Grapevine Communication

What is Grapevine Communication?

Grapevine communication is when you receive information informally or unofficially through informal channels or communication paths, i.e., gossip or rumor. This is a derivative of the common phraseOpens in new window “Heard it through the grapevine”.

For example, “I heard through the grapevine that Jane is the secret informant.”

Grapevines exist in virtually all organizations, and grapevine communication patterns circumvent rank or authority and can link organizations members in any combination of directions—horizontal, vertical and diagonal.

Information received through the grapevine may also imply an overheard conversation or information received from anonymous sources.

The grapevine often spreads unsanctioned information rapidly through personal networks. For example, if a firm is in financial trouble and managers have indicated that they will take ‘concrete steps’ to cut costs but have not released any information through formal channels, the grapevine often generates significant rumor and gossip about what managers want.

Unlike messages which flow through a sequential chain, grapevine messages follow a random pattern being passed consecutively from person to person. It may follow a confidential manner among friends or workers in comparable status within the organizational hierarchy.

MessagesOpens in new window that flow through the grapevine may be positive, neutral, or negative. Negative grapevine communication, often referred to as gossipOpens in new window, shows disrespect for others and may be viewed as unethical. For example, telling family and friends that you have a new supervisor could start a positive or neutral grapevine message; telling those same people that your former supervisor was fired for falsifying expense reports would initiate gossip.

Advantages of Grapevine Communication

The advantages of grapevine communication includes the following:

  1. Grapevine channels enhance rapid flow of information in the organization. When an employee gets to know some confidential information, he immediately becomes inquisitive, impatient and passes the same to his closest friend in the organization, who in turn passes it to another or several others. The result is a communication flow that rambles and spreads rapidly.
  2. It gives room for passing feedback from employees to managers on different issues which is usually difficult or impossible through formal channels of communication.
  3. It engenders a sense of unity among employees when they pass across messages to one another; this in turn gives rise to group cohesiveness.
  4. It brings about an emotional support system to employees.
  5. The grapevine is a good alternative in those circumstances where formal communication proves ineffective.

Disadvantages of Grapevine Communication

  1. Grapevine is based on rumor and cannot represent the complete picture of the situation. Its original message’s tone and content tend to change especially if the message is being transmitted orally from person to person.
  2. Due to absence of official confirmation, the information coming through the grapevine is not credible.
  3. Grapevine imbibes poor practices among employees because they may spend more time gossiping rather than contributing to productivity.
  4. Grapevine leads to making negative attitude of employees towards their executives or organization.
  5. Grapevine adversely affects the goodwill of the organization as it may carry false negative information about the top level people of the organization.
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Management Attitude towards Grapevine

Since grapevine is a social network of informal communication, employees use it to fill in information gaps and clarify management decisions. This helps them solve their work-related problems and do their work successfully. However, the grapevine can be destructive also when irrelevant or erroneous gossip and rumors proliferate and harm operations. These positive and negative consequences of grapevine should determine the management’s attitude in dealing with it.

Although grapevine is generally not sanctioned as a part of the formal organization structure, it always exists. It is multi-dimensional, dynamic, and as varied as are the people who communicate along its path. Also, the grapevine cannot be eliminated till such time the formal organization remains. Therefore, managers need to work with the grapevine. The intelligent managers can make effective use of grapevine to strengthen formal channels of communication.

Following are some suggestions to aid management in effectively using the grapevine:

  • The grapevine is a permanent part of the formal organization structure and should be used to facilitate effective communication.
  • Management should have knowledge of what the grapevine is communicating and its reasons for doing so.
  • The inputs into the grapevine at the management level should be spread to a greater number of employees and a majority of employees should hear grapevine information for the first time from management. As a result, all levels of management should be provided with total and accurate information to ensure that the messages they communicate through the grapevine are accurate.

Management by Wandering Around (MBWA)

One effective way to manage rumors and misinformation is management by wandering around (MBWA) i.e., unannounced dropping of an executive at a work site and engaging employees in spontaneous conversations to learn what is going on in their department, division or organization.

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MBWA can help in improving the level of trust between the employees and management by opening up new channels of communication. MBWA permits a manager to deal with potentially harmful rumors before they spread. The technique of MBWA was made famous by the books In Search of Excellence by Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman Jr., in the year 1982 and A Passion for Excellence by Tom Peters and Nancy Austin 1985.

A Brief History of Grapevine

Grapevine communication has existed from the American Civil WarOpens in new window to the First World WarOpens in new window and has since gained popularity especially as it was featured in the Motown song “I Heard It Through the GrapevineOpens in new window”, a major hit single for both Marvin GayeOpens in new window and Gladys Knight & the PipsOpens in new window during the late 1960s. The term was coined because of its nature of networking and reaching several at once; often causing the proliferation of information between two or more individual to several others.