Grapevine communication describes informal, unstructured, workplace dialogue between employees and superiors. It was first described in the early 1800s after someone observed that the appearance of telegraph wires strung between transmission poles resembled a grapevine.
Understanding the grapevine in communication
The grapevine is an informal or unintentional channel of business communication where information spreads throughout the organization in all directions.
Grapevine communication spreads rapidly within an organization and, at some point, every employee will likely be made aware of the information in question.
The spread of information was once facilitated by written notes and water cooler conversation, but today, it may also occur via social media and other digital channels.
This form of communication is inevitable in a workplace since it is driven by an individual’s innate desire to interact with others.
Employees also love to discuss events that may impact their work – especially if there is an absence or lack of information trickling down from senior management.
Types of grapevine communication
Based on how the information spreads, there are four main types of grapevine communication:
Single strand chain
Perhaps the most traditional type where one employee shares information with another who then does the same in a linear chain.
Since the message is repeated frequently, it may become distorted.
Where one employee shares information with multiple co-workers simultaneously.
The individual in question may also seek out the information for the express purpose of sharing it.
The probability chain is similar to the gossip chain in that the information originates from a single source.
However, the spread itself is more random.
An individual may tell one or more direct co-workers, who in turn may tell a few others in a different department.
Where one employee shares information with a specific cohort of employees who each repeat the process with another cohort.
This is common in hierarchical organizations where divisional managers share information with regional managers, store managers, and then line managers.
The positive effects of grapevine communication
While the grapevine is undoubtedly a source of misinformation and harmful rumors in some circumstances, it is important businesses look past the negative connotations and also consider the positive effects.
Such effects include:
When one employee is made aware of an interesting or relevant piece of information, they will set off a chain of events that spreads the message around the organization in rapid time.
In some cases, the grapevine is a faster and more efficient form of mass communication than emails or memos.
Understanding of company culture
New employees often use the grapevine to gauge a company’s often intangible culture.
They may ask others to clarify acceptable dress standards, what the boss expects of them, or the employer’s policies concerning break times.
When information is shared between colleagues, they tend to form closer bonds which can improve team cohesiveness and productivity.
In this way, grapevine communication can also increase job satisfaction and morale.
The grapevine is an important emotional outlet for some employees who need to vent about a superior, project, or some other stressful situation.
Provided the shared information does not cause a rift between those concerned, employees who release their emotions feel less isolated and can contribute to a positive work culture.
- The grapevine is an informal or unintentional channel of business communication where information spreads throughout the organization in all directions.
- The four types of grapevine in communication include the single strand chain, gossip chain, probability chain, and cluster chain.
- Grapevine communication is inevitable in a workplace since it is driven by an individual’s innate desire to interact with others. While it can be a source of rumors and misinformation, it is also a useful way to understand company culture, increase team cohesion, and provide an emotional release for stressed staff.
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