As a leader, it is important for you to keep your fingers on the pulse of the organization. It helps to know what is happening, what is about to happen and why, because your ability to answer these questions equips you with information you need to take proactive steps to address situations that can create people risk. People risks can have a number of causes like unfair decision-making, or office politics. One way these risks can be mitigated is by obtaining reliable information.
Managers and executives can be lured into participating in the office grapevine because they perceive it as a primary source of information. Unfortunately, when information is gleaned from the grapevine, its reliability can be called into question by multiple stakeholders, whether the information is factual or not. Additionally, in order to obtain information from the grapevine, you usually have to share information which can undermine your ability to lead effectively.
Let’s explore the differences between information obtained through the grapevine and information that comes through credible channels. Gossip is information that may be accurate or it can be impaired by exaggeration, minimization and other deceptive tactics being used intentionally or unintentionally to manipulate. For the purpose of this article, information is factual, based on research and evidence and while emotion can infiltrate the transmission of information, supporting evidence can help with maintaining objectivity.
The grapevine has its pros and cons. One benefit is that leaders can obtain the information they need, perhaps even more than they anticipated. Another pro is that leaders can influence decisions through the grapevine. As already indicated, the grapevine can distort the message and undermine the receiver of information because at some point in the present or future, leaders will have to share sensitive information in order to participate in future exchanges within that system.
There are organizations that have a formal, internal communication network and strategy that is underdeveloped. Other don’t have one at all. When either of these circumstances occur, mistakes can be made with decisions, and employees can be demoralized because they feel undervalued. For organizations that are intent on playing power games, the lack of information creates an imbalance of power so office politicians vigorously pursue information so they can hoard it.
Great leaders are gifted with the ability to obtain relevant information while maintaining their personal integrity. They need information so they can:
- Make reasonable, informed decisions;
- Remain objective; and
- Build their team proactively by addressing latent and emergent issues.
Here are two ways team leaders can access information they need to perform and sustain healthy connectivity:
- One way leaders exchange credible information is when they are a part of relevant committees. This provides leaders with first-hand knowledge of the decision, why it was made, and how it is to be executed. Participation in a committee provides leaders with the opportunity to directly influence decisions. These leaders have access to the minutes and action items as records. While this method of information exchange provides a higher standard of information than the grapevine, it can be a time consuming process or a waste of time if the person leading the meetings is not effective as a chairperson.
- Another way to obtain credible information is to contact the source. This works if the leader has developed an integrity based network he/she can tap into for work related information. Information can be a phone call or email away. Using your network must be managed carefully so you don’t fall into the gossip trap. Gossip can be misleading, and personally offensive. It is not designed to be supportive nor is it constructive so it is important to ensure information garnered through your network is not exchanged as gossip. It should be designed to build, and must always be supported by facts.
And here are two tips you can use to transform unhealthy exchanges of information into healthy ones:
- When a person approaches you with the intent to disparage others you should reframe the tone and content of the conversation by asking a few questions designed to uncover the intent of the conversation and transform it into a productive tone. Questions like, “How can we help this person?”, “How can the situation be resolved?”, or “What is your purpose for sharing this information with me?” can be used by leaders to help coworkers to shift the conversation to a solution focused tone.
- Additionally, as a leader, you should not allow statements to remain off the record. When you allow assertions to be classified as informal information that is not tested for accuracy or recorded, there is no accountability, no commitment to a solution, nor is another perspective sought. This can lead to the unconscious development of unfair biases within you, which may be the primary intent of the person requiring confidentiality from you.
When used with constructive intent, information is empowering because it can provide critical insights. While there are leaders who rely heavily on the grapevine because of its proximity and ease of access, they run the risk of being burned by this source. Instead, leaders should seek to empower their teams through sharing relevant information regularly, backing up shared information with facts, and focusing on building an engaged team.
Yvette Bethel is CEO of Organizational Soul, an Organizational Effectiveness Consulting and Leadership Development company. She is a Consultant, Trainer, Speaker, Facilitator, Executive Coach, Author, and Emotional Intelligence Practitioner. If you are interested Yvette's ideas on other leadership topics you can sign up for her newsletter at www.yvettebethel.com or you can listen to her podcast at Evolve Podcast.