What to Do When You’re the
Subject of a Rumor

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Finding out you’re the subject of a rumor feels awful.  Someone is spreading gossip, or worse, lies about you.  Whether the things being said are true or not, information – negative or positive – changes as it is passed along.   If you’ve ever played the telephone game, you know how this works.

The bottom line is, being the subject of a rumor can be frustrating, hurtful, and damaging.  What should you say to the person who started the rumor?  Should you confront them?  Let it go?  Or let time prove what a fool they are for speaking untruths?  Before you panic, here's a guide to help navigate this sticky situation.

The First Three Steps

Our knee-jerk reaction to hearing a rumor about ourselves that is untrue, damaging, or simply no one’s business is to confront the person who started the gossip and anyone else who repeats it.  Needless to say, this is probably a bad idea.  Before reacting, follow these three steps to help you decide what action you should take.

  1. Breathe
    Reacting hastily can fan the flames.  Take a moment to assess the rumor.  Is it a small, silly thing that will likely fizzle out on its own?  Or is it a potentially serious issue that requires addressing?
  2. Consider the Source
    Is it coming from a random classmate or coworker?  Or is it coming from a close friend?  The credibility of the rumor spreader can influence how you respond.
  3. Address It (Maybe)
    For minor rumors, ignoring them might be the best course of action.  People often lose interest in stories that don't get a reaction.  However, if the rumor is serious or causing real harm, you may need to take action.

Two Ways to Confront

When it’s time to take action, there are a couple different ways to do this: the direct confrontation and the non-confrontation.

Confront the Rumormonger (if you know who it is)
Do this calmly and privately, preferably during a face-to-face meeting.  Maybe meet for coffee or meet in an environment that is not typically where you would encounter this person.  This will remove distractions and prevent someone in your circle from overhearing your conversation.  Explain the rumor's impact and ask them to stop spreading it.

Regardless of the outcome, keeping your cool and avoiding offensive remarks will make you feel much stronger and better about the situation.  If an apology is extended, say that you accept their mistake and appreciate the apology.  Giving someone the benefit of the doubt by stating openly that you think the two of you will have positive things to say about one another going forward is a good way to end the conversation.

If this person does not apologize and a confrontation does ensue, keep your cool.  Try and find out why they are treating you this way in case there is something you can do about it.   But if no resolution is in sight, end the conversation as soon as you can and be ready to accept that this person is definitely not a friend to you.

Set the Record Straight (Publicly or Privately)
This is not a direct confrontation, but it is your chance to speak up.   If a close group is affected, a clear and concise statement can debunk the rumor.  For larger audiences, consider reaching out to someone in a position of authority to help clear your name.

Lean on Others When You’re the Subject of a Rumor

Being the subject of a rumor takes a toll on your mental and emotional health.  It’s a difficult time when you know your truth and other people are spreading, or simply believing, lies.  The best thing you can do is be kind to yourself and anyone else caught in the web of the rumor.

  • Focus on your circle of trust.  Surround yourself with supportive people who know the truth.  Their confidence in you can be a powerful shield against whispers.
  • Remember, you can't control everything.  People will gossip.  That's a fact of life.  But you can control how you react.  Focus on staying true to yourself and letting the truth shine through.

Rumors are rarely built on solid foundations but, unfortunately, are sometimes entertaining enough to catch attention and spread.  Sadly, words can hurt.  But do your best to remain positive and prove the truth through your actions and authenticity.  You will have a much better chance of keeping the rumor mill quiet.  At least most of the time.

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