How well you communicate with your staff determines how effectively your message is conveyed and understood and then your requests are acted upon/enacted.
Organisations use both formal and informal methods of communicating – and each is suited for a different purpose.
Here are some informal communication methods, along with their pros and cons.
Everyday chit-chat and impromptu conversations are an effective way of informally communicating with your staff. The engagements can be both social and professional.
Social interactions, such as a quick catch up in the kitchen or a comment in passing, can be good for building rapport with staff and getting to know them. Even conversing with staff about business issues, in a professional manner, can be used for informal communication.
Conversing with employees in this manner goes largely undocumented. It is useful for giving encouragement, or praise for a job well done. It is the most effective form of communication when it comes to being very clearly understood. You can see the reactions of your staff, and they equally can observe your demeanour and body language. More importantly, you can each clarify any misunderstandings with further questioning.
Social conversation when used in formal, pre-arranged meetings is great for breaking the ice and easing into the business of the day. Talking to your employees, whether about their roles and their work or about their personal lives, allows you to form and develop relationships with them. When you better understand each other, you work together better.
Informal conversation may also prompt employees to feed back about something that they may otherwise have kept to themselves. Issues that wouldn’t have otherwise come to light can then be dealt with. It’s also great for stimulating ideas; innovation often stems from this sort of collaboration.
Those in management positions are more likely to be able to discern what their staff honestly feel about something when it’s verbalised. Employees usually feel more comfortable voicing their concerns than they do putting them in writing.
One drawback of this method of informal communication is that it is not documented, and this can have repercussions for business conversations. If you ask another member of staff to do something for you, yet on following up with them you discover that they haven’t done it, then there is no proof that the conversation took place. A formal request, in writing, or by email, would not have resulted in the same problem.
Conversations can also become heated. Having a quiet word with a staff member about their attitude or timekeeping is often a great way to quickly sort out an issue. But if there is a difference of opinion, then an argument could ensue, and without careful management, could escalate.
The phone is another method of informal communication. It shares many of the benefits and drawbacks with talking to staff, but has the added disadvantage that you cannot see each other.
When you can’t see the reactions and subtle responses of the person you’re talking to, it makes conversation more difficult. You have to work harder with your words to ensure that you are understood.
Using the phone is great for chasing up on things, as it’s an immediate method of communication and one that few people will ignore. But it’s not as good as face-to-face communication where the subject matter is more detailed or serious in nature.
Body language and tone of voice
Body language is a method of informal communication - even though it is not one that is typically purposefully used.
It’s more the case that body language confirms and corroborates what you’re saying. Or, if you’re not being entirely truthful, it can also catch you out. Non-verbal “tells” can make the person you’re speaking to doubt what you’re saying and question your truthfulness.
The tone of voice that is used can also belie true intentions. It is easy to read how motivated or enthusiastic someone is by their voice. If you are not one hundred per cent behind something you’re announcing, then saying it may be more risky than putting out a written statement or sending an email.
While email can perhaps be considered more formal these days, instant messaging applications are firmly in the informal camp. Many companies use these systems as they facilitate quick and easy communication between staff. Messages pop up instantly and have an urgency about them that it is hard to ignore, unlike email which is easier to avoid until you’re ready to deal with it.
However, just like email, written communications using instant messaging are subject to being taken the wrong way. This is especially true where they are typed in haste, as sometimes is the case on instant messaging.
It is very difficult to convey the emotion behind the written word, so it may not always be clear if the writer is being a bit jokey or sarcastic. When what you’re saying is misinterpreted, and your intentions are not understood in the way you wished them to be, it can create hurt and anger.
Which informal communication methods are best?
Effective communication is key to business success and there are times when one informal communication method is better than another.
Communicating successfully is all about getting the right balance and knowing which to use in every type of situation.
Author: Melissa Jones
Mel is the Content Manager at breatheHR. She regularly contributes insights into the current small business climate with a focus on how HR is crucial to the success and growth of UK startups.