How to Put a Stop to the Rumor Mill

Question: Every time I turn around there is some new story out there about the company being bought, people being laid off, senior leaders retiring, and so on. There is not a shred of truth in these rumors and all they do is stir people up. Can I write a policy to outlaw spreading rumors?

Alice Waagen says: Good luck with that! What will you do when someone violates the policy and gossips? Fire them? A bit harsh, I think. First off, get rid of the notion that you will stop people from asking each other “what if ….” or “what about …” or “how did that happen?”

It is normal and natural for folks to seek answers to question that they have about their workplace. Where the trouble starts is when people speculate on the answer and that speculation gets turned in to “truth.”

The question, “Why are the senior leaders in so many closed-door meetings?,” gets answered by the speculation: “Gee, maybe they are thinking about selling the company.” And that gets retold as: “Did you hear, they are going to sell the company.”

So how do you stop speculations from turning into “truths” which are really rumors?

By heading them off with continuous, open and timely communication. If senior leaders are having closed-door sessions, let everyone know that the purpose of these sessions is to update the company strategic plan, or whatever else the purpose may be.

Don’t let the speculation start in the first place. In all of my corporate visits, I see a direct relationship between the size of the rumor mill and the amount of open communication from the top. Scant talk from above, big rumor mill.

Remember: When people have questions, if they can’t find an answer, they will make one up. And the one they make up usually casts senior leaders in a poor light. So give them the answers to their questions and let then speculate on less harmful topics like who will win the World Series or this season’s American Idol.

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