We find ourselves in leadership roles where difficult decisions are required. Very frequently there are political ramifications as well. This in turn inevitably leads to “the whisper chain”. Also known as the rumor mill, gossip, or rumor-mongering; this is any attempt to spread a story or piece of information that may or may not be true, but that people are talking about. For those of us that generally concentrate on our goals, tasks and activities to help accomplish these items, the whisper chain is as worrisome as a cloudy day. It is not always as simple when dealing with high profile projects or issues.
The whisper chain and rumor mill survive on bad information and poor communication. We wish it was always as simple as asking an individual or group a question and getting a straight forward answer. It is not. We are dealing with people, which can be difficult. There almost always seems to be a caveat or scenario for retraction. And moreover, people lie. I’m sorry to shatter your faith in humanity but some people lie. The number of reasons vary but it always seem to come down to fear or needing attention. Here are 4 recommendations in order of priority that we often employ to dispel the whisper chain or rumor mill:
1. Ignore it and get back to work.
2. Speak to your trusted inner circle.
3. Make a public offer for questions.
4. Communicate to the group as a whole.
Let’s dive into each of these quickly.
First, if it isn’t a big deal, don’t make a mountain out of a mole hill. Ignore it for the first time and let others know you are ignoring it for one good reason. Everyone has more important things to do. Focusing our attention on what really matters is a responsibility of each and every team member.
Second, speak to your trusted inner circle. Let them know the facts, provoke them to ask questions. Remember, clear communication is key in these situations. Our suggestion is to be frank and forthcoming as much as possible.
Make a public offer for anyone to ask questions. These questions can be submitted anonymously via email or in a face to face conversation. Most often a public offering will elicit a response of denial. However, if someone in the whisper chain feels compelled enough, they will speak up. By offering publicly it does not put any one individual on the spot and isolates them. These feelings of isolation will often result in an unfortunate result, they say nothing out of fear.
If all else fails, group communication is the way to go. This can be a generalized statement or a specific topic. Regardless, sending a strong message publicly is the right thing to do. Then drop it like a bad habit.
It is perfectly acceptable to explain that there are complicated topics that not everyone needs to know about. Leadership often requires making judgment calls on topics that are difficult. This is why I am in my leadership role within the company. Again, everyone companywide has more important and pressing matters to attend. Our suggestion is to get to what is most important.
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