When we are dealing with the process of communication related to work within organisations, one comes across a distinction made between formal and non-formal communications. In organisations there are prescribed sources and channels for transmitting different messages. For example, announcements about increase of salaries are made by certain authorities.
Promotions, rewards and punishments are communicated by somebody else. Most messages to people are expected to be transmitted through the immediate boss. Such communication which flows from prescribed sources through prescribed channels is known as formal communication. Most of the communications in organisations flows through such formal channels.
This procedure has the advantage in that it ensures authenticity and veracity of communication and the receiver knows what type of information is to be expected from which source and which channel. When organisations are large and the levels of hierarchy are many, this procedure can suffer from delays.
Similarly, total dependence on such formal channels may not be very functional always and certainly under exceptional and emergency situations where the source is at a very high level and in-spite of all the care to ensure the communication does flow through formal channels in every organisations there are occasions when communication cuts across formal channels and gets transmitted through channels ‘Which are not formally prescribed.
Thus, confidential information is often transmitted through channels which are not formal. The boss asks his trusted secretary to pass on some confidential message to another person directly even by-passing others in the hierarchy.
Such non-formal communication becomes necessary in all organisations on occasions. But, if non-formal channels are used indiscriminately this can result in confusion, indiscipline, lack of coordination, erosion of authority and a host of other problems. Such non-formal channels have to be used very sparingly and with utmost care.