How to make best use of the grapevine

Rumours and gossip are an inevitable part of everyday life at work. Your organisation's informal communication network, the grapevine, draws groups together because of their common interests, fears, and shared beliefs. Indeed, it is a perfectly natural organisational phenomenon that fulfils the members' desire to be 'in the know'. If left unattended, however, malicious rumours on the grapevine can be very destructive. Conversely, properly managed, the grapevine can be used to your advantage...

1. Understand why rumours begin.

Your organisation's grapevine is very active and carries large amounts of information, at times inaccurate, with amazing speed. To deal with it, you must first know the conditions in your organisation fostering the spread of rumours:

  • lack of information and news
  • anxiety
  • faulty information
  • prolonged delays in decision-making
  • a feeling by staff that they cannot control circumstances
  • serious problems in the organisation
  • personal antagonisms.

2. Assess the importance of any rumour.

Before planning counter-measures, assess first the potential damage a particular rumour might cause. Often it is best ignored. Ask: 'What would happen if I did nothing?' If the spreading rumour is damaging, however, confer with the people primarily affected by it; assure them of your concern; and reveal your plans to combat the story. Move quickly to debunk the rumour by presenting the facts.

3. Combat misinformation - call a meeting.

It's always best to communicate face to face if possible. Written messages or those relayed by a third party aren't always understood. Conduct small-group meetings with staff or the community if necessary. Present the facts. This candid approach also provides instant feedback and an opportunity to clarify the situation immediately through questions and answers.

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