Openness Builds Respect Among Doers

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The existence of a rumor mill is an indication that employees need an off-the-record opportunity to share opinions, test reactions and clarify concerns. The rumor mill is sometimes the only source of information available to those at the lower levels.

Leaders rarely set aside the time and space for followers to compare notes, ask questions and share their concerns. So, they gather at the “rumor mill” where they feel free to make up their own minds about what is going on and why.

The rumor mill is a form of hearsay that thrives when followers do not trust what their leaders are telling them. These gatherings are typically located offsite at popular watering holes. However, during anxious times employees will come together in the break room, loading dock or cafeteria—anywhere that management cannot overhear what is being said.

Thus, leaders who want to work smarter will find a way to tap into the “conversations” at the rumor mill. Acknowledging that such a “place” exists is a good start. Let your followers know that your goal is to sponsor an open forum where the truth prevails.

Let them know also that you are a trustworthy person and that they can share their frustrations with you in confidence. They will expect you to prove yourself by carrying their viewpoint to those above you and to speak on their behalf to your colleagues, which they are reluctant to do for fear that going behind your back could land them in trouble. Make sure it does not.

Two of the most important principles of truth telling are:
  1. To speak without blame and
  2. To share only what you know firsthand.

Sharing confidential information in private when it should be stated in public violates both conditions and it sets you up for blame when your followers find out you knew something that could have helped them and you deliberately chose not to share it.

Keeping secrets tends to discredit both the leader and the follower. Striving for openness is the best way to sustain functionality and retain the respect they both deserve. It is also the best way to shut down the rumor mill.


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