What is the best way to kill the rumor mill? Over-Communicate!
Don’t confuse that with “talk too much”. I’m saying to communicate with your team more than you think you need to. Remember, as a manager or other leader, you are in a privileged position to know things that your employees or teammates do not know; you have context to make sense of things that appear arbitrary or senseless to your team…help them by telling them as much as you can.
Rumors get started because people are trying to make sense out of something they don’t understand, so they come up with explanations that fit the facts as they know them. But you know that they don’t know all the facts. Suppose your company has just decided to expand into a new state, and build a new set of offices from the ground up. Why does that make sense? Why would they spend money on that and not on a new coat of paint for the building you’re in, for example? Help people to understand how decisions are made in business.
Sometimes people are just trying to explain why some action hasn’t been taken yet, which seems obvious to them. Share some context. Maybe there is a legal concern that is blocking action right now. You don’t have to give specifics, but you could say that something is hung up in legal. Or, maybe there is counter-acting information that makes what would appear to be an obvious choice not so obvious. Or maybe you don’t know either. Tell them that, too. They’ll respect you for your honesty, and trust you even more.
By communicating frequently and with as much open honesty as you can, you will build trust in your employees. I understand, there are some things you can’t talk about. And guess what? Your team understands that, too. You have a responsibility to keep certain information confidential. But in my experience, most of the time, there is a lot of information that you can share without violating your fiduciary responsibilities. Share as much as you can. And when you can’t try sharing that, too. There are times when I have had to tell my team, “I know from your point of view this action we are doing does not appear to make sense. Right now I can’t tell you any of the details behind the scenes, but trust me that it will make sense when it all comes out.” That’s tough because people will want to ask questions, but it’s a lot easier if you have established a reputation for sharing what you can, when you can.
Another key is to share information more than once. You can’t assume that just because you told your team what was going on once that it was sufficient. That would be like saying to your spouse, “I told you I loved you when I married you, if that changes, I’ll let you know.” Tell them again. (Tell your spouse every day and even more.) Keep an open flow of communication with your team. As time passes, people forget. And sometimes things change with the passage of time as well. One simple example would be decisions may be made seasonally. Where I work, the summer is the busy season, and January is typically much slower. We may postpone a project to the slow season so that we have the time to put on it. On the other hand, we may postpone something to another period where cash flow is better. There are lots of reasons why things may happen; and if you’re not filling in the gaps for people, they will make up their own answers to fill them in themselves.
True over-communication is rarely a problem. This is a similar concept to the experience of time for a public speaker. When speaking in public, it is important to slow yourself down and to force yourself to take pauses that seem like an eternity to you, the speaker, but to your audience are very brief moments in time. Your experience of the passage of time as the speaker is far different from your audience’s experience. And your experience of the amount of communication you do as the leader is far different from your team’s experience. They are thirsting for information…share it.
It’s amazing what can happen when you treat people like responsible, trustworthy adults.