I really wanted to use a few different words to describe rumors but I am trying to get better with my swearing. Jury is out still on whether I make it through this post without swearing.
As people who personally know me can attest to, I’m not one to back away from conflict in general. However, there are lots of types of conflict. For this post, I’m focusing in on the conflict caused by rumors and gossip. How do I differentiate between rumors and innocent perception misunderstandings? Is the person sharing it with someone else in the “can you believe this?” tone of voice? Is the person sharing it with someone else in the “you won’t believe what I heard” tone of voice? That’s rumors and gossip.
I remember the first rumor I heard about me in my professional career. I had just become a lead developer and the rumor was that I slept with a partner to get the position. I was heartbroken and mad all at the same time. So I directly confronted the person with tears rolling down my face. He apologized and I do believe he was truly sorry.
For a long time, my mode of handling false rumors was to directly confront them. Only then I started to accept that this wasn’t an option as a leader especially when the rumor is about confidential information that can’t be shared. For example, there is a team member that is not performing. The team is frustrated and the rumor is that you are not doing anything to resolve the issue. However, you are. Maybe the person is on a performance plan. Maybe the person has been given a formal warning. However, your lips are sealed as a manager about actions taking place. And as tough as it is to feel false judgement, I wouldn’t trade that for providing the respect and privacy the individual deserves. Instead, I have to be comfortable in my actions and hope that when a resolution is completed (positive or negative), the team will understand the rumor was false.
These days, I rarely confront false rumors. Instead, I know the truth and can sleep at night. I have even accepted that some rumors don’t start from a malicious point of view but simply have a life of their own. I get it…managers are easy targets. So I have to hope the good I’ve done will outweigh any rumors in the long run. But I would be lying if I tried to pretend it didn’t sting. I still struggle with feeling attacked/judged. I still struggle with why they don’t just ask me directly. I’ve been an open book and unless it’s confidential, I’ll tell you. I still struggle with feeling the hurt of realizing a relationship was not healthy, that the person may have been being two faced with me the entire time. I still struggle with whether it will impact my reputation. I’m a human being after all – feeling judged by things that are not true…flat out sucks!
I am better at coping with the rumors now. I still find myself at times wanting to confront the person saying talking about me but I know where my time is better spent focused on. I acknowledge the hurt, reflect on my intentions and focus in on what I’m helping with at the moment. This takes a lot of trust that things will work out in the end and in my experience, they always have. The truth has a way of coming out. Yet, I can’t help but wonder how many good leaders we’ve lost because the effects of rumors were just too much?
What are your coping mechanisms for letting rumors go?