Department of Communication

Chapter 2 Notes



Formal and Informal Communication Networks

1. Networks--structural means (patterns of interaction) that allow messages to flow within organizations. May include two people, small groups of people, or large numbers that flow outside the organization. We typically find ourselves involved with multiple organizational networks.

2. Message Flow Directions--
Upward--subordinates to managers. Watch out for the tendency of “positive distortion” from employees. No one wants to make a bad impression on their supervisory and it is very human to put a positive spin in issues even when there is little to offer in that light.
Downward--managers to subordinates. Try to provide “rationale for decisions” when possible. Studies show over and over that employees feel better about the organization when they know “why” they are doing things or “why” change is occurring.
Horizontal—communication between employees or departments of the same status. This may become overly competitive for organizational resources like budgets, awards, recognition, etc. May not be a problem but it is top managements’ job to ensure the competition does not become counter-productive.

3. Formal Networks--Officially sanctioned; the organizational flow chart; company newsletters; memos; managers’ meetings; etc.

4. Informal Networks--arise due to the situation employees are in; emerge out of a need; no permanent structure; may be faster than formal networks; a spontaneous flow of information that may or may not be correct.


The blue print of how communication flows within any organization. What would happen if this didn’t exist?
Carries task-oriented messages (specific job instructions; performance reviews)
Carries maintenance-oriented messages (more generally-based policies and procedures on how to accomplish tasks)
Carries human messages (keys on employee needs like new health care benefits; vacation schedules; etc.)

1. Network Structures--decentralized networks tend to be more efficient when involved in complex tasks; centralized ones often create higher worker dissatisfaction (feeling only marginally involved in the communication process)

(A) The Circle network--no single employee is key to the communication; decentralized; morale often high in such networks; better employee access to each other; fewer organizational roadblocks.

(B) The Chain network--step-by-step transmission of a message until it reaches its final designation.

(C) The Y network--short branches off the main trunk; still focuses on a centralized structure through one employee.

(D) The Wheel network--centralized flow outward from supervisor to small number of employees.

2. Network Roles--parts we perform within organizations.

(A) Liaisons--employees who connect two groups without belonging to either one of them. Often an influential, experienced person.

(B) Bridges--employees who belong to at least two groups and connect each group to clique to the other. Distortion may occur.

(C) Gatekeepers--employees who control the information flow. Secretaries are often key gatekeepers; may be others who have power to give or withhold information.

(D) Isolates--employees who have minimal contact with others; either by choice or because others try to avoid them.

(E) Boundary Spanners--sometimes called “cosmopolites”; those who connect the organization to its relevant environment. Common roles are sales and customer service reps, public relations workers, etc.

3. Network Descriptors--patterns of behavior that help reveal how communication flows within the organization networks.

(A) Dominance--how equal employees are to one another. High versus Low dominance. High dominance requires communication be directed to a single or few key members who then disseminate information to others. Low dominance suggests that employees are roughly equal to one another.

(B) Centrality--centralized networks (wheel, Y, chain) require this; is there a key employee through whom communication flows...or not?

(C) Flexibility--how strictly organizations follow rules for communicating with others. High flex--allow variations; low flex would be very strict on how to communicate.

(D) Reachability--(don’t try to look this up in your dictionaries at home!)
How many people must the message pass through before reaching its final destination? Low reachability has fewer intermediaries; high reachability has potential for greater distortion since many people in the process. By the way, don’t try to find the word “reachability” in your dictionaries---another of those made-up words that academics like to use!

(E) Strength--frequency and duration of communication are the keys. Strong network would be frequent and thorough communication with employees; weak network would be rare and brief communication.

(F) Reciprocity--the degree to which employees and bosses agree on the nature of their relationship. High reciprocity would exist when both see their relationship essentially the same; low reciprocity would exist when one perceives the relationship quite differently than the other.

(G) Symmetry--the degree of sharing information between bosses and workers. When communication flows upward and downward you have a symmetrical relationship; just downward would be asymmetrical.

(H) Openness--how open or connected the organization is to the outside environment. Some businesses are very dependent to the outside environment; others less so.

“The Grapevine”

“People” networks; unpredictable in how they operate; the communication is often spontaneous and situationally derived; employees may choose to use these or not. Whether we do or not is often dependent upon (a) our proximity to the sender; and (b) whether we think the person is reliable and knowledgeable (do we trust them?).

Management may use the grapevine (even though we tend to think of it as being an “employees network”) to tap into employee sentiment; to send up “trail balloons” and then either distance themselves or embrace the ideas depending upon employee reactions.

Gerald Goldhaber’s research findings on “grapevine” communication:
It is fast....very fast!!
It is generally accurate...though varies from company to company.
It is an indicator of employee attitudes or sentiment
It usually travels by clusters (more later)

1. Grapevine participants--No real gender differences regarding who uses it more often. Secretaries are often key players in the grapevine--being bridges between workers and management. Managers may use the grapevine for “trial balloon” messages as mentioned earlier.

2. Effects of grapevine activity on the organization--if formal networks don’t provide employees with information; the grapevine will step in and rumors persist. Morale can be affected adversely.

3. Factors involved in rumor dispersion--why do rumors exist? What keeps them alive? Such reasons are (a) the importance of the message; (b) the ambiguity of the message; (c) the need for information in crisis times; (d) credibility of the person sending the rumor; (e) who is the focus of the rumor; and (f) the age of the rumor.

4. Factors that contribute the grapevine message distortion--
(a) messages get condensed or shortened; stuff gets left out
(b) certain information gets highlighted; other gets less attention; depends of the needs of the sender
(c) messages may be added to; have gaps filled in as they move along
(d) selective perceptive--we may only “hear what we want to hear” and disregard the rest

5. Grapevine transmission patterns--
(a) single-strand chain--I tell you a rumor and then you pass it along to another person, who then tells another, and on-and-on.... (pretty rare)
(b) gossip chain--I tell the class a rumor and you pass it along to others
(c) cluster transmission--most common; I tell two or more employees and you repeat this transmission process to others.

6. Types of Organizational Rumors--
(A) Anxiety rumors--reflect an uneasiness in employees (impending bad news on the horizon)
(B) Wish-fulfillment rumors--good news may be on the horizon (as a group or for an individual)
(C) Wedge-driving rumors--creates dissension; an “us vs. them” attitude in an organization.
(D) Social rumors--juicy gossip about people; no direct company link.

7. Suggestions for how an organization can manage or control the grapevine--
Managers should or could……..
(A) be sensitive to employee reactions; respond to high anxiety cases.
(B) be open, honest and quick to respond (when possible) with employees.
(C) seek out key “gatekeepers” in employee ranks for information dissemination.
(D) take a proactive stance; keep employees updates via bulletins, meetings, newsletters, etc.


(1) Residential analysis--go to the organization and observe activity over an extended period of time. What’s good and bad about this?

(2) Distribute questionnaires to employees--(how honest do you think employees will be here?)

(3) Communication Diary--(same comment as you speak the truth or tell the researchers what they want to hear?)

(4) ECCO--requires employee assistance in looking for patterns of transmitted messages (how they learned and from whom)