The rumor mill is alive and well. This mill never stops churning and has ruined more than a few good careers. Some rumors are started purposely with the intent of embarrassing or upsetting the parties involved, while others are no more than misunderstandings that caught fire and spread rapidly.
If you have ever been the victim of a workplace rumor, or been charged with putting out a fire began by one, you already know how damaging it can be.
Protecting yourself and your coworkers from this danger is simple when you know what to look for and whom to run from.
Here are five basic rules for keeping up good workplace etiquette and avoiding getting tangled up in this vicious web:
1. Be wary of questions that sound like gossip. “Have you heard…?” The moment these words enter the ear canal, your “spidey senses” should go on high alert. The information you are about to have bestowed upon you should instantly be considered suspect at the very least. If the information is of a personal nature: “Jim and Sally are seeing each other,” ignore the information unless you are married to one of them. If it is related to your job and corporate in nature: “Our offices are being shuttered this month,” then you may want to investigate further.
2. Be aware that everything is not always as it seems. Don’t allow someone you work with who has a vivid imagination to sway your point of view. Just because there are moving vans in the parking lot and a black SUV parked nearby that you’ve never seen before, doesn’t mean your headquarters are about to get raided. It could just mean file boxes are being moved to permanent storage and one of your co-workers recently got a new car.
3. Never ever repeat anything you’ve heard, even if it turns out to be true. Unless you are specifically asked to pass on certain information, work under the assumption that you know nothing. The best way to keep from getting burned is to stay out of the fire.
4. Give sensitive information the respect it deserves. Did you happen to spot a co-worker leaving an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting? Discovering something of this nature, either by accident or some other coincidental circumstance, does not give you the right to tell others about it. Try being glad for this person and happy knowing they are trying to better themselves and leave it at that. Speaking to others about what you’ve learned, or even to the person you’ve found out, will only serve to cause embarrassment unduly. Everyone struggles with something at some time. You are not the national news and have no right to tell another’s story.
5. Stay away from the water cooler gang. Even if you don’t say a word, being seen in the midst of a group spreading some harmful rumor will be noted and used against you should the matter come to a head.
Being social at work is important on a number of levels. However, it is even more important to discern the difference between being “social” and being a part of the rumor mill.