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Managing Workplace Rumors

Col. James LeFavor, 102nd Intelligence Wing Commander

Col. James LeFavor, 102nd Intelligence Wing Commander

OTIS AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Mass. -- Who hasn't been the victim of a baseless rumor? If you haven't, then it is likely just a matter of time before you are. It is unfortunately human nature to adore a "juicy story", regardless of the truth or the reality. And part of the enjoyment of the story, sadly, is to spread it.  The problem with this inherent human tendency to create and spread rumors is the damage it can do to not only the rumor recipient, but the culture and morale of the organization as a whole.  Any attempt to eliminate rumors, although valiant, would ultimately be futile. But what I implore you here is to attempt to manage them. All airmen have a sworn duty to uphold "Integrity First". What that means is we don't lie, cheat, or steal nor tolerate any of the kind. It means we won't succumb to innuendo and inaccurate perceptions. It means we won't accept a "juicy rumor" at face value, and we won't quit until we uncover the whole truth. The attempt to manage rumors by separating the false from the truth...now that is a worthy effort.

Rumors often start because people like to be "in-the-know", or at least think they are.  People with a good story to tell about another person will always get attention. It can also give the person a feeling of empowerment, since they have the "knowledge" that others don't. This is what I mean about it being human nature...you can't end rumors, gossip, stories, and the like.  And that's ok. What I am talking about is putting a stop to the bad ones.  Everyone can tell the difference between an innocuous, harmless, and even humorous story, and that of a vicious, slanderous, defaming one. If the bad ones are left to their own accord, they will undoubtedly spread and likely morph to that of full-blown false allegations and character defamation. It is every airman's duty to combat this.

The next time I hear the statement, "...well, perception IS reality..." I wish I could summon Chuck Norris out of thin air to deliver an appropriate assembly of roundhouse kicks.  Perception is just that...someone's interpretation, which is highly susceptible to error and bias. Reality is the truth-- nothing else.  To say that an interpretation equates to the truth is so flawed that it borders on negligence. Just because someone perceives something, in no way, makes that the truth.  I don't see how people can ever make this claim with a straight face. There is a big difference. It is the ultimate cop-out to utter the often heard phrase, "well I don't know what the truth is, but that is the perception..."  Don't settle for this.  Don't settle for inaccurate, biased, sloppy, gossipy perception. That's the lazy route. Find the truth...it's your job and your creed as an Airman.

So what can we do to quell the vicious rumors and the inherent spin-off of inaccurate perceptions?  That's the million dollar question.   Probably the bottom line is discipline; both the discipline of the chain of command to provide good communication and information flow, and individual discipline to separate rumor from truth.  Every one of us needs to check and audit our own rumor management. Recognize when a story or rumor changes from mild banter to serious, possibly criminal, allegations. Make sure you yourself are not spreading harmful and unproven stories.  If a rumor is false, crush it on the spot and tell people why it is false.  If the veracity is unknown, then you have the choice of either not spreading it, or using your analytical skills to find out for yourself.  Just like everything we do, it is easier to say no than yes.  It is easier to say, "That's how we've always done it", versus looking it up in the regulation to find out how it is supposed to be done. When you hear, "I heard that so-and-so did such-and-such to so-and-so", it is easier to say, "Oh really, that is a total foul, I can't believe that, that really ticks me off!!!", versus, "Oh really? Prove it."

Don't take the easy route. That's what we are hoping our adversaries do.