Leading Edge: There is nothing that can destroy our efforts to build trust, nurture professional relationships or to create an atmosphere of transparent and productive communication faster than a rumor. There are theories as to the condition of the person or people who start them, but the rate at which rumors spread can mind boggling – especially if they aren’t true. 

“A rumor without a leg to stand on will get around some other way.” John Tudor (Author Unconfirmed)

Sometimes, they are so insidious that it is difficult for leaders and managers to discern the truth once the web is spun. Trying to dispel a rumor has been compared with attempting to un-ring a bell. So, what is a leader to do when unsolicited information creeps into the organization and threatens to minimize or even destroy the progress you have spent quality time and energy building?

Here are my suggestions:

  1. Resist the temptation to find out who started the rumor or why. Knowing the origin of the misinformation or disinformation is not relevant once the bell has been rung. People can’t unhear it and they will likely not forget it. Focus on managing the climate and not the information.
  2. If the information is irrelevant to the workplace (personal in nature), take a stand against its legitimacy in the professional environment and remind those who have been taken by it that their responsibility is to protect the privacy of others. Ask them what they would want others to do if the rumor were about them.
  3. If the information is relevant to the organization, find out as a leader what the truth of the matter is and share as much of that truth as you can without undermining organizational policies, processes or procedures. The information should be shared in a group setting (openly) so that questions and answers can be fielded if necessary.

You may be thinking… That’s a lot of work… We are dealing with adults and besides, it’s not even true. I should just ignore it. You may be right; and if you have more mature team members, you may not even have these types of issues. Lucky You!

But, take a second look at each suggestion. They all have something in common. Separately or together, they will to rob the rumor of its power – like releasing air from a balloon. The rumor may flail and flutter, but it will come down because it is powerless to defend itself against lack of interest, an unselfish perspective or the truth. When the matter has been put into perspective, there is nothing left to talk about. What’s more exciting is that you have used something that would come to destroy your team to build your team! As a team we have decided to take the higher ground – regardless of the origin of the information.

Creating an environment of trust, transparency, respect and caring for each other takes time and effort. My advice: Spend the extra time and effort to protect your investment and watch how well it works for you. Don’t let the rumor have it.

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