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How To Make Gossip Work For You

by Ramon Greenwood

That headline deserves an explanation, or else you'll think I've taken leave of my senses...or least that I am an off-the-wall contrarian.

Okay, in a perfect world gossipers wouldn't exist, but we all know the world has its imperfections a plenty. Gossip and gossipers are here to stay. Deal with it.

A survey by a research firm known as ISR showed that 63% of U. S. employees get all or most of their information about their companies from "water-cooler talk".

The fact is that every place of employment functions with two channels of communications. One is the official channel. The second is known by various names: gossip, rumors and grapevine.

The official channel is where your employer's version of the goals and procedures of the organization, the rules of the road, if you will, are laid out. The gossip mill is where you hear what your peers think of these plans, along with their assessment of them and those who sent them forth. The rumor mill provides more, ranging from malicious and personal attacks, to harmless chatter about who is flirting with whom, and what's on sale at the local mall.

Separate The Wheat From The Chaff

I don't mean to be cynical, but the conclusion is obvious. Gossip will exist whether you participate or not, and it will include some nourishing wheat along with a lot of worthless chaff. If you are not plugged into the back channel, as well as the official channel, you will be isolated. Therefore, you will not know what's going on in the environment in which you work. If you don't know the score, you cannot succeed.

Here are six steps you can take to separate the outrageous chatter from the meaningful information so the gossip mill works in your favor:

1. Don't waste your time jousting with windmills. Recognize you can't eliminate gossip, even if it is trash; but also know that if you try to shut down the gossip mill you will be cut out of the information loop.

2. Tune out the chatter that deals in personalities, especially the malicious stories that do damage to people and the organization that employs you.

3. Feed positive news into the grapevine at every opportunity.

4. Be alert to gossip about the workplace. Verify it or rule it out.

5. Identify the most active purveyors of gossip. Rank them according to their reliability and interpret their messages for what they are.

6. Confront the originator and set the record straight if the gossip is about you and it is untrue.

Ramon Greenwood is a former Senior Vice President of American Express. To subscriber to his free semi-monthly newsletter please go to

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