The grapevine is a significant feature of the communication landscape in most companies, though it might seem outside the purview of employee communication professionals. Managers may ignore or disparage the grapevine as nothing more than a rumor mill or mere gossip.
Actually, they could tap the grapevine as a useful source of intelligence. Listen for these clues to help you make communication relevant to employees.
- The chatting uncovers subjects that are important to employees and reveals the intensity of their interest in these subjects.
- The chatting reveals topics they find ambiguous or unclear, ones that may need more formal communication.
- The chatting signals the health—or perceived instability—of the working environment and reveals levels of trust.
When people are talking about work, it’s because they want to clarify meaning around their jobs. Listen for points that are exaggerated; they are what employees consider important. Recognize which points are ignored, a signal they may consider them irrelevant.
The grapevine is the story that makes sense to the people talking. When you listen to how employees react or in which direction they take facts, you find clues to refine corporate communication to reduce confusion and improve understanding. And, listening to concerns employees express may keep executives from overlooking any unintended consequences of a corporate action or decision.
How can you stay plugged in?
- Reach out to employee opinion leaders and ask.
- Encourage internal online conversations and listen in.
- Ask supervisors what they are hearing—in their department and from other managers.
- Get out and randomly talk to employees.
The grapevine ultimately helps employees make sense of what is happening in their jobs. When you respond with communication based on your listening to these conversations, the grapevine becomes a positive force in communication effectiveness.