“I heard it through the grapevine”

Is it just me or do you always think of the “telephone” game when communication in the workplace comes to mind? Often times, word spreads like a wild fire and next thing you know, the last person who hears the news interprets it a completely different way. This reminds me of the workplace since we spend the best hours of the day at work and before you know it, we are somehow “gossiping” while we communicate with other co-workers without even knowing it. Of course, the information passed along may only be as good as the source.

I read an article recently stating that almost 15% of work emails are considered “gossip”  – “messages that contain information about a person or persons not among the recipients” (Gilbert). This may be useful because the firm may find out more about their employees such as them running late or feeling sick, but may also be negative because negative information about the company may be talked about and spread outside of management team.

Effective communication within the organization is not just downward (flow of communication from superiors to subordinates) or upward (flow of communication from subordinate to their superiors), but laterally as well. Although downward communication can give management feedback on how employees are performing and upward communication allows management to know how employees are feeling, communication should not just flow in this way. A lateral flow of communicating (being able to communicate with peers at the same level and management at different levels) is important to encourage team building and openness within the workplace. I remember how scary it was to approach and communicate with my manager when i worked in retail. It always seems as if managers are always “scary” or “intimidating” at first. Is this just me again? Nonetheless, at least that feeling of intimidation lasted for a good two months or so until I’ve learned to open up and build a good relationship with them. With a lateral flow of communication, it will minimize the “telephone game” effect of how information is passed out. Getting information directly from anyone within the organization (whether they are in management or a peer) will enable everyone to build better relationships and be more productive in working together. I believe that it is also an effective way to communicate using various channels, especially with the way technology is moving lately, electronic communication can be effective as well. Everyone is getting more busy so it is faster and more convenient. Here is another great article from time magazine explaining how to use electronic channels as an effective way to communicate.

It is important to be attentive on how we communicate within the organization or the receiver may not receive the message in its fullness – depending on the clarity and articulation of how it is conveyed (selective perception).

To all my fellow visual learners out there, here is an awesome video I found on organizational communication in a lot more detail and animation. I definitely learned a lot and gained some insight:


Georgia Institute of Technology. (2012). Have you heard? Nearly 15 percent of work email is gossip. Retrieved June 11, 2012 from http://esciencenews.com/articles/2012/06/06/have.you.heard.nearly.15.percent.work.email.gossip

Management Study Guide. Communication Flows in an Organization. Retrieved June 11, 2012 from http://www.managementstudyguide.com/communication-flows.htm

TIME WORLD – Bill Gates’ New Rules. (1999). From Business @ The Speed of Thought: Using a Digital Nervous System, by Bill Gates. Copyright 1999 by William H. Gates, III. Published by Warner Books, USA. Retrieved June 12, 2012 from http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2040466,00.html

What is effective communication?. (2012). What is effective Communication? Retrieved June 11, 2012 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e5oXygLGMuY


3 thoughts on ““I heard it through the grapevine”

  1. The title of your blog got my attention and was a really good read as well. It always amazes me how information is shared or spread…in organizations. The lateral approach might be hard in larger organizations where there are so many layers of management and you are not in the same location as many as your managers. The rumour mills can sometimes fly when there are times of change for example, when communication is not fed properly through the channels of the organization. Although there can be mechanisms put in place to perhaps allow for lateral communication in those larger organizations – such as video conferencing or taking advantage of company intranets and social media channels that are already in place. I agree that the visual of the YouTube video was really helpful in trying to explain some of the concepts. The ‘Flat Earth Approach’ was a new way to look at things. How we get complacent with certain ideas that are so to speak ‘broken’, and we are not taking account into the complexity of the situation. The conventional approach might not be the right one – like in conflict issues in the workplace, so it is good to look at things more abstractly.

  2. When I think of the telephone game I always think of gossip and how a story can be misinterpreted based on people passing on their perspective of a story that was told to them. I like how you talked about the use of effective communication in the workplace and how downward communication, upward communication, and lateral communication is all important when communicating effectively at work. I personally think there are some barriers that people need to overcome in order to become more effective communicators at work. For example, there are barriers to listening, barriers to accurate perception, barriers to effective verbal communication. There are strategies employers can use to help employees build skills to communicate effectively.

    In an article I read, the University of Waterloo (2012) explains some of the strategies for effective listening, which include stop, look, listen, be empathetic, and ask questions. Focus on the other person, their thoughts and feelings. Consciously focus on quieting your own internal commentary, and step away from your own concerns to think about those of the speaker. Give your full attention to the speaker. 
Some of the strategies for accurate perception include analyze your own perceptions, work on improving your perception, and focus on others (University of Waterloo, 2012). The strategies for effective verbal communication include focus on the issue, not the person, be genuine rather than manipulative, empathize rather than remain detached, be flexible towards others, value yourself and your own experiences, present yourself as an equal rather than a superior, and use affirming responses.

    Follow this link for more details on the barriers and strategies. http://cte.uwaterloo.ca/teaching_resources/tips/effective_communication_barriers_and_strategies.html


    University of Waterloo. (2012). Effective communication: Barriers and strategies. Retrieved from http://cte.uwaterloo.ca/teaching_resources/tips/effective_communication_barriers_and_strategies.html

  3. This was a very interesting article, like Leanne said, the title was catchy. Often times we see the grapevine affect impacting the organization as a whole, as employees can share their negative experiences with the company with friends and family, which in turn can damage the organizations reputation.
    In an online research paper that I read, they spoke about the effects fear of communication between employees and their superiors has on the company as whole. Firstly, when employees are not encouraged or comfortable to speak to their superiors many good and new ideas can be passed or ignored, important organizational problems can go unnoticed, individuals may be afraid to disagree and therefore poor decisions are made, valuable time is wasted at meetings, etc. The article also touched on reasons that prevent open communication with employees and their superiors. A few noted are:
    -Employees may have weak communication skills
    -Fear of retribution
    -Job insecurity, or fear of losing one’s job
    -lack of management responsiveness
    Like you mentioned, for an organization to operate successfully as a whole, upward, downward and lateral communication is essential,as it impacts the company both internally and externally. Therefore, I think that it is critical for organizations to identify the communication barriers and or fears among their employees, in order to operate more successfully.

    I am Afraid to Speak Up. (n.d.). Why. They. Hate You. Retrieved June 14, 2012, from https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:ZduqY3cyQTkJ:discoverysurveys.com/pdf/WHY.THEY.HATE.YOU.pdf+why+do+employees+find+it+hard+to+talk+to+upper+management&hl=en&gl=ca&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESgOsPime_nFkhLD1jiqfLrqn6buo

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