“Grapevine” or gossip if the informal network of communication utilized in a business environment. Generally, it has a negative connotation for most professionals. However, one must admit that grapevine exists in all organizations and can be used profitably if handled carefully.
First we must talk about why grapevine exists in organizations. Grapevine is the direct result of personal human connection that people form within their workplace, by the virtue of mutual interaction. One of the strongest human needs, is the need for affiliation. Therefore, it is safe to say that people from personal relationships even in a formal business environment. Once we foster these personal relationships, informal communication becomes inevitable. Thus it is safe to say that grapevine exists in all organizations.
Though we have established that grapevine exists in all organizations, we are also aware that it carries a negative connotation. We need to understand why this integral part of business communication is frowned upon by most. The reason is that grapevine generally has no credibility or less credibility and one can never identify the source of gossip. Negative information circulating in the grapevine can wreak havoc as it may result in panic and loss of employee morale. Grapevine is generally word of mouth and therefore an unstable form of communication. We see all around us that sensational and negative gossip tend to spread much faster than positive messages.
But this negative attitude towards grapevine does not mean that we can or should try to root it out. Expecting employees not to form informal relationships is unrealistic and draconian. If you try to stamp out informal communication networks you incur the dissatisfaction and anger of the employees, as you will be hindering their need for affiliation.
Then how can we handle this potentially dangerous but integral aspect of business communication? The most important thing to keep in mind is that if handled well, grapevine can actually benefit the organization. There are certain advantages to grapevine, like:
- It is one of the quickest networks of communication. Gossip spreads much faster than any formal communication.
- Grapevine is also a cheap form of communication, since it is mostly word of mouth and doesn’t use the formal networks.
- Grapevine also mostly does contain a shred of truth.
- It fosters personal relationships between the employees and therefore may help in creating a congenial work environment.
- It is a flexible means of communication, since there is no control over it.
- Employees tend to express their true attitude and feeling through grapevine and therefore it is a valuable source of information.
However, the biggest drawback of grapevine, is that we cannot exercise any control over it and therefore negative gossip may sometimes blow out of proportion and cause irreparable damage. The management should use grapevine to gauge the climate in the organization and also keep a watchful eye on how grapevine is moving and correct any potentially dangerous misinformation passing through the network.
For more insights into various aspects of business communication go through the BizComm Model of Strengthscape.