Both formal and informal communications are critical components of many organizations. As a result, organizations nowadays develop strategies that enable them to communicate effectively with their internal employees. Policy documents of most progressive organizations are characterized by terms like HR communication, quality circle, and internal customer communication among others because of the importance attached to communication in organizations. Various developments in communication are an indication that it is extremely important in organizations and disrupting it would cause dissatisfaction among employees. Thus, some organizations have started to focus on informal communication, which is prevalent in the workplace. This essay looks at informal communication in the workplace (Boudreau, 2004).
Informal Communication as a Primary Communication Method at the Workplace
Informal communication is also referred to as grapevine. This type of communication originates from informal relationships among groups of people at the workplace. It grows in a spontaneous manner from individual interests to the interests of a group. Informal communication may be understood through a smile, nod, gesture, simple glance, or in some situations, silence. An informal channel of communication is very effective because it transmits information very fast. Informal communication in organizations functions as a network, which is not official although official matters are deliberated and certain actions taken (Buch, 2009).
The first characteristic of informal communication is that it does not have a permanent structure. The second one is that it gives suggestions on how communication networks should function. The third characteristic is that it can be detrimental to formal communication while the fourth one is that it has the ability to create its own organizational structure. Informal communication at the workplace occurs due to the proximity of employees and a perception that some of them are knowledgeable and reliable (Krisco, 1997).
Informal communication at the workplace is important because it enables employees to fill in gaps that are not filled through official communication. This makes them develop a feeling of ownership of information. It enables employees to express their feelings and discuss information that cannot be discussed in formal communication. Through informal communication, management has an opportunity to learn the feelings and thoughts of employees, which cannot be understood through formal communication (Communication in the Workplace, 2012).
However, informal communication is associated with rumors that may lead to problems in an organization. Other incomplete rumors may cause employees to engage in guesswork in a bid to replace the missing information. Rumors may also reduce the secrecy of information, which leads to the spread of confidential information in an inaccurate manner. Rumors spread among different employees because of the ambiguous nature of information communicated and the credibility of individuals who spread the information. Employees believe rumors if the information communicated is considered important and in situations where management is opaque. They also believe rumors when the information is of interest to them (Picardi, 2001).
Distortions that characterize informal communication are caused by condensation, which involves the elimination of some details when information cannot be retained in its entirety. Distortions are also caused by the sharpening of information, additions, and discriminative listening by the recipient. Informal communication has the potential to cause disastrous consequences in organizations hence managers should be aware of its existence and how to handle it (Ludden, 2007).
Factors behind Evolution of Informal Communication at the Workplace
Most organizations do not encourage informal communication at the workplace, but the truth is that it exists and plays a critical role in organizational communication networks. One of the factors that contribute towards the evolution of informal communication at the workplace is that employees do not have adequate freedom to express their views and thoughts to management. Employees would therefore gather during the coffee time to discuss the latest policies in their organizations (Wrench, 2013).
The second factor that has led towards the evolution of informal communication at the workplace is the need for employees to build relationships through talking and sharing thoughts, ideas and feelings. Employees engage in informal communication to discuss job-related issues with their colleagues, new members of staff, their interests, family issues, and future plans. These discussions give them an opportunity to relax. Communication at the workplace requires employees to come together and talk because such closeness enables them to build strong relationships, which increases productivity. In recent times, organizations have been supporting some forms of informal communications as a strategy to get finer details of what happens within organizations (Elchoufani, 2012).
The third factor that has contributed to the evolution of informal communication at the workplace is that it is used by employees as a way of promoting themselves. As individuals engage in informal communication at the workplace, they get an opportunity to present themselves, express their aspirations and what they have achieved. They are able to communicate to others about positive contributions they have made to their organization. Decisions about opportunities and promotions are largely informed by information obtained informally. For example, junior employees may establish informal networks with their seniors during tea break with the aim of getting important information on how they can advance in their careers. They try to find out work assignments that might help them achieve their desired positions and how they can acquire requisite skills and competencies. Thus, informal communication at the workplace helps employees to interact with their seniors in a relaxed manner for purposes of acquiring important information on career growth. An informal conversation between an employee and a senior manager might help the employee to get prepared for challenging work assignments (Communication in the Workplace, 2012).
The fourth factor that has contributed towards the evolution of informal communication at the workplace is that it helps employees to develop personal relationships as they operate in teams. For instance, there are situations when employees get promotions to lead their team members and are required to supervise their peers. Although this is professionally taken as a normal occurrence, it might be difficult for an employee to supervise his former team members. In such a situation, a team leader would use informal communication to evaluate the attitudes and feelings of the team members. On the other hand, the team would feel that their colleague has not changed because they still engage in informal communication.
Methods of Informal Communication
There are different methods of informal communication that are used at the workplace. The first form of informal communication used at the workplace is face-to-face communication. Employees at the workplace engage in face-to-face communication, which is different from other forms of formal communication. One advantage of face-to-face communication is that employees are able to establish close relationships within a short duration of time. The other advantage is that employees are able to observe the body language of their colleagues as they talk. As a result, it is possible to make personal judgments about the conversation. This is not possible in other forms of informal communication such as the telephone.
The second type of informal communication at the workplace is texting. This type of informal communication gives employees an opportunity to get instant feedback from their colleagues without having to physically move to them. It also eliminates the need to talk hence it provides a quiet office environment. This type of communication is used by employees to communicate confidential information because it is different from telephone, which is easily overheard. Employees can share information on different topics at the workplace through texting.
The third form of informal communication at the workplace is unplanned opportunistic interactions. These occur when employees meet their colleagues accidentally as they execute their duties at the workplace. For example, an employee moving around the office when he/she has little work might meet other employees and engage in a short conversation. This enables them to exchange ideas on different subjects which might be related to work or family matters. Opportunistic interactions are often brief and are not initiated in a formal way like starting with greetings and ending with farewells.
The fourth form of informal communication at the workplace is quick and spontaneous meetings. These are unplanned meetings that take place when employees see one another. They are usually quick and any topic could be the subject of discussion. Some of the topics discussed in such interactions include organizational policies, promotions, work challenges, and general working conditions.
Effective use of Informal Communication by Managers
Informal communication at the workplace is a reality that organizations must accept. Depending on how they treat it, it can either lead to productive relationships among employees or cause anxiety and problems. There are certain factors that managers should be aware of in order to use informal communication at the workplace effectively (Zander, 2002).
The first factor that managers should be aware of is that informal communication can be used to spread rumors and inaccurate information at the workplace. Rumors at the workplace spread due to ambiguous information and the credibility of people who communicate it. Employees are likely to believe rumors from people they consider worth listening to. It is the responsibility of managers to evaluate the consequences of rumors and address issues in good time. Some managers do not take time to address issues discussed by employees during their free time since they think that this portrays them as weak managers. However, it is important for them to address rumors and inaccurate information at the right time before employees become uncontrollable (Subramanian, 2006).
The second factor that a manager should be aware of is that informal communication at the workplace is important because it enables employees to achieve certain work-related activities. This is made possible because of their physical proximity. The physical closeness of employees initiates frequent and spontaneous face-to-face communications, which enable planning and negotiation of different tasks to take place. Elimination of ad hoc communication at the workplace might lead to negative impacts hence managers should be fully aware of the importance of informal communication.
The third factor that managers should be aware of is the importance of employee relationships in the workplace. Human beings are social in nature hence they feel comfortable when they get an opportunity to interact with other people and exchange ideas. Managers should realize that it is through informal communication that employees share issues that affect their performance with their colleagues. Allowing informal networks at the workplace might be an important way of ensuring that the productivity of employees is increased.
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