A grain of salt goes a long way
“No, John does not have four arms. He has two forearms. Who told you he had four arms? Is that what’s going around?”
I have an uncle. He’s retired from an auto plant. Someone said to me once that he had heard through the grapevine that my uncle was recently fired from his “job at the eggplant”. I had to clear this up. I clarified that my uncle was not sacked from his “job at the eggplant”, but had in fact “retired from an auto plant.” Communication skills are not hardwired.
Okay, so let’s jump back to my uncle. I’m not going to use his real name so I’ll call him my Uncle Wallace. Each morning my Uncle Wallace can be found at his local coffee haunt holding court over a small gathering of fellow retirees. He’s like a radically dressed-down King Arthur at the Head of The Round Coffee Table. They meet to commiserate, trade stories and share small-town gossip. It’s good natured all things considered. No malice or slander at The Round Coffee Table, but oh man, do they know how to butcher a story. Facts constantly get turned upside down and inside out, while truths get gutted and stretched to the breaking point. Names, dates and places jumble and tumble. A single fact can quickly devolve into a full-on flight of fiction. Consequently, these tales from all coffee counters and tables should therefore be taken with massive amounts of road salt. (Ask your server if your Round Table does not have a road salt shaker.)
“It’s happening next week. Let’s just say a little bird told me.” – Anon
When gossip is taken as gospel, mayhem is sure to follow. In any workplace there may be times when we find ourselves up to our ears in chitchat and hearsay of the more ‘anxiety-inducing sort’ (i.e. Problems with management? Vague and unsettling rumblings of a “shakeup coming down the pipe”? Possible layoffs? Rumors of money problems? Belly up?) Really? With this type of vague news, you may have a vested interest in the accuracy and integrity of the stories being bantered around. Tread lightly. Sidestep the urge to react to a situation that has not been clearly defined yet.
A person much smarter than I once suggested that “if a situation is defined as real, it becomes real in its consequence.” So, if you decide that something is true, you may act upon this so called truth.
We have a natural tendency to forecast, and like predicting the weather, the accuracy is contingent on facts. The more facts on hand, the more reliable the forecast.
If someone says to you that “It’s going to be a cold month.” Ask them just how they know it’s going to be a cold month. If they say “I saw it out my window this morning,” reach for the salt.
How to avoid the pitfalls of misinformation:
- Do not make any personal or career decisions based on wild variations of a story.
- If those stories being passed around the workplace are causing you more than a little grief and anxiety, then take the initiative to get the facts closest to the true source.
- If something just doesn’t sound true, it probably isn’t. John does not have four arms. He has two forearms.
- We all like to get in on some juicy info. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, it’s easy to get caught up gossip and stand by while what may have started as a small grassfire whips up into a raging wildfire. Keep your participation in check. Ask yourself before you pass it on: Will sharing this info hurt anyone? Can it potentially cause problems in your work environment? Is what was told to you shared in confidence? What exactly am I reacting to? If you’re not exactly sure, take a few steps back.