Shadow Communication Loops

Informal Communication Networks

Alongside the formal communication networks within the organization are the informal networks.

Informal communication networks otherwise called shadow communication loops or shadow loops can be more important in a business than the formal ones.

The shadow loops are made up of friends and close colleagues within and across the formal lines who talk to each other about the company. These people know much about the personal and private lives of people at work, including their bosses. Through secretaries or maintenance personnel, they know about changes before the changes happen. The rumor mills are kept going in the informal networks called the shadow loops.

Functions of Shadow Communication Loops

The shadow communication loops function in various ways including the following:

1.  Confirming formal communication

Shadow loops function to confirm formal communication. Suppose someone missed the day that an announcement was made in a group meeting. The next day, the person might talk to someone he or she knows and trusts about the formal communication. Perhaps the formal memo was ambiguous or unusual. The informal network is used to check it out.

2.   Elaborating formal communication

Shadow loops may also serve to elaborate on formal communication. Often, key questions go unanswered in the official version. The “grapevine” or shadow loop goes to work and gets an answer—or makes up its own answer. When information is omitted, the minds of the people fill the vacuum. That is a problem.

3.   Expediting formal communication

Shadow loops function to expedite formal communication. Formal communication does not reach everyone involved in the organization. The informal channels spread the word to those who did not hear.

Shadow loops function at times to contradict formal communication. When the formal “party line” must say one thing for political or other reasons, the informal network sets the record straight.

4.   Circumventing formal communication

Shadow loops function to circumvent formal communication. This function of shadow loops is used often. It is used more in a bureaucracy. Often, the formal rules prevent workers from accomplishing the assignment. So, they circumvent formal channels and talk on the side or under the table. Everyone knows, yet no one knows, that this activity takes place. Sayings like, “It’s easier to get forgiven than permission,” or “If anyone asks, I didn’t know about it,” are common in such situations.

5.   Supplementing formal communication

Finally, but certainly not the least, shadow loops function to supplement the formal communication. A formal system can never cover the bases. Therefore, an informal system buttresses the formal system. For this reason, people within an organization should be aware of both systems and learn to use them skillfully.

Intentional use of informal network is actually recommended by some business writers as the way to promote oneself in a career. These writers use the phrase office politics. They include the use of the informal network to supplement the corresponding use the formal network for personal grain.

Studies have proven that effectiveness in an organization requires skillful use of the informal as well as the formal communication network. For this to work, it must be done honestly and ethically, not in some Machiavellian fashion.

In fact, the old industrial organization makes the use of politics to promote oneself an inevitable thing. As we changed to the new systems of the information age, office politics of a different genre have come to exist. Things posted on Facebook® or YouTube® have affected careers in many different ways.

Using the Informal Communication Network, Also Known as the Shadow Loop, Entails

  • cultivating relationships at all levels.
    Some corporate cultures do not allow this. Yet, in today’s dynamic organization, to manage and lead from the middle it is not optional but a requirement. Everyone in the organization are unique and each have important view of the business.

    It benefits the organization to open channels of communication with as many of these people as possible. Be a friend to secretaries, custodians, line workers, shipping clerks, and vice presidents. Everyone enjoys a friendly greeting and an easygoing conversation. That is how relationships start. The relationship must be in place before the information can flow. Do not wait until you need information to try to cultivate friendships.
  • cultivating the art of asking questions.
    Once you have a network of relationships that go beyond the usual, then cultivate the art of asking questions. Questions are like magic. Think about it for a moment. Questions elicit information. They are the buttons that activate a person’s information dispenser. Resisting a question is practically impossible. Not answering a direct question requires a conscious effort.

    Asking good questions is a skill well worth developing, especially for leaders and managers. Help yourself excel in the workplace by learning to ask questions that give the information needed in a way that is comfortable to the one to whom the question is directed. Not only do questions cause a person to give information, but also they trigger the brain in both parties to search for an answer. Questions are even more powerful to the one who asks them. That is why it is so important to ask good questions. Asking bad questions can throw a person off course.
  • being discreet
    Using the shadow loop network also calls for being discreet. Do not embarrass another person by quoting this person to the wrong people or by being seen talking to the person at a time that might send the wrong signal to the person’s department colleagues. Learn to politely not give certain information that may unnecessarily hurt or alarm. Always walk among your network of relationships with integrity. None of these ideas are mutually exclusive, but they do call for wisdom.