Informal networks are unofficial channels through which information passes in an organization. Formal communication networks contain more of the written, predictable, and routine communications; informal networks are faster, richer, and often more accurate, and communication is more likely to be face-to-face. Informal communication networks are not controlled by management. Sometimes people “leak” information to the informal network for the purpose of sending up ”trial balloons” (ideas not ready for formal proposals). Conrad (1990) writes, “Because using formal communication networks takes so much time and effort, people may have choose to not communicate at all if they have no formal channels available. Even ‘gossip’ and ‘rumors’ usually provide accurate information”. Such networks are called grapevines. They reflect patterns that employees develop when the formal channels are not clear, efficient, and/or respected. DeVito (1988) notes that the grapevine’s “speed and accuracy make it an ideal medium to carry a great deal of the social communications that so effectively bind together workers in an organization”. Informal channels of communication flow upward, downward, and horizontally, with little regard of designated positional relationships. Successful managers learn to “top” the grapevine and alter the flow of formal communication appropriately.
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