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What is formal communication?

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Formal communication is a system of passing messages and information between positions within an organization through officially designated channels, according to Oregon State University. It differs from informal communication in that the former entails interactions between individuals and groups within an organization that do not follow designated formal channels.

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Formal communication is usually described in an organization’s official documents, such as policy manuals and organizational structures, to ensure that everyone in the institution understands them. There are three types of formal communication: downward, upward and horizontal communication.

In downward formal communication, messages are passed from a superior to a subordinate, for example from a manager to an employee. Such information may include feedback, job instructions and procedures. Upward communication involves transmission of messages from a lower level to a higher level within the organization. For example, employees can initiate communication with their supervisors. Messages that may be transmitted using upward communication include employee complaints, requests for clarification, problem reporting and the perceptions of subordinates on organizational procedures, policies and tasks. Horizontal communication involves the exchange of messages between functional positions at a particular level within an institution. It facilitates information sharing and coordination to ensure efficiency, although it is time consuming.

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