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Managing the Office Grapevine

The grapevine cannot and should not be abolished. If it’s suppressed in one place, it is surely going to appear in another, so use it to your advantage. The monitored grapevine is just as effective as fire is in providing security when contained, but without a watchful eye, it can spread to disaster.

Every organization has two forms of communication systems. One, a formal network that provides information made up of memos, reports, meetings and such. And two, there is the grapevine — that unformulated, omniscient network of the “truth” in the company. The prior is highly structured and has very little room for change. The grapevine, on the other hand, is undocumented, less permanent and open for interpretation.

The grapevine is flexible and personal, and it can undermine the company morale and create unwanted stress and tension between peers. However, the grapevine doesn’t always have to be a network of negativity. People are going to talk, the grapevine will always exist, and you can’t stop it. As a manager, you should accept it and decide on how to use it to your own benefit.

The usefulness of the office grapevine is rarely acknowledged. But, there is true value in listening to your employees. You can learn a lot from just listening, even when the content is false, you could be hearing your staff’s fears.

Only 10 percent of all the individuals in an organization are highly active participants in the grapevine.”
~ Jitendra Mishra, Seidman College of Business Administration

So who participates in the office grape-vine? According to an excerpt from “Managing the Grapevine,” by Jitendra Mishra, a professor with Seidman College of Business Administration, “only 10 percent of all the individuals in an organization are highly active participants in the grapevine.” Also stated in the excerpt, there are three categories most employees will fall into; the “bridgers”, the “baggers” and the “beaners.” 

“The Bridgers:”
The bridgers are the primary communicators. These people either start the gossip or actively pass the information on to others. They are largely responsible for the success of the grapevine. As the manager, its your duty to insure the “bridgers” are aware of accurate, factual information, so their influence persuades people to work with, rather than against, you.

“The Baggers:”
Baggers hear the anecdote, but choose not to pass the buzz along. They’re still in the know, but instead of feeding into the grapevine, they bag the information. They are the control of the grapevine’s woos.

“The Beaners:”
These people are often outside of the grapevine. Beaners never hear the information, so they are incapable of passing along the rumors. They are often fine with being outside the loop, for they don’t have the stresses of the gossip. This group makes up 90 percent of the office. 

The grapevine cannot and should not be abolished. If it’s suppressed in one place, it is surely going to appear in another, so use it to your advantage. The monitored grapevine is just as effective as fire is in providing security when contained, but without a watchful eye, it can spread to disaster. Learn to manage the urge to gossip for gossips sake, and spread the facts. What you say is what you’ll see, have a positive attitude with the grapevine, and you’ll begin hearing positive chitchat.