OFFICE GRAPEVINE: AN INEVITABLE ASPECT OF AN ORGANIZATION
A RESEARCH PAPER ON
OFFICE GRAPEVINE: AN INEVITABLE ASPECT OF AN ORGANIZATION
To hear something through the grapevine is to learn of something informally and unofficially by means of gossip and rumor. It is defined as “The informal transmission of information, gossip, or rumor from person to person or usually unrevealed source of confidential information.”
Grapevine or gossip is unavoidable in the corporate environment. As employees jostle to reach the priced top spot, jealousy, now coupled with social networking, sparks off gossip. Grapevine arises from social communications, so it can be as fickle, mischievous, and dynamic and varied as people. Left to itself, a grapevine can inflict as much damage as a raging fire. The prudent manager’s skill lies in utilizing the office grapevine in a positive way so as to benefit the company he works for.
The present article throws light on the nature of office grapevine, its causes & effects. It also tries to explain the greener side of the office grapevine & that is it can be considered up to some extent as healthy & one can utilize it for the betterment of the company.
Office grapevine, rumor, gossiping, managerial communication
Grapevine communication originated at the moment humans learned how to speak.
Grapevine communication in the office is the unofficial way of communication where the information usually spreads through rumors or gossip. It is not a communication in the actual sense but on the contrary, is a barrier to communication. We can say that it is the very nature of human being to talk about others. People working in any organization share their feelings, grievances, emotions with their colleagues. Through this, they get social & personal satisfaction; which in turn increases job satisfaction. Thus, it is the inevitable part of the office communication. In the words of Keith Davis, “Grapevine is basically a channel of horizontal communication, for its only people working at the same level of hierarchy who can informally communicate with one another with perfect ease.” It means gossip, usually gossip that spreads and covers a lot of ground (a lot of people), much like vines do. Further, we can say that competition is the root cause for this grapevine sort of communication. And the present age is full of competition where everyone wants to prove he/she the best. But not all the persons adopt the genuine way of achieving their aims. Some people engage themselves in the unfair practices like they may spread baseless rumors about the persons they envy & thus prove the major hindrance in other’s path of success. If the office grapevine takes such a negative turn, it is certainly detrimental for the very existence of that concern.
Grapevine communication is the informal communication network within an organization. The grapevine is used to spread information bypassing the formal communication structure. Just like the grapevine plant: it spreads in random ways and it goes where it can. The grapevine is formed by the individuals and groups in an organization. The people in the groups have something in common that links them together. A person can belong to one or more groups.
Companies should not ignore the grapevine, be indifferent to it or try it kill it. Leaders should proactively communicate and inject as much authentic information into the system as they can. Regular interactions with employees are the best way to understand gossip and politics, and one must be prepared for this.
The main objectives for this research are
- To know the causes & effects of the office grapevine.
- To know the importance of office grapevine.
- To find out the ways to overcome the adverse effects of the office grapevine.
Scope of the study:
The scope of the present study is limited to the understanding of the concept of office grapevine, its importance, its causes & effects & to the remedies to wash away its negative impacts. However, there cannot be fixed solutions to eradicate office grapevine. It may differ from concern to concern. There may be various factors responsible for office grapevine to happen.
The present study is a genuine attempt to find out the ways for transforming the negative effects of the office grapevine into the positive ones.
The investigation conducted is through desk research and purely based on secondary data available on World Wide Web.
1. Very speedy type of communication.
2. It has benefits and backfires as well.
3. No channel of communication is there as in the case of formal communication.
4. It is a mix of reality and rumor, about 80% information flows through grapevine.
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.
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.
- Types of Grapevine:
Within the organization communication chains exist. The chain used by formal communication may be very rigid, following the chain of command or authority. However, the chain used by the grapevine tends to be very flexible. Four different chains/structures appear to dominate the grapevine network according to Keith Davis are:
- The Single Strand Chain: This is a simple concept to follow, A tells B, who tells C, who tells D and so on. Each person passes the information on to the next person. The longer the strand the more distortion and filtering affects the information being passed until the last person in the chain may find the information unrecognizable from the original message. Most inaccuracies occur in this chain.
- The Gossip Chain: In this illustration A simply tells everyone with whom they come in contact. This pattern is considered to be somewhat slow in moving the information.
- The Probability Chain: In this case A makes random contact with say F and C and passes on the information. They in turn randomly contact others in accordance with laws of probability. Some hear the information and some don’t. In this structure, there is no definite pattern of communication. Information is randomly passed along to anyone willing to listen. They type of person who communicates in this manner might be a very outgoing and talkative type of individual.
- The Cluster Chain: Here A tells contacts, B and F, who may work with A. They may tell two or three other persons with whom they usually have close contact. Most predominant pattern is the cluster pattern. Selectivity is the basis for this pattern. In any organization, individuals will generally feel more comfortable with some fellow employees than with others and therefore only relay information to those in their informal social groups. This flow pattern results in information missing some individuals completely.
1. It’s fast in spreading the information
2. Both men and women actively participate in passing information
3. It builds relationship between people.
1. Grapevine communication has the potential to spread unnecessary gossip.
2. It’s dangerous to the health of an organization if allowed to grow without monitoring.
3. May result in character assassination and personal vilification of individuals.
4. May provoke sudden unwanted and unexpected reactions from emotionally unstable people.
5. Grapevine channel can be moderated but not eliminated.
- Causes for grapevine communication to occur:
The grapevine consists basically of rumors and gossip and travels from person to person during breaks, lunch and in after-work gatherings. It can bypass security because of its ability to cross over organizational lines. The grapevine functions best in situations where formal communication is poor, yet it is a natural part of human behavior. 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.
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 of the grapevine communication:
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.
- Since grapevine activity increases during times of uncertainty, management must provide information through formal system of communication about key issues & events that affect employees.
- Management should supply employees with steady flow of accurate, timely information; so to minimize the potential damage caused by the grapevine.
- The grapevine can be controlled with prompt, clear & accurate information on the issues important to the employees.
- Direct memos, large group announcements & intercom systems should be used.
- A company can appoint expert persons in the HR Department to listen to the grievances of the employees on prompt basis before the rumor mill gets momentum.
- The top management should try to gather all the possible information or rather facts regarding the rumors.
- If there is an external rumor, it is generally left to journalists, reporters or media. At such situations, the company should prepare a formal response depending upon the situation.
- While implementing any new plan or system within the organization, the management may leak the information about it to the key communicators in the company. Through this, the upper body can get to know how a new idea will be received; whether it will be welcomed or rejected strongly. If the feedback is positive, the management can go with their plan for implementation but if it is negative, the plan can be rethought & pinpointed the problem areas.
Dealing effectively with the grapevine is a challenge that will always be a part of a manager’s job. Those who are able to understand the power of the grapevine will be better prepared to utilize it to provide stability & credibility in the work environment. Thus, office grapevine is a part & parcel of any organization. The only thing is the skill of a manager who utilizes this informal type of communication for achieving the organizational goals.
[1.] Fell Tim, ‘The Grapevine’; Vide Arts Group (2000)
[2.] The Research Paper ‘I heard it through the grapevine’ by Peter Cook.