Managing Rumors and Gossip in the Workplace

Posted on by Leave a Comment

Rumors Grow, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

Wherever people gather there will be conversation; sometimes (okay, often!), that conversation becomes gossip, which may blossom into rumor. Much like office politics, rumors and excessive gossip in the workplace create a drain on morale that managers and HR professionals must get a handle on. Damaging rumors can cause uneasiness, distrust between management and staff and infighting between colleagues or departments. Allowing negative rumors to run wild is not an acceptable option. The only thing to do with destructive gossip and malicious rumors is tackle them head on—bring issues out into the open before they further undermine employee trust and confidence.

What’s the best way to banish nasty stories that grow in dark corners and feed on lies?  Shine enough light to reveal both the source of the rumor and the reality behind it.

Mind Tools suggests you take the following four steps[1] to enlighten people when they fall prey to the lurking gossip troll.

  1. Deal with rumors immediately – Rumors can spread quickly, and they can often change and grow far beyond the small bit of truth that caused them to start. When you hear of a rumor, talk to the people involved. Where appropriate, hold a meeting to address the rumor, and then communicate the truth. Again, if you can't provide all of the details, be honest – and restate your policy about rumor and gossip in the workplace.
  2. Set a good example – When someone comes to you with an "interesting" or entertaining story, refuse to get involved. When you hear a story from someone other than a direct source, ask questions. Do what you can to find out the truth. Talk to your boss about what you heard. Again, this keeps the lines of communication open between different channels, and it helps stop rumors.
  3. Watch for patterns with rumors – If a certain type of rumor continues to spread, this may mean that you need to provide more information or more regular updates. If a particular person seems to start or spread rumors often, address the situation directly. Rumors affect productivity, so you must deal with them directly as a performance issue.
  4. Regularly audit your rumor behavior – Also, encourage your team to do the same. Think about what you might have done over the past month or two to spread rumors. Ask yourself why you participated. Prepare a plan of action so that you'll be less tempted to get involved in the future. If everyone holds themselves a bit more accountable for rumors in the workplace, their frequency – and their negative consequences – will drop.

Of course, as my mother used to say: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Your best defense against an over-zealous rumor mill is a workplace culture that naturally discourages such behavior. If honest communication, transparency, trust and cooperation are lived values in your organization, there will be limited fodder to sustain spiteful gossip or feed the rumor mill.

Maintaining such an environment requires commitment and mutual effort because our brains seem to prefer bad memories and negative stories. Subconsciously, most of us dwell on defeats rather than victories and obsess over the possibility of loss rather than focusing on the opportunity to succeed. Perhaps, as researchers suggest, there is an evolutionary explanation for this.

Regardless of the cause, this common predisposition means that preventing destructive chatter in the workplace requires overcoming people’s natural tendency to focus on the negative. In other words, you’ll need to give employees lots of reasons to feel good about themselves, the company, their co-workers and the work you all do together. For most people, it takes as many as five positive things to balance out one negative thing[2]. In the context of gossip and rumor, that means it will take many examples of contradictory evidence to offset the damage of one harmful rumor. Although fostering a culture that rejects gossip and rumor takes effort; cleaning up a workplace where the rumor mill runs rampant is a lot harder.

 

Subscribe to the TribeHR Blog for more on what’s relevant to HR today.



[1] Rumors in the Workplace: Managing and Preventing Them http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTMM_25.htm

Office Politics: Five tips for Playing in the Mud without Getting Dirty

Posted on by Leave a Comment

Politics in the office is as unavoidable as traffic at rush hour or fireworks on Independence Day. Few people enjoy office politics but, being human, they get pulled into sticky situations in spite of best intentions. Even when inane or petty (i.e. almost always), office politics inject tension, discomfort and drama into the workplace; often leaving employees feeling like participants in some bizarre reality TV show. At worst, office politics are a drain on morale and highly damaging to company culture. Office Politics by David Crow, Flickr Can Office Politics be Avoided? Human nature will always result in differences …

Communicating Change

Posted on by Leave a Comment

Change by suez92, Flikr The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) defines change management as “the systematic approach and application of knowledge, tools and resources to deal with change. Change management means defining and adopting corporate strategies, structures, procedures and technologies to deal with changes in external conditions and the business environment.” [1] In an ideal world, significant organizational change is managed in this pro-active, organized way. More commonly, however, today’s companies are not systematically managing planned change as much as they’re rapidly responding and reacting to external pressures and emerging opportunities on an ad …

Communicating With Purpose

Posted on by Leave a Comment

Lightbulb by Stefan Krause,Wikimedia Commons, Free Art License Whether you are designing a corporate-wide communications strategy, a single marketing video or a conference presentation, it’s important to communicate with purpose—on purpose. When it comes to communication, a little planning goes a long way. Following this simple three step process can help: Define your purpose. Determine your audience. Describe success. Define Your Purpose Think about what you hope to accomplish with your message. What is your objective and what would you like people to do when they hear, watch, or read your message? One useful structure …

Create a Common Language to Connect

Posted on by Leave a Comment

In some ways, communication between people is much like communication between computers. First a mode of connection must be initiated; wires or radio waves in the case of computers; spoken, written or gestured words for people. Second there must be an established protocol. Internet Protocol (IP), for example, is the principal communications protocol used when computers connect to the internet. IDSec Protocol by Guillaume Piolle. Wikimedia Commons, GNU Lesser General Public License IP works for people too—in this case it means Interpersonal Protocol. The key to communicating successfully with all types of people is to speak their language …

Healthy Workplace Communication

Posted on by Leave a Comment

Angry Woman by Lara604, Flickr We’ve looked at communication and learning styles from the perspective of the VAK and VARK models. And we’ve considered the construct which identifies communicators as Relators, Socializers, Directors and Thinkers. In this post we look at communication styles from another angle and discuss Passive, Assertive, Aggressive and Passive-Aggressive ways of interacting. While earlier discussions of communication styles have focused on understanding and working with different communication preferences, this construct is based on healthy and unhealthy communication styles rather than simple preferences. Passive Communicators Passive communicators tend to put the rights of …

Understanding Communication Styles in the Workplace

Posted on by Leave a Comment

Different people communicate differently. Undoubtedly, you already know this. What you may not know is that these different ways of communicating are pretty much hard-wired into people and seldom reflect conscious choice.[1]Our communication style emerges from a combination of brain dominance, psychological preference, sensory approach and the communication examples that have surrounded us since birth. Think about the following questions for a minute: How do you communicate with others during a typical work day? How do your co-workers communicate with you and each other? Based on your personal experience, why does communication breakdown in the workplace? Successful communication requires …

Addressing Conflict in the Workplace

Posted on by Leave a Comment

Not going well, Public Domain In Difficult Conversations in the Workplace, we talked about why it’s important to face up to difficult conversations in the workplace (no matter how much we might prefer to avoid them), and how doing so helps improve working relationships, while promoting our own personal and professional growth. In this post, we will look at specific techniques and examples as well as one effective approach to healthy confrontation. The Essentials of a Good Conversation There are a number of key factors to keep in mind when preparing for and engaging in healthy confrontation. They …

Difficult Conversations in the Workplace

Posted on by Leave a Comment

Thumbs down, Public Domain While some of us might ask why difficult conversations need to happen at all, deep down we all know there really is no choice in the matter. As long as two or more people share the same space and are required to interact, eventually a difficult conversation or two will surface. Whether it’s about leftovers in the refrigerator or inappropriate attention, people will come into varying degrees of conflict that require careful navigation to resolve. Avoiding these conversations doesn’t solve anything, while learning how to manage challenging interactions gives you the power …

Mastering Communication at Work - Roundup

Posted on by Leave a Comment

So what is good communication? True communication happens only when the desired message is received and understood as intended. Whether you are presenting to a large group, conversing one-on-one, or writing a letter, good communication requires transmission, receptiveness, interpretation and feedback. Although different terms might be applied to the communication process, its success is ultimately defined by the accurate exchange of information and a shared understanding. The Communication Process Telling alone is not communicating, nor is hearing. Each stage of the process has an associated skill set that can be learned and practiced for increasing effectiveness. It’s also …

Next Page

Experience TribeHR for Yourself
Contact us to schedule a demo of TribeHR.

Book A Demo
The Latest from Workplace Tribes
7 Tips for Making the Most of Hiring Grants July 23, 2014
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Job Fair July 21, 2014
Managing Rumors and Gossip in the Workplace July 18, 2014
The Impact of Drugs and Alcohol in the Workplace July 16, 2014
Five Things That Will Kill Your Vacation July 14, 2014
 
Forget Global: What Happens When the Workforce Goes Galactic? July 11, 2014
Slow Down: Multitasking Is Bad For Productivity July 09, 2014
HR Technology - From Thought to Action July 07, 2014
Is Your Company Living its Values? July 04, 2014
Office Politics: Five tips for Playing in the Mud without Getting Dirty July 02, 2014