Beware of the “He said, she said”

Dealing with human beings means dealing with a myriad of our emotions and egos. Let’s try to remember that we are all playing the main roles of the films that we call our lives – and we are each one of us the star performers. When we talk about everyone having their own truth – we’re talking about situations involving multiple people and their emotions and perceptions. The result is that each one of us comes out of the exactly same situation with a different perception of what has happened and how we feel about it.

This is because our perceptions are tainted by who we are, our mood, our emotions and many other factors.. likely including what we had for breakfast that same morning ;-)

In my opinion this the real reason that gossip is such poison and offers such tainted and incomplete information of others – even if our intentions are seemingly good (for example, to warn someone of something dangerous, etc.)

…and this is why the “he said, she said” of elementary school days is to be avoided at all costs – in life and at work!

A friend tells me of a work scenario where she, the manager, is coordinating an activity and a secretary interrupts her to alert her to a small expenditure problem. My friend prioritizing her current work tells the secretary that she will look at that specific problem later. The secretary leaves, aghast that she was thus treated because she feels the problem is huge, and then proceeds to tell the owner that my friend, the manager, had “shrugged her shoulders” in an “I don’t care” fashion around the expense issue. The owner comes to see my friend with this story and claiming that she shows little to no concern about the businesses finances. My friend feels hurt and confused because her actions, from her perspective, have been seriously misinterpreted by both the gossiping secretary and the owner.

The truth is that small (and bigger) misunderstandings such as these are a common occurrence in business and in life. Unfortunately, this is true. We are all of us constantly misjudging others and being misjudged by others. We are all dealing with incomplete information.

Now, let’s look at this situation from the owner’s situation since, in the example above, she is our leader placed in the position of authority.

I’m not sure that we can ever completely avoid misunderstandings but we can, as managers and owners, practice the following:

1. Give your team member, the one accused of a wrongdoing by another team member, the benefit of the doubt. Realize that the problem you have been alerted to is one that you learned of via gossip – that poisonous, all-too-human tendency to talk about others. Unless you witnessed the event for yourself you will never have your version of the story to base yourself on, and therefore you will need to carefully hear out others in their Truth to arrive at your own conclusions.

2. Approach the “accused” to ask about the event in as neutral a way as possible. You could say “I noticed an expenditure problem this morning and I’m curious if you’ve seen it also.” See how you didn’t even mention the secretary? Ideally, you won’t need to mention her at all. It’s irrelevant who you heard about the problem from, the important thing is that you were alerted to the problem and now you’re seeking out the core information to the get to the bottom of it. What you need to ensure is that your manager really does care about cash-flow and expenditures. After your chat, it turns out she does care, and she explains to you that she was wise to the issue, had been busy with other matters and had meant to return to solving that particular problem in the afternoon.

3. The accused gets suspicious and asks for particulars? Make it sound that you found out about this problem on your own. Pointing fingers at such and such for reporting information to you is a big no-no and can pit colleagues against each other instead of building a strong, trusting team. Just tell the manager that you were perusing all of the accounts in general that morning and that you came across the expenditure problem. Voila. Besides, there is nothing like building a reputation for yourself as an “eyes and ears are everywhere” sort of manager anyways.. right?

4. Thank the “accused” for taking the time to share his or her version of the Truth and ensure them that you trust the quality of their work and that you are simply ensuring continued alignment and good communication.

Folks, we are social and group creatures with specific social needs of belonging and trust…and I’ll never stop highlighting this. Gossip is poisonous because it takes an individual’s power to explain their own story away from them and it creates fictitious stories in the minds of others based on limited perceptions and judgments which are always, by definition, incomplete. In a group setting, a manager needs to cut through gossip and see it for the incomplete information that it is. If it is hinting at a real problem then you’ll need to seek out the sources of info to get to the core of the matter – all the while – accusing and judging others as little as possible.

Easy? Nope. Necessary? It is if you want your people to trust you and to feel safe. You’re in the leader’s seat now and what you say and how you treat others sets the tone for how they will work together, collaborate together and trust (or mistrust!) each other.

Featured image courtesy of needull.com

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