August 26; Are The Informal Office Communication Networks Unmanageable?
MANAGEMENT BY THE BOOK:
365 Daily Bible Verse &
One-Minute Management Lessons For The Busy Faithful

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Chapter Eight: Communication; 26 August

We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive.

They are not busy; they are busybodies.

2 Thessalonians 3:11

Are The Informal Office Communication Networks Unmanageable?

Grapevine

My manager was mad at me. Again. Usually, I earned his righteous anger for some sin of commission or omission. But this time was different. Now he was upset because I knew what was going to happen before he did. I got tangled in the grapevine of informal office communications.

Paul writes of the idleness of Thessalonians as they tarried in anticipation of the second coming of Christ.

Waiting for Jesus was not my excuse.

A big realignment was coming out of corporate that would shake up the little kingdoms Your Business Professor and peers had spent years cultivating. I was going down the ‘wait and see’ and gossip avenue. Rather than productive work. The landscape was about to change and the boss didn’t know it.

Is it spreading news or dissension? Is it intelligence or just gossip?

Sometimes hard to tell the difference.

***

This may be what James Hudson Taylor meant when he said, “In all things not sinful, become Chinese.”

Englishman James Hudson Taylor was an evangelist to China and died there in 1905. He spent years learning the Mandarin language and Chinese culture. He understood the different civilizations of East Asia and the Pacific Rim.

Susan Cain in her book Quiet, writes about the differences, where one study,

… asked Asian-Americans and European-Americans to think out loud while solving reasoning problems, and found that the Asians did much better when they were allowed to be quiet, compared to the Caucasians, who performed well when vocalizing their problem-solving.

These results would not surprise anyone familiar with traditional Asian attitudes to the spoken word: talk is for communicating need-to-know information; quiet and introspection are signs of deep thought and higher truth.

Words are potentially dangerous weapons that reveal things better left unsaid. They hurt other people; they can get their speaker into trouble. Consider, for example, these proverbs from the East: The wind howls, but the mountain remains still. —Japanese proverb: Those who know do not speak. Cain, Susan (2012-01-24). Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (pp. 187-188). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

***

In the days of sailing ships, fresh drinking water or other fluids were transported in barrels called ‘butts’ in the day. A hole would be drilled or cut into the butt to allow access to the liquid. The casks or barrels would be known as scuttlebutts where the crew would gather. The business counterpart is the office water cooler where “rumor control” is centered. “Scuttlebutt” is the seagoing term for rumor/gossip. “Grapevine” originated with the Army. Nautical meets land line.

Jitendra Mishra, Ph.D., Professor of Management writes,

The term grapevine can be traced to Civil War days when vinelike telegraph wires were strung from tree to tree across battlefields and used by Army Intelligence. [Robert Kreitner, Management (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1983), p. 306]

The messages that came over these lines were often so confusing or inaccurate that soon any rumor was said to come from the grapevine. The lines of communication seem to be haphazard and easily disrupted as the telegraph wires were, however, they transmit information rapidly and in many cases faster and with a stronger impact than the formal system allows.

Formal lines of communication and the flow of information are well documented in meetings and memos and the content is slower to change.

But the company grapevine is the informal communication network outside the solid lines of the company org chart and works at the speed of moving electrons. The grapevine is the fastest conduit for any number of tidings; good or bad and has remarkable accuracy.

The manager can control the grapevine with about as much effectiveness as controlling human emotion or office romances. The boss must be “in the loop” for one dominant reason: She cannot be surprised. The manager may not be able to ‘control’ the content of the grapevine gossip, but leadership must know what it is—to ‘plan, organize and lead’ recognizing the rumors and working with them.

The grapevine commands attention because it is right about 80% of the time. This might be more accurate than official inter-office memos.

***

My boss wanted to be the one to relay the Big Changes and new procedures that were to come down from the re-aligned polices. Whole universes were about to be pulverized and I yapped and leaked the undercover intelligence to everyone. (Thank God this was before Twitter.) But I was a bean-spiller, stealing thunder, making all gods angry. I didn’t have to tell everybody.

I could have kept my mouth shut making everyone happy instead of being both the bearer of bad tidings and bad news medium. I should have let my manager, who sets my priorities, be the news outlet. Sometimes sharing is not always good and discretion is wiser.

We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. 2 Thessalonians 3:11

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7 Responses

  1. Molly M says:

    Communication in the workplace is a delicate web. If you are too involved in office chatter, you can be labeled a gossip, but if you are not involved at all, you risk being left in the dark on important work matters.
    It is important for managers to have a tight grasp on the goings-on of the office, how how the communication web works. When big news is distributed in a casual way, it can lead to confusion around the office, and plenty of issues.
    It’s also important for all staff to keep themselves in check to make sure they are not adding fuel to the fire of office chatter.

  2. Grapevine communication is the informal communication network within an organization. The grapevine is formed by individuals and groups in the organization.

    Research shows that grapevine information tends to be about seventy five to eighty percent correct. Since many rumors start from someone’s account of an actual event, there are strong elements of truth in many rumors. Grapevine information often contains errors as people put in their own interpretation of the event.

    The grapevine can play an important role in management. When managers move around the office without a particular objective, they can pick up on relevant rumors. The information would not have become available if they had remained in their office all day..

  3. Debby L says:

    The flow of informal communication, or what some call gossip or rumor, can affect the organization positively or negatively, but it depends on how management chooses to control it and react to it. Informal communication can be useful in some situations, but it must be credible. One way to avoid negative impact of informal office communication is to question yourself as the audience before reacting to it. When you spread information before confirming its credibility, it is just a rumor.

    My personal mantra in the workplace is “better safe than sorry” and “loose lips might sink ships!” I choose to remain silent about something rather than potentially opening up Pandora’s box in the workplace. This might be a result of my profession in Human Resources or my upbringing in an Asian household. Growing up, I developed the skill of “noonchi,” the Korean word equivalent to the English “common sense.” Noonchi is a Korean concept of being able to assess the situation (literally using all of your senses) before acting upon it. Noonchi includes reading both verbal and non-verbal cues in both personal and professional settings. One might want to consider noonchi when dealing with informal office communication in the workplace.

  4. Mike C says:

    There are two types of communication channels described in this article. First is an informal communication known as the “grapevine”. The grapevine is an undocumented informal communication or at times gossip distributed through the employees by the employees. This rumor mill satisfies the desire to know the underlying unpredictable and at times inaccurate truth of the organization’s communication network. Second is the traditional formal communication channel. It is the slower yet more defined of the two channels and consists of memo’s, staff meetings, and newsletters. This flow of information has passed through the document cycling process and has a corporate level endorsement. Depending upon the intended audience and perceived outcome, each channel has a time and place in business communications. Though difficult to control, it’s up to management to influence the grapevine with candid responses to pertinent issues which reflect corporate’s decisions.

    Our Business Professor got caught up in the dissemination of information (corporate realignment) via the grapevine and broke a cardinal rule of blindsiding his immediate manager by deciding to spread the news. He should have alerted the boss to breaking news first and allowing a controlled communication distribution to a defined internal audience.

    This article is an example of poor communication channel choice. Our Professor was misguided and could have caused the boss to waste his time, resources and potentially affected his goodwill with the boss.

  5. Arturo Mancilla says:

    Informal office communication affects high efficiency in the workplace. As a manager, you must always be aware of negative or positive gossip, as it will highly affect employee performance. The incorrect information or grapevine might lead to a breakdown in communication and teamwork.

    When employees start to feel comfortable with each other, they begin to share personal information about themselves. Employees can sometimes mishandle information by sharing it with other coworkers. Many people are unaware of how their actions affect others, causing unanticipated conflicts.

    One way to better handle or avoid informal communication is by sharing individual and team recognition as it encourages positive gossip in the workplace. This will reinforce a strong team bond and improve their values. Employees will feel proud of the work they’ve done and enjoy the recognition for their professional achievements.

    Addressing negative gossip in the workplace keeps your team focused on producing results instead of cultivating anger and resentment. In order to succeed, managers must notice the first signs of gossip and stop them as soon as possible before they spread. By meeting privately with both the individuals involved, you set ground rules and explain clear expectations for your management. As a leader you must focus on changing the conversation to discuss the positives and highlight the successes of your team.

  6. Lauren R says:

    Proverbs 10:19 teaches us that “when words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.”
    Gossip can be juicy, it can be somewhat informative, it can make you feel like you are in on a little secret. Unfortunately, gossip is not rooted in absolute fact which may lead to major workplace problems. When an employee decides to share somewhat factual information, he or she opens up a can of worms that allows untruths to dominate the narrative.
    Informal “grapevine” communication may be beneficial but the risks of spreading “alternative facts” outweigh the benefits of a speedy information flow. As a child, we message changed at the end. As adults, we can’t afford to have our messages twisted and turned, especially when it involves decisions that can have a positive or negative impact a business or employee’s future.
    Ultimately, informal communications that involve highly sensitive information are best left untouched in a professional setting. When a deal or contract can be lost with a simple misunderstanding, it’s best to maintain a professional, well-informed communication style to ensure success (and, stay out of trouble).

  1. July 10, 2017

    […] Week 2 Grapevine https://www.yoest.com/2016/03/04/august-26-are-the-informal-office-communication-networks-unmanageabl… […]

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