How do Rumors Start?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

Many people try to avoid listening to idle office gossip or reading the latest rumor floating around the Internet, but it is nearly impossible to escape hearing at least one unsubstantiated rumor during the average day. Whether it's the boss about to mothball the entire division or a public figure about to make a shocking confession, most rumors start with the dubious claims of a "friend of a friend" or the overheard words of an alleged insider. Where they go from there can be anyone's guess.

One common place for gossip and rumors is at work.
One common place for gossip and rumors is at work.

Some rumors start with deliberate misinformation. Whether it is a disgruntled employee, romantic rival or jealous competitor, someone with malicious intent will start the rumor mill turning by making a false statement or planting a salacious piece of gossip into the right ears. Once those people have started their own rumormongering, the rumor takes on a life of its own, with very few attempts at fact checking. By the time the rumor enters mainstream conversations, it may be completely blown out of proportion or the details may be even more unpleasant.

Rumors usually involve a juicy piece of gossip that people can't resist spreading.
Rumors usually involve a juicy piece of gossip that people can't resist spreading.

Another way rumors start is through a misinterpretation of the facts. A secretary might overhear part of a conversation between her boss and a human resource director and misinterpret it as preparations for a massive lay-off, for example. When people start looking for solid answers in a sea of rumors, even small or insignificant facts can suddenly become major fodder for new rumors. A lack of concrete information from a reliable source can prompt interested parties to rely more heavily on rumor and innuendo instead of assuming that no news is good news.

Workplace rumors can spread quickly, and harm the career of the subject.
Workplace rumors can spread quickly, and harm the career of the subject.

There are some occasions in which rumors start from actual truths, but the facts become too intermingled with gossip or misinformation to be of much use. Rumors surrounding politicians and other public figures are often wrapped around a small nugget of truth, but the details have been deliberately exaggerated or downplayed depending on the slant or bias of the person who recounts it. Unfortunately, a number of people consider rumor and gossip to be more compelling than straight facts, so many media-based rumors start in an effort to sell more magazines or attract more viewers.

Rumors may lead to physical confrontations.
Rumors may lead to physical confrontations.

Sometimes rumors die a quick death as the true facts emerge and people lose interest in perpetuating a myth or gossip. Other times the rumormongers are discredited before the rumors have a chance to travel down the grapevine. Unfortunately, some rumors do gain traction and become confused with actual fact until either a respected authority debunks them or the subject of those rumors can successfully acquit himself or herself in the court of public opinion.

Rumors usually begin between close friends before spreading to others.
Rumors usually begin between close friends before spreading to others.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


@Mutsy: I agree with that and I think that there should be a company policy in which rumors are not allowed because it affects the morale and the productivity of the employees.

In fact, many companies do have a firm policy regarding gossiping. I was listening to a famous financial advisor who is also a business expert and he said that he has fired people in the past who resorted to gossip in the office because he did want the morale of his office to be affected.


@SauteePan: I agree with you. I also think that people start rumors when they don't have much information to go by, so they let their imaginations run wild.

This happens in companies that are going through some financial problems. Everyone starts spreading rumors and continues to speculate as to what is going to happen but they don't know and they often make those around them anxious.

For example, if someone starts a rumor that the company will be shutting down an entire division of the company that will ultimately lay off a lot of people, then the people affected will worry until a formal announcement is made.

This is why the best companies offer the employees all of the information up front so that there is no speculation.


@Icecream17 - I think that people that spread rumors might also be bored so they make assumptions that are not true but could be possible and then others follow the storyline.

This is how rumors start in the office. I think that in order to avoid gossiping, it is better to stop the person who is gossiping and tell them that you would rather discuss issues pertaining to the person in front of them.

This will stop the rumor from spreading with you. Also this person will understand that you don’t participate in gossip so they will no longer share information about others with you. This is what I do and I have never had any problems with people.


I think that office rumors often start because the person starting the rumor either wants to feel powerful because they have valuable information that they chose to share with someone or the person has an ax to grind with the person that they are gossiping about.

Sometimes gossip is nothing more than people guessing that something is happening when in reality it might not be happening.

For example, a boss may be seen having lunch with a subordinate in order to discuss business matters and those in the office might start spreading rumors that they are seeing each other.


I am a victim of false rumors. A coworker of mine is

deliberately attempting to make me look bad. She made a false claim about me being a thief. It is not


She started liking a guy whom she knew I was

dating. He didn't respond to her advances so she became very upset. If any guy shows any interest in me, she hates it! I told her to let it go, but she will not listen. Many staff members continue to

harass me, watching everything I do, no matter what.

I am viewed as untrustworthy. She hates my guts. --ptpr

Post your comments
Forgot password?