How to Handle Rumors
Rumors are the spice of life; but rumors can have serious consequences for us. They can affect various aspects of our lives, including our personal, social, and professional life.
In this article, you’ll learn about 1) what are rumors, why they start, and how they spread, 2) how rumors can affect you, and 3) how to handle rumors effectively.
INTRODUCTION TO RUMORS
What are rumors?
Before we learn how to handle rumors, let us understand a little more about them. A rumor is the opposite of fact. A fact is verified piece of information supported by data whereas a rumor is an unverified piece of information, which is unsubstantiated by any data. Since rumors are not backed by any data, they are normally quite exaggerated pieces of information and can be far from truth.
How & Why Rumors Start
Rumors normally get started when people try to make sense of an ambiguous situation. For example, if five friends go for a jog every morning and one of them starts to miss the jog consecutively for a few days in a row, a rumor may get started that the friend is missing because they are unwell.
To understand a situation, people start making guesses to the best of their understanding, based on their experiences; and before you know it, a rumor has started. Some rumors are harmless while some can ruin the image of a person or an entity. Some rumors are started with the intention of damaging the reputation of the person or thing. There are several intentions in the mind of the rumor starter. Following are some of the reasons why the rumor starter starts a rumor:
- To Feel Better – the rumor starter may be feeling down about a deficiency of their own and so they may start a rumor that makes someone else look bad in order to feel good about themselves.
- To Fit In – the rumor starter may be looking to fit in amongst a new gang and so they may try to appear more knowledgeable than they actually are and start a rumor.
- To Gain Attention – person with news that helps explain an ambiguous situation definitely captures attention of others. The rumor starter may start a rumor to gain other’s attention.
- To Improve their Power/Position – the rumor starter may create a rumor that harms their competitor’s reputation, resultantly gaining power and improving their position.
- To Take Revenge – the rumor starter may create a rumor in vengeance, in order to take retribution from the person regarding whom rumor is started.
- To Pass Time – yes its true, some rumor starters start a rumor as a cure to their boredom!
How Rumors Spread
Rumors spread in proportion to ambiguity – the more ambiguous the environment the more easily rumors will spread. Rumors also spread speedily in environments that do not discourage them. The more attention a rumor gets, the more widespread it becomes. Whether it is a home, institute or a workplace, if the culture of the place supports rumors and does not have a mechanism for discouraging it, rumors will gain quick attention.
HOW RUMORS AFFECT US – PERSONALLY & PROFESSIONALLY
Rumors can affect our personal as well as professional lives, even if we have done nothing to start them. Here are a few ways how:
On the Personal Level
Rumors can have serious effects on our personal lives and become an impediment in our growth and development:
- Reduce Confidence: When someone starts a rumor about us and people start looking down at us, our confidence level starts to diminish as we find it harder to face others’ judgmental behaviors, criticism, and questioning looks.
- Low Self-Esteem: As rumors spread, we too begin to see ourselves in the negative light. Our mind begins focusing on our weaknesses; we become over critical about our actions and behaviors. Such acts result in reduced self-esteem.
- Inhibit Performance: Our lack of faith in our capabilities leads to reduced performance. We feel like we cannot achieve much and this belief holds us back from achieving our potential in life. Everything becomes hard and there are days when it takes a lot of effort just to get out of bed.
- Lead to Isolation: Due to the rumors, even those people whom we thought to be our close friends may hesitate from staying in contact with us. Reduced human contact slowly leads us towards isolation as we begin finding comfort in solitude.
On the Professional Level
When rumors about us get started in the workplace, they can greatly influence our professional lives. Here are a few ways in which rumors can have an impact on us on the professional level:
- Reduced Motivation: When people start talking about false things regarding us at work, we lose the will to execute our official tasks. It becomes harder every day to walk-in in our office. We feel bad about the image the rumors have created and we find it hard to get in the mood of doing work.
- Reduced Productivity: Rumors distract us from doing our job since our mind keeps focusing on what people are saying about us instead of focusing on our work. We spend valuable time defending our position, time we should be spending doing our work. This lead to reduced output at work.
- Become an Obstacle in Promotion: Seniors may get to hear the rumor and form an image about us accordingly. This may mislead them into thinking we are not deserving of a promotion. We may not get a chance to explain our position especially if the chain of command is too long and we are not directly reporting to the top management.
- Force you to Resign: Due to the rumors, our professional reputation may have gotten totally marred and the situation may have become so out of control that there is no way out for us than to submit our resignation. Even though we could be giving up the career of our choice, but in order to run away from the rumors and for a fresh beginning we decide it is easier to resign and leave it all behind.
HOW TO HANDLE RUMORS EFFECTIVELY
Unfortunately, rumors can get started about the best amongst us. If you ever find yourself in a situation where a rumor has started concerning you, you must know how to handle the situation effectively. But before you know what to do, you must understand there are some things you should not do in such a situation. Here are some of those things:
What Not to Do
- Stay Quiet & Pretend Nothing is Wrong: Even though it is easier to just shrug our shoulders and walk away from a rumor about us, it is not an effective way of handling the situation. Pretending there is nothing wrong does not mean there is not something wrong actually. Pretending that nothing is wrong will not fix the situation or make the rumor go away; in-fact it may worsen the situation. Your silence can communicate to people that the rumors are true which is why you are not doing anything about them.
- Show Your Frustration: Rumor starters who have started the rumor in order to get us rattled would love to see our frustration. We should not give them the satisfaction because it would only encourage them to continue. Even though we may be boiling from inside, we should act calmly and not react in front of others.
- Tit for Tat: We must not start cooking up rumors and spread them about the person who has started a rumor about us because we should not stoop down to their level. Taking revenge is only going to aggravate the situation and also earn you a reputation of a rumor starter.
- Hide it from Elders/Seniors: Not reporting a rumor about ourselves to seniors (if it is in the workplace) or elders (if it is in our personal life) is a big mistake. Pretty soon, they will hear about it and if we are not the ones who inform them about the rumor first, hearing it from someone else may cause them to believe the rumor. If we report it first, they will know not to believe in it when they hear it.
- Believe Something Must be True: Rumors can be quite persuasive, so much so that we may start believing in them ourselves even though we know they are just rumors! Our brains sometimes get programmed to believing hearsay even if it is about us. We start recalling our actions and behaviors and start doubting ourselves. We must stay strong and sure of ourselves and not let the thought of a rumor being true enter our minds.
What To Do
Now that we know what we should not do, here are a few things we should do in order to manage rumors about us effectively:
- Act Confident: When we lose our confidence and become weak, that is when the rumor starters and believers gain power. The best way to handle rumors about ourselves is to act with confidence. When you remain confident, people start thinking otherwise than what they have heard through rumors. We must show others that we have faith in ourselves and this behavior has a way of becoming contagious. When we act with confidence, others also gain confidence in us.
- Communicate With People: Rather than staying quiet and pretending that nothing is going on, it is essential that we communicate with people. We should approach them ourselves and inquire about what they have heard about us. We must listen with an open mind and respond accordingly, in order to clarify our position and get our side of the story heard. Remember, we are our best advocates and no one else can explain our side of the story better than us.
- Evaluate Your Behavior/Actions: When we find out that there is a rumor going around about us, we should first think whether any of our actions or behavior has contributed towards the initiation of the rumor. If yes, then we must make changes in our behavior and actions in order to fix the situation.
- Clarify your Position Using Facts: Since rumors are pieces of information which aren’t backed up by any facts, the best way to kill them is to present facts that say otherwise. If it is possible for us to gather and present facts to the people that prove that the rumor going around about us is completely false then we must make our sincere efforts towards collecting and presenting these facts. It is a sure shot way to effectively deal with rumors.
- Focus on Positive Thinking: We should not give up just because someone is spreading something false about us. By focusing on the brighter side of things, by being optimistic and thinking positively, we can come out stronger than the rumors. We must continue to think positive thoughts and use our support group – our friends and family – to help us get rid of the rumors.
- Set Positive Examples: Actions are louder than words – rumors are just words, we must use our actions to prove them wrong. If someone has spread in our new workplace that we are stuck up, then every morning we enter our office we can make an effort to be first at greeting people and at asking how they are feeling. This way people will see that we are not actually stuck up like they heard we were.
HOW TO HANDLE RUMORS IN YOUR ORGANIZATION IF YOU ARE A SUPERVISOR/MANAGER
If you own an organization or are a manager in one, then it is your responsibility to create an environment that discourages rumors, since you already understand the destructive impacts of rumors in the workplace. Here are a few tips for handling rumors in such a situation:
- Stay Calm & Practice Damage Control: Do not just start firing people or implementing strict disciplinary actions against employees who are suspected to be rumor starters. Instead, remain calm and try to practice damage control. Be quick in clarifying the actual situation and reducing the ambiguity, which led to the rumor getting started in the first place so employees can differentiate between the real situation and the rumor.
- Re-Shuffle Teams: If there are some employees who keep creating rumors because they simply cannot get along, break up the teams and re-shuffle the team members. Rather than trying to resolve conflict and dealing with a new rumor every day, if teams can be shuffled without hampering productivity, it is best that you make new teams so that work can continue with harmony.
- Break Cliques: Cliques can be formed at a department level or based on seniority, amongst many other reasons. These cliques can begin to gain a position of authority or try to gain influencing power over others by creating rumors. Discourage the formation of these cliques and monitor employees closely so no one is able to form a clique and spread rumors.
- Discourage Water Cooler Grouping: Water cooler gatherings and tearooms are a favorite place for employees to get-together for a gossip session or for discussing things going on around the office for which no clear explanation is present. Such places around the office have a tendency to make employees discuss their guesswork and create rumors. As a manager, keep note of this and discourage employees from having long conversations by the water cooler or tearooms, etc.
- Keep Communication Channels Open: Keep your doors open for your employees so they can come and discuss ambiguous situations with you rather than make or believe in rumors. When your employees feel comfortable in approaching you, they will believe in first-hand information received from you, not any rumor. Also, by keeping communication channel open, you will provide employees the opportunity for informing you regarding any rumors going around so you can control the situation before too much damage gets done.
- Make Policies Clear: Make policies that discourage rumors. Communicate these policies to your employees and make sure they are aware of how the management feels regarding rumors and rumor starters/spreaders.
- Build an Organizational Culture that Does not Nurture Rumors: Encourage friendly competition amongst your employees. Create a cooperative environment that encourages teamwork. Promoting an overly competitive environment can create resentments amongst employees and force employees to use negative means such as rumor spreading in order to gain power over other employees.
It is in our nature to make sense of things going on around us because ambiguity makes us uncomfortable. We use our imagination, our experience, our knowledge, and our opinions to fill in the gaps when we do not have complete information regarding a situation. Sometimes our evil side takes over and we resort to dirty tricks such as rumor spreading in order to put our competitors down. Regardless of why or how the rumor got started, what matters the most is how we handle it.
It may not be possible for us to avoid getting in the middle of a rumor but by learning how to handle rumors effectively, we can make our lives easier and reduce the impact they have in our personal as well as professional lives.
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