We were recently contacted by a client of ours who was shaken to have heard that there were rumors about what he was doing within his organization that had no basis in reality. Last year, another client of ours (an introvert who must get time alone to refuel and to think clearly) came to us to talk about the feedback that she’d gotten that she was being described as arrogant and unwilling to work collaboratively within her organization. And, one of our colleagues just called us to ask what to do about some rumors about his relationship with his boss that suggested he had gotten an opportunity because of their friendship and not because of his skill.

What do you do when rumors swirl?

There are a few things to understand about rumors:

  • People will always talk. It’s a way we have connected throughout human experience – it helped us stay safe when banding together was the only way to do so.
  • These stories can be very upsetting and, while it’s often important that you respond, it’s equally important that you don’t react defensively. People often read defensive responses to rumors as confirmation that the rumors are true.
  • The less people understand who you are, the more they tend to make up stories to fill in the blanks.

When rumors swirl, bombard them with truth about who you are and/or what is actually happening.

So, after telling you to not react, we tell you to bombard them with the truth? It’s a bit of a balancing act but you can often intervene successfully by doing three things:

Pausing – as you know, we believe that the Fundamental Pause™ is a business and life fundamental. Pause and ask yourself if what you are about to do or say is in alignment with your goals. As quickly as possible you need to shift away from reacting to the rumors and move toward responding thoughtfully.

Identifying the key people who can intervene in these rumors or counter them directly for you. Typically there are several people who have the power, credibility and personal style that can assist you in intervening in inaccurate stories. It is important that you know who they are and that you approach them non-defensively, to ask that they intervene in the rumors by sharing your truth. It is important that you approach this conversation by thinking through why they would care about intervening in the rumors, i.e., it may be because they care about you, or the rumors create obstacles to organizational success, or the rumors could hurt relationships with other teams or even clients. Spend some time considering the rumors in the context of these key people so that they have a vested interest in contributing to bombarding them with the truth.

Showing up in ways that demonstrate the truth of who you are to the people who are affected by the rumors. Be transparent about what you are trying to make happen, share your thoughts with an effort to speak to how your audience can best hear, and be clear about your commitment to creating success. The more people can see clearly who you are, the less likely they are to make up stories.

Rumors that are about who you are or something you’ve done can be very unsettling and often, the truth of who you are will help interrupt those rumors and shift the swirl. Take some time this week to be aware of any rumors that might be swirling in your organization (or your world) and then decide the best actions to take to put these distractions to rest.