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Workplace Gossip and Rumors – How leaders can work the company grapevine

By Merge Gupta-Sunderji, MBA, CSP

(600 words)

The company grapevine is quite possibly the most efficient and powerful form of communication in any organization. Paradoxically, it’s also the bane of managers and supervisors everywhere. Whether the scuttlebutt starts at the loading dock, the water cooler, or the lunchroom, the rumor mill can cause grief for many a manager, and that’s why some leaders go out of their way to distance themselves from it. But avoiding the grapevine, or even worse, pretending it doesn’t exist, is the worst possible thing you can do.

The company grapevine can be a very effective method of communication and a powerful tool with which to disseminate information, but in order to achieve these benefits, you might have to drastically change your opinion about it. First, you will have to accept two irrefutable truths about communication in organizations, and then you will need to switch your focus to turn these truths to your advantage.

Two irrefutable truths

  1. If there is no information readily available, people will make it up.
  2. No matter how hard you try, it is impossible to eliminate the organization’s rumor mill.

Harness the truths to your advantage
Think about what often happens in organizations. Perhaps the company’s management is working on a confidential initiative, something of significant interest to employees. But because the managers haven’t yet nailed down the details, they are reluctant to share information with their people. Logically, and with good intentions, they reason, “There’s no point in telling everybody about it just yet; far better to wait until we have all the particulars worked out and we can give our staff exact answers to their questions.”

In reality, of course, there is no such thing as confidential in any company of any size. If there is more than one person involved in the process, there is no such thing as a secret. Sooner rather than later, the rumor mill kicks into high gear. When there is a lack of information, human nature leads people to assume the worst. Before you know it, pure speculation takes on a life of its own and the worst possible scenarios are played out at the water cooler and in the lunchroom. And once the snowball begins to roll, it’s difficult to slow it down to mitigate the damage.

But you can make the two irrefutable truths about communication work for you.

Share what you know
Even if it’s just preliminary or partial information, you can substantially improve the quality of the information circulating through the company grapevine by simply sharing what you know. Information accompanied by the caveat “not yet final” is better than no information at all. The vast majority of employees can accept that preliminary information is subject to change, and will readily accept amendments later.

Be strategic about “feeding” information
You know that every organization has a Grapevine Transmission System (GTS) in which certain individuals are skilled at “expediting” the transmission of information through the company grapevine. By strategically feeding information to selected people in the company grapevine, you can actually harness the power of the gossip machine. Most managers and supervisors view these employees with some level of frustration, and occasionally with contempt. But what if you were to deliberately share your information with these power GTS members? Not only would you get more truth into the system, you would also ensure faster circulation through the network.

Remember that when people have no information, they make it up, so you might as well give them some facts. You can’t get rid of the grapevine, so doesn’t it make sense to use it to your advantage?

Merge Gupta-Sunderji, MBA, CSP, turns managers into leaders by giving them specific and practical how-to steps to create high-performing, productive, and positive workplaces. Contact her at or (403) 605-4756.

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