Why The Grapevine Is Important In Organisations

In any business there are two types of internal communication, formal and informal.

Formal communication spreads through newsletters, manuals, emails, memos, staff meetings, conferences and official notices.

Informal communication occurs through the grapevine, which is generally word-of-mouth communication. Internal business communication that moves through the grapevine spreads throughout the organisation in a random, undocumented manner and is open to constant change with individual interpretation. Although unstable, the grapevine carries some importance to internal business communication.

Function

The grapevine is useful as a supplement to formal channels of communication. It often travels more quickly than other channels and is usually more direct. The grapevine is present within all levels of staff. It exists because of a natural desire to know things and brings a sense of belonging to employees and managerial staff alike. It can create corporate identity and build teamwork.

Benefits

Although the grapevine can wreak havoc with misinformation, it can also be beneficial. In most cases, grapevine information holds at least a kernel of truth. Information from upper management that flows through the grapevine to lower-level employees can allow them to see, and possibly relate to, the struggles that management is facing. When employees have a sense (even if it is not entirely accurate) of these challenges, they can rise up and make suggestions or work to improve a situation of which they might not otherwise have been aware. Also, if trouble is on the horizon (according to the grapevine), it can give employees a chance to make plans and temper their reactions when the news is formally communicated to them.

Methods

The grapevine consists basically of rumours and gossip and travels from person to person during breaks, lunch and in work time when people either chat or congregate. It has power as it can cross over organisational lines. The grapevine functions best in situations where formal communication is poor, yet it is a natural part of human behaviour. This information channel increases in times of stress or uncertainty, and from the lack of formal news coming directly from the upper management of the company.

Effects

The grapevine allows feelings to be expressed instead of bottled up. People need to talk about what is affecting them, and the grapevine allows this kind of expression. Employees and staff can communicate important topics using their own language, instead of the technical jargon used in formal communication channels. If managers can tap into the grapevine, they can learn a substantial amount about the issues and problems of their employees. It is a solid indicator of health, morale and productivity in the company.

Warning

A large percentage of communication that travels the grapevine is true; however, it is difficult for one to discern fact from fiction through the grapevine. Management must effectively monitor the grapevine and jump in to correct inaccuracies or falsehoods. The grapevine is unstable and unreliable; it can fuel anxiety, conflict and misunderstanding in small or large group situations.

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