- Definition and Importance of Grapevine Communication Part 1
- 5 Challenges of Grapevine Communication Part 2
- 5 Solutions for Better Grapevine Communication Part 3
- Grapevine Communication Best Practices Part 4
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.
Grapevine 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. 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.
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1. Fluxes.com — Free Project and Task Management Software
2. Status.net — Software for Effective Communication
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.
5 Challenges of Grapevine Communication
The free flow of communication has its drawbacks. Here are challenges leaders face in managing grapevine communication.
The Risk of Distortion
— Messages can drastically change depending on who is giving the information.
— Formal channels are not in place so employees can say what they want without fear of identification or correction.
— This could harm the work environment if the messages are inflammatory.
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.
— 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.
— Therefore, workers do not have anyone to approach if they have misunderstood a grapevine message.
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.
— Employees who know may be reluctant to get involved, and morale can suffer if management has to interrogate various employees privately.
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.
— Workers may feel that they have to do this to stay up-to-date on issues that concern them.
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.
— Workers may feel that administration is interfering too closely in how they communicate offline.
— 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.
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.
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.
— Some managers may think they can completely eradicate informal communications, and as a result, they can come across as controlling and stifling.
— Managers need to know that grapevine communication is not going away, and they would do better to try to work together with employees.
Recognize Where Informal Communications Are Likely Happening
— Is there always a group at the water cooler?
— 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.
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.
— This will confirm that management is not against workers communicating and collaborating with one another.
— It will also create opportunities for management also to be involved in communications to increase employee trust.
Preempt Times of Uncertainty
— It makes perfect sense that in times of uncertainty workers would begin to send more messages through the grapevine.
— Managers can get ahead of this by including as much information as they can through formal means: emails, memos, and company-wide meetings.
— Employees do not like to be left in the dark.
— If management has come across a situation they are not sure about; they should be open about the fact that they do not know.
— This will ease worries and decrease the need to spread potential misinformation.
Create an Open-Door Policy
— Leaders can indirectly let employees know that they are always welcome to come to the source.
— 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.
— For this to work, leaders have to be transparent.
— Leaders should let employees know the boundaries of what they can and cannot answer and the reasons why.
— 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.
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.
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.
Status.net is a cloud solution for effective workplace communication. It brings a more light-hearted tone to messaging making it easily digestible, and makes it easy for leaders to provide and receive updates regularly, as well as to have open door policies to address any issues.
How to use status.net to improve workplace communication:
- Downward communication:
a) Build trust and improve leadership communication by sharing regular updates and reasoning behind your decisions.
b) Share information about company announcements, branch news, new hires, etc.
c) Share company goals and objectives regularly.
- Upward communication:
a) Easily implement daily or weekly status updates for your team members by creating a status feed “How did you contribute to the team’s goals this week?”.
b) Create automated scheduled questionnaires with questions like “How can we improve?”.
Status.net allows you to configure granular access permissions to set up who can view the answers (optional).
- For recurrent questionnaires: no one forgets to answer because status.net sends automated reminders according to the recurrence schedule you chose.
- Increase workplace satisfaction by improving transparency:
Each status update has a separate section for comments, which is used by team members to clarify information, including upcoming goals, and by leaders to provide feedback and coordinate better without micromanagement, post congratulations and acknowledge job well done.
- Use status updates for future reference and decrease time and efforts spent on monthly, quarterly, and yearly reporting thanks to powerful filtering and export features.
- Optionally, enrich reports with the latest updates automatically added from web apps your team uses (such as project management tools, version control systems, support systems, financial applications, CRM, etc.) by connecting these apps to your status feed.
- Spend less time on meetings by making them more productive because everyone is on the same page at all times.
- Sharing: Status updates can be either— exported to files and printed, or sent by email;
— shared with manager online; or
— shared online as company-wide or team-wide status reports, i.e., all team members share their progress with each other.
How to configure status updates:
- Create a “Status Update” feed and set up a recurrence.
- Configure who will write and read status updates by choosing the “Participants” tab and then clicking the “Cog” button near “Feed Participants” title.
- Set the status feed as “Team-wide” if you want all team members to view each other’s status updates.
- Alternatively, you can allow access to status updates for certain participants only (such as yourself if you’re a team lead). In this case, turn “Team-wide” mode OFF and restrict viewing by unchecking “View” properties for other participants. Team members with the “View” checkbox unchecked will only be able to view their own status updates.
- If you’re a manager and you don’t plan to share your status updates with your team, uncheck “Update” for yourself – in this case, you won’t receive reminders.
- The Recurrence setting configures how often participants receive email reminders to fill in their status updates. This feature is optional and can be turned off.
- You can add, remove, and assign new team members at any time.
Step 2: The text of the status update should be added to the “Update” field of status feed.
As soon as a new status update is added, participants with “View” rights can view it in real time when they log in to their accounts. They will also automatically receive emails with the full text of status updates.