The 3 best ways to stop employee rumors

Tips for internal communicators who must address alleged layoffs, company takeovers, and other erroneous topics in the office rumor mill.

WikiHow is fascinating. Modeled after Wikipedia, this online how-to manual lets anyone submit step-by-step instructions for just about anything, from the practical “How to wake up without an alarm clock,” to the esoteric “How to spin a pencil around your thumb,” to the intensely personal “How to trick a guy into kissing you.

I don’t spend my days trolling wikiHow for professional tips, but I did stumble across one article, “How to stop rumors,” that is for internal communicators who often need to address layoffs, management shake-ups, plant closings, mergers, and a whole host of scuttlebutt that may or may not involve material information.

Here are three tips to shut down rumors within your workforce:

1. Determine what’s feeding the rumor, and stop it.

The smallest things often fuel the biggest gossip. I remember one organization where, very suddenly, everyone became convinced a competitor was taking over the company and changing the name to its own. This was all because three letters in the company’s name had blown off the building’s main entrance the night before.

At another firm, people started whispering about impending layoffs because leaders were conducting more discussions behind closed doors.

The solutions? Fix the sign, and tell your executives to get out of their offices.

2. Never play dumb.

No communicator in her right mind would say “no comment,” but failing to respond to rumors only fuels the rumor mill. Unless it’s material information (or the rumor is actually true), say, “I don’t think that’s true, and here’s why.”

One time I worked with a startup where people thought one of the industry’s biggest players was plotting a takeover, based exclusively on the fact that someone spotted the CEO in the parking lot. Turns out the two companies were forging a strategic research and development (R&D) alliance, which management acknowledged as soon as it could.

3. Acknowledge the rumor publicly.

People spread gossip to demonstrate social status—they have an inside scoop that others don’t. When you out the rumor, you take away its momentum.

At one company I worked with, the CEO finally got up at a town hall and said, “People, we are not laying anyone off. We have jobs to do here, so please do them!”

Tamara Snyder is a vice president with Edelman Employee Engagement. She blogs at Internal Monologue, where a version of this article originally appeared.

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