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How to use formal and casual communications in the construction industry?

Project management led by the project managers is essential for each and every project in the
construction industry. One of the major characteristics of project management is the
management of communication within the project. Communication is the transfer of information,
where the participants of the project share their ideas in order to achieve project goals in a certain
period of time. So, when unfamiliar groups of people such as primary and secondary stake-
holders part company together for a short time period to work on their aims, the communication
meets a significant number of challenges (Dainty et al. 2006). This Communication follows
through several no. of channels, where we have to identify them clearly and understand the way
to use them properly.

Smith (2017) has introduced a formula to calculate the number of communication channels used
in a project with respect to the number of people who are involved in communication.
Communication channels are the modes in which people communicate with each other. For
example, if there are two persons communicating with each other, the communication channels
available in that communication are only one. Figure 1 shows how the communications
channels are present when communication happens between more persons. So, it is important to
find out the number of communication channels available in the chains of any organization. In
order to calculate the number of channels, the following formula can be used.

No. of Communication Channels = N × (N-1) / 2

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Figure 1: Communication Channels (Ganttalot, 2012)

These communication channels exist in any communication between two or more people based
on two specific types. Those can be pointed to as formal and casual communication channels.
Casual communication can be defined as informal communications occurring between personals
as well as groups (Davis 2019). The transmission of official information through suitable,
designated channels is referred to as formal communication (Garvey 2019). A hierarchical
structure and a chain of official data transmission of a project govern the formal communication.
In order to maintain the consistency of communication within the project, the balance of casual
and formal communication channels within a chain of commands or hierarchical structure must
be done. Therefore, the project managers should clearly understand what these types of
communications are. The following figure 2 shows how casual and formal communications
apply to the main chain of any contracting organization.

Figure 2: Types of Communication Channels in the Main Chain

As shown in above figure 2, there are 5 participants available in the chain. Therefore, no. of
communication channels available will be,

No. of Communication Channels = N × (N-1) / 2 = 5 × (5-1) / 2 = 10 Channels

With reference to figure 2, then no. formal communications available in this chain of
commands are 4 out of 10 channels. If a chain of 100 participants is considered, then the no. of
formal communications available in that chain would be 99 channels. Therefore,
For a chain of N numbers of participants,

No. of Formal Communication channels = N – 1

When it comes to casual communications among the project participants, a socio-cultural
dimension is being brought into this picture. That is because the difference between the high-
context and low-context cultures directly affect the communications within a project. The
cultures can be classified as high-context cultures or low-context cultures. This is not to say that
one culture is better than the other. People who grew up in a high-context society emphasize
social interactions, collective thinking, and emotional decisions, and consider a lot before
communicating. On the other hand, people who grew up in a low-context society are less linked
to one another. That is why, while communicating, those individuals do not prioritize
relationships. They like to express exactly what they want to say. As a result, there is no need to
think about what a person really means who grew up in such a society. What has been communicated
is included precisely inside what is to be said.

The Sri Lankan culture is also in a high context. So, people go around not expressing what
they really want to say. Before they communicate anything, they think about other people’s
feelings a lot more. This is not only the verbal communication these people do but also the non-
verbal communication. So, the listener has to listen to them and think carefully about what they
are expressing. But people who grew up in a low-context culture, like the United States, are not
like that. Those people express directly what they have to say. That being said, those people do
not worry about other relationships or others’ feelings. The words of those people contain what
was required to be exactly communicated. No need to think weird about it again. Therefore, in a
high-context culture like Sri Lanka and India, casual communications play a significant role
among the project participants.

The project managers and engineers must be responsible for sharing the official information such
as specifications in the contract document only through the formal communication channels,
since sharing lots of official information through casual communication channels would result in
miscommunications. Casual communication must be conducted only to improve the relationships
among the project participants, not to transfer information. If the bonds among the
participants are strong, then the information will follow through the formal communication
channels smoothly without any miscommunications.

By: Eng. Minura Jayatilleke,
Associate Planning Engineer,
Pro Consultancy International (Pvt.) Ltd.

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