Running the Rumor Mill

Linda Dulye's picture

watercooler.jpgWe read an interesting article in the Harvard Business Review recently that highlights research conducted at the University of Kentucky around the workplace rumor mill. The two researchers -- both doctoral candidates -- found that "gossip can benefit individuals and organizations, though managers often consider all of it to be derogatory and tend to punish gossipers with lower performance ratings." What's more, the research shows that managers have more gossip partners at work -- an average of 7.4 versus 3.9 -- than non-supervisors. Fascinating stuff. After reading this article and giving it more thought, it boils down to this: Does gossip have a role in the workplace? Our answer: absolutely! Gossip in and of itself doesn't have to be a negative thing. In fact, we believe you can turn gossip on its head and achieve real workplace benefits from it. Here's how:

  • Don't fear it, embrace it! Gossip happens. It's social behavior. In our experience, negativity toward gossip is typically in an organization that doesn't have a good internal communications practice. People are starving for information -- so give them something of value to discuss. Make it factual and dynamic. In other words, do squash the grapevine, nurture it.



  • Be curious about the rumor mill. Find out what people are buzzing about. The fact is, we as leaders need to tap into the water cooler chatter -- and these researchers say that most do:



    You can't simply ban gossip -- in our research, we find that 96% of employees admit to engaging in gossip at work. Directives to halt gossip usually backfire and generate more gossip.


    With an ear to the ground, you can gauge the hot topics and misperceptions and address them -- whether it means correcting misinformation or enhancing them with more information.



  • Use what you've learned and get better. As leaders, we're always learning. Use the rumor mill as another tool in your development as a manager. Think about ways the grapevine has helped or hindered things, and consider ways you can use it to reinforce messages in the future.


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