Crucial Conversations QA

How Do I Stop Office Gossip?

Joseph Grenny is coauthor of the New York Times bestsellers, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer.Joseph Grenny is author of three bestselling books, Influencer, Crucial Conversations, and Crucial Confrontations.

Crucial ConversationsQ Dear Crucial Skills,

I have a big problem that I’m sure other office managers face. How does a manager stop the rumor and gossip mill? Nothing is said that isn’t around the office within five minutes and even reaching the branch office within an hour.


A Dear Surround-Sound,

Any courageous individual can begin eliminating rumors by refusing to pass them along and by not silently watching as they spread their poison. Find respectful ways of holding crucial conversations with anyone at any point in the rumor flow. Here are three steps (I wish I could say they were easy, but they are effective!) that will help in your rumor-fighting efforts:

Step #1:
When someone passes along a rumor to you, don’t merely refuse to pass it on. Respectfully and directly share with the person (a) your intention to not let this information go any further and (b) the reasons you believe passing along this kind of information is hurtful. The better you help others see the negative consequences of their actions, the more likely they are to limit this behavior in the future.

Step #2:
Identify those who might have influence with the people spreading rumors and engage them in a similar crucial conversation. For example, you may be aware of a half-dozen people who seem to be the information nexus in your office. If you have a strong enough relationship with one or two of them, approach them directly. If not, you may have some influence with someone else who has influence with them. Engage this person and see if he or she agrees on the merits of approaching these individuals.

Step #3:
If you have information that could discredit a rumor, share it. Rumors, like mushrooms, require darkness to grow. Pull groups together and use your STATE skills to share your path about the rumor. Shed light on the topic. Help others see why you’ve concluded there are inaccurate rumors floating around. Then, share the information you believe to be more credible. Be sure to make it safe so that you can engage people in dialogue—not monologue—in these sessions.

For example, years ago I worked with a leader who during times of stress and change held “Rumor of the Week” meetings. The purpose was to replace rumors with accurate information. When he couldn’t answer a question for reasons of propriety or because decisions had not yet been made, he would acknowledge that information wasn’t available and commit to share the information as soon as possible. His forthrightness and unfailing honesty made these sessions a much more highly valued source of information and increased his influence within the organization. The rumor mill still ran, but with far less efficiency.


Trainer QA

Does the path to action still include telling a story?

David Maxfield

David Maxfield is coauthor of two bestselling books, Change Anything and Influencer.


Q Does the path to action still include telling a story? Recent medical studies claim “the amygdala fires up to 100 times faster than the cerebral cortex,” implying that we may feel before we think, and can leap to feelings without a story. I’d love to hear your thoughts as I expect I will get a question about this as I train Crucial Conversations to more frontline nursing and medical staff who are very knowledgeable about brain physiology.

A There are circumstances when amygdala activation and emotional reactions precede any prefrontal activity, i.e., before the subject has time to create a story. As you can imagine, these circumstances involve threats that our evolutionary history has “prepared” us to be wary of. Examples are loud noises, sudden movements, and some evidence of innate fear of snakes. The conclusion to draw from this line of research is that the Path to Action is not the only way that humans process information.

However, most of the more everyday examples of Facts, leading to Stories, leading to Emotions happen with plenty of prefrontal involvement. James Gross at Stanford is currently studying the different kinds of thoughts that go into our stories-and showing how the brain is involved in these. Specifically, he is studying the difference between ruminating, distracting, and reappraising a bad event. Ruminating turns out to be like reliving. It reinvigorates the anger. Distracting works somewhat-I think we all use this approach sometimes. But the champ is reappraising.


Crucial Conversations QA

Mending Family Ties

Al Switzler is coauthor of the New York Times bestsellers, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer.

Al Switzler is author of three bestselling books, Influencer, Crucial Conversations, and Crucial Confrontations.


During the month of July, we will be running “best of” content from the authors. The following article first appeared on August 15, 2007.

Crucial ConversationsQ Dear Crucial Skills,
My son asked my brother for a big, non-monetary favor, and my brother turned him down. Now my son is very angry and cuts himself out of the family activities whenever my brother is involved. He refuses to go to my brother’s house for family events or be friendly when my brother is included.

He is holding a deep grudge and the anger is hard on everyone. I’ve tried to talk to him about this—how the grudge is hurting him more than my brother and how the anger is eating at him. I’ve also tried to explain what this tension does to the rest of the family and the sadness it causes. So far he has blocked me out and won’t discuss it. I know the problem is my son’s, but it’s hurtful to me as well. My brother has acted like an adult and is open to my son, but he has not apologized—and I’m not sure he has anything to apologize for. What next?

The Family Peacekeeper

A Dear Peacekeeper,
You described a tough situation that I’m sure many people identify with. This leads me to an observation before I offer some suggestions.

I’m interested that you signed off as a “peacekeeper.” Judging by your description of the situation, I believe you are. To keep the family strong, you have encouraged people to surface the issues and resolve them. Good for you. Not everyone who calls himself or herself a peacekeeper is one. Often a more accurate description is “avoidance coordinator” or “problem hider.” These people use phrases like, “Oh, don’t bring that up, it’ll just cause more problems,” or “Let it rest; time will cure it.”

Your efforts so far are right on track to me. And your frustration is one I can identify with—because nothing matters more to me than family. Now for a suggestion:

You have done well in talking to your son about the consequences to him, the family, your brother, and you. One question you might consider is how your son perceived the conversations you’ve had with him. How did your motive come across? In crucial conversations we learn to Start with Heart. Ask yourself, “What am I acting like I want?” Sometimes our motive comes across as selfish and short term. Did your son see you as nagging? Or as taking your brother’s side?

Motive precedes message. When your motive is genuine and seen as mutual and long term, the other person is very likely to hear you. To find a more effective motive, ask yourself “What do I really want for me, for my son, and for our relationship?” The first two parts help the motive become mutual; the relationship part helps the motive become long term. If the answer helps you ask more questions about your son’s motives, choices, and desires, then perhaps the conversation will be seen as a mutual dialogue and not another “lesson.” By starting with heart, you are more likely to end up with the relationship and the results you desire.

You might also ask your brother to talk to your son about his desires. The simplest form of this is to combine an observation and a question. For example:

“I’ve noticed that you don’t come to our home and you no longer talk to me. I want you to know that I want to have a wonderful relationship with you and would like very much if we could talk through this so we can resolve it.”

You are not asking your brother to apologize, just to make the request for dialogue and share his intentions to have a good relationship. This minimal step can help clarify that your brother has good feelings toward your son and that his decision not to help your son out was not personally motivated.

We won’t necessarily resolve all the tough situations we face. But if we keep trying, using our best skills gives us our best chance for improving results and relationships.

Best wishes,