wikiHow is fascinating. Modeled after Wikipedia, this online how-to manual lets anyone submit step-by-step instructions for doing 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 must so often address alleged layoffs, management shake-up, plant closings, mergers and a whole host of scuttlebutt that may or may not involve material information. Here are three tips for shutting down rumors within your workforce:
- 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. All because three of the 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. Solutions? Fix the sign, and tell your executives to get out of their offices.
- Never play dumb. No communicator in their right mind would say, "no comment," but failing to respond to rumors only fuel their spread. 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 was working with a startup where people thought one of the industry's biggest players was plotting a takeover, based exclusively on the fact that the CEO was spotted in the parking lot. Turns out the two companies were forging a strategic R&D alliance, which management acknowledged as soon as it could.
- Acknowledge the rumor publicly. People spread gossip to demonstrate social status, that they have an inside scoop that others don't. Outing the rumor takes 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!"