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The Rumor Mill at Work

The Rumor Mill at Work

If you are a business leader working to create a great workplace built on trust and respect, the typical company grapevine and rumor mill can work against your best efforts.  The people who tend to run these unofficial underground communication systems may not always be healthy for your organization.  These seemingly untraceable messages can work against your great workplace strategy.  In other words, the water cooler can be a toxic meeting place.

Not everyone will join the great workplace movement with your leadership team, even though they are proven to be the most financially successful, innovative, creative and long-term successful organizations.  Not everyone wants to play nice.  And there are those who prefer to create turmoil and misery in the workplace.  Toxic employees and managers can feed the unofficial communication pipeline with questionable information merely to stir up controversy.

According to grapevine experts, the majority of water cooler talk doesn’t really happen at the water cooler any more.  Employee chatter, rumors, gossip and grapevine banter transpires at company kitchens and breakrooms across America.  Although a certain amount of communication through the grapevine is to be expected – and can be utilized as a positive tool by leadership – the vine can cross the line and hurt innocent people inside or outside your organization.

When leaders work to create a great work environment, it is a good idea to squelch rumors fairly quickly to prevent people from getting hurt.  Observing the grapevine participants allows leaders to determine who may or may not be a good cultural fit.

In companies where there is little communication coming down from the top, grapevine traffic will increase to counterbalance the information void.  The problem occurs when the information being distributed through the vine is purely speculative, untrue or aimed at individuals that could be devastating.  Leaders need to be careful not to be held hostage by the gatekeepers, gossips, rumormongers and snitches that can overrun a company if they are not properly dealt with, according to Paul Falcone, a human resource executive and best-selling author of several human resource books.  He defines the different types of grapevine participants, as follows:

  • Gossips: These folks typically initiate unfounded rumors.  They obtain power from having the “scoop.”
  • Rumormongers: Perpetuate rumors even if they are completely untrue, lack a foundation in truth or could damage the reputation of a coworker.
  • Snitches: This role is fairly self-explanatory.  Snitches derive their power from sharing juicy information that is usually hurtful to others.  Playing the role of a tattletale is just plain wrong.

When someone volunteers a juicy piece of information while you make your morning or afternoon run to the break room, do you choose to participate, even if the information could be hurtful or degrading to a fellow employee? It is best to live by higher standards and refuse to listen to or perpetuate company gossip.  Creating a great workplace requires a certain amount of discipline.

Image Credit: A.V. Club

Kevin Kennemer is founder of The People Group based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Kevin is driven by his passion for company owners and their need to earn a profit, employees' desire for a positive and fulfilling work experience, and the community that benefits when both groups do well.

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