Suppose you’ve bitten the bullet and fired an employee for cause such as fraud, harassment or behavior inconsistent with your organization’s values.  And now your reputation is being tarnished because the employee and his friends are bad mouthing you.  They want to generate fear of and antagonism toward management. To read the rest of this article from Business First of Louisville, see: Managers must be proactive to effectively handle smear campaigns

Your overall goals are to resist the insidious smear campaign, maintain your reputation and establish the company’s support of its values and integrity, especially when dealing with sensitive personal information.  But, even though you have good evidence to justify firing the employee in question, you can’t reveal confidential, personal information in your defense and you want to minimize the risk of a defamation claim.

How can you get your side of the story across?

Here are some suggestions – see the complete article:

A great cue card for a conversation is: “We don’t discuss our employees’ personal issues with their co-workers because those issues are confidential.  I’m sure you wouldn’t want your personal issues discussed with others.”

“Unfortunately, sometimes, employees who have left the company or their supporters provide incorrect or incomplete information about their separations.  This starts rumors in the workplace and is very disruptive.  I’m glad that you came to me with your concerns.  I hope you understand that we need to take the ‘high road’ and continue to maintain these matters in confidence.”

Of course, some people will enjoy thinking the worst of you but most people will give you the benefit of the doubt if they’ve come to trust your integrity and judgment.  They’ll base their judgments on what you say and do day-to-day, before there’s a situation like an employee’s sudden dismissal to deal with.

If have a reputation for being open, honest and trustworthy, your employees will be more likely to accept that you acted with cause even if you can’t outline the specifics.

But if you’ve earned a reputation for being arbitrary and autocratic, employees will believe the worst – no matter what really happened.

Ultimately, you expect good employees to understand the need for confidentiality.

In addition to value statements containing general words such as trust, integrity, honesty and respect, specifically state company values as situational expectations of behavior. For example:

  • We aren’t negative, don’t grumble, don’t feed the rumor mill, and don’t leave anonymous hate mail.  If we have an issue with someone or some decision that affects performance – not just a matter of personal taste or style – we go directly to the source and talk appropriately and professionally.
  • If we don’t get what we want, then continued participation in negativity, the rumor mill and smear campaigns is participation in a one-sided attack on management, and will be evaluated as behavior below standards of team performance.

Sometimes, the smear campaigners, like terrorists, will attack you for stifling free speech.  Stand your ground.  We always put limits on what we say in public.  For example, free speech does not include shouting “fire” in a crowded theater, slander or promoting treason.

Legitimate leaders must take a strong stand to resist smear campaigns or they’ll create a power vacuum that will attract the most hostile and ruthless seekers of power.