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I Heard It Through the Grapevine

By Karla Brandau

When you hear the words, I heard it through the grapevine, do you sing along with Gladys Knight and the Pips? Or Marvin Gaye? Both recorded the song originally produced by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Each put their own twist and sound on the music written by Norman Whitfield and Barry Strong.

If you "heard it through the grapevine" in your company, be aware that just like Smokey Robinson, Gladys Knight, and Marvin Gaye who all put their individual stamp on their music, so does the person feeding gossip through the office grapevine.

When you, as a leader, hear something through the office grapevine, don't believe everything that was said. When I was young and had my ego damaged by remarks from classmates, my mother would say, "Take it with a grain of salt" which meant to only believe half of what you heard and do some investigating to determine what part of the salt had lost its savor and needed to be thrown out.

As a leader you can prevent damaging gossip from running rampant through your organization by:

1. Having one-on-one sessions with employees. Frequent conversations with your direct reports that are open, honest and address their issues in a candid manner are extremely effective in dissuading gossip.

2. Proactively scheduling "anti-gossip" sessions. You would not advertise, "Hey, come to my anti-gossip session" but by regularly sponsoring group meetings where you address complex issues and the myths that are circulating does wonders to stop untruths. Some of the areas that are particularly vulnerable to gossip are:

—Uncertainty about the future of the company. In tough economic times, nervous workers can become negative very quickly unless you have regular meetings that keep them updated on the status of the company. Don't forget to ask them for solutions on cost cutting, new growth, etc. Ninety-nine percent of the time, they will have great ideas that are not obvious to management.

—Loosing benefits and retirement security. Wage reductions, benefit cutbacks, and retirement decreases are frightening to employees. By sponsoring a 'Lunch and Learn' with a financial expert, you can promote an open dialog about financial options.

3. Addressing individual work paradigms. Some employees feel they have excessive workloads. Others feel bored and not challenged by their work. Getting to know your employee's attitudes about their work can help you individualize your responses to work conditions that spawn rumors and spread negativity. Other work areas that feed the rumor mill are:

—Pay raises. Be mindful of the employee who believes that a lesser qualified coworker received a sizeable salary increase and they were overlooked. That employee will gossip to as many people in the organization who will listen to them. The issue is better discussed in private with you.

—Promotions. The sibling of pay raises is promotions. Most companies have limited promotion slots. When two excellent employees apply for the same promotion, the employee not getting the promotion requires special attention. Perhaps an assignment to work on a plumb project would alleviate disappointed feelings.

Applying these ideas for handling potential gossip problems can reduce employee distraction with rumors and focus workers on completing their work.

About Karla Brandau
Karla Brandau, CEO of Workplace Power Institute, is an expert in leadership, employee engagement and workplace productivit. She offers keynotes, workshops, and retreats to move your organization forward in the chaotic environment of the 21st Century. To bring Karla to your next meeting, email or call 770-923-0883 for a free consultation or to check the availability of dates.

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