Grapevine communication is everywhere; political, organizational, personal and every other sector one can imagine. It is the all-eyeing network of truth; something that is understated yet strong enough to topple down even administrations.
As the name suggests, this type of communication travels just like a grapevine, from one step to another.
The name grapevine originated during World War II when telegraph wires used to hang between trees, and they appeared to look like grapevines. However, it caused a lot of confusion and generated ambiguous messages during the time due to its rugged nature.
What Is Grapevine Communication?
Grapevine communication is the informal channel of communication which allows the flow of information that has not undergone the test of reliability. In simpler terms, it can be defined as “the informal transmission of information, gossip, and rumor from person to person”.
Grapevine proves justice to the phrase “gossip spreads faster than wildfire”. It sends and receives unsanctioned informal information about the things that happen within a group of individuals or an organization.
For example, Jake told Ryan that the boss is moving to an abroad branch, and this reached Bren’s ears, from who Fiona would later hear and many others get added to the list. Although this happens in every sector of life, it is highly discussed in the field of business and organizations.
Many researchers conclude that grapevine communication is one of the motivating factors for employees to communicate within the organization. It is considered a form of communication network.
This kind of communication moves throughout the organization in all directions due to its unstructured nature; upward, downward and diagonal. However, it doesn’t carry official information for the most part. Only during times of emergency do organizations use this informal method of communication to delegate tasks for the sake of time conservation.
Why Do People Engage In Grapevine Communication?
Gordon Willard Allport is a famous American psychologist and one of the prominent founding figures of personality psychology. He was notably known as the “trait” psychologist due to his contribution towards the trait theory of personality. He concluded that people engage in grapevine communication for two important reasons.
1) The importance of the information for the speaker and the listener.
2) The ambiguity of the facts.
To relate this phenomenon, he uses the following formula:
R = I x A
R stands for intensity of the rumor.
I stand for the importance of rumors to the one who is speaking and listening.
A stand for the ambiguity of the facts associated with the rumor.
Tim and Bob are best buddies at their workplace. On the way day when Tim was on his way to the cafeteria, he heard Bob’s immediate boss discussing a promotion with Henry who happens to be Bob’s rival. Now, Tim is so confused about why his boss seems to do this secretively.
He is also stumped about the fact that Bob has been in the organization for a longer period and performing better compared to Henry, but the latter seems to be getting the hike in position. Tim decides to go back immediately and report the incident to Bob.
In this example, the intensity of this incident(R) depends on how important this information is for Tim and Bob (I). Further, the absence of clarity in the rumor adds a higher intensity to the incident/information gathered (A).
Through this formula, Allport hypothesizes that the intensity of the rumor will depend on the importance of the subject to the speaker and listener. In the formula, importance and ambiguity are multiplied and not added and this helps us conclude that the absence of the two or either of the two will not help sustain the rumor.
Characteristics Of Grapevine Communication
- Grapevine communication is an informal and unofficial means of communication.
- It helps in the speedy transmission of information.
- It predominantly houses rumors and gossip and is used for self-interest for the most part.
- This type of communication is not always reliable due to its informal nature.
- It is highly flexible and multidirectional.
- It is not controlled by the management.
- Grapevine communication creates space for distortion of the original information.
- In many cases, grapevine information is incomplete and misses important details.
- It is a spontaneous exchange of information between people who share mutual interests and preferences.
- It is free from rules and thereby free from accountability.
- It is a highly influential form of communication.
- This type of information doesn’t get recorded anywhere.
- An organization can have many grapevines at once.
The Different Chains Of Grapevine Communication
Grapevine communication comes under the informal type of communication. The chains in formal communication tend to be more rigid but with grapevine communication, it is very flexible. There are four different chains of communication that occurs in this network:
1. Single Strand Chain
It is a very simple process of grapevine where information passes on from one person to another and then another and another and so on. The longer the chain, the more it tends to become distorted; to the extent of becoming unrecognizable from the original message.
This phenomenon could be well demonstrated by the game “Chinese whisper” that kids typically play.
2. The Gossip Chain
In this type of grapevine, a person who holds information conveys it to everyone they encounter.
For example, when Sharon heard about Betty getting a promotion, she shared it with everyone she knew within the organization.
3. The Probability Chain
Here, the information gets passed on sporadically between people who may not even share a mutual connection. The recipient follows the same order of transmission. This chain doesn’t have a definite structure. It is random some people receive the message, and some don’t.
For example, as Paula saw a new employee walking towards the coffee machine, she informed him that it didn’t work and when the new employee found someone else approaching the machine, he announced the same and the chain continued likewise.
4. Cluster Chain
When the information gets passed on from one person to a selective group of people, which further reaches another selective group of people, it can be called a cluster chain.
For example, a celebrity posted on Instagram about their upcoming movie. This information was further posted by many of the followers on their feed and the streak continued. Cluster chain usually happens around social circles and not in a manner like the probability chain.
How Accurate Is Grapevine?
The research conducted by Allport, and his team suggests that grapevine usually starts with a legitimate piece of information or a person’s perception after having witnessed an event and believes that it is of significance and interest to communicate with others.
Once the original theme has been communicated, there is a tendency for it to become distorted to support the central theme. However, around 75% to 95% percent of the grapevine information is accurate.
Although this type of communication is always considered inaccurate or unreliable, the accuracy rate of the information can shoot up to 80%. But it is still considered erroneous because the errors are usually dramatic.
It could be missing out on small yet significant details about the information and this could create a drastic change in the accuracy of the information relayed.
Managing And Improving Grapevine Communication
- One of the keyways to deal with grapevine communication tactfully is by examining its characteristics and taking advantage of them.
- Since this source of information is bound to exist, it can be used to our advantage rather than trying to get rid of it.
- The speed and reliability of this communication can be used to transmit informal information throughout the organization, if not formal instructions.
- The inaccuracies of grapevine start with filling out the missing information. Rather than trying to complete the missing pieces, people can attempt to gain accurate information.
- Avoiding secrecy and being transparent within the organization can reduce the number of distortions arising in the information.
- Grapevine can be prevented by giving employees access to credible and open information.
- A sense of approachability, trust and comfort provided by the managers towards the employees can enable direct communication.
- Using the right kind of communication channel to communicate everything that an employee should know is important as it would ensure reliance on credible sources of information rather than hearsay.
- The managers of the organization should avoid an overload of information for the employees.
Benefits Of Grapevine Communication
Although grapevine communication is considered an unreliable source of information, it also has several positive aspects.
- This acts as a source of relaxation for the employees within the organization. As they go through their day trying to reach their day’s target, when they engage in a little conversation with their colleagues about personal things, it enhances the bond among the employees of the organization.
- It creates a space to vent out emotions and express many pent-up feelings and grievances. It helps in the overall enhancement of interpersonal relationships between employees and supervisors.
- It also enhances team cohesiveness and encourages feelings of unity among the employees.
- Grapevine communication is beneficial in transmitting information quickly and this can be of great use during times of emergency or crisis.
- It also helps the employees understand the dynamics of the organization in their language and convenience.
- It enables us to keep the employees on their feet to adapt themselves to the changes and the actions taken within the organization.
- Sometimes it saves the effort of the organization in broadcasting any important information throughout; the grapevine can very well accomplish that!
- Another important perk which comes with this informal mode of communication is that it gives access to genuine opinions and ideas of the employees.
- It is a supplementary source when formal mediums of communication aren’t accessible.
|S. No.||Advantages of Grapevine Communication||Disadvantages of Grapevine Communication|
|1.||It enables rapid transfer of information.||It is responsible for transmitting rumors and inaccurate information.|
|2.||Valuable feedback can be extracted through grapevine.||It distorts messages and negatively affects the accuracy of the information.|
|3.||It is useful in building interpersonal relationships between the employees.||It can cause many interpersonal conflicts within the organization.|
|4.||It serves as an emotional outlet for employees within an organization.||It is less reliable, difficult to control and regulate the spread of information through grapevine.|
|5.||It can enable open communication between all the members of the organization irrespective of any differences.||It gives room for misinterpretation of the information.|
|6.||Grapevine helps in reaching solutions effectively thereby improving the efficiency of the organization.||It can sometimes seriously hamper the growth and the productivity of an organization.|