Michael was worried. Rumors that the current quarter would be even more difficult were spreading so rapidly that he couldn't see any way to deal with them. He turned to face Lou. "Unless we come up with a plausible story, we'll start to lose people in a couple of weeks."
The common metaphors
about rumors are misleading"It has to be more than just a plausible story," Lou replied. "It has to be true. If it isn't true, our credibility will be shot."
Lou is pointing out the First Rule of Rumor Management: Credibility Is Your Most Powerful Tool. If even one of your rumor-squelching stories proves wrong, squelching the next rumor becomes much more difficult.
Two common metaphors for rumor generation and propagation are the "rumor mill" and the "grapevine." Both are misleading.
- The rumor mill
- This metaphor probably traces back to when factories were called "mills." The metaphor is misleading because rumors actually spring up anywhere, rather than at a single point, which makes rumors difficult to control.
- The grapevine
- This metaphor suggests that rumors propagate along a linear path. To listen to rumors, you just plug into the grapevine. The actual rumor propagation medium is a tightly connected network of personal relationships. Rumors propagate far more rapidly over this network than they would over any linear structure.
Cutting the grapevine or shutting down the rumor mill doesn't work, because there is no grapevine and there is no rumor mill. Rumors can pop up anywhere, and spread by hopping along personal relationships, fed mostly by anxiety and worry. Here are five strategies for managing organizational rumors.
- Credibility is your most powerful tool
- Credibility can't quell rumors or limit their formation. But it can launch the Truth. Be clear, be early, and be right.
- Repair your credibility when it gets tattered
- Repairing organizational credibility often requires replacing management or reorganizing responsibilities. If you choose neither, then publicly delegate responsibility to a new high-visibility subordinate of anyone you choose not to replace.
- Be judicious about openness
- Many believe that openness prevents rumors. While secrecy does stimulate rumors, openness limits them only if it reduces anxiety. Openness can even make things worse, if it adds to anxiety.
- Leave no voids
- When people worry, they make up what they don't know. When we say nothing about a topic people are worrying about, we leave a void to be filled by rumors.
- Anticipate anxiety
- If you know of a probable source of anxiety or worry, get out in front of it. Don't wait for rumors to form. Take mitigating actions early, and make those actions known.
Even if you do all this, remember that you're not in charge of what people worry about. People might still worry — it's their choice. They might not believe you, or they might not hear you. Listen for the rumors and use what you learn to adjust your actions. Top Next Issue
Is every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- The Mind Reading Trap
- When we think, "Paul doesn't trust me," we could be fooling ourselves into believing that
we can read his mind. Unless he has directly expressed his distrust, we're just guessing, and we can
reach whatever conclusion we wish, unconstrained by reality. In project management, as anywhere else,
that's a recipe for trouble.
- Message Mismatches
- Sometimes we misinterpret the messages we receive — what we see or hear. It's frustrating, and
tempers can flare on both sides. But if we keep in mind two ideas, we can reduce the effects of message
- Working Lunches
- To save time, or to find a time everyone has free, we sometimes meet during lunch. It seems like a good
idea, but there are some hidden costs.
- Logically Illogical
- Discussions in meetings and in written media can get long and complex. When a chain of reasoning gets
long enough, we sometimes make fundamental errors of logic, especially when we're under time pressure.
Here are just a few.
- Avoid Having to Reframe Failure
- Yet again, we missed our goal — we were late, we were over budget, or we lost to the competition.
But how can we get something good out of it?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- And on October 25: Workplace Memes
- Some patterns of workplace society reduce organizational effectiveness in ways that often escape our notice. Here are five examples. Available here and by RSS on October 25.
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- Most of what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we know "just ain't so." Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully. Even more important, avoiding these traps can demonstrate the value and power of the project management profession in general, and your personal capabilities in particular. In this program we describe ten of these beliefs. There are almost certainly many more, but these ten are a good start. We'll explore the situations where these fallacies are most likely to expose projects to risk, and suggest techniques for avoiding them. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:
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- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
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