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How to make best use of the grapevine

1. Quotable quote

"The supervisor should always bear in mind that the receptiveness of any group to the rumours of the grapevine is directly related to the strength of the supervisor's leadership. If employees believe that their supervisor is fair and that every effort will be made to keep them informed, they will tend to disregard rumours and look to the supervisor for proper answers to be provided."

Theo Haimann & Ray Hilgert in Supervision: Concepts and Practices of Management.

2. It's a fact

Gossipy Australian public servants were given an official outlet for their rumour-mongering in 2001. An Internet bulletin board for government employees was set up to purge rumours and verify what is right and what is fantasy.

Called 'The Rumour Mill', the bulletin board allows staff to write up any rumour they have heard as long as the entries abide by certain guidelines: they must relate to work issues, cannot be verified in other ways, do not name individuals, and are not malicious, offensive or frivolous. Only ‘valid’ rumours are answered.

If your organisation can’t beat the company grapevine, join it. Why not explore the setting up of a ‘rumour mill’ bulletin board within your organisation’s e-mail system?

3. Here's an idea

Use the grapevine for a good purpose. A compliment a person hears is never as exciting as the one s/he overhears. A great way to praise is not via the telephone or even face-to-face, but rather via tell-a-friend. This way you escape possible criticism that you’re a back-scratching sycophant trying to win brownie points. You also leave the recipient with the happy fantasy that you’re telling the whole world about their greatness.

4. Research says

If yours is a large organisation, and if you worry about staff gossips and the vitality of your grapevine, then may be you shouldn’t.

According to researchers at Goldsmith’s College at London University, having ‘a good old gossip’ about colleagues and bosses can relieve tension or anxiety and boost morale in the workplace. Idle chatter often makes staff feel better about their job and those they work with, especially in organisations undergoing change or upheaval.

What is important for leaders, however, is that they have strategies for dealing with such grapevines when they become malicious or outlandish.

5. Believing what you want to believe

What we see is affected by our belief system. As Wayne Dyer said, 'You'll see it when you believe it'.

Feeding the grapevine is an art and is most effective if you are aware of the belief systems of those people you are hoping will spread the message. This story, quoted by Anthony de Mello SJ, illustrates why people aren't prepared to believe everything you might want to feed into the grapevine:

A couple of Catholic navvies were hard at work on the road in front of a brothel when they saw a rabbi slink into the house of ill repute.

'Well, what can you expect?' they said to each other.

After a while a parson slipped in. No surprise. 'What can you expect?'

Then comes the local Catholic priest who covers his face with a cloak just before he dives into the building. 'Now isn't that dreadful? One of the girls must have taken ill.'

6. Electronic grapevine

You can't beat the company grapevine, so join it. Try setting up a 'rumour mill' bulletin board within your e-mail system. People enter what they believe to be legitimate rumours. Key executives can then respond by explaining what is fact and what isn't. This keeps misconceptions from becoming amplified.