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The Grapevine


¡§A whisper at one end of the Home Office building is a message blaring on a loud speaker at the other end - in about two minutes,¡¨ said by John Cook, a wise philosophy of chief communications officer[i].  The grapevine is the informal or social communication network in mysterious mixture of rumor and truth, surmise and gossip, which circulates at all levels within the organization[ii].  Messages transmitted along the grapevine may be highly accurate when containing data but questionable when dealing with decisions[iii].  One researcher maintains that between 75 percent and 95 percent of grapevine information is correct[iv].

Keith Davis[v] has identified four types of pattern in spreading of information via the grapevine.  First, the single strand in which information passes in a line where much distortion can occur.  Second, the gossip chain in which everyone communicates with everyone else.  Third, the probability chains in which communication takes place randomly.  Last, a cluster chain in which there is selectively in how the message is passed.  The mixed pattern of formal and informal communication is a natural development of any social organization where members develop their own small group affiliations.

The significant characteristics of the grapevine are its fast in speed of transmission and its selective in the information it carries which is confined to the place of work.  It fills gaps left by ineffective formal communications and help to fulfill the needs for the people involved in them.  However, the grapevine often contains the ¡§what¡¨ of the story, it rarely contains the correct ¡§why¡¨.  Therefore, effective managers should deal with the grapevine carefully, and must listen to employees¡¦ concerns ¡V the good and the bad ¡V and provide them with honest and timely feedback.

Instead of fighting the grapevine, effective managers should make it work for them.  Employees consider the grapevine a high credible source, so managers should not ignore the information that flows through it.  The grapevine can provide a wealth of information about employee attitudes, performance, and morale[vi].  Managers can use it to unofficially propose new ideas and monitor employees¡¦ reaction to them.  The responses give clues to how the proposal could be revised for better acceptance.  Managers can also use it for conflict management.

A company¡¦s ¡¥information leaders¡¦ can¡¦t be identified by rank or position[vii] but from persons with high communication centrality.  Effective managers should use knowledge of the grapevine as a communication tool to reach informal group member not included in the path of the formal communication network.  Sometimes managers can enlist reliable and respected group leader to spread the word about what is really happening.  This centrally located person in the group is in the best position to facilitate the smooth flow of information among group members. 

The disadvantage of the grapevine is that it may transmit incorrect and untimely information.  When grapevine passes inaccurate or unconfirmed information, especially about rumored lay-off or other stressful events, employees who cannot verify the truth may feel demoralized.  Don¡¦t hesitate to communicate to employees details of the ¡§3 Ls¡¨ (layoffs, losses, and lawsuits), as well as other important news affecting the organization[viii].  Effective managers should open up communication channels to defend against destructive rumors.  This can be done by holding regular meeting or considering using company newsletters and/or a bulletin board and posted in a common area to disseminate information.  Employees should be kept informed so rumors do not occur to fill an information void.  Good managers should be visible and proactive by wandering around the work place to interact and answer questions before rumor spread and attitudes harden.  Managers should emphasize one to one communications if required.  Most important is that managers should enlighten personnel by teaching them about the potential destructiveness of rumors.

As a conclusion, proactive managers should accept the grapevine as an inevitable fact of organizational life.  The key, though, is not to ignore or try to stop the grapevine, but to manage it and make it work for you[ix].  If grapevine is properly guided, it can help build teamwork, company loyalty, and the kind of motivation that makes people to do their best[x].


Endnotes

[i] ¡¥An Official Stance on the Employee Grapevine¡¦ 1998, The Ragan Report, [Online, accessed 6 December 1998].  URL:http://www.ragan.com/newsletter/article_rr_328.html.

[ii] David Evans 1991, Supervisory Management, principles and practice, 3rd edition, Casel, Educational Ltd, London, pp 142-3.

[iii] S Bernald Rosenblatt, T Richard Cheatham & James T Watt 1982, Communication in business, 2nd edition, Prentice-Hall Inc, New Jersey, p 43.

[iv] Keith Davis ¡§Care and Cultivation of the Corporation Grapevine¡¨, Dun¡¦s Review, July 1973, p 46, in James M Lahiff & John M Penrose1991, Business Communication strategy and skills, 5th edition, Prentice-Hall Inc, New Jersey, p 34.

[v] Keith Davis, Management Communication and the Grapevine, Harvard Business Review, Jan-Feb 1953, pp 31,43-49, in S Bernard Rosenblatt, T Richard Cheatham & James T Watt 1982, Communication in Business, 2nd edition, Prentice-Hall Inc, New Jersey, pp 45-46.

[vi] Courtland L Bovee, John V Thill, Marian Burk Wood & George P Dovel 1993, Management, McGraw-Hill Inc, USA, p 546.

[vii] Michael Warshaw 1998, ¡¥They hear it through the Grapevine¡¦, Fast Company, [Online, accessed 15 December 1998].  URL:http://www.fastcompany.com/online/14/grapevine.html.

[viii] ¡¥Tell employees about the ¡§3 Ls¡¨¡¦ 1998, The Ragan Company, [Online, accessed 6 December 1998]. URL:http://www.ragan.com/newsletter/article_wc_7182.html.

[ix] ¡¥Coming to grips with the grapevine¡¦ 1998, The Ragan Report, [Online, accessed 6 December 1998]. URL:http://www. ragan.com/newsletter/article_wc_7211.html.

[x] Patrica Hayes Andrews & John E baird 1995, Jr, Communication for business and the professions, 6th edition, Wm C Brown Communications Inc, USA, p 83.


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