Informal communication is communication outside the organization's formally authorized channels. Informal communication includes all messages transmitted in the work setting other than those that are generated specifically to fulfil work-related assignments. The nature of such communication is nowhere described in the formal communication systems, but the organization could not survive without it.

The Grapevine

The network for much informal communication is the organization's grapevine. Grapevines develop in organizations to handle communications that the formal channels of communication do not handle. It typically supplements or replaces the organizational hierarchy as the means for transmitting communication. The grapevine serves as an excellent source of information about employee attitudes as well as an emotional outlet for workers. Thus, grapevine is likely to be strong during uncertain times and in organizations that limit the low of information to employees through formal channels. Also, employees may participate in a grapevine to help meet social needs.

The development of grapevines is inevitable. Although grapevines are neither good nor bad in themselves, the messages they carry are subject to distortion as messages transmitted from one human link to another become progressively more garbled (distorted: confused). Their content is misinterpreted, abbreviated, embellished (overstated) and selectively transmitted in terms of what the sender believes the receiver wants or needs to know. Since the original message may be only partially true, it is not surprising that the grapevine is sometimes referred to as a rumour mill. The information that travels through a grapevine typically takes the form of gossip (belief about other people) and rumours(efforts to predict future events).

The Grapevine has three main characteristics

  1. It is not controlled by management.
  2. It is perceived by most employees as being more believable and reliable than formal communiqués issued by top management.
  3. It is largely used to serve the self-interests of these people within it.

Grapevine Patterns

Grapevine Patterns

  1. Single Strand: In the single-strand chain, communication moves serially from personA to B to C and so on.
  2. Gossip Chain: With gossip chain, person A seeks out and tells others.
  3. Probability Chain: When following the probability chain, person A spreads the message randomly as do individuals F and D.
  4. Cluster Chain: In cluster chain, person A tells three selected individuals and then one of these tells three others.

Despite the fact that grapevines sometimes create difficulties when they carry gossip and false rumours, they are a fact of life in organizations and it is unrealistic of managers to think that they can eliminate grapevines.

The Old-Boy Network

The old-boy network is another network for informal communication. It is an exclusive group that wields power through shared information. In an old-boy network, members share information to help one another along in their careers. An old-boy network differs from other kinds of informal alliances among groups of employees in that its members have control over much of the organizations resources. Belonging to an old-boy network can be advantageous to its members, but from an organization's perspective, an old-boy network can be harmful. It limits some employees' access to information and prevents the organization from readily tapping the potential of people outside the network.

Organizations that view their entire pool of employees as a source of competitive advantage therefore seek to broaden employees' access to information. The more the organization's goals, strategies, performance and staffing needs are communicated through formal channels, and the more the organization listens to its employees, the less important are informal channels such as old-boy networks.

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Principles of Management and Organisational Behaviour Topics