“Is it true that if a student’s roommate dies, the surviving roommate gets automatic A’s for the semester?” When I was a college dean, a fall term rarely passed without a first-year student asking me that question.
Persistent rumors, urban legends and myths find lives of their own in the workplace, too. The conventional response? Counter the incorrect, bad or troubling information with accurate, good or upbeat information.
Unfortunately, research suggests that denials, clarifications and counter-information may have paradoxical consequences: greater resiliency of the myth.
An article in this week’s Washington Post, Persistence of Myths Could Alter Public Policy Approach, explains why:
The research…highlights the disturbing reality that once an idea has been implanted in people’s minds, it can be difficult to dislodge. Denials inherently require repeating the bad information, which may be one reason they can paradoxically reinforce it…Indeed, repetition seems to be a key culprit. Things that are repeated often become more accessible in memory, and one of the brain’s subconscious rules of thumb is that easily recalled things are true.
So what can you do to effectively address workplace myths and misinformation? The article suggests several valid approaches:
- Make a completely new statement that makes no reference to the original myth, thereby avoiding the repetition problem.
- Avoid silence in response, which can be taken as evidence the rumor is true.
- Take the time to consider why the rumor is so compelling. What’s in your organization’s woodwork that makes people want to believe?
And, no, the surviving roommate doesn’t get automatic A’s!
Found via the KnowHR Blog.