Most managers have to deal with rumors in the workplace at some point. But sometimes combating the rumor mill can feel like a never-ending game of whack-a-mole. Squash one rumor, and three more pop up elsewhere.   What’s a manager to do?  Well, let’s start with what doesn’t work. Threats of discipline, termination and other consequences for spreading rumors and divulging information might sound like a serious deterrent, but in reality they usually don’t do a whole lot.   Why not? Because a big source of rumors is … managers themselves. 

Rumors love a vacuum

Rumors are fueled by lack of information. Every time managers sidestep a question, go behind closed doors, signal that certain topics are off limits, or fail to communicate with the staff, they create an information vacuum. People fill that vacuum with their fears, anxieties, speculation – and rumors.   Managers have the power to either put a halt to the rumor mill, or set it turning even faster. What can managers do to make sure rumors don’t overwhelm their team, department or company?  Well, when a rumor is floated in your workplace, it’s critically important to acknowledge its existence before it has a chance to gain steam. Managers need to set the record straight, explaining what is and isn’t true.  

Be Forthcoming

Naturally, there will be some information you can’t give away, lest it ends up in a competitor’s hands. But be as forthcoming as you can, and when someone asks about confidential information, explain why you can’t answer the question.   These steps go a long way toward filling in the information vacuum that forms when employees are left to fill in the gaps for themselves.   By taking action as soon as a rumor is detected, managers can:

Rumor Mongers

But putting the kibosh on one rumor is only half the battle. There will still be rumor mongers — every organization has them. Such employees probably don’t see themselves that way; more likely, they pride themselves on being a source for others about what’s going on in your organization.   What can you do about these employees? Identify them, then have a talk with them about how their spreading of rumors affects other employees and the organization. You could say something like:  “Listen, I know people look to you as someone who’s in the know. So the next time you hear something that upsets you, I’d like you to come to me. I’ll be straight with you – and I’ll count on you to help me get the facts out to others too. Because we can’t afford to have these false rumors going around.” 

The ‘Inside Scoop’

Of course, talk like this puts loose-lipped employees on notice that you won’t stand for any rumor-mongering.   But it does more than that.   Rumor mongers derive a sense of power and control from spreading the news. So by positioning yourself as a key source of news, you make rumor mongers feel that they’re getting the inside scoop. And they’re are just as happy to spread the truth you just told them as they would be to spread a rumor!   

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