Even in a very connected world, we still find out what is really happening around the office at the water cooler. Who did what, when, and why? The water cooler is where we share stories, ideas, and yes, rumors.
As you gather around the water cooler (or sometimes the carafe of coffee) you may have already shared and you may have been the subject, of a rumor. You can listen to mypodcast with Professor Nicholas Defonzo author of The Watercooler Effect. He is the leading world expert on why rumors spread.
All of us work in situations where there is uncertainty. The more uncertain the information, the more likely you will be participating in rumors. In a recent study of 40,818 European workers in France and the U.K. by international HR consulting firm ISR, 67% of employees hear important information first through a rumor.
Rumors are a core part of our lives. They affect companies, finances, decisions, careersand even world markets. In some ways, I have always considered rumors as being negative. However, Nick explains in his book that rumors are simply collective intelligence in the face of uncertainty. In times like today with the role of Twitter, mediaand large amount of sudden change, more than ever we need to understand how to manage, leverage and protect ourselves from the power of rumors.
As a psychologist, there was a reason Nick decided to focus his professional career:
“It helps to understand how we perceive and think of ourselves, and others and the world. It helps to perceive anxiety and risk, how we as society process complex. It helps us to understand how we communicate, we relate to each other and how we trust.”
Learning how to manage rumors in a workplace is not only an important skill, it reduces stress, increases employee morale, and affects shareholder value. According to ISR over a two-year time evaluating 57 companies, those that were poor in rumor management lost on average $7.10 in share prices compared to an increase of share value by $8.10 to those that manage rumors effectively. It’s just good business.
Lastly, Nick shared, “Understanding rumors means becoming kinder, nobler, more discerning, more helpful, more humble, sharper in our thinking and more charitable in our feeling. It means having a greater appreciation for the truth. If rumor is something we do, we should do it well.”
As a leader in your organization, don’t be threatened by the way information is shared. Pay more attention to staying ahead of the curve. Be proactive in the ways you communicate changes and allow your employees to share information as they see fit (they are going to share whether you agree or not.)
According to the research by Professor Defonzo the most effective ways to manage rumors in the workforce are:
1. Determine the impact & deal with rumors immediately
2. Set a positive example – Don’t be drawn in, shut the conversation down if necessary
3. Confirm the rumor & explain why you cannot give full information
4. Set a timeline for when you will be able to share the complete story
5. Share how decisions about upcoming changes will be made
6. Above all don’t fight rumors, they are normal & can be healthy way to share information in the best of environments
Spreading rumors, along the road with you!