A rumor is a “sensation of opinions concerning some incident, topic, event or matter in public concern, normally with reference to some person or persons.” Rumors are often told in sport as well as in ordinary life. The phrase “rumor” actually derives from the Latin verb “rundus” which means “to turn aside, to turn aside to one’s side.” If you’re listening to the gossip in a swimming pool, it’s possible to hear someone say, “That was a rumor.” In fact, rumors are extremely common and are a very effective way to diffuse problems in any situation.
Studies of social psychology suggest that rumors are designed to persuade people to do what you want them to do. Rumors, if studied carefully, can be very clever psychological devices. Think about how often rumors are used in movies and television. For example, if you were watching a news program late at night about the shooting of yet another teenager, you would hear about another shooting the following day in a school in another part of the city. People would then spread that “rumor” throughout the country so that the victim and his or her friends would know not to go out at night alone.
In this case, psychology would predict that the original rumor needs to be repeated so that it becomes the most widespread. This is basically what happens when a parent tells their children to stay home because of a school shooting. It’s important to remember that many teenagers are often misunderstood and need to find out the truth. However, often they don’t have the ability to do that on their own. As a result, parents circulate the “rumor” to give their children hope that things will be different and that they won’t be victimized by their classmates.
In addition to influencing societal norms, gossip is also a powerful form of social communication. In organizations, gossip can quickly become the de facto policy-making process. This is especially true of large organizations where there is usually a hierarchy. Rumors can quickly become a way for employees to signal their rank and position in the workplace.
In an organizational change, rumor transmission can play havoc with your plans. As you implement organizational changes, make sure that you don’t let the gossip spread before you have time to plan for them. If you are implementing organizational changes, make sure that you implement policies that discourage negative rumor transmission from the top down. Punishing individuals who spread rumors can work well in the short term, but is generally ineffective over time.
The real solution is to discourage the rumor from being passed on to other people. If the source of the rumor is someone you know personally, make sure that they know that you know what they are doing. Don’t just assume that the gossip is true; investigate it thoroughly and report back to them if you think it’s true. This way, you can make sure that the rumors don’t get out of hand and spread, and you can also provide a safety net for those who might be listening who might be inclined to spread the gossip. In this way, you can limit the damage that rumor can do, and you can also make sure that the rumor doesn’t become a real story.