that is not officially sanctioned by the organisation.
b. It links all employees in all directions.
c. It exists in every organisation and becomes powerful when formal channels are closed.
d. Employees use grapevine rumours to fill in important information gaps and clarify management decisions.
e. It tends to be more active during periods of change excitement, anxiety and sagging economic conditions.
f. Grapevine generally emanates from two sources: gossip chain (where a single individual conveys a piece of news to many other people) cluster chain (where a few individuals can convey information to several others.
Coping with the Grapevine:
The grapevine communication offers several important benefits:
(i) It provides workers with an outlet to let off steam by venting their anxieties and frustrations.
(ii) Informal interactions improve the quality of work life. Through such interactions workers learn what behaviours are acceptable and unacceptable,
(iii) The grapevine translates company policies and formal messages into an understandable format, especially from the workers’ point of view.
At the same time, rumours can be very damaging. They mislead people quickly, especially when the target is a high-status superior in the organisation. Information distortions may, sometimes, seriously hamper the smooth flow of work. False rumours create friction between individuals and departments.
In such a scenario, negative attitudes, distrust, ill feelings, etc., may often lead to escalation of tension within an organisation to an unstoppable level. Considering that the grapevine can be an influential and sometimes negative force, what can management do about it?
I. MBWA Technique:
Management by Walking Around is an excellent way to monitor the grapevine in a non-threatening way. MBWA technique requires an executive to talk to employees directly and learn what is going on. It facilitates both upward and downward communication. Managers have a chance to describe key ideas and values to employees and, in turn, learn about the problems and issues confronting employees’.
II. Get the Facts:
One best way to handle rumours is simply to release the correct facts as quickly as possible and let them speak for themselves.
III. Open Communication:
By maintaining open channels of communication and responding vigorously to inaccurate information, the manager can minimize the damage the grapevine can do.
IV. Encourage Social Gatherings:
Social gatherings serve an important role. They promote a strong culture and enhance understanding of how the organisation works.
Channels of Communication:
A channel of communication is the path through which information flows throughout the organization. It may be formal or informal.
1. Formal Communication Network:
Formal Communication networks are systems designed by management to dictate who should talk to whom to get a job done. All downwards, upward and horizontal communications flow through this network. This network is created to regulate the flows of communication so as to avoid any confusion and make it more orderly, timely and smooth.
For instance, through formal channels, information is passed upward from employees to supervisors and laterally to adjacent departments. Instructions relating to the performance of the department and policies for conducting business are conveyed downward from supervisors to employees.
Also, supervisors communicate with sources outside the organization, such as vendors and customers. In a small organization, networks are simple and are hardly noticeable; in a larger organization, they become more intricate.
Some of the merits of formal communication network are discussed below:
i. Satisfy the Information Needs of the Organization:
Formal channels of communication are designed to cater to the informational needs of the organization, i.e., when and where, what kind of information is required and who is to provide it. Thus the formal communication channels are needed for the very reason of activating information flow in the organization.
ii. Integrates the Organization:
Formal communication channels work as linking wires in a big sized organization, and thus integrate its functioning.
iii. Coordination and Control:
By providing required information at right time to right places, the formal communication networks greatly facilitates coordination and control in the organization.
iv. Sorts the Information for High-Level Executives:
Formal communication channels facilitate the flow of selective information to the top executives. Otherwise they will be finding themselves in the midst of all relevant and irrelevant information.
v. Restricts Unwanted Flow of Information:
When a person is supposed to formally communicate some information to some authority, that itself has a restrictive implication that he need not disseminate this information anywhere else.
vi. Reliability and Accuracy of Information:
When information moves through formal channel, it has to have some basis to substantiate it. It is any time more reliable and accurate than the informally obtained information.
However, the formal communication network entails some limitations also:
i. Time Consuming and Expensive:
Since formal communication channels involves lot many levels, information takes time to travel across. Moreover, paper work, involvement of executive’s time, and other facilities required for the communication network make it an expensive proposition.
ii. It Increases the Workload of the Line Supervisor:
Since most of the reporting goes from down to up, generally line supervisor is the person who has to devote a good deal of time because in forwarding information under formal channels. This leaves him with little time to perform other organizational functions properly.
iii. Information May Get Distorted:
There are dangers of messages being lost, filtered or distorted as they pass through many points.
iv. Creates Gaps between Top Executives and Lower Subordinates:
Formal communication channels reduce the need of contact between the top executive and the subordinates at the lowest level. Many a times they do not even recognize each other. This adversely affects superior subordinate relationship.
Whatever these limitations are, the need for a formal network of communication cannot be done away with. An organization has to have a formal communication structure. Of course one can strive to make it more economic and efficient by not being too rigid and too elaborate.
2. Informal Communication Network:
Informal communication network is not a deliberately formed network. It arises to meet needs that aren’t satisfied by formal communication. Employees form friendships, and cliques develop, they talk in gatherings, the persons working at same place may talk just like that, and likewise. These in turn allow employees to fill in communication gaps within the formal channels.
Following are some of the sources of informal communication:
1. Grapevine – channel mostly associated with gossip and rumors
2. Social gatherings – organizational gatherings give a chance to people of various ranks to meet and talk
3. Management by walking around- where a manager informally walks through the work area and casually talk to employees
4. Secretaries/administrative assistants – It is very common that the secretaries or administrative assistants of the top bosses pass and receive much information informally.
Since grapevine is the most widespread and commonly used informal communication network, we would discuss it in detail. The grapevine exists outside the formal channels and is used by people to transmit casual, personal, and social interchanges at work. It is expression of their natural motivation to communicate.
It consists of rumors, gossip, and truthful information. Its speed is very fast as compared formal communication. For instance, a study conducted by Keith Davis revealed that wife of a plant supervisor has a baby at 11.00 p.m. and a plant survey the next day at 2.00 p.m. showed that 46% of the management personnel knew of it through the grapevine.
Characteristics of grapevine can be summarized as follows:
1. The grapevine emerges from the social and personal interaction of the employees rather than formal requirements of the organization.
2. While the grapevine typically is associated with employee communication, it is as prevalent among managers.
3. Grapevine communication occurs mainly at work site.
4. The grapevine is more people-oriented rather than issue oriented.
5. The grapevine generally carries the information that would be inappropriate in formal channels (e.g., social information).
6. Grapevine transmission flows in all directions in an organization.
7. Most grapevine communication is oral.
8. Grapevine information is fast.
9. Grapevine communication generally occurs in a cluster pattern, although it can take other forms also.
10. Grapevine communication can begin and end anywhere in the organization – anywhere we mean spatially and hierarchically
11. As the size of the organization increases, grapevine activity increases.
Patterns of Grapevine Communication:
The grapevine is active in almost every organization. Let’s take a look at how communication travel along the informal network—the well-known grapevine. There appear to be certain patterns to this form of communication as well.
The single strand is the way in which most people view the grapevine. In this, person A tells something to person B, he tells that to person C, he tells that to another person down the line….to Y and so on. This chain is least accurate in passing the information.
In the gossip chain, one person seeks out and tells everyone the information that he has obtained. This chain is often used when information of an interesting but non-job related nature is being conveyed.
In the probability chain, individuals are indifferent about whom they offer information to; they tell people at random, and those people in turn tell others at random. This chain is often used when the information is mildly interesting but insignificant.
In the cluster chain, person A conveys the information to a few selected individuals; some of those individuals then inform a few selected others. Research evidence shows that the cluster is the most popular pattern that grapevine communications take. That is, a few people are active communicators on the grapevine.
As a rule, only about 10 per cent of the people in an organization act as liaisons who pass on information to more than one other person. Which individuals are active on the grapevine often depends on the message. A message that sparks the interest of an employee may stimulate him to tell someone else. However, another message that’s perceived to be of lesser interest may never be transmitted further.
Grapevine show admirable disregards for rank or authority and may link organization members in any combination of directions – horizontal, vertical, and diagonal. As Kieth Devis puts it, the grapevine flows around water coolers, down hallways, through lunchrooms, and wherever people get together in groups.
The informal communication has the following advantages:
1. Satisfies social needs of members- Man being a social creature needs to have social interaction. Informal communication satisfies this need very well. Also, it provides the workers an outlet to freely express their fears, views and thoughts.
2. Better human relations- Informal communication is a very good way to promote good human relations in the organization.
3. Speed- The informal communication (specially grapevine) is a very speedy network to spread the information. Managers may use the grapevine to distribute information through planned leaks or judiciously placed “just between you and me” remarks.
4. It works as a linking chain- It links even those people who do not fall in the official chain of command.
5. It serves to fill the possible gaps in the formal communication. Limitations of informal communication
The limitations of informal communication are as follows:
1. Not authentic – Informal communication is not authentic. The message may get distorted because of different interpretations by different persons.
2. Responsibility cannot be fixed – Informal communication is oral in nature and it is very difficult to fix the responsibility of the communicator for the message transmitted. It may lead to generation of rumors in the organization.
3. Not dependable – Informal channels may not always be active. So informal communication is not dependable.
4. It may lead to the leakage of confidential information.
5. Incomplete information – Grapevine information is generally incomplete.
Note that despite all these limitations, the informal communication system permits employees to satisfy their need for social interaction, and works parallel to the formal network. It can be used positively to improve an organization’s performance by creating alternative, and frequently faster and more efficient channels of communication. The managers can do this if they pay due attention to informal communication networks.
Comparison of Formal and Informal Communication Networks:
Formal and informal communication networks are essential constituents of any organization. Both of them plays different roles according to their respective features. However, they can be compared on many grounds-
1. Formal Communication is based on formal organizational relationships and informal communication is based on personal relationships. It is free from formalities.
2. While the formal system provides a blueprint for the way employees are supposed to communicate, the informal system reflects the ways in which they actually do communicate.
3. The formal channels of communication are preplanned. The informal channels of communication are spontaneous.
4. Formal communication channels are rigid as deviations are not allowed. There is no such thing in informal channels.
5. Information is handled more loosely and freely in grapevine communication than in formal communication because members are not held responsible for distortions in the way they would be for distortion in formal communications.
6. Informal communication is very fast while formal communication slower as it has to follow the path laid down by the management.
7. In case of formal communication, status or position of the parties is very important, while it has no relevance in case of informal communication.
8. Members prefer getting more information from organizational channels than grapevine because of its less than desirable accuracy and reliability.
Channels of Communication: Formal and ‘Grapevine’
1. Formal Communication:
The word ‘formal’ means, ‘being in accordance with the usual requirements, customs, etc.’ Understood in this way formal communication stands for any information, decision, memo, reminder etc. issued by a manager or a person occupying similar position in the organization.
It has the backing of the authority structure or hierarchical system of the organization. Naturally it has some serious purpose and is usually in written form. Instructions given on telephone are also a mode of formal communication.
In the same way, complaints, suggestions etc., sent upwards also fall in the category of formal communication. All these forms of communication reinforce or strengthen the formal structure or character of the organization.
There are certain merits or advantages of formal communication that are listed below:
(i) In the first place it is officially recognized. Nobody can question its authenticity or genuineness. It can be safely depended upon in all circumstances.
(ii) Secondly, formal communication provides support to the authority of superiors over subordinates.
(iii) Thirdly, it becomes easy to fix responsibility for actions taken on the basis of formal communication.
(iv) Formal communication ensures systematic and orderly flow of information and ideas.
(v) The source of information can be easily identified.
(vi) Last, but not the least, formal communication makes it easier to exercise control that is one of its most important functions.
Side by side with the advantages listed above there are also some problems or demerits of formal communication:
(i) In the first place formal communication is expensive as it involves a lot of administrative work. ,
(ii) By the same logic, formal communication is time consuming. Moving through many levels it becomes a slow moving process.
(iii) Lack of intimacy or personal touch is another demerit of formal communication. It is mostly impersonal.
(iv) Filtering or distortion of information often becomes another problem of formal communication.
It has been observed that communication in an organization is built around some patterns or ‘networks’. We may define a network as a pattern of contacts among the members of an organization.
It mainly depends upon the formal channel of communication and the number of persons involved in the communication process. Job specialization and ‘information ownership’ also play an important role in deciding these patterns or networks.
Given below are the five most important networks of communication in an organization:
(a) Single Stand or Chain Network:
In this network one person communicates with one person only. This network is very slow.
(b) Wheel Network:
In the wheel network or pattern, individual members communicate with the central member separately. The central member is a senior authority and the surrounding ones are the subordinates. In this way the wheel network highlights the centralization of power in one person who acts like the hub of a wheel.
In circle or circular network, the message/information moves in a circular fashion. In it an individual may communicate with two others next to him. There is no central figure in this network. The disadvantage of this pattern is that the flow information is very slow.
Free flow or all-channel network allows maximum freedom to all members of the organization to communicate with anyone that they may choose. There is no centralization of authority and the information exchange is fast.
This pattern or network is centralized as the information flows along the predetermined routes. This network is very suitable for simple operations and there is little interaction among the members of the group.
Side by side with formal communication there is a parallel channel of communication in every organization. It is the informal channel of communication. It is also called ‘grapevine’ because, like a grapevine, it runs in all directions.
The term ‘grapevine’ is said to have been first used during the American Civil War when telegraph lines were loosely strung between trees. The soldiers said that the wires looked like a grapevine.
The word ‘grapevine’ is now widely used whenever there is a rumour or unconfirmed report about something, especially about some people’s relationship or some backdoor political bargaining.
The fact is that informal communication or the grapevine has no solid basis or organizational sanction. It happens just because people, generally at the lower level, like to whisper or gossip or indulge in loose talk.
Many people are in the habit of cooking up stories and spreading them. That is why it has been pointed out that the grapevine “flows around water coolers, down hallways, through lunch rooms, and wherever people get together in groups.”
The grapevine becomes specially active under the following circumstances:
(a) Feeling of uncertainty or lack of sense of direction when the organization is passing through a difficult period.
(b) Feeling of inadequacy or lack of self-confidence on the part of the employees, leading to the formation of groups.
(c) Formation of a coterie or favoured group by the manager, giving other employees a feeling of insecurity or isolation.
Types of grapevine chains:
Informal communication or the grapevine does not follow any regular or orderly path.
Researchers have observed and identified the following four types of grapevine chains:
In this type of chain X communicates with Y through intervening persons in a strand. This chain is the least accurate in passing on the information.
In this type of chain one person X seeks out and tells something to everyone,
(c) Probability Chain:
In this type of chain X picks up others at random and is not really interested in them.
(d) Cluster Chain:
This is the most dominant type of chain. In this X selectively communicates with those he can trust.
Importance/Advantages of the Grapevine:
We may or may not like the informal channel of communication or the grapevine. But the fact is that it is there and perhaps will always be. There is a psychological reason behind it. People, especially at the lower level, cannot always communicate within strict rules and regulations.
They are always looking out for like-minded workers, and share their ideas, opinions and feelings with them.
On the positive side, the grapevine has some advantages that are as follows:
1. Speedy Transmission:
Everyone knows that a rumour or unconfirmed report spreads or travels very fast. It is not checked or hampered by the organizational structure or code of conduct.
2. Feedback Value:
Managers or top bosses get valuable feedback regarding their policies, decisions.
3. Support to Other Channels:
The grapevine functions as a supplementary or parallel channel of communication. In some cases, the information unsuitable for the formal channel may be diverted to the informal one.
4. Psychological Satisfaction:
The grapevine is a source of great psychological satisfaction to the workers. It draws them nearer to one another and thus builds-up the solidarity of the organization.
Since the grapevine is oral it does not involve any expenditure on stationery etc. It is inexpensive.
Since the grapevine is mostly built around rumour or gossip it cannot be depended on. One cannot take it seriously.
ii. Incomplete Information:
The grapevine does not always carry complete information. Any information based on guesswork or whispers cannot be complete.
iii. Distortion of Information:
Almost any news, travelling from mouth to mouth, gets distorted on the way.
iv. Problem in Fixing Responsibility:
Since the origin of information is not known it is difficult to hold anybody responsible.
v. The grapevine may damage the reputation of the organization if the management is not extra careful.
Very often confidential information leaks only through the grapevine. Then it becomes counter-productive.
Effective Use of the Grapevine:
The management can make effective use of the grapevine in the following ways:
1. In the first place a tactful manager will keep the employees well-informed about the policy matters of the organization. In this way misunderstandings will not arise.
2. The management can promote fruitful group activities so as to enhance the self-worth of the employees.
3. As far as possible the manager should have an open-door policy.
4. The manager should identify the leaders among the employees and make friends with them.
5. A tactful manager must try to get clues about his functioning from the employees. This is quite easy through regular contact with them.
6. If some employee tries to speak ill of somebody else he should be discouraged.
7. As far as possible the employees should be made party to decision-making through their leaders.
8. Last, but not the least, the manager must learn to be a good, patient listener. If an employee is given a chance to say something that he is keen to say he will feel relieved of the burden on this mind.
In this way we have seen that an organization has both formal and informal channels of communication. Both are important in their own ways. The formal channel strengthens the organization.
The informal channel of communication or the ‘grapevine’ exists because employees like to meet and talk whenever they get a chance. Communication in an organization is built around some patterns or networks.
Channels of Communication: Formal and Informal (with Advantages and Disadvantages)
The choice of media (channel) depends upon several factors including speed of transmission, accuracy, maintaining confidentiality, urgency of message, time available, cost involved, emotional level, feedback, etc. Thus to make the communication very effective, the channel should be carefully chosen.
The two distinct channels of communication are as follows:
1. The formal official channels of communication.
2. The informal channels of communication.
1. Formal Channels of Communication:
The channels of communications established formally by the management are called ‘formal communication’. In other words, the formal channels of communication are used for the transmission of official message within or outside organization. A formal channel of communication is the means of communication normally controlled by people in position of authority in an organization.
All the reports, records and other forms that provide working information to various parts of an organization are included in the formal channel of communication.
Advantage of Formal Communication:
(2) Good atmosphere
(3) Better monitoring
Disadvantage of Formal Communication:
(1) Prevents free flow of information
(2) Time consuming
(3) Affects decision making
Formal channels of communication provide:
(a) Vertical flow of communication and
(b) Horizontal flow of communication.
(a) Vertical Communication:
(i) Vertical includes upward &
(ii) Downward communication,
(i) Upward Communication:
When communication flows from lower level employees to upper level employees, it is called upward communication. Upward communication encourages employees to participate in the decision making process.
Reports, complaints / grievances and suggestions, group gathering, counselling, letters from employees, employee-manager discussions are some common methods of upward communication. The subordinates use upward communication to convey their problems and performances to their superiors.
(ii) Downward Communication:
It is the communication that comes from superior and flow down to the subordinates. Orders, Individual instructions, policy statement, circulars, job sheet, warning etc. form a part of downward communication. In other words, downward communication refers to the flow of information from higher level to lower level employees.
To make downward communication effective, managers should be adequately informed and should also be clear about how much to communicate. Information should be passed on to the correct person. Some authority should be delegated to lower levels to shorten the line of communication.
(b) Horizontal Communication:
Horizontal Communication means communication between people at the same level in an organization, community or peer group. In other words, horizontal communication refers to the flow of information between the superiors of the same rank or two subordinates of the same rank or people working on the same level.
It is also known as lateral communication / sideward or even sometimes termed as “gang plank”. Horizontal communication helps an organization to coordinate the activities of various departments by sharing relevant information.
It is one of the most frequently used channels of communication. Through this communication, executives on same level of management hierarchy are able to exchange information and coordinate their activities without referring all matters to superiors. It solves inter-departmental problems and resolves those conflicts by means of direct communication.
2. Grapevine (Informal Communication):
The informal channel of communication exists in every organization apart from formal channels. Communication which takes place on the basis of informal or social relations among people in an organization is known as informal communication. It follows neither set lines, nor any definite rules but spreads like the grapevine in any direction, anywhere and anytime with a good speed.
Under grapevine, the information is sometimes distorted, hence it is the weakness of this channel. A very common example is usually seen that people at the work place have casual conversation with their friends-colleagues in the office and such conversation is somehow related to the personal as well as business matter too. It generates a rumour which is termed as ‘Grapevine’.
(a) Positive Aspects of Grapevine:
Following are the advantages of Grapevine:
i. The informal communication fulfils the subordinate’s desire to interact and communicate with people so as to find out the latest information.
ii. Information travel faster than formal channel.
iii. There are few things which one cannot talk in formal channels, but can be talked of their which relives the communicator and let him feel light.
iv. Feedback through this channel is much faster. The reactions to decision, policies, and directions are given very quickly.
v. During period of insecurity and uncertainty, the grapevine communication enables members to freely express their fears, attitudes and thoughts.
(b) Negative Aspects of Grapevine:
Some negative aspects of the grapevine are as under:
i. The grapevine carries partial information at times as it is based on rumours. Thus, it does not clearly depict the complete state of affairs.
ii. As this channel is an unauthorized channel and everything is done by word of mouth. So, this method is less Authentic.
iii. The information is interpreted and then transmitted. There are likely chances that the information is not fully conveyed and can therefore be misunderstood.
iv. The message can be distorted for one’s happiness or satisfaction which can create trouble or harm to the rest of the organization.
Crosswise communication includes the horizontal flow of information across different levels of an organizations hierarchy. It flows across different levels in an organization, among those people who may not have direct reporting relationship.
It is also termed as Diagonal Communication. In other words, the communication between different departments of equal, higher or even lower position is termed as Diagonal or crosswise communication.
It is used to speed up the flow of information. It makes efforts more effective for achieving organizational goals. Crosswise communication may create some confusion and difficulties and affect unity of command. Channels of such communication are general notices, informal meetings, formal conference, lunch hour meeting etc.
Importance of Crosswise Communication:
i. It helps in proper co-ordination and makes communication more effective.
ii. It improves mutual understanding and boost morale of lower level through interactions across all levels in organization.