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Communicating—Within an Active Grapevine

The nice part of living in a small town is that when I don't know what I'm doing, someone else does.
ANONYMOUS

We live in times of turbulent change. People need information to make sense of the things they don't understand. As management typically reacts to these needs, the grapevine will fill in the information gaps for people. Some of the information you will get is true, but a lot will not be. Here are some ways of dealing with the informal information that swirls around you.

AVOID RUMOURS

    • Take the attitude that it is better to give too much information than too little.

    • Hold regular briefings. By definition, they should be short. They can be, for example, stand-up meetings in the office or a huddle on the factory floor. If you don't have new information, encourage questions, which may uncover rumours you are not aware of.

    • Keep a flip chart in your work area. Write news on it regularly. Allow your people to record questions that they want to deal with at your meetings.

    • Anticipate issues that might provoke negative gossip. Deal with them right away.

DEAL WITH RUMOURS

    • Never deny the truth or lie. Your credibility will suffer, and trust between you and other people will be jeopardized. Often information reaches others before you get it. Try to track down the source and establish whether the information is truth or fiction. When you have the facts, let people know them right away.

    • Go to the source of the rumour. Find out if you or your team will be affected. Find ways to position yourself to take advantage of the situation. Develop a plan that will demonstrate how you and your people can help to make the change successful.

    • When you go to the source of a rumour, don't demand answers or put people on the spot. Make it easy for them to help you by asking questions that can be dealt with hypothetically. Ask, for example: "If, at some time in the future, there was a downsizing, which departments would be cut first?" Watch their body language when they answer in order to understand how they feel.

    • Maintain a positive attitude. Take particular care to do good work, since a deteriorating attitude and work habits will make you stick out like a sore thumb.

    • Be flexible to change. Look at all the alternatives. Change brings opportunity. New directions should challenge and energize you.

  1. Don't add to the rumour mill. If you are passing on hearsay, do so accurately. If you change the information, qualify it for the recipient by saying that it is your interpretation or opinion.

  2. When you are given information that is unofficial and "spicy," check its accuracy by asking:

    • Where did you get this information?

    • How do you know it is true?

    • Is this a fact or is it your opinion?

  3. Check the accuracy of important messages with your boss. Be frank. Let him know what you have heard and the extent of your concern.

  4. Avoid going to your boss with every bit of hearsay. You will begin to be seen as a rumour-monger. Speak to her about important issues only.

  5. If your boss does disclose confidential information to you, maintain that confidentiality at all costs; trust is something you have to work hard at to maintain, but it can be lost quickly.

  6. Go to the source to establish the accuracy of a rumour if you feel your boss cannot validate it and

    • you feel empowered to do so;

    • it impacts you or your team;

    • the issue is important.

  7. If you find that a rumour is accurate and it will impact your work area, share it with your boss.

  8. Help your boss develop a strategy to present your information in a manner that will be least disruptive to your area.

  9. Continue to do good work, since any deterioration in your attitude and work habits will make you more vulnerable to any changes that might happen.

  10. Be flexible about the outcome of change. Opportunities are bound to present themselves.

  11. Most rumours will have little impact on you, but major changes could be coming if you notice that senior managers are

    • spending more time in meetings;

    • looking worried;

    • talking in lower tones among themselves;

    • taking phone calls or having more conversations behind closed doors.


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