Dealing with rumor and gossip in the workplace

Rumor and gossip are two very common occurrences in any workplace. There is perhaps no workplace that is exempt from gossips and rumors. Before going on to understand how to deal with these two; a word about what these mean:

Rumor is some information that someone in an organization spreads about a person. This may or not be true, but will sometimes needs verification. Of course, saying something like “John is wearing black dress today” could be a fact whose veracity can be checked easily by seeing whether John is actually wearing black dress. But saying something like “John is coming straight from a funeral” could be a rumor because it needs to be verified. The thin edge between truth and untruth and the scope for personal and subjective interpretation is what makes rumor what it is, and is perhaps what makes it spread so fast in many areas of life, not excluding the workplace.

Gossip, on the other hand, is talking behind a person’s back about something that may or not be right. To stretch the first example, whether some employees disapprove or have reservations about John coming to office from the funeral is a matter of one’s opinion. But when employees other than John talk about his coming from a funeral without consulting him or asking him whether it is true or not, it is gossip. Since John has not been asked; each person is free to understand and interpret the rumor according to one’s wish.

Gossip and rumor are almost certain in any workplace. In fact, so strong is the influence that gossip and rumor wield that they have been major contributors to stunting and even ending many careers. So long as gossip or rumors are innocuous; they seem fine enough to live with. But when they become instruments with which many people ruin other people’s reputation or lives, there is need for some serious rethink on how to deal with it.

These are some of the ways by which rumor and gossip can be contained in the workplace:

Manager should facilitate open and frank communication

Much of the responsibility for containing rumor and gossip at the workplace lies with the manager. The manager, whenever he hears about a rumor or gossip, must first size up what it means to the organization. If the gossip or rumor is innocent and is not likely to harm the organization to a great extent; this can be somewhat manageable. But if it is of such gravity that it could bring harm to a person’s reputation or mean something of importance for the organization; this kind of rumor or gossip has to be counted.

Call the employee and talk

The manager has to first decide what to do with such an employee. Is the employee in the habit of telling lies, as a result of which this rumor has spread? Or is it just a prank? Either case requires some serious handling, because spreading rumors deliberately is bad enough; but doing it for fun is dangerous. It can have deleterious effects on the morale of the team. The management, along with HR, should discuss this threadbare. The management should quell the rumor by clarifying on it. It should sort matters out by going to the root of the problem. If the rumor is concerning something as major as a company policy; it has to be discussed and laid out in detail.

Clarify matters

Gossips and rumors are all the more common during economic downturns, when employee downsizing is the order of the day. Rumors and gossips spread faster than in normal times during such situations. Someone could have just ignited the rumor that the company is going to be overtaken soon. All these have to be clarified in front of the entire team. The person who spread the rumor should be identified and probed about where he got the wind of that rumor. If it becomes known that a competitor has spread the rumor; it has to be handled sternly.

Deal with patience

It is important for HR and for management to have patience in dealing with rumors and gossip at the workplace. If something that is plain nonsensical is being spread, it has to take actions that neutralize these. It has to understand why these rumors are spreading. Normally, rumors and gossips take place when there is a communication gap or when there is ambiguity in the management’s important decisions. Gossips and rumors also spread when the management is seen as being too aloof and reticent about company matters.

Management cannot always take every employee into confidence and sort out matters because there are more important things to do. However, it has to do some plain talking when the situation demands it. If it discovers that some rumors doing the rounds are plausible, it has to put things in perspective. For example, if there is a buzz going round the workplace of a major event that could impact everyone and management is also a little uncertain about the impending action or result, it has to take people into confidence and explain things patiently.

Doing so will ensure that it employees get the feeling that they are taken into confidence and are updated about important events. Secondly, it will also mean that                                                                                                                                                      the scope for such rumors and gossip are considerably cut. Losing patience and reacting aggressively is sure to exacerbate matters. It is for this reason that a cool approach is needed.



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