How to deal with rumors at the office

This morning, as you gathered around the watercooler you may have already shared one, you may have been the subject of one. A rumour. This week’s podcast is with Professor Nicholas Defonzo author of The Watercooler Effect. He is the leading world expert on why rumours spread. This week’s column is to help improve your rumour skills. In a recent study of 40,818 European workers in France and the U.K. by international HR consulting firm ISR, 67 percent of employees hear important information first through a rumour.

Rumours are a core part of our lives, they impact companies, finances, decisions, careers and even world markets. In some ways, I have considered rumours as being negative. However, Nick explains in his book, that rumours are simply collective intelligence in the face of uncertainty. In times like today with the role of the internet, instant information and large amount of sudden change, more than ever we need to understand how to manage, leverage and protect ourselves from the power of rumours. As a psychologist, the reason Nick decided to focus his professional career “it helps to understand how we perceive and think of themselves, 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.” Rumours occur regularly in our work situation. There are both internal rumours, such as who is getting laid off, getting promoted or why someone left the company. External rumours range from who is investing in your company, to what competitors are doing to compete against your organization. The more I read Nick’s book, the more I shook my head and realized how widespread this in all of our lives. Just this week my children shared what the “rumour” was about how a particular girl got hurt on the playground at school. We need them to help each other to understand changes in our world. ” Nick explained “Rumours are fundamental phenomenon of social beings. Every person on the planet in the period of human history has been affected and involved with some aspect of hearsay.” So what is a rumour? Nick defines a rumour as “Unverified information statements that circulate about topics that people perceive as important, arise in situations of ambiguity to manage risk. There 3 fundamental elements of a rumour. Information statements – noun and verb statements that inform us such as “the GM is laying off 500 people” they tell us something. They circulate among people – It is not a rumour until you discuss it with another person. They are statements in circulation that are important to both those that share and those that receive the information. How does this relate to the world of work? All of us work in situations where there is uncertainty – the more uncertain the information the more likely you will be participating in rumours. We recently saw this happen with the tragedy at Maple Leaf Foods, while we were getting information from the media – we were also all collectively processing this at the watercooler. In fact, the president of Maple Leaf Foods appeared on television to get the story clear, remove all of the rumours and set the record straight about what really happened and what they were doing about the tragedy. They were managing the rumour mill. Learning how to manage a rumour is key to your success as a professional, it is one of the most important “soft skills” to possess. What is the best way to deal with a rumour when you hear about it?

Suspend Belief – Give the person the benefit of the doubt at the start. This is hard to do as we all have biases.

Carefully check – Get the facts and try and get as many alternative views.

Come to your own conclusion – It is important to make a decision one way or the other on your own opinion. Be aware of the influence of the group.

Take time and listen – Refrain from spreading the rumour until you have gone through the first 3 steps.

Learning how to manage rumours in a workplace is not only an important skill, it reduces stress, increases employee morale and impacts shareholder value. According to ISR over a two-year period of time evaluating 57 companies. Those that were poor in rumour management lost on average 7.10 in share prices compared to an increase of share value by $8.10 to those that manage rumours effectively. It’s just good business. Lastly, Nick shared, “Understanding rumours 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 rumour is something we do, we should do it well"

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Spreading rumours, along the road with you! Alan