Formal & Informal Business Communication

by Christina Callaway ; Updated September 26, 2017
Informal and formal business communication is dynamic.

Profitable organizations rely on formal and informal business communication patterns. Formal communication channels provide structure toward productive outcomes. Informal interactions allow authentic relationships to be built and alternative methods to create meaning in the organization. Both complement each other and can strengthen the company when effectively applied. Each can be planned, but informal communication is usually spontaneous.

Purpose of Formal Communication

Formal business communication is a strategic exchange of information that supports a clear agenda. This information is traditionally considered as in-house method of communication, but can include structured interactions with people and entities outside the organization.

Formal communication can also trigger informal interactions. For example, a chief officer may schedule a tour or town hall meeting where a free flow of comments on topics of discussion are encouraged. However, these can lead to personal interactions, stories and ideas that were not on the original agenda.

Types of Formal Communication

Formal communication supports company values.

Organizations may communicate to their internal team through written or verbal communication. Managers may use formal written tools such as emails, blog entries, orientation training materials or newsletters. Speech presentations, meetings and scheduled conferences are examples of verbal interactions as a formal communication strategy. Formal communication can also include strategic placement of office signage, employee reviews and collaboration with non-profit organizations. News briefs and executive appearances are also creative ways to enhance business relationships through formal communication.

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Purpose of Informal Communication

Spontaneous interactions spark a ‘grapevine’ of information shared through informal communication networks. Informal business communication should complement formal networks. Authentic and profitable relationships are solidified through this method. Sometimes, the informal atmosphere can result in casual and careless distribution of information. For this reason, all personnel should be especially careful about sharing sensitive information while communicating informally. Although written communication can also be informal, it should be appropriate to avoid legal and ethical issues.

Types of Informal Communication

Informal verbal communication can take place during lunch breaks, hallway interactions and phone calls. Creative business communicators may deliberately include handwritten notes, text messages and anniversary recognitions and birthday cards to build rapport with their coworkers.

Dynamics of Corporate Communication

Information can be delivered from management to employee, or vice versa. Companies that are founded primarily in formal networks rarely deviate from the rules and protocols. On the other hand, informal corporate cultures encourage spontaneity and casual networks. Regardless of the company culture, organizations grow through a strategic balance of formal and informal networks. Organizations benefit from establishing an open communication network that includes feedback from employees and managers alike.


  • "The Corporate Communicator, a Senior-Level Strategist: The IABC Handbook of Organizational Communication"; Nick Durtta et.al; 2006
  • "Excellence in Business Communication"; John V. Thill and Courtland L. Bovee; 1991

About the Author

Since 1999, Christina Callaway has written and developed marketing communications programs for a range of small businesses, start-up ventures and Fortune 500 companies. She is also a speaker and trainer specializing in integrated communications.

Photo Credits

  • communication arrows image by Attila Toro from Fotolia.com
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