Creative Leadership

The Secret to Stopping Unwanted Speculation and Rumor

Whenever a crisis happens at an organization, rumors begin. We shouldn’t be surprised because human beings are wired for curiosity. We want to know what happened, what’s going on, and what’s next. Channeled in the right direction, curiosity creates inventions, cures disease, and births great art.  But channeled in the wrong direction, curiosity can destroy reputations, throw organizations into chaos, and undermine the common good. But there’s one way to stop unwanted speculation and rumor in it’s tracks:

Transparency.  When a crisis happens, curiosity follows. People are going to wonder. Even the most loyal to the cause ask questions. When those questions surface, some in leadership ignore it, while others criticize those asking the questions. But that only causes the problem to fester and grow out of control.

Let me offer a better way:  Without going into lurid detail, just tell the truth.  After Jesus’ death and resurrection – and eventual ascension into heaven – the first thing Peter did was to explain to the disciples and friends what happened to Judas. In Acts chapter 1, Peter showed them carefully it was all a fulfillment of scripture. But he didn’t stop there. He reminded them that Judas was the man who guided those who arrested Jesus. Then he told them he had “Acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness” and then explained (in detail) how he committed suicide.

He didn’t mince words, or call it a personal failure or unspecified sin. Peter told the truth.

While the crisis is under investigation, be sensitive, because revealing unfounded or unproven information can permanently destroy people. But even then, don’t cover up what’s happening.  And then when investigation ultimately reveals the truth – share it.

By getting in front of the crisis with the truth, you not only quash the questions, you give people hope that you’re moving forward, and there’s no reason to fear. When leaders and their organizations are transparent, there’s no place left for rumor.

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  1. How do you go about being transparent without seeming petty? Example: Someone is fired for being lazy, not contributing and abusing their position. They claim they were fired for being ‘too honest’ (now acting like such a hard worker and self-rightous victim of course) slandering the company throughout town and on social media. How do you expose someone for being a drain on your company and fraud without seeming petty? That is the struggle…….if you are silent and someone goes after you, you seem guilty, if you defend yourself it seems tacky (and essentially like ‘feeding the trolls’ in the online arena.) We often talk about on this site ‘If you have to explain you’ve already lost”….Suggestions, anyone?

    1. This is a bit of a different scenario than I was writing about, but here’s the way to deal with this issue:
      1. Seek your attorney’s advice first. He may recommend a termination agreement, severance pay, etc… (based on your state laws).
      2. Make sure you have a credible witness in the room anytime you fire someone. (Preferably the same sex as the person being fired – if you’re not).
      3. As soon as the fired person starts circulating rumors, I would reach out to them (or have your attorney do it) and politely remind them of the termination circumstances and ask them to stop.
      4. If that doesn’t work, I have the attorney reach out in a much more firm way.

      5. If that doesn’t work – and depending on how big an issue it is – you can release an official statement to the press of your position, and if possible, quote from the termination agreement to support your position.
      6. Finally, a lawsuit may be in order.
      BUT – the most important thing is to keep perspective. I love Winston Churchill’s quote: “The dogs bark, but the train keeps on rolling.” Many times, the anger we feel about they distributing lies is out of proportion to the actual damage their causing. In that case, escalating the issue may only hurt you.

      1. It’s a shame things have to get litigious……but some people need a false cause to get their next venture off the ground. Thanks Phil.

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