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Crucial Conversations QA

How Do I Stop Office Gossip?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joseph Grenny is coauthor of the New York Times bestsellers, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer.Joseph Grenny is author of three bestselling books, Influencer, Crucial Conversations, and Crucial Confrontations.

Crucial ConversationsQ 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.

Signed,
Surround-Sound

A Dear Surround-Sound,

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:

Step #1:
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.

Step #2:
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.

Step #3:
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.

Warmly,
Joseph

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Joseph Grenny

Joseph Grenny is a New York Times bestselling author, keynote speaker, and leading social scientist for business performance. For thirty years, Joseph has delivered engaging keynotes at major conferences including the HSM World Business Forum at Radio City Music Hall. Joseph’s work has been translated into twenty-eight languages, is available in thirty-six countries, and has generated results for three hundred of the Fortune 500. read more

8 thoughts on “How Do I Stop Office Gossip?”

  1. Totally disagree (assuming this is work-related rumors and not personal stuff). Where I work, much information is passed via the grapevine. A good manager would be on top of it and use it to his/her advantage.

  2. To add to my previous comment, much of the information passed via the grapevine here is accurate or mostly accurate.

  3. First, let me say I am guilty sometimes of not seeing that I need to communicate more thoroughly.

    My comment is that rumors are sometimes the result of a lack of communication. Blaming the spread of information (you were assuming that the information was not true) on workers might be missing an important point. People fill in blanks with their worst fears when they hear news about change. So, as managers we have a special responsibility to be forthright. There are definitely those who take a piece of information and exaggerate or lie about it for their own ends. But I am just asking everyone to take a quick look around to see if they could have handled the situation better with their own communication.

  4. Regarding office gossip, I have another perspective that I have seen occuring at my company. I believe gossip often occurs when there is a lack of open communication. When there is a vacuum, it is filled by something. When employees do not understand why certain actions are taken by the company, especially those perceived to be negative, employees make up their own stories that reflect their own perspectives and biases. These stories grow and morph, and eventually may become “company legends” that have no actual basis in truth. I believe company management, with direction from their HR and legal departments, would be better served by communicating more so the vacuums do not occur. Lack of communication is nearly always on the list of “company weaknesses” for most cmployees; I think it is rare to see “over-communicating” considered a negative company trait.

  5. I have become convinced that rumors in the workplace come in a close second to a lack of crucial confrontations when it comes to things that negatively impact productivity and the bottom line.

    One of my personal expectations (which I advertise) for everyone who works at my location is that I expect us all to be loyal to our co-workers, particularly when the co-worker is absent. The concept of “loyalty to the absent” is aspirational, but phrasing it this ways helps to illustrate its importance.

    Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, “The cruelest lies are often told in silence.” This is so true. I read somewhere else (maybe in Crucial Confrontations) this characterization: when someone is attacked in a conversation, the listeners can join the mugging with merely a nod.

    I believe that Winston Churchill put it best when he said: “By swallowing evil words unsaid, no one has ever harmed his stomach.”

    Thanks for your high quality and practical newsletter. I use it regularly with my senior staff to illustrate best practices and keep us on a crucial conversation path.

    CAPT Steve Andersen, USCG

  6. I’m not sure if you are talking about politics, tribalism, harassment & infighting, but I nip those in the bud.
    1. First it is a waste of time and energy that should be invested in improving the organization.
    2. Second it divides people.
    3. Third it perpetuates fear and mistrust.
    4. This means having the guts to tell people the truth. Avoiding the truth leads to problems festering. Encourage openness, avoiding being autocratic, inflexible and unresponsive. Practice tough love. When an employee carries a tale about another into my office I ask “What happened when you discussed this with her?” Normally they have always left my office. If they try it a second time I ask “Do we need to call her in here?” To date this has stopped those who want to bad mouth their colleagues to me.

    I learned this from Stephen Covey who wrote that when he was bad mouthing another manager, his boss called the man in to the conversation. No one says the same things in another’s presence that they would behind their back. If there is no reward for negative behavior it may stop.

  7. When I worked at another institution, the President invited staff (13,000) to email rumors to the office of the President. Then one of his staff responded to a number of them on the web site. It was called Rumors and Trumors. It dispursed a lot of rumors. It confirmed and clarified those that were true.

  8. You make a fair point. I read the original note as referring to personal or potentially slanderous comments not as “newsy” kinds of things. If it were the latter, then I would wholeheartedly agree that the rumor mill is an inevitable communication channel in any organiztion. I also believe that good leadership quenches the need for so much the flow through this channel. So in a way the vitality of the rumor mill is a negative measure of leadership. My two bits! @J.A.

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