Rumour Has It

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Office Rumour & Gossip Can Destroy A Workplace

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Rumours are destructive! Here’s how to prevent and manage them.

As we approach the fabled Dec 21, 2012, we are inundated by books, movies and a host of emails predicting the end of times – again! Did we not live through the, now infamous Y2K debacle? How much money was spent by governments and businesses alike to ensure “Y2K compliancy?” Airplanes, cars, ships – in fact all devices that used a clock or timing mechanism were supposed to fail as they ticked over to the year 2000!

In recent years, popular culture has adopted theories that the Mayans predicted an apocalypse on Dec 21. This date corresponds to the end of the current cycle of the Mayan calendar, which lasts for 13 intervals each comprising 144,000 days, known as baktuns.

However, many scholars have long argued that, while Mayan astronomers saw each cycle’s conclusion as significant, they never foresaw the complete destruction of our universe. The theory that the Mayan calendar has an “expiration date” is thought by many learned individuals in the field to be a fallacy.

Saturno, a renowned Mayan researcher compared the system to odometers that reset to zero after 99,000 kilometres simply because they are unable to display more than five digits. “If we are driving a car, we do not anticipate that at the 100,000 km mark, the car will vanish from beneath us,” he says.

Archaeologists excavating at Xultún, a Mayan site in Guatemala, have discovered a room thought to have served as a workshop for scribes and calendar priests more than 1,200 years ago. Its walls are adorned with remarkably preserved paintings and writings, including calculations related to the Mayan calendar. One notation in particular records an interval of 17 baktuns, a period of time that extends way past the alleged doomsday.

So, why are we human beings so addicted to or attracted to these myths, or rumours? Much of it has to do with our need to make sense of our world and what is happening around us. In order to comprehend problems, or decipher issues, people talk to each other. What transpires next is rather interesting. As the story spreads, it becomes interspersed with a lot of guesswork, required to fill the holes that the facts have failed to explain.

At work, however, this type of interaction is harmful and costly. It wastes time, damages reputations, promotes divisiveness, creates anxiety, and destroys morale. Even though we know that this practice is often destructive and harmful, it is difficult not to become involved in this practice at work. It is human nature to be curious, and to want to be “in-the-know”. One only has to look at the number of celebrity-focused publications to realise that we have a seemingly unquenchable thirst for information pertaining to other people’s lives.

Knowledge is often perceived as power. Individuals with the least amount of power in an organisation often start rumours as it makes them feel important and creates the impression that they are in possession of important information that is not available to others.

Insufficient knowledge or incomplete information, are often to blame. Consider these examples:  People often do not know the real reasons for the dismissal of a colleague.  In order to appear privy to confidential information and seem more powerful, they make up a reason based on some limited knowledge or insignificant fact. “I saw John override the cash register the other day without a supervisor present. Maybe he stole money and that is the reason for him being fired”.

Perhaps a pattern of behaviour between two individuals is observed and embellished on for the sake of attention. “Joseph and Samantha spend a lot of time together after hours ‘catching up on paperwork”. Yesterday they were sitting awfully close to each other in the meeting. I bet paperwork isn’t all that’s getting done after quitting time!”

When budget meetings are held, they are often conducted behind closed doors with an almost clandestine air of secrecy! People try to ease their stress levels and gain some control over the situation by predicting the outcome. “When Steve came out of the budget meeting today, he looked really upset. I bet that he had his budget cut.”

The primary reason that rumours proliferate and spread is due to a lack of accurate information. It follows then that the best way to counter this negative practice is to ensure that communication in your company is clear, honest, and transparent at all times.

Structured channels for feedback and the transfer of information should be established. Sound communication practices within the business ensure the development of trust which is crucial to a stable and healthy working environment.

Tips On Preventing and Managing Rumours

• Keep employees informed – When staff know what is going on within an organisation, they do not need to guess as much. Use newsletters, weekly meetings, or regular updates via the intranet to let people know what’s happening.

• When you face adversity in your business, keep the lines of communication open. Crises illicit the highest levels of distrust and stress. Whether it’s communicating during a crisis, dealing with a high attrition rate, or managing during a downturn, it’s fundamentally important to communicate clearly.

Always try to be open and honest. When you are unable to reveal all the information pertaining to a certain situation or event, be up front about it. People know when they are not being told the whole story.

• Establish transparency within your systems. Develop a promotion process that’s clear and fair. There will always be some information that needs to be kept confidential. However, try to keep this to a minimum. Share industry reports and company performance data. The more people understand, the more they trust.

• Practise management by engaging with your team. The closer you are to your team and to other employees, the easier it is to communicate information and the greater the sense of trust. This also gives you an opportunity to hear rumours when they start, enabling you to contain the destruction.

Establish a policy for dealing with rumours and gossip. Outline what you will do to prevent rumours from starting, and address how you will deal with individuals who engage in this behaviour. Talk about the effects of rumours in the workplace. The more people understand why this practise is so damaging, the more likely they will be to monitor their own participation.

Build a culture that promotes cooperation but that still allows for healthy competition. If employees compete with one another for reward and recognition, this may create an opportunity for conflict and resentment. Rules and guidelines for promotion, and a clear and transparent reward and recognition system are imperative to ensure that distrust and rumours between individuals and departments are allayed. Ensure that the culture is based on sound values comprising mutual respect and integrity.

Rumours at work are unlikely to disappear. It is unfortunately human nature to want to know what is happening around us. When people do not have complete information, they may fill in the gaps with suppositions that are somewhat less than accurate. Whilst we may never to be able to completely eradicate rumours, we can implement these strategies to create more harmony and trust within our work environments.

Whether we are dealing with the stuff of myth, legend, or rumour – it is always the truth that perseveres.  Saturno acknowledges that the new discovery of the ruins at Guatemala might not sway people who have absolute confidence in the December 2012 apocalypse prediction. “I think that as a general rule, if someone is a hardcore believer that the world is going to end in 2012, no painting is going to convince them otherwise,” he said. What may do the trick, however, is waking up on Dec 22!”

The scholars agree that it is perhaps more accurate to believe that we are approaching the end of a World Age, rather than the end of the world as we know it. This is a time of transition from one era to another. The question that we face is how we intend to enter the future? Are we going to embrace the future with resistance or acceptance?

Our choices will determine whether the transition will happen with cataclysmic changes or gradual peace and tranquillity. The choices that we make in all the areas of our lives, including the workplace, dictate how the future will reveal itself. Look for the truth; behave with honesty, authenticity, and integrity and lay the foundations for a future of success and fulfilment.

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