Rumors and Making Meaning

Esther just called me from the Orlando airport to tell me she heard a fascinating rumor: Supposedly, she and I aren’t talking! After I was done laughing out loud, we examined this a little.

We’ve facilitated sessions together at previous year’s STAR conferences, but I’ve been unable to attend last fall’s STAR and this spring’s STAR. So, Esther facilitated the sessions we’d previously done together with other people (with my enthusiastic agreement). I know that when I facilitate with other people, I learn from them, so my facilitation is richer after having practiced with others. I wasn’t worried about the other facilitators taking anything away from me; I hoped other people would enrich the problem-solving technique we taught.

Esther and I are colleagues and good friends. And our relationship (both professional and personal) doesn’t preclude us from entering into relationships with other people. For example, Esther’s working on a new book with Diana Larsen. I’m working on my PM book alone. Who knows what will happen after we write these books? We don’t know. And, I’m not worried. We will be honest with each other about how we work together in the future. (BTW, we’re planning to work together in the future. We’re starting to define the workshops we want to offer once Behind Closed Doors is released.)

Rumors get started when people notice something they don’t expect. People make meaning out of these small and large noticings. Those events can be managers closing the doors to their offices or a consultant missing a conference. If people don’t know why the event has occured, they will make some meaning out of the event.

Because people make meaning out of what they’ve noticed and don’t understand, we recommend that managers (and technical leads) ask for rumors on a regular basis. I’ve been doing this for many years (close to 20, I think), and have learned all kinds of things. Rumors help you hear what people are concerned about, and what meanings they make of it. People generally put the worst possible interpretation on what they notice.

I’m honored that at least one person noticed I wasn’t at the conference and was concerned enought to make meaning out of it. My absence from the conference was just a case of bad timing. But if you’re not asking for rumors on a regular basis, you’re allowing people to notice things that may seem out of the ordinary or threatening, and allowing them to make some meaning out of the “facts” that they see. People don’t know that they’re missing some vital piece of information; they will make meaning out of what they do see.

2 Replies to “Rumors and Making Meaning”

  1. Deepak, why won’t asking for rumors work? That’s what I do. Now, sometimes I work in organizations where people won’t admit to rumors in a public forum, such as a group meeting, so I have to ask in private one-on-ones. The questions I most often use is, “Heard any good rumors lately? … How about bad rumors?”

  2. Hello Johanna,
    My next question would be :: “what are the techniques of finding out rumours..I mean just asking people at times wont work”?
    Thanks in advance,
    Deepak Surti.

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