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What is Grapevine Communication? 5 Solutions and Challenges

 

Part 1

Grapevine Communication Definition, Types, Importance

What is grapevine communication?

Grapevine communication is informal workplace dialogue in its purest form: it is characterized by conversations between employees and superiors that do not follow any prescribed structure or rule-based system.

How does grapevine communication occur in an organization?

Grapevine communication occurs through face-to-face conversations, email, text messages, chats. This type of communication spreads rapidly and likely touches each person throughout the organization. The social and personal interactions of employees determine the frequency and reach of grapevine communication. It is an inevitable byproduct of workplace communications. Human beings have a desire to communicate with one another, and this will not always come in a form that is approved by senior management. Grapevine communication is so complicated that various categories define it.

What are the 4 types of grapevine communication?

There is a Single-strain chain where information travels straight from person A to person D. The Gossip Chain sees one person spread the news to as many people as they can, while the Probability Chain disperses information randomly and in turn, others do the same. Lastly, the Cluster Chain reveals one person telling a selected group of people who also spread the news to another cluster. These are all various ways that company information can informally travel throughout the organization.

The importance of grapevine communication

To understand the significance of grapevine communication, leaders need to know why it happens in the first place. In the workplace, things can change at a moment’s notice. New procedures, new hires, layoffs, the implementation of new software are all things that workers have to think about daily. As a result, employees have a desire to know about happenings that could impact their work day in a way that is not filtered through the messaging of senior management. Combine this with the fact that humans have an inherent desire to communicate with others and promote a sense of belonging, and you have the makings of a highly active grapevine. While this type of communication is informal, it is still vital for leaders to understand the impact it has on the work environment.

It is essential for leaders not to underestimate the reach of grapevine communication. In an organization where formal communication is poor, informal discussions can complement whatever is lacking. These systems can also reveal the source of misinformation and the spread of harmful rumors. It can be a temperature check for management to see if workers are satisfied, which can provide some insight into potential turnovers. Grapevine communication can reveal a lot about an organization: how much workers trust senior management, an increase in conflict, workplace satisfaction, and informal groups who have power in gaining and spreading information. Grapevine communication is natural, but leaders have to decide how much it is benefitting or hurting the company.

What are some examples of grapevine communication?

An example of grapevine communication is when an employee hears a rumor about a change in company policy from another employee, and then spreads the rumor to other employees.

Is grapevine communication formal in nature?

Grapevine communication is often considered unreliable, as it can be difficult to determine the accuracy of the information received. However, grapevine communication can also be a valuable tool for organizations, as it can help employees to stay up-to-date with the latest news and trends. Despite its informal nature, grapevine communication can still be used in an organized and formal way, especially when organizations encourage sharing of feedback and ideas amongst employees.

Why is grapevine communication considered unreliable?

Grapevine communication often relies on personal interpretations, and the message can easily be distorted as it passes from one person to the next. This makes it unreliable as a source of information, and organizations should be careful not to rely too heavily on grapevine communication when communicating important information.

Part 2

5 Challenges of Grapevine Communication

The free flow of communication has its drawbacks. Here are challenges leaders face in managing grapevine communication.

  1. The Risk of Distortion

    — Messages can drastically change depending on who is giving the information.

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    Formal channels are not in place so employees can say what they want without fear of identification or correction.

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    This could harm the work environment if the messages are inflammatory.

  2. An Increase in Misunderstandings

    If workers are confused about a message that has traveled through the grapevine there is no one to talk to for confirmation.

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    People likely want to keep their involvement in the movement of information secret, and some messages might not even be permitted to travel outside of specific groups.

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    Therefore, workers do not have anyone to approach if they have misunderstood a grapevine message.

  3. No Indication of Where It Started

    — If the damaging information is spread throughout the organization, there is not an easy way to find out who is releasing the information.

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    Employees who know may be reluctant to get involved, and morale can suffer if management has to interrogate various employees privately.

  4. Increasing the Divide Between Senior Management and Employees

    — If employees are always the last to know about significant developments, and information that should be released to all workers has to be spread informally, it can diminish trust and increase the divide between senior management and the employees who work under them.

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    Workers may feel that they have to do this to stay up-to-date on issues that concern them.

  5. Channeling Grapevine Communication for Positive Outcomes

    — Since this information is not in direct control of senior management, it is difficult to find ways to influence grapevine communications.

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    Workers may feel that administration is interfering too closely in how they communicate offline.

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    Also, management will never have the resources to analyze and scrutinize every piece of dialogue. Therefore, controlling any aspect of grapevine communication may seem impossible.

Part 3

5 Solutions: How Can Leaders Better Utilize Grapevine Communication?

While there are challenges in managing grapevine communication, managers can take steps to maintain the natural flow of communications to instill or preserve a healthy workplace culture.

  1. Understand That the Grapevine Is Here to Stay

    — The first step in managing the grapevine is understanding that it is not something that can be abolished entirely.

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    Some managers may think they can completely eradicate informal communications, and as a result, they can come across as controlling and stifling.

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    Managers need to know that grapevine communication is not going away, and they would do better to try to work together with employees.

  2. Recognize Where Informal Communications Are Likely Happening

    — Is there always a group at the water cooler?

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    Is the breakroom a common meeting group for whispered messages?
    Taking notice of where these conversations are taking place will help leaders to understand who some of the major players are and why they are happening.

  3. Develop More Natural Systems for Workers to Communicate

    — Leaders can show that they are open to employees communicating with each other by giving them more mediums to talk such as collaboration tools, intranets, and lunch socials.

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    This will confirm that management is not against workers communicating and collaborating with one another.

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    It will also create opportunities for management also to be involved in communications to increase employee trust.

  4. Preempt Times of Uncertainty

    — It makes perfect sense that in times of uncertainty workers would begin to send more messages through the grapevine.

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    Managers can get ahead of this by including as much information as they can through formal means: emails, memos, and company-wide meetings.

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    Employees do not like to be left in the dark.

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    If management has come across a situation they are not sure about; they should be open about the fact that they do not know.

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    This will ease worries and decrease the need to spread potential misinformation.

  5. Create an Open-Door Policy

    — Leaders can indirectly let employees know that they are always welcome to come to the source.

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    If senior leaders have open door policies where employees can stop by to ask questions, then they might not feel the need to get information elsewhere.

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    For this to work, leaders have to be transparent.

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    Leaders should let employees know the boundaries of what they can and cannot answer and the reasons why.

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    If it is sensitive information at the time, leaders can tell employees why they cannot explain it at that time and inform them of when they might be able to.

Part 4

Grapevine Communication Purpose, Benefits, Disadvantages

The purpose of grapevine communication is to allow employees to share their thoughts and concerns with each other: grapevine communication allows employees to easily stay up to date on changes within the workplace, and it can also help build relationships between employees by providing them with a platform to share their ideas and exchange stories. It also serves as an avenue for employees to provide feedback on organizational policies and practices, allowing organizations to improve their operations. Grapevine communication can be both beneficial and detrimental.

What are the disadvantages of grapevine communication?

Grapevine communication can encourage rumors and inaccuracies to spread, leading to misinterpretations and misunderstandings. This type of communication can lead to feelings of distrust and alienation between colleagues, as some conversations may be excluded from the grapevine, leaving some employees feeling left out or excluded. If not managed properly, grapevine communication can have a negative effect on workplace morale and performance.

Disadvantages of grapevine communication:

  1. Can lead to inaccurate or incomplete information being shared.
  2. Can lead to gossip and rumors spreading throughout the organization, which can be damaging to its reputation and morale.
  3. Can create an environment of mistrust and suspicion among employees if not managed properly.
  4. Can lead to conflict between employees.

What are the benefits of grapevine communication?

Grapevine communication can be used to quickly spread news throughout an organization. This type of communication is also beneficial because it allows employees to share their perspectives, ideas, and feelings which can lead to improved collaboration and understanding between employees, as well as an overall increase in morale. Grapevine communication can be used to quickly identify any issues or problems that may be present in the workplace. It is cost-effective and does not require significant resources or technology to implement.

Advantages of grapevine communication:

  1. Quicker than other forms of communication.
  2. Allows employees to build relationships which can improve collaboration, teamwork and morale.
  3. Allows for sharing of ideas and opinions which can be a source of ideas for improving organization’s processes and policies.

How can leaders benefit from grapevine communication?

  • Quickly disseminate information to a large audience.
  • Gain feedback from all levels of employees (e.g. receive feedback on current policies and initiatives).
  • Stay informed of employee sentiment on important topics.
  • Identify potential issues before they become larger problems.

 

Part 5

Grapevine Communication Best Practices

  • Set Boundaries for Informal Communications

    While leaders may not be able to control what is said, they can let workers know what the boundaries are. Any language that could be seen as harassment, racially charged or inflammatory should be off limits. Leaders should then hold true to this by establishing a zero-tolerance rule where this type of dialogue is not protected.

  • Explain How the Organization Communicates

    Surprisingly, some employees may not have any idea about how they can expect to hear from senior management. This can create uncertainty if employees are waiting to hear feedback or if workers are waiting for a decision from senior management. Leaders should be clear if the communication will be given face-to-face, by email, or in another medium.

  • Do Not Sit on a Rumor

    If there is a rumor going around the company that is not inflammatory, but is untrue, act quickly to dispel the information. The more time something travels, the more apt employees are to believe it and respond to it.

  • Create an Information Dissemination Plan

    While all leaders would like to stop misinformation at the source, this is not always possible. Therefore, leaders should work with the marketing department and PR teams to put together an information dissemination plan that can be used in the event of an emergency or to address a serious rumor that has gotten too large and has found its way outside of the organization. There should be an outline to address what the story is, its importance to the organization, and discuss how it is true or false.

  • Test the Waters

    Leaders should share their own information to get immediate feedback from workers concerning a new procedure, policy, or division. Management should have a plan to explain the rumor as not to diminish employee trust.

How can grapevine communication be reduced?

  1. Encourage employees to come to the leadership with questions and concerns.
  2. Promote frequent communication between management and staff.
  3. Utilize surveys and focus groups to gain feedback from employees on any changes or plans.
  4. Make sure that all employees understand the company’s policies and procedures, so that there is no room for misunderstanding or misinterpretation of information.
  5. Ensure that all staff are aware of any changes or updates in the organization, as soon as possible after they occur, through official channels such as newsletters, emails, and official meetings.
  6. Provide clear channels of communication between all members of the organization, including managers and direct reports.
  7. Encourage honest discussion and open dialogue between different departments in order to resolve any issues or concerns.

To manage grapevine communication effectively, organizations must ensure that:

  • Employees have opportunities for open and honest dialogues with upper management. It is important to set clear and consistent expectations with employees and create a culture where people feel comfortable voicing their concerns in a respectful way.
  • Employees always have access to accurate information from official sources. Managers should be aware of any topics that might be sensitive to employees and should strive to provide timely updates about changes and decisions.
  • Employees should be trained and encouraged to practice critical thinking when making decisions.

How to improve grapevine communication:

  1. Increase transparency by ensuring all employees have access to the same information.
  2. Utilize technology to facilitate communication between departments, as well as between managers and employees.
  3. Develop predefined channels with clear and consistent messages for all communication. This will help ensure that everyone is on the same page.
  4. Make sure that communication is two-way. Encourage feedback from employees and make sure their ideas are taken seriously.
  5. Establish procedures for employees to share their ideas and experiences with one another (including cross-departmentally) to facilitate better collaboration and understanding.
  6. Strive to create an atmosphere of open dialogue and trust, where ideas flow freely and everyone feels comfortable asking upper management or colleagues to clarify any information.
  7. Establish a procedure to regularly gather feedback on how communication can be improved.

 

 

It is human nature to talk with others. There is no harm in it. However, in the confines of the workplace environment, leaders have to be sure that grapevine communication is not harmful to the environment or colleagues. If managed correctly, grapevine communication is a healthy supplement to formal discussions.