Back in the 60′, Motown’s “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” was a huge hit, made famous by Marvin Gaye. Marvin may no longer be with us, but the grapevine he sang about is alive and well. The “grapevine” is a great metaphor for the way informal and unofficial news travels from person to person. Official news comes through official channels. Informal news, rumors and gossip travel though the grapevine.
In a project environment, the circulation of unofficial information and rumors can be disruptive and destructive. Your Communication Plan addresses the formal communication content and paths, but it can be hard to manage the grapevine. The following tips help stop the confusion and manage the grapevine effectively.
Tip 1 – Become Part of the Grapevine
People love talking about what goes on within their work environment. As a project manager, you cannot monitor and manage the grapevine unless you can be a part of it, or at least aware of what is being said. Assume the projects you manage are one part of that conversation, insert yourself into it and ask people what they are hearing about your projects. Then be sure to add your own facts into the mix. A little bit of accurate information never hurt anyone.
Tip 2 – Combat Negative Messages
Negative communication sometimes gets spun into a mile-long email thread. Inaccurate information and intensity of emotion continue to escalate the longer the email thread grows. The best antidote to negative communication is to get the facts out as quickly as possible. Compose a thoughtful and precise message with a handful of relevant facts to get everyone in sync. Ask your team members to carry the message forward in their grapevine discussions.
Tip 3 – Stop the Bad Press
Much of the talk on the grapevine is harmless babble, primarily serving as an interesting diversion during a long day at work. However, sometimes the message can be very negative and detrimental to the project. In this situation try to track down the source, and discuss the situation with the person formally. The rebuttal is much more effective if the person that started the bad press is also the one to put out the correction. Even if you cannot find the source, put out a positive rebuttal to the people that can carry the message forward in the grapevine.
Tip 4 – Fill the Vacuum
You may have projects that aren’t impacted by negative communication. However, you may then have a vacuum of communication. It’s up to you to fill this void with positive and factual information about your project. Send out pertinent emails, give appropriate updates at company meetings, and have one-off conversations. That way, people will have something positive to talk about when your project gets tangled up in the grapevine.
The grapevine has been around since the time the 3rd person walked on this Earth. There’s nothing you can do to stop it from happening, so include it as part of your unofficial communication plan. You’ll notice a big difference with the buzz on your projects.
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