How a High Road® Leader Deals with the Grapevine Problem

by | Jan 26, 2016 | Blog, High Road Accountability and Ethics, High Road Cooperation and Unity, High Road Leadership


Your Grapevine

The grapevine will always exist in the workplace setting. Get used to it. Dealing with the grapevine is never easy. The quality and vibrancy of your firm’s grapevine is a byproduct of your culture.

Why the Rumor Mill Exists

Employees use the grapevine because of its

    • sensationalism,
    • intrigue, and
    • drama.

For some reason, humans have a need for gossip and always have. The grapevine itself, what happens in it, and the result of it creates the same feeling that a major disaster fosters. Your grapevine appeals the same way cable news appeals to adrenaline junkies.

Some employees enjoy playing manipulation games. By feeding or passing on items in the grapevine, an employee can watch the game being “played.” A grapevine feeds the voyeuristic needs of these game players. Your grapevine is like Comedy Central, the Mystery Channel, and E Network all in one convenient package.

Quite often, employees are bored in their jobs or their personal lives are not very fulfilling. So the grapevine provides a way of getting their daily fulfillment of soap opera enjoyment. Because people can be hurt by the grapevine or react dramatically, it affects people’s need for theater. Your grapevine is like watching TMZ or Fox News.

Content and Reasons
Most of what is repeated from employee to employee is false or inaccurate. The grapevine is generally filled with

    • misperceptions,
    • intentional harm,
    • innuendos, and
    • unaired gripes.

Occasionally the grapevine serves a positive purpose. One or more employees have tried to get a problem addressed but their request is ignored. So an employee feeds the grapevine hoping that their complaint will get the attention of someone who is willing to address their concern. Except for that, many employees use the grapevine as a way to embarrass others, to create drama out of boredom, or to get revenge on another employee. The targets are usually

    • sacred cows
    • unreasonable rules
    • the big boss,
    • their supervisor, or
    • employees who get away with breaking rules.

Employees often pay attention to the grapevine because the “information” is passed along by someone they admire or respect. This friend’s credibility is what adds credence to the garbage carried along the grapevine’s path. It can be hard for employees who are upset, uninformed, or recently hired to resist the lure of your grapevine.

Grapevine’s Culture Connection

Depending on your organization’s cultural norms, the grapevine can either be vibrant and alive or just a minor distraction. The determiner is the level of the open and honest communication that flows within your organization.

If you have managers and leaders who do not talk about things, who hold lots of closed door meetings, and who prefer the “closed books” approach to managing, you will have a very vibrant and seductive grapevine.

If, on the other hand, your leaders take the time to get to know employees as individuals, talk about what’s going on, spend time in outward communication, and solicit honest feedback, then your organization’s grapevine will not play a significant role in where employees get their information.

Openness, honesty, and two-way feedback are the greatest toxins to a grapevine.

Silence, lack of openness, and the unwillingness to be forthright are the greatest nutrients to the health (i.e. size and scope) of your grapevine.

Solutions to Handling Your Grapevine Problem

Here are 10 specific actions that a leader can take to deal with the harmful rumor mill in a positive and constructive manner.

1. Set Expectations
Establish a ground rule that any employee who has an issue must confront the primary source of the issue/problem to ascertain if the perception is correct.

2. Act Swiftly
Address all issues honestly and swiftly; never hesitate. Inaction and silence are both grapevine fertilizers.

3. Be Bold
Deal directly with the employee who makes false statements.

4. Do Not Allow Deviations
Address all behaviors that do not live up to the firm’s high standards.

5. Be Transparent
Establish open forums and encourage the airing of employees’ concerns. Employee surveys, coaching and daily doses of feedback also uncover employee concerns.

6. Emphasize the Positive
Communicate ALL good news and do that often.

7. Be Courageous
Never dodge or hide from the difficult issues. Address them immediately.

8. Tune In
Monitor the grapevine for signals and rumors of bad behavior, fraud, or ethical breaches.

9. Instill Courtesy
Remind employees to check the validity of a story BEFORE they retell it to another employee because they lose credibility if the information is untrue.

10. Identify the Suppliers
Every grapevine has its primary suppliers who need to be monitored and managed. To do that, determine who likes to feed your rumor mill, and whenever you need to send an important message, personally deliver it to this person, who will then feed it into the grapevine. Then check with people who regularly listen to the grapevine to ensure that your message does not get distorted or perverted.

It is vital that you keep in mind two key truisms about the rumor mill or grapevine.

  • Information passes through the grapevine faster than the speed of light!
  • Your grapevine tells a story about the sort of culture your company has!

A grapevine will always exist in the workplace so embrace it. Dealing with a harmful rumor mill is never easy, and you must take indirect control of it because you—the leader—define the quality and effectiveness of communications within your culture.

There is an inverse relationship for the level of transparency and openness within a culture and the intensity of the rumor mill.

  • The more open you are, the weaker will be your rumor mill.
  • The less open you are, the stronger will be your rumor mill.

A High Road® leader is not afraid to address their grapevine problem because it provides feedback about the culture and insight into employees’ concerns and fears.