They pull you aside in the hallway or behind closed doors.
"I hear you work with James."
"Yes, first week on the job."
"Well, good luck. We hope what happened to the last two people won't happen to you."
"What?" you ask.
"He runs everyone off," they begin, ending their story 20 minutes later with, "Watch your back."
If you've started a new job, you've probably experienced the gossip gantlet. Before you even learn the ropes of your new job, one or two individuals pull you aside and give you the scoop on your new co-workers and supervisor.
Do you listen? Of course -- you don't want to miss information that may help you avoid future pitfalls.
The real question: What do you do with what you hear?
If you're able to file what you hear into a neutral mental space -- "I'm not sure what to make of this," -- you pass through your initiation unscathed.
If, however, you listen and even slightly "buy into" what you hear, you may pay a high price for cheap information. Hallway Deep Throats generally possess a hidden agenda. Perhaps they didn't get along well with your new co-workers or boss and don't want you to. Maybe they simply like to believe and pass on the worst about others.
Whatever the case, substantial distorted misinformation masquerades as a valuable heads up. Thus, as a new employee with little or no history with co-workers and supervisors, you risk adopting a ready-made negative history before you have the chance to form your own views.
You may feel you're open-minded enough to "hear the dirt" without buying it. But are you really? Isn't it possible some small flavor of what you hear will take root in your mind, particularly if presented by one who appears to be helpful and speaks with conviction?
Before you know it, you're wondering if what you're hearing is true and whether you'll regret landing the right job in the wrong organization. Try as you might to set aside what you've been told, when you next interact with "James," you may find yourself looking for clues that confirm the problems you've heard about. With your collusion, you've contaminated what may be a crucial work relationship.
What can you do? Start by realizing that listening, while it appears to cost you nothing, costs a lot. One-sided hallway gossip leaves a residue. Don't be an accessory to reputation murder. Those who trash your new co-worker or supervisor have their personal axes to grind.
When you enter a new organization, construct your own reality -- based on what you see, feel and hear for yourself.
Finally, if you're a manager reading this, realize new employees often get rushed from the organizational underbrush during that critical first week when they're shaping their opinions of new supervisors and co-workers.
An employee's first week strongly influences his or her commitment to the new organization -- don't leave them vulnerable to the gossip gantlet.
Dr. Lynne Curry is a management/employee trainer and owner of the consulting firm The Growth Co. Inc. For questions, Curry can be reached at www.thegrowthcompany.com.