What Is Grapevine Communication? (With Types and Importance)

Updated August 14, 2023

Communicating effectively through various means is an essential part of a company's success. Some mediums of communication are more effective for disseminating certain kinds of information due to their nature and the process involved. Understanding how grapevine communication mediums apply within an organization can help you determine how you can foster a healthy workspace. In this article, we explore what grapevine communication entails, outline the importance of these typically informal means of communication, detail the differences between formal and informal communication, identify the types of grapevine communication, and discuss its advantages and disadvantages.

What is grapevine communication?

Grapevine communication is a natural and loosely structured way of sharing information among members of a group, workplace, or company. This informal form of communication is different from formal mediums of communication, which take a more structured approach. This communication is present among most organizations, and the lack of structure can make it easy to manage. These communications can occur during breaks or virtual communications over social media platforms outside the workplace.

Related: Communication in Organizations (With Benefits and Types)

Importance of grapevine communication

Grapevine communication is vital in fostering relationships between colleagues and team members. Formal communications are an effective way of disseminating information pertaining to official aspects of businesses. In contrast, informal or grapevine communications are more freely structured, and they help administrators assess the effect of their developments and information. The work culture and values essential to an organization are present in formal communications, but informal communications help strengthen these values through collaboration between coworkers.

The nature of formal communications also comes with a sense of distance that many employees find difficult to engage. This causes a gap between the needs of employees and what the formal communication structures can provide. Informal communication systems fill in this gap by allowing employees or team members to express their opinions and receive advice. While informal communication can be unpredictable, businesses can benefit by encouraging an open-door policy and using formal channels to preempt uncertainties or assess responses to development.

Differences between formal and informal communication

Formal systems of communication involve the dissemination of information through clearly defined channels. Formal systems of communication employ hierarchical structures that flow in a top-to-bottom order where employees simply execute its content. It can take different forms, varying from memos, meetings, conferences, presentations, letters, speeches, handouts, and emails. This form of communication is more reliable, time-consuming, structured, and secretive.

In contrast, informal systems of communication involve information dissemination through loosely defined channels. They allow information to flow in various directions and don't recognize hierarchical structures. It can take various forms that determine the pace of communications and the spread of information. This form of communication is less reliable, faster, unstructured, and open.

Types of grapevine communication

You can categorize grapevine communication into four major types:

Single strand chain

This informal communication system is a simple chain of disseminating information that involves a piece of news passing directly from one person to another until it reaches the final recipient. This is a straightforward way of sharing information effectively and quickly. The number of people involved in this chain affects the information's quality and verifiability.

Gossip chain

Communicating this way involves a group of people gathering in sizable numbers to discuss matters of mutual interest. The structure of this informal communication places an individual at the centre of the group, who shares information with others. This can result in the exclusion of other members at the workplace, making the dissemination process less cohesive.

Probability chain

This form of informal communication depends solely on the probability of disseminating information. Participants in this structure receive certain information randomly and then share the information in the same way. This structure is subject to change and makes the source of information different for each recipient as the information spreads.

Cluster chain

Sharing information in a cluster chain is common and involves an individual sharing information with other select individuals. The recipients of information through this means repeat the pattern when sharing the information with others. The cluster chain is an informational structure responsible for the way trends and hashtags become popular.

Advantages of grapevine communication

Grapevine communication is a natural way to communicate with coworkers. Businesses can benefit from it in a number of ways, including:

Improves efficiency

Informal communication systems serve as an efficient means for coworkers to interact and improve their capabilities. For example, this form of communication allows a team member to compare their progress with others while working on a project. It also encourages openness among co-workers as it's a more natural means of communication. Openness among colleagues fosters a positive work culture and allows for discussions on a broader range of subjects and concerns.

Fosters relationships

Communication between team members and colleagues outside formal structures is an excellent way to cultivate rapport. A healthy rapport improves the understanding between colleagues and allows managers to better respond to the needs of their team members. The nature of informal communications also enables colleagues to cultivate beneficial relationships outside work.

Related: 11 Types of Relationships at Work and Why They're Important

Improves conflict resolution

Healthy conflict resolution systems are a vital part of building relationships. Informal communication systems are more effective in resolving conflicts or disagreements between colleagues. Where dissatisfaction occurs, coworkers can leverage the relationships they've built through informal communication to achieve resolution.

Related: What Conflict Resolution Skills Are Important for Workplace Success?

Creates more versatility

While formal communication has its utility, it's usually limited by the scope of what it can address. Informal communications are more relaxed, adaptable, and can address multiple concerns at once. This versatility can complement the functions of formal communication in a workplace by keeping monitoring developments in real time.

Potential disadvantages of grapevine communication

Here's a list of disadvantages of grapevine communication:

Prone to misinformation

The absence of structure in informal communication makes it difficult to verify the information spread through these channels. The nature of informal communications subjects the information itself to change and embellishments. For example, information disseminated through the single-strand chain is likely to become distorted the further it travels. Communicating through this means can foster the spread of misinformation, which can negatively affect the groups involved.

Can deviate employees from company objectives

One of the uses of communication systems is to keep team members or employees in line with a team or organization's objectives. With informal communication systems, the possibility of deviating employees from their collective goals is high. The likelihood of misinformation, the feelings of exclusion, and the formation of sub-groups based on personal interests all contribute to deviating employees.

Related: Complete Guide to Objectives for Managers (With Examples)

Based on rumours

It's common for employees to use informal communication systems to further their interests. These interests can unite groups who seek to undermine others and intentionally spread misinformation to elicit certain reactions. These interests can make informal communication a medium to spread rumours.

Elicits unpredictable reactions

Informal systems of communication aren't ideal for disseminating sensitive information, as individuals react to information differently. Employees or team members may have access to information that can elicit unpredictable or unstable reactions from colleagues and use this to unsettle their coworkers. This makes this form of communication counterproductive for certain kinds of information while serving as a potential source of developing distrust among employees.

Difficult to control

The loose structure of informal information systems makes accountability and verifiability difficult. This difficulty also extends to an organization's attempt to control the spread of information or correct misinformation. It also makes it challenging to restrict the development of and hold employees responsible for conflict.

Affects productivity

The nature of the information team members hear through this medium can negatively affect their productivity. Participating in informal communication can also divide the attention of team members between their duties and gossip. For example, a team member that's the subject of gossip and rumours can experience negative effects on their well-being and productivity.

Evades accountability

The lack of structure in informal communication can encourage the spread of false or harmful information. This is more difficult in a structured communication system because team members and employees are easily accountable. With informal communication, misinformation is more easily spread, as you cannot trace the source easily.

Upsets administrative structures

Informal communication systems can lead to a lack of trust in the workplace. This lack of trust can be with other employees or the hierarchy of an organization. It's important to use formal communication systems to address the discontent and suspicions that informal communication encourages.

Encourages exclusion

Due to the loose structure of informal communication, individuals can create groups based on their interests and relationships. This can impede the sense of cohesiveness essential to groups functioning optimally. By excluding certain members of the workplace, it can encourage feelings of discontent and work against the organization's culture.

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