Culture, Communication

Handling Misinformation in the Workplace

December 27, 2017

Handling Misinformation in the Workplace

Imagine you’re in an important meeting at work and a colleague makes a comment that isn’t entirely true. This could be a false representation of sales numbers, organizational changes, or month-end revenue growth. The person isn’t lying to cover up something, and although they genuinely believe they are correct, they aren’t. How do you handle this as a professional? What is your response?

More relevant now with the increased use of social media, there are abundant opportunities for false information to spread. It can happen anywhere, especially outside of the conference room. So now, more than ever, there is a need to ensure correct information is provided to people before being shared.

There’s often a strong temptation to correct someone when we know a piece of information is incorrect; however, correction can be humiliating for the person, especially when it involves a superior. It may not add value to the overall conversation or outcome, so is it really worth it?

I’ll admit, I am often tempted to correct people who are spreading false information. But in most situations, I let it pass. Why? Often because it doesn’t directly affect the meeting at hand. When circumstances cause the need to speak up, here are some steps you should follow:

  • Make the “offender” part of the solution. For example, if you are in a meeting and Jared misstates data about your company revenue or sales pipeline, you could reply that you happened to get an update right before the meeting and that what you’re about to share is an addition to what Jared stated.
  • Correct gently and provide data to back it up. This approach is trickier, because it can lead to the person feeling attacked. State that there is updated data to make the correction without humiliating the person who misstated it.
  • Ask a question and insert the correct answer. This tactic can work well and also allows the person to feel dignified.
  • Ask for clarification. In this approach, you become the person who is stating they may not be “in the know.” Depending on the situation, it can allow the speaker to share data to back up their information. If they cannot, then default to one of the other options and share your correct data.

Again, you have to judge the importance of the error to determine if speaking up is necessary. Is it what the meeting is about? How important is the error to overall business objectives? By asking yourself these questions and taking time to pause, you may find that most times you should let the error slide. After all, wouldn’t you want someone to grant you grace?

How have you handled this in your career? I’d love to hear about your ideas and stories in the comments below.

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