Formal Communication: Meaning, Types, Characteristics, Advantages and Disadvantages



Formal communication means a communication taking place in official manner via following proper channels and route. It is simply defined as structured and official flow of information in between manager, employees, colleagues and various other people serving at distinct positions within the organization. Formal communication is deliberate and controlled effort for exchanging information among peoples which makes it possible to convey information at all desired points without any barrier. There are well-defined rules, system, regulations, policies and procedures within which such communication takes place thereby making it more systematic and timelier. Formal communication is also termed as official communication because of its strict adherence to official rules and regulation meant for carrying out seamless communication within organization. 

This type of communication, more typically, is conveyed from top level managers to various departments and workers. The channels utilized for formal communication are pre-determined in company which are followed diligently both by higher management as well as employees. Formal communication can be used for both internal and external purposes i.e., within the organization and corresponding with external stakeholders. However, formal communication is time-consuming process whereby all pre-established norms need to be followed in adequate manner. Annual meetings and team meet held by company’s managers are examples of formal communication.

Characteristics of Formal communication

The characteristics of formal communication are well-discussed in points given below: – 

  1. Chain of command: The chain of command is a key tool needed for establishing formal mode of communication. A chain of command simply defines the hierarchy within organization through which information flows from one person to another. Every employee of company be it top leaders, manager, subordinates or workers at low positions need to necessarily follow this chain for having systematic flow of information.
  2. Well defined rules and regulations: Formal communication have set of well-defined rules and regulation which is its key characteristic. All the official interchange of information is carried out within the scope of these pre-established rule which avoids all hindrances to communication. Employees are required to diligently abide by these rules under all circumstances. 
  3. Binding: Binding means bound to follow the established rules and guidelines by organization. Each and every employee involved in formal interchange of information are bound by organization for strictly adhering to each of predefined rules, regulations and policies. 
  4. Organizational message: Organizational message refers to formal or official information which company seeks to send to all its relevant people. It can be confidential piece of information that can have major impacts on functioning of company. Formal means of communication deals only with interchange of information having organizational purpose but not with any personal messages.  
  5. Formal relations: Formal communication is adopted among those people who carries some formal relations among them. Employees involved in formal communication are formally related with one another which is identified by organization. Both sender as well as receiver carries some sort of organization purpose.  
  6. Reference point: There is always presence of reference point in formal means of communication. Documents are recorded during communication which is used by person as point of reference in case if needed.
  7. Delegation of authority: Formal communication involves delegation of authority from superior level to lower level within the organization. This communication is utilized by top management for delegating authority to their subordinates.
  8. Written and oral: Formal communication take place in both the modes i.e., written as well as oral means of communication. The daily works of organization are handled via oral means of communication and matters concerning polices framed by management require written communication.  
  9. Routine communication: It is one of the major characteristics of formal communication which means occurring repeatedly on routine basis. Formal communication is generally the routine communication taking place among employees.   
  10. Cooperation and coordination: This type of communication is an integral part of cooperation as well as coordination. For successful interchange of official information among each intended individual, proper cooperation and coordination is required from everyone involved in formal communication.
  11. Deliberate effort: Formal communication requires sincere efforts for its creation but does not establish on its own. While designing the formal channels of communication, the organizational objectives are taken into consideration. The efforts are made for synchronizing the channels design with goals and objectives of organization.

Types of Formal communication

Types of formal communication is categorized on two bases: On the basis of flow of communication and on the basis of level of communication. 

Based on flow of communication-

The types of formal communication on this basis are as follows: – 

  1. Single chain: Single chain type of formal communication exist in between subordinate and his senior officers. There are numerous levels within the organization with each person in these levels acting as both superior as well as subordinate, except person at top or bottom. This type of information flow via single chain in organizational hierarchy is quite easy to manage as well as systematic in nature. However, single chain communication is a time-taking and very unproductive activity.  
  2. Circular: It is type of communication that moves in circular manner. Under circular channel, each individual is in contact and can communication with 2 persons that are adjacent to him. But the drawback of circular channel is slow flow of information.
  3. Wheel: Wheel channel of communication is one in which each of the subordinates who works under supervision and direction of one superior, communicates via their senior only. The superior act like a hub or effective center to the wheel. There is no horizontal communication among subordinates under this type of channel as no one is permitted to be in contact with one another. Lack of coordination is one of the major disadvantages of wheel channel of communication.
  4. Free flow: Free flow is channel type under which each and every person is allowed to communicate and be in touch with other persons within the organization. This is very informal and adjustable system of communication taking into consideration its facts. In simple terms, the free flow channel is type of communication which is unstructured in nature. 
  5. Inverted: Inverted channel of communication is one where person is allowed to communicate with his immediate senior and his senior’s senior. The subject matter of communication is specified in subsequent condition. Flow of information is quite fast and effective under this channel of communication.

Based on level of communication:

Following are the types of communication based on level of communication: – 

  1. Vertical communication: Vertical communication is type of communication where information flows among various people working at distinct roles and positions from top to bottom and vice-versa. The information here flows in both upward and downward direction from management to subordinates and subordinates to management as per the need of hour. Vertical communication is further divided into 2 sub-categories which are downward communication and upward communication.

a). Downward communication: Downward communication is a type of formal communication where information flows from management level to subordinate level. It is very common type of communication in which information passes from top to bottom i.e., from people serving top management positions to peoples working at lower level within organization.
Formal communication consists of policies, rules, order, instructions, information and many more. Information to be communicated may be either in written or oral form which is dependent upon importance of message and status of peoples involves in communication process. A major advantage provided by this type of formal communication is timely flow of information that leads to improvement in overall work performance.

b). Upward communication: Upward type of communication is just the opposite of downward communication. Under this, information flows in upward direction from bottom to top i.e., from subordinates at low levels to superiors at upper level. The communication initiates at lowest stage and keeps on passing to next stage until it reaches the top most level. Main purpose of passing information is to provide feedbacks but is not directive or authoritative by nature. The subject matter included in upward communication are requests, complaint, suggestions, opinions, reaction, reports etc. All these assist a lot to peoples at management level in taking key decisions for smooth functioning of company.

  1. Horizontal communication: Horizontal communication is communication type taking place among peoples working at same level or status within the organization. It is also termed as lateral communication due to the interchange of information horizontally among individuals at same positions. The information is shared among co-workers with distinct areas of responsibilities but of same level. This includes communication in between managers of distinct departments like finance, HR, marketing, production etc. Mostly subject matter of horizontal communication includes mutual problem, suggestions, requests, information and coordination-related information.
  1. Diagonal communication: This type of communication involves flow of information in zig-zag or diagonal manner in all directions instead of only vertical or horizontal direction. Under diagonal communication, people belonging to distinct positions and different departments can communicate with one another. Flow of information is not bound by chain of command, job level or positions. A communication taking place in between floor manager and sales team is a good example of diagonal communication.

Advantages of Formal communication

Various advantages of formal communication are well-explained in points given below: – 

  1. Maintains authority of officers: Formal communication network helps in maintaining constant relations among superior and subordinates due to which righteousness and decorum of line superiors is maintained. As a result of this, it becomes quite easy for executives to control and fix the responsibility of subordinates which is much needed for effective and successful control. These executives are one which carries responsibility of getting their work done by subordinates and are accountable to their superiors. 
  2. Systematic flow of information: The information flow under formal communication is systematic as there are well-defined routes through which information passes from one person to another. Overall communication take place in adherence with rule and standards, thereby making it more fruitful and worthwhile. 
  3. Offers clear and effective communication: Under formal type of communication, both supervisor and subordinates are in direct contact with one another. They can easily understand the feelings, habit, capability, emotions, competencies etc. of one another. Managers are well aware that when and under what situations their subordinates will need information. Therefore, this communication in this manner is capable of making information available timely making it clearer and more effective.
  4. Permanent record: Every formal communication such as reports, letter or memos are stored permanently. A file containing copy of formal communication is always preserved for using it as reference in future decision-making. Whenever required, the copy of this can be easily attained. 
  5. Free from mistakes: This type of communication is free from errors due to strict adherence to well-defined rules and regulation. As a result of these regulations, the chances of mistakes occurring while exchanging information among employees gets reduced.

Disadvantages of Formal communication

The disadvantages of formal communication are as listed below: – 

  1. Inflexibility: Formal communication is rigid form of communication in which changes can’t be easily done when required. If any person out of the channel is willing to change his view, it is quite impossible. 
  2. Costly: It requires huge cost due to maintaince of several formalities of communication. Each and every policy as well as rules of organization need to be obeyed adequately which even becomes critical under situations where time factor plays a major role.
  3. Work overload: Formal communication results in increasing the overall workload of superiors. Nowadays in modern business organizations, there is large information, messages and various other things which needs to be communicated. Every piece of information gets conveyed through superiors who acts like a communication channel that ultimately increase their workload. 
  4. Dilutes accuracy of messages: Formal communication often results in dilution of actual messages which gets conveyed from top level to lowest level following the long organizational hierarchy. It is because many time the distance in between sender and receiver is too big that it has to pass many hands for reaching its ultimate destination. By the time it reaches, it gets distorted and fails to serve its purpose.   
  5. Delay in decision making: Formal communication requires more time as information passes through various level and stages of organization. Overall there is much wastage of time which ultimately slow down the process of decision making.