The comments usually made in hushed tones can be extremely difficult for management to detect. But their effects can have a much louder and broader effect on corporate culture, morale and productivity. It’s therefore the responsibility of a company’s managers to not only establish rules but to follow them religiously themselves.
“Actions speak louder than words,” says Bahaudin G. Mujtaba, an assistant professor in the School of Business at Nova Southeastern University. “A leader’s overall behavior will certainly communicate more about his or her character to others than anything he or she says.”
Mujtaba, who recently co-authored a business ethics textbook published by Pearson Custom Publications, says that sharing information with others is a fact of life.
“And spreading misinformation with others is also a reality, especially when there is distrust and unease due to job insecurity, layoffs, bribery and other such actions. As such, it is necessary that educated individuals not spread misinformation about leaders, politicians or colleagues in the work force.”
Smart Business talked with Mujtaba about this very subject. He began by telling us a story that originated a long time ago on the other side of the world.
Can you illustrate how to avoid rumors in the workplace?
In ancient Greece, Socrates was reputed to hold knowledge in high esteem. One day, an acquaintance met the great philosopher and asked, ‘Do you know what I just heard about your friend?’
‘Hold on a minute,’ Socrates replied. ‘Before telling me anything, I’d like you to pass a little test. It’s called the triple filter test.’
Socrates went on to tell his friend that the first filter is truth. That is, you should make absolutely sure that what you are about to tell another person is true.
The second filter, Socrates said, is the filter of goodness. Is what you are about to say something good?
The third one is the filter of usefulness. Is what you want to say going to be useful?
‘If what you want to tell me is neither true nor good, nor even useful,’ Socrates observed, ‘then why tell it to me at all?’
Is it enough to have a policy of not originating rumors in the workplace, or is more needed?
Rumors, which seem to flow often among people, should be stopped and corrected instead of spread, especially when they have no reality but can damage an individual’s reputation or departmental morale.
It is a moral imperative for leaders to always make sure that what they say is true, good and useful before it is passed on to others.
But there’s always a certain level of competition and sometimes even conflict present among coworkers. How do you promote civility among your employees?
During an interpersonal conflict with a team member or colleague, one can and should remain focused on stating the facts, his or her feelings, and future expectations rather attacking the other person.
For example, when hearing an offensive comment or joke about minorities or women in the workplace, one can immediately use the 3-F model (facts, feelings and future expectations) by calmly saying, ‘When you make comments like that about women, I feel angry and disappointed because they are false and inappropriate in the workplace. Please don’t make comments like that again.’
In most cases, the 3-F model would take care of the situation. The person is likely to either clarify the misunderstanding or change his or her behavior.
Of course, if the candid discussion based on the 3-F model does not work, then one must take appropriate actions to inform the organization. After all, the best way to resolve conflict is to seek cooperation from all parties involved and to create a win-win solution for everyone.
BAHAUDIN G. MUJTABA, DBA, is an assistant professor for Nova Southeastern University at the School of Business. He is a former senior training specialist and manager of Publix Super Markets. Reach him at (954) 262-5045 or Mujtaba@nova.edu.