The grapevine becomes hyperactive when the following factors prevail:
- Felling of uncertainty or lack of sense of direction when the organization is passing through a difficult periods.
- Felling of inadequacy or lack of self-confidence on the part of the employees, leading to the formation of groups.
- Formation of a coterie, clique or favoured group by the manager, giving other employees a feeling of insecurity or isolation.
Any worker operating in such circumstance will be filled with ideas and will at least whisper to like minded friends at whatever level he finds them. Mostly they find them at their own level, though grouping including other levels are not ruled out. It is a very subtle and interesting phenomenon now being seriously studied and analysed by psychologists and management experts.
Types of grapevine chains
Keith Davis has identified four types of grapevine chains that can be enumerated as follows:
- Single-strand chain: In this types of chain ‘A’ tells something to ‘B’ who tells it to ‘C’ and so on it goes down the line. This chain is the least accurate in passing on the information.
- Gossip chain: In it one person seeks out and tells everyone the information he or she has obtained. This chain is often used when information or a message regarding an interesting but ‘non-job-related’ nature is being conveyed.
- Probability chain: In this type of chain individuals are indifferent to, or not really interested in, the persons to whom they are passing some information. They just tell at random, and those people in turn tell others at random. This chain is found when the information is somewhat interesting but not really significant.
- Cluster chain: In this type of chain ‘A’ tells something to a few selected individuals, and then some of these individuals inform a few other selected individuals.
Davis is of the opinion that the cluster chain is the dominant grapevine pattern in an organization. Generally only a few individuals, called, ‘liaison individuals’, pass on the information they have come upon, and then they are likely to share it with the people they trust or from whom they would like favors. It has been observed that generally the information they pass on is immediately interesting or relevant to them, job-related and above all, timely. Most of informal communication takes place through this chain.
Merits of the Grapevine
- Speedy transmission: The greatest feature of the grapevine is that it transmits information at a remarkably fast speed. Everyone knows that a rumour travels, or spreads like wild fire. The moment a worker comes to know that something is labeled as ‘top secret’ or ‘confidential’ he becomes curious to look into it or have a sniff of it and passes it on to his very first close bosom friend. And then, from him to another, it spreads within minutes. Managers have been known to distribute information through planned “leaks” or carefully used “just-be-tween-you-and-me” remarks.
- Feedback value: it is above all through the grapevine that the managers or top bosses of an organization get the feedback regarding their policies, decisions, memos etc. The feedback reaches them much faster through the informal channel than through the formal channel. Through the grapevine the managers come to know the pulse of the organization.
- Support to other channels: The grapevine functions as a supplementary or parallel channel of communication. The officially recognized or sacred or formal channel takes not only more time in carrying information, but also imposes certain constraints on the process of communication. So, whatever is deemed to be unsuitable for official channel can be every successfully transmitted through the grapevine.
- The grapevine gives immense psychological satisfaction and strengthens the solidarity of the workers. While the purely formal channel will put them off, grapevine draws them near to each other, thus keeping the organization intact as a social entity.
Demerits of grapevine
- There is something inbuilt in the very nature of the grapevine that makes it less credible than the formal channel of communication. Since it spreads or transits information by word of mouth it cannot always be taken seriously. On the other hand it is also very likely to be contradicted. So it is not very dependable.
- The grapevine does not always carry the complete information. As it is very often based on guesswork or ‘whispers’ in the corridors it may not give the receiver the complete picture of the situation or the whole message.
- The grapevine may, and indeed often does, distort the information. As it is entirely unofficial, informal and unauthenticated it may cast aspersion on anybody or impute motives to the most well-meaning of the people. As its origin lies in the rumor-mill it may spread any kind of stories about highly responsible people, even at the risk of spoiling the image of the organization.
- The speed with the grapevine spreads may also at times prove counterproductive. Ideally any message or information or policy decision should take its own course and time. But once it leaks it may damage the reputation of the organization or upset the plans of the managers.
Bba Business Communication: Study Material of, Channels of Communication: Formal vs. Informal, Topic is, Effective Use of the Grapevine
Effective use of the grapevine
With the above points in mind one can always realize the urgent need to use the grapevine effectively. After all we have to learn to live with it. We cannot wish it away. So, a tactful manager has to take some positive measures to get the best out of this informal channel of communication. Given below are a few important points in this regard:
- In this first place a tactful manager will keep the employees well-informed about organizational policy matters, plans and prospects. This will check the tendency of speculation that can sometimes assumes dangerous proportions because of the elements of fear and anxiety on the part of the employees.
- Fruitful group activities that enhance self-worth and update knowledge should be held as frequently as possible. This will not only boost the morale and self-confidence of the workers but also check their inclination to indulge in small talk.
- The manager should, as far as possible, have an open-door policy without giving the impression of cheap popularity or favoritism.
- The manager should create a healthy environment where there is room for personal talk. But it must be made clear that work is of paramount importance. Noting should be allowed to interfere with the progress of the organization. For this purpose regular timings should be fixed up for meetings with the employees.
- The manager must tactfully identify the leaders and win their confidence so as to feel the pulse of their followers.
- As far as possible the employees, through their leaders, should be associated with decision making. This will frustrate any negative aspect of the grapevine.
- The managers must keep trying to get clues about his style of functioning through regular interaction with the employees in as tactful, diplomatic manner as possible.
- Rumor mongering aimed at character assassination or maligning somebody in the organization should not be encouraged. Showing distaste for such talk will earn praise for the manager’s leadership qualities.
- A manager must learn to be a good listener. In this connection it is worthwhile to enumerate the four types of listening that are as follows:
- Discriminative listening
- Evaluative listening
- Appreciative listening, and
- Emphatic listening.
Unfortunately emphatic listening is the least practiced by managers. They may be, and mostly they are, too busy to listen emphatically, that means the speaker’s feelings. But they should not forget that this is a ‘relief-seeking’ conversation, and therefore very important to build up meaningful human relations. It does not require any regular training as a psychologist. But today’s manager can always benefit from the insight of modern psycho-analytical research and learn to practice informal emphatic listening.