Workplace rumors and conflicts

Philosopher Blaise Pascal once said, “Never speak well of yourself.” It is better to let one’s actions, as a leader, do the talking.

Actions speak louder than words and a leader’s overall behavior will certainly communicate much about his or her character to others than anything he or she says.

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.

Leaders can benefit from the wisdom of Socrates. Perhaps one can use the following story to take a stand and hopefully influence others to stop and think about the spoken word and its impact on others.

The triple filter test
In ancient Greece, Socrates was reputed to hold knowledge in high esteem. One day an acquaintance met the great philosopher and said, “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.”

“Triple filter?” said the acquaintance.

“That’s right,” Socrates continued. “Before you talk to me about my friend, it might be a good idea to take a moment and filter what you’re going to say. That’s why I call it the triple filter test. The first filter is truth. Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to tell me is true?”

“No,” the man said, “actually I just heard about it and…”

“All right,” said Socrates. “So you don’t really know if it’s true or not. The second filter is the filter of goodness. Is what you are about to tell me about my friend something good?”

“No, on the contrary…” the man replied.

“So,” Socrates continued, “you want to tell me something bad about him, but you’re not certain it’s true. You may still pass the test though, because there’s one more filter left. The third one is the filter of usefulness. Is what you want to tell me about my friend going to be useful to me?”

“No, not really,” said the man.

“Well,” concluded Socrates, “if what you want to tell me is neither true, nor good, nor even useful, then why tell it to me at all?”

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 morale in the department.

It is a moral imperative for leaders to always make sure what they say is true, good and useful before it is passed on to others.

Resolving conflict
During an interpersonal conflict with a team member or colleague, one can, and should, remain focused on stating the facts, their 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 Mujtaba, D.B.A., 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. Bahaudin recently co-authored a business ethics textbook published by Pearson Custom Publications. He can be reached at (954) 262-5045 or [email protected].

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