Tuesday, 2 August 2011

How To Fight a Rumor

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A rumor goes in one ear, then out of many mouths.

Stopping rumors means understanding not why they're ugly, but why they're necessary

You have to confront rumors carefully. Here are some tips:
1) Always stay calm, no matter how horrible the rumors are.
Some attacks on a public figure's reputation are so outrageous and unbelievable that they work anyway by making the public figure lose their cool in front of the press or public.
2) Ignore common, everyday rumors.
There's always misinformation and talk. If you tried to correct every false rumor, you'd spend your days doing nothing else.
3) Let others defend you.
If a rumor attacks your credibility, everybody knows you have a vested interest in defending yourself. So does any spokesperson or PR firm in defending a client.
Whenever you can, have somebody else lead the counter-attack against a rumor, preferably someone with credibility and authority who can be seen as independent.
4) Refute big rumors quickly, before they fester.
Silence is interpreted as guilt. There used to be a 24-hour news cycle, and presidential candidates would set up War Rooms to make sure they had a response within each cycle.
Those days are over. The news cycle has been shortened to nano-seconds by blogs and the internet. Don't wait to respond.
5) You can't wound rumors -- you have to kill them.
Rumors will live on if you simply deny them. You have to provide an alternative explanation.
Kill a rumor by beheading its credibility. Give evidence of the truth with real support -- a document, video, audio, support from an independent authority such as a newspaper -- and go after the motive of whoever may have started the rumor.
In a corporate culture that can be characterized by feuds and powerplays I can see how an individual, even an executive, can get sucked into this gossip cycle.  I however have assumed that the corporate grape vine is more like a weed that needs to be pulled out by the roots as it can only have a negative impact on the organization.  This is obviously easier said than done, although there are practical steps that one can take either as part of a project team or even an organizational leadership team to fend off this gossip cycle.  Here are a few suggestions:
  • Straight Talk.  Nothing disrupts gossip like the truth.  One study I read about where employees were prevented from finding out information on bottom line were shocked to later discover that the profitability numbers were significantly lower than they anticipated.  So when management tries to hide certain sensitive data they discover that overblown assumptions by employees actually hurt them.
  • Boycott.  Establishing team ground rules to not participate in seeking gossip or spreading it.  By maintaining open communications and refusing to take rumors at face value the team has a better chance to work together to set the record straight on performance and project activities.
  • Insisting on Sources.  When faced with a rumor or an accusation that can not be ignored insist that the “messenger” identify the source of that news.  We have to remember that there is no right to privacy when someone is making an accusation that could be false.  After all, this is not about journalism.

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