People talk. Some people talk more than others, and that’s okay. But in the workplace, the way they talk can have an impact on the company as a whole.
In this article, we’re going to look at grapevine communication. We’ll explore what it is and how you can make sure it works for your organization rather than against it.
What is grapevine communication?
No matter how sophisticated your enterprise communication system is, it will never meet all of your employees’ chit-chat needs. We’re human, after all. While email and messaging apps are great for work-related tasks, small talk over a cup of coffee isn’t going out of style any time soon.
We are a social species, and many of us value the casual conversations we have in the workplace. They make the day seem a little brighter somehow. Which is exactly how grapevine communication occurs.
Essentially, it’s any kind of informal communication that happens between individuals in your organization. It includes all those moments beside the water cooler where you talk about the game or gossip about Matt being in line for promotion to the big job.
Information moves quickly. Before you know it, 3,000 people are fully expecting Matt to take over as Head of Sales, even though it hasn’t been formally announced yet. And at least 15 people are feeling resentful that the promotion wasn’t given to them.
So, it’s no wonder many senior managers find grapevine communication difficult to deal with. There’s no direct top-down control of it, nor can there be. But rather than try to shut it down completely, it’s important to remember that this kind of informal communication is totally natural. It’s also crucial to be aware of its upsides as well as its downsides.
Advantages and drawbacks of grapevine communication
It’s a tricky business, the grapevine. On the one hand, it can be an incredibly valuable way of getting information across fast. On the other, it can get out of control pretty quickly.
Let’s now take a closer look at the pros and cons.
Advantage 1: Generates new connections
Even in large organizations, it’s often the case that people work with the same small set of colleagues every day. This is a double-edged sword. It can be easier to foster a positive team spirit among a smaller number of people who feel more socially connected. But without broader social interaction across your organization, everyone could be missing out on some excellent collaboration opportunities.
The more chances your teams have to mingle and interact on an informal basis, the more likely they’ll find new partners for peer-to-peer learning or cross-team cooperation. This benefits everyone in the long run.
Advantage 2: Team bonding
There’s no getting away from it: your organization will be much more successful if everyone in it gets along. Now, it’s unrealistic to expect all team members to be the best of friends. There’s bound to be the occasional personality clash—that’s par for the course in any community.
Nevertheless, it’s more likely that people will be happy and productive if they can chat freely. And the inevitable side effect of being able to do that is grapevine communication.
Let’s face it—the sharing of knowledge is an integral part of human interaction. Learning information and passing it on to others encourages an atmosphere of mutual trust.
Advantage 3: Efficient information sharing
The speed of light may be faster than anything else, but the rate rumors spread is close behind. That’s down to powerful network effects. It doesn’t matter whether a piece of information is passed one-to-one down a chain or through multiple people at once. If it’s being communicated informally, it’s reaching many ears quickly.
This can be particularly useful for senior managers. Generally speaking, the higher up the career ladder you go, the more isolated you are from opinions on the ground. Many organizations use feedback procedures to try to address this issue.
But the grapevine can cut out the intermediary and help leadership identify potential problems. In some circumstances, it can be as effective as 360-degree feedback.
It’s not all good news, of course. Grapevine communication can cause some genuine headaches. In particular, watch out for:
Drawback 1: Misinformation
This is a big one. A major downside of this kind of communication is that the information shared is unverified. In fact, the process can function a bit like a social media misinformation bubble. When the message being shared is untrue, you have a real problem on your hands.
Trouble is, this can lead to serious conflict, particularly if the misinformation is something negative about an individual’s behavior. Reputations are difficult to restore once trust has gone. And it doesn’t do much to foster team spirit if people are at loggerheads. In some cases, you may even be looking at an expensive lawsuit.
Drawback 2: Sensitive information can reach the wrong people
Every organization has sensitive data it needs to keep confidential. This could be anything from client details that can only be shared with a core team to upcoming hybrid integration plans that will transform the current workflow. It’s a fact of workplace life.
Unfortunately, the grapevine can sometimes stretch a little too far. Imagine your organization is in the difficult position of considering laying people off. If employees get to hear about it in advance, that’s not good for team morale. Even if layoffs are eventually avoided, trust between management and employees will have taken a permanent hit.
Drawback 3: Reinforces inequality in the workplace
The flipside of the team bonding benefit is that some people will be excluded. By its very nature, grapevine communication tends to pass through chains of more extroverted and sociable individuals. Anyone who’s naturally inclined toward keeping themselves to themselves will miss out on the bonding.
This can become a problem if you rely too heavily on the grapevine as a communication channel. Let’s say it becomes normal for internal job opportunities to be discussed on the grapevine before they’re made official. This could give an edge to those who are prime influencers in the grapevine chain—and actively work against anyone who isn’t.
Ultimately, this can be bad for employee engagement, and reinforce many other kinds of inequality as well. So, while senior managers can sometimes harness this kind of informal channel and use it to their advantage, it’s important to keep it in check.
However, if organizations prioritize transparency in the workplace, many of these drawbacks can be addressed. By providing open channels of communication and regular updates on company policies and changes, employees are less likely to rely on the grapevine for information. In turn, this can help reduce misinformation, reinforce trust between employees and management, and promote a more inclusive and equitable work environment. Here’s how.
Also read: Why Does Workplace Communication Matter?
How to manage grapevine communication in an organization
There are a number of ways to manage grapevine communication. All of them are aimed at benefiting from the upsides while limiting the potential damage from the downsides.
Regular communication with staff
First, foster a culture of transparency. Regular official communication about recent developments will ensure employees are kept fully informed. That means there’ll be fewer gaps in the narrative that can be filled by misinformation.
This isn’t just a technical issue, like how to integrate Slack and Gmail for more efficient messaging. It’s a human one. Managers at all levels should be encouraging their direct reports to come to them with any issues. Make it clear that there’ll be no penalties for doing so.
Know where and how informal communications are happening
Actively monitor your grapevine; don’t let it function under the radar. This doesn’t mean spying on staff or invading their privacy—it’s just about keeping your ear to the ground and noticing what’s going on around you. Figuring out who the most enthusiastic participants in the chatter vine are shouldn’t be too tricky.
Occasionally, you may find an individual is actively spreading untrue rumors or gossip. In this case, it’s best to step in with a one-to-one meeting to warn them off.
Try to keep it low-key though. The worst thing you can do in this situation is send an all-staff email demanding an end to rumor-mongering. All that will do is supercharge the rumor mill while everyone tries to figure out who the guilty party is.
Make sure your corporate policies are fit for purpose
Finally, you need to ensure your workplace policies are functioning as they should. You may well have formal procedures around harassment or grievance, but how accessible are they?
When considering this, try to see it from another point of view. Put yourself in the shoes of someone who’s the victim of malicious gossip. How realistic is it that they’ll use these policies rather than just leave your organization?
If a commitment to equality and diversity is to be more than just a nice-looking mirage, you need to dig down into the details of how this situation will be experienced by the people living it. It’s crucial to make sure your policies are watertight and work as intended.
You heard it through the grapevine
In the end, grapevine communication can be a net positive—if it’s handled well. The benefits in terms of increased collaboration and team cohesion can give organizations a massive boost.
Just be sure to encourage a culture of openness too, while also making certain your policies and procedures are clear and effective. This way, everyone will be free to chat happily and make new connections. That’s a win for everyone.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1. What is the importance of grapevine communication?
Ans. Grapevine communication plays a vital role in organizations as it serves as a natural and informal information network. It allows for the rapid spread of news, ideas, and rumors among employees, often reaching areas untouched by formal channels. This informal communication enhances employee engagement, fosters a sense of belonging, and facilitates the exchange of tacit knowledge. Additionally, grapevine communication can provide valuable insights into employee sentiments and concerns, enabling proactive management strategies. Embracing the grapevine can empower organizations to tap into their collective intelligence and adapt swiftly to ever-evolving challenges.
Q2. What are the grapevine communication examples?
Ans. Grapevine communication examples encompass various scenarios that demonstrate its prevalence in organizations. For instance, when employees gather around the water cooler or during lunch breaks to discuss recent company developments, share rumors, or exchange unofficial information, that’s grapevine communication in action. It can also manifest through casual conversations in hallways, social events, or even virtual platforms where employees freely exchange thoughts and opinions about work-related matters. These informal channels often facilitate the spread of news faster than official announcements, making grapevine communication an integral part of the organizational communication fabric.
Author: Jenna Bunnell – Senior Manager, Content Marketing, Dialpad
Jenna Bunnell is the Senior Manager for Content Marketing at Dialpad, an AI-incorporated cloud-hosted unified communications system that provides valuable call details for business owners and sales representatives with the virtual PBX by Dialpad. She is driven and passionate about communicating a brand’s design sensibility and visualizing how content can be presented in creative and comprehensive ways. Jenna has written for other domains such as Price2Spy and DivvyHQ. Here is her LinkedIn.
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