Does It Have a Place at Work?

A man shares juicy gossip with his coworker. Dimitri Otis / The Image Bank / Getty Images

Do the words "I heard it through the grapevine" conjure up memories of an old song, or maybe a television commercial featuring dancing raisins? For many of us it's also just another day at the office. Gossip is an unavoidable presence in all workplaces. But, is it always an unwelcome one?

Of course, damaging gossip—which spreads false information or is just mean—is unwelcome anywhere. Office gossip, though, can have it's place and can be beneficial.

That's right. I said beneficial. In many workplaces where information isn't very forthcoming the office grapevine is the only conduit for carrying important news. When that is the case, everyone can benefit from paying careful attention to the bits of data that trickle down it.

How to Make the Grapevine Work for You

  • Realize That Everything You Hear Isn't True

Before you act on something you hear, confirm that it's true. A lot of what comes down the pike is downright false. And then there's the "telephone effect." Remember the children's game, telephone? You whisper something to the person next to you and then he or she whispers what he or she thinks you said to the next person, and so on. Then the last person in the chain says it aloud. The first person then repeats the original sentence which of course is quite different. Someone may have started off saying something that was true but by the time that information is spread, it has changed and no longer resembles the original statement, or it it does, it has been grossly distorted.

  • Contribute At Your Own Risk

You may pick up some interesting piece of information (remember don't share anything that can embarrass or harm someone) and be tempted to share it with your coworkers. Ask yourself "Where did the information originate and with whom? What are the chances that it is untrue?" Keep in mind the point made in the last section about a statement getting distorted as it passes from one person to another.

Even if something started off being true, by the time it gets to you, it may already not be, or there may be less truth to it.

  • Use the Grapevine to Your Advantage

Listen to everything you hear. Ignore that which isn't helpful. Try to differentiate the truth from the lies. Share only what you know is true and won't cause anyone undue harm. Since the grapevine may make you aware of information you wouldn't have otherwise been privy to, you can use it to take action or make decisions. Let's say, for example, you hear that one of your coworkers may be leaving, vacating a position you would love to have. You can start planning your strategy immediately. First make sure that the right people know you want to apply for this job when it becomes available. Make sure, first, that you aren't letting your departing coworker's boss in on news he or she isn't ready to share. Start making your case for why you are right for this job. Then get your resume ready and brush up on your interviewing skills. 

The grapevine may be where you first hear rumors that your employer is in financial trouble. Perhaps they are making plans to close or downsize. You can start preparing for what you will do if you are laid off.

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