Joseph Grenny is author of three bestselling books, Influencer, Crucial Conversations, and Crucial Confrontations.
Dear Crucial Skills,
I have a big problem that I’m sure other office managers face. How does a manager stop the rumor and gossip mill? Nothing is said that isn’t around the office within five minutes and even reaching the branch office within an hour.
Any courageous individual can begin eliminating rumors by refusing to pass them along and by not silently watching as they spread their poison. Find respectful ways of holding crucial conversations with anyone at any point in the rumor flow. Here are three steps (I wish I could say they were easy, but they are effective!) that will help in your rumor-fighting efforts:
When someone passes along a rumor to you, don’t merely refuse to pass it on. Respectfully and directly share with the person (a) your intention to not let this information go any further and (b) the reasons you believe passing along this kind of information is hurtful. The better you help others see the negative consequences of their actions, the more likely they are to limit this behavior in the future.
Identify those who might have influence with the people spreading rumors and engage them in a similar crucial conversation. For example, you may be aware of a half-dozen people who seem to be the information nexus in your office. If you have a strong enough relationship with one or two of them, approach them directly. If not, you may have some influence with someone else who has influence with them. Engage this person and see if he or she agrees on the merits of approaching these individuals.
If you have information that could discredit a rumor, share it. Rumors, like mushrooms, require darkness to grow. Pull groups together and use your STATE skills to share your path about the rumor. Shed light on the topic. Help others see why you’ve concluded there are inaccurate rumors floating around. Then, share the information you believe to be more credible. Be sure to make it safe so that you can engage people in dialogue—not monologue—in these sessions.
For example, years ago I worked with a leader who during times of stress and change held “Rumor of the Week” meetings. The purpose was to replace rumors with accurate information. When he couldn’t answer a question for reasons of propriety or because decisions had not yet been made, he would acknowledge that information wasn’t available and commit to share the information as soon as possible. His forthrightness and unfailing honesty made these sessions a much more highly valued source of information and increased his influence within the organization. The rumor mill still ran, but with far less efficiency.