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Formal Communication: Meaning, Types, Networks, Merits and Demerits

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The process of exchange of ideas, views, facts, feelings, etc., between two or more persons to reach a common understanding is known as Communication. Communication is a social process as it involves two or more persons. It is a pervasive and continuous function. There are two main communication channels: Formal and Informal communication channels. 

Formal Communication

Official communication taking place in an organisation is known as formal communication. It is related with the status or position of the sender and receiver. It generally takes place either between employees of different levels as in the case of superior-subordinate or at the same levels as in the case of two managers from different departments. It is used to communicate official information, such as orders, instructions, and other organisational information. It can be oral or written, but it is generally recorded and filed for future reference. 

On the basis of direction, formal communication can be of four types:

  1. Downward Communication
  2. Upward Communication
  3. Horizontal Communication
  4. Diagonal Communication

It must be kept in mind that Downward and Upward Communication are vertical in nature. Vertical communication flows either downwards or upwards. 

Downwards Communication

The flow of information from a higher level (superior) to a lower level (subordinate) in an organisation is known as downwards communication.
Communication of policies, procedures, orders, instructions, notices for meetings, circulars, manuals, etc., is the main objective of downwards communication. The speed of downward communication is very fast.

Upward Communication

The flow of information from a lower level (subordinates) to a higher level (superior) of an organisational hierarchy is known as upward communication.
The main objective is to communicate reports, suggestions, complaints, grievances, progress reports, applications for grant of leave, etc., to the superior. The speed of upward communication is comparatively less than downward communication.

Horizontal Communication or Lateral Communication

The flow of information between people of different departments working at the same level in an organisation is known as Horizontal Communication.
The main aim of Horizontal Communication is to coordinate different activities of two or more departments. It also aims to resolve the interrelated problems between the departments. For example, a finance manager may discuss the promotional cost of new products with the marketing manager. 
This type of communication can adversely affect the productivity and efficiency of the organisation if there is a difference in the approach and vision of people of different departments. Differences in approach can lead to conflicts between the departments. 

Diagonal Communication

The flow of information between persons holding different levels of authority in different departments is known as Diagonal Communication.
The main aim of Diagonal Communication is to increase the efficiency of the organisation by speeding up the communication process and cutting across departmental barriers. For example, a discussion between Designing manager and a salesperson regarding the liking and disliking of people regarding a product. 
This type of communication violates the principle of unity of command, and sometimes the superior may feel ignored when his subordinate talks directly to the managers of different departments.

Networks of Formal Communication

There are different types of communication networks operating under a formal organisation. Single Chain Network, Wheel Network, Circular Network, Free Flow Network, and Inverted V Network are some of the most prominent networks.

  1. Single Chain Network: Under this, communication flows from every superior to his subordinate through a single chain. Scalar chain of command is strictly followed here, and every member is attached to one person.
  2. Wheel Network: Under this, all communications pass through one superior, who acts as a central authority. It is similar to a hub of wheel. Subordinates can communicate through one superior and are not allowed to talk among themselves. It is generally seen in centralised organisations.
  3. Circular Network: Under this, the communication flows in a circle. Each person can communicate with his two adjoining colleagues. Participative system is represented by a circular network. 
  4. Free Flow Network: Under this, there is no restrictions on the flow of communication. Everyone is free to communicate with anyone they wish to, and because of this, the flow of information is very fast.
  5. Inverted V Network: Under this, a subordinate is allowed to communicate with his immediate superior as well s his superior’s superior, but in the latter case only prescribed communication takes place. 

Merits of Formal Communication

  • Orderly flow of information is ensured in formal communication.
  • Responsibilities can be fixed as the source of information can be located.
  • Authority responsibility relationships can be maintained easily with the help of formal communication.
  • Control over the work performance of different employees can be exercised with the help of formal communication.

Demerits of Formal Communication

  • This type of communication channel can be time-consuming.
  • It acts as a hindrance to the free and uninterrupted flow of information.
  • An impersonal manner is used to convey the information in the case of formal communication.
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Last Updated : 06 Apr, 2023
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