Managing Parking Lot Gossip
by Gerry Ebbers, SCSBC Consultant for Stewardship and Development ◊
“You shall not give false testimony” (NIV) and “thou shalt not bear false witness” (KJV) are two translations of the ninth commandment. The Heidelberg Catechism, a 16th century teaching tool, expands on this commandment by enjoining us to “wrest no one’s words; be no backbiter or slanderer” and “to avoid all sorts of lies and deceit as the proper works of the devil.” Rather, we are to “defend and promote the honor and reputation of our neighbour.”
Alas, our school communities have their share of gossips, slanderers, pessimists and nay-sayers. So how does a board and administration handle negativity and misinformation that can be so destructive to the mission of the school?
Proverbs 18:8 says “the words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s [and woman’s] inmost parts.” “Head them off at the pass,” the cowboys used to say in old westerns. One place gossip may be heard and spread is on the school parking lot. So as parents drop off and pick up their children, get out there! Move around and talk with people. Head to the clusters of chatter and join in. Ask how things are going. Ask if they have any questions or concerns. If you know questions or concerns exist in the community, bring them up and speak about them. If there is one person in particular who is the source of gossip, call that person into your office, don’t just phone or email, for an honest and forthright talk about the ninth commandment.
Second, address issues in all your communications with your community. Before the gossip begins, inform people of what is going on. If the issue is confidential, remind people of that and remind them too that any gossip they do hear will be one-sided, incomplete, and therefore, dishonest and harmful. When full disclosure must be delayed, tell people so and give them the date that you will be sharing information with them. This shows people that you are not trying to keep them in the dark about what is going on.
Third, do not leave the interpretation of information up to individuals. The pessimists will have a field day creating negativity and depressing everyone. For example, when you are sharing the results of a fundraising drive or the enrolment numbers for a new year, put the information in context. Don’t just give the numbers. Explain the significance of the numbers. Are you as a board and administration happy and satisfied with the numbers? If you have concerns, what are they and how will you address them? Don’t leave it up to others to speculate on the problems and consider the most negative option imaginable. Let people know that you care and that you’re doing something.
How information is presented can become spin, which often has a negative connotation. The temptation is indeed there for a board and administration to withhold all the information or to massage it to look better, but it is a temptation to be avoided. It is still true that honesty is the best policy. Part of being honest is to help people understand information within context, and thereby promote the whole truth.
We need wisdom as we endevour to speak the truth and nothing but the truth, and to help our school community to do the same.