What Leaders Dont Know About The Rumor Mill
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may think that communication takes place in speeches and newsletters.
If so, you're missing out on the most powerful communication channel in
your organization -- the rumor mill.
executive assistant was listening to her CEO complain about how hard it
was to get a strategic message to everybody. “Actually,” replied the
assistant, “I could get a message to the entire company in no time at
all by spreading a rumor through the grapevine.”
knew something about communication that her boss didn’t.
suggests that up to 70% of all organization communication comes through
the grapevine, yet many senior leaders are unaware that it exists or
how it operates. One study, in fact, found that while 92% of
lower-level managers knew the grapevine was active, only 70% of
upper-level managers knew about it. In the same study, 88% of
supervisors said they understood that the absence of formal
communication increased activity through informal channels - but only
54% of executives understood this correlation.
grapevine – Webster’s “informal person-to-person means of circulating
information or gossip” – is the informal and unsanctioned communication
network found in every organization. From my interviews with over 1100
employees in a wide variety of companies and industries, I learned a
lot about the power of the grapevine.
learned, for example, that if there were conflicting messages -- one
delivered during a speech from the company leader and another spread
through the grapevine -- more people (47%) would believe the grapevine,
and only 42% would believe senior leadership. (The remaining 11% were
found that putting something in writing tended to give it more
validity. When I asked if people were more likely to believe an
official newsletter (online or print) or the rumor mill, the majority
of my respondents (51%) favored the newsletter, with only 40% placing
more faith in the grapevine.
learned that direct supervisors were the most trusted sources of
information. Due to the more personal relationship that exists between
employee and supervisor, it wasn’t surprising that 74% said they would
believe their boss. Still, many stipulated that it would depend on the
quality of that relationship. “I'd totally believe my current
supervisor,” said one individual. “My old
discovered there were some conditions when you should expect the rumor
mill to kick into high gear:
When there is a lack of formal communication.
When the situation is ambiguous or uncertain (as in times of major
When there is no sanctioned channel for venting.
When there is a culture of silos and internal competition.
When there is a heavy-handed attempt by management to kill the
When the body language of the communicator (gestures, facial
expressions, vocal tone) undermine his/her spoken message.
gave high marks to rumor mill accuracy (57%), but what tends to happen
most often in the workplace is that people believe a “blend” of what
they hear, rather than making a clear choice between more formal
communication and the grapevine. One individual reinforced this idea by
noting, “Both channels have elements of truth that need to be
are a combination of formal hierarchy and informal networks, but most
communication strategies take into account only the formal
organization. (Cascade communication is a classic example of “rolling
out” a message from top to bottom of the organization chart.)
will always need authentic speeches from senior leaders, well-written
and well-researched articles in newsletters, and first-line supervisors
who are first-rate communicators. It's just that none of these
strategies was created to deal with the complex web of social
interactions and informal networks that grace today's organizations.
the grapevine begins with understanding its power. I like the way this
survey respondent summed it up: “Formal communication focuses on
messages the company wants to deliver, with a scope management feels is
appropriate, and at a time management feels is right. The reason the
grapevine plays such an important role is that it delivers the
information employees care about, provides the details employees want
to know, and is delivered at the time employees are interested.”
moves from groups that are split into factions (like separate
departments and divisions) through people who gravitate into an
intermediate position, making connections between the factions. These
intermediaries control the gossip flow and hold a lot of power. If you
want to have an impact on the grapevine, you’ll need to identify the
most influential people who operate within it. Then, find out about
their attitudes toward the company, inform them in advance, train them
to be even more skillful communicators, solicit their opinions, and ask
is no doubt as to which communication vehicle is the quickest --
especially now that social media as put the grapevine on steroids. You
can’t outrun rumor mill and you can’t kill it. The challenge is to
understand how the grapevine works within your organization - and how
you can most effectively influence it.
About the Author
Kinsey Goman, Ph.D.is an international
Keynote speaker on collaborative leadership and the impact of
language in the workplace.
coach to executives to improve their leadership presence and
Leadership blogger for Forbes and author of "The Silent Language of
Leaders: How Body Language Can Help - or Hurt - How You Lead.”
Carol@CarolKinseyGoman.com Authors Google+
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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2013-12-18 09:13:36 in Employee Articles