The infamous grapevine…it can affect organizations both negatively and positively. You can use it to your advantage or it can work against you as a disadvantage. It’s always active and can be a useful communication opportunity for leadership.
A day doesn’t go by without someone telling me about an issue or information being shared through the grapevine. This has become a good way for me to be part of the informal communication process inside our organization. It is different, in my mind, than gossip, which typically focuses on talking negatively about someone behind their back. There’s no place for that in a company or anywhere else, although it obviously does exist.
So, how can you leverage the grapevine? Here are a few ways I do it:
- Respond with proper discretion and good judgment.
I know people tell me about an issue because they want someone to do something about it. The challenge is they usually say, “Don’t tell anyone about it.” If I hear an issue regarding a particular employee or subject matter, my antenna may raise, but I don’t always take immediate action until it has surfaced a few times. Who I get the information from may also influence the sense of urgency. It is important to determine if it’s an ongoing issue that needs to be addressed or if it is an isolated situation that should take care of itself.
- Intentionally disseminate information about potential changes.
Sometimes when I have challenging information to deliver or need to sensitize a team for change, I strategically use the grapevine to initiate the dialogue. From personnel changes to restructuring considerations, I know if it gets to the informal network of communication, it will make its way to the intended audience. Although it can be subtle and should never include confidential information, it is a good way to let people process the information and share their ideas and concerns.
- Lift people up.
I really enjoy hearing people say good things about others behind their backs. To me, this is the opposite of “gossip” and creates an excellent opportunity to personally tell the individual the good things I’ve heard about them. I make it a habit of sharing the good things, and it seems to be more credible when done in that context. I also give credit to the sender for sharing their positive comments with me. It is always well received and a very positive way to use the grapevine.
- Stop inaccurate or negative information.
The grapevine by nature is hearsay and often times cannot be taken at face value, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it should be ignored either. Whenever I hear a comment shared about a person or topic that seems to be false or inappropriate, I intentionally call a time out. I take the opportunity to communicate my perspective to stop what I perceive to be an inaccurate portrayal of the situation. Rumors keep spreading down the vine until someone steps in for some healthy pruning.
Although the grapevine generally has a negative connotation, it can also be very useful. So the next time you hear it through the grapevine, think of it as your organization’s informal network of communication and use it to your advantage.