When people spread rumors about us, we often feel devastated. We can become sad and angry, worry, lose sleep and have trouble paying attention at school or work. These things are especially likely if the rumor happens to be something true that we don’t want anyone to know. In fact, people have taken their lives because they could no longer stand the embarrassment and pain of the rumors that were spread about them.

Fortunately, stopping rumors can be quite simple.

First, consider how you respond to the rumors. Are you upset or angry? Are you defensive and vehemently denying that the rumor is true? If so, you are giving the rumormongers the power to defeat you. You can count on the fact that they are enjoying their victory, so they keep repeating the rumor and adding to it. Also, when you become angry and defensive, you treat the person who started the rumor as if they are your enemy. Why? Because anger is the feeling we hold towards enemies.  We defend ourselves from enemies, not friends.

So how do we deal with rumors? By following two simple steps. The first is to tell yourself that people have a right to say whatever they want. We live in a democracy that values freedom of speech. Freedom of speech doesn’t exist so people can say things we like to hear. We don’t need laws for that. Freedom of speech protects the rights of people to say things we don’t like.

If people sense that the rumors bother you, they will continue spreading them. If they figure out that they don’t bother you, they will get bored and look for a new person to talk about.

So, if people are spreading rumors about you, don’t accuse them or ask them if they’re doing it. Show them that rumors don’t concern you.

The second step is to turn the table on people spreading rumors. When they tell you that they heard something negative about you, force them to defend themselves by asking them the magic question, “Do you believe it?” Now they have to publicly state whether or not they want to acknowledge believing a nasty rumor about you. You can’t stop people from believing what they want to believe. If they say they believe it, answer, “You can believe it if you want to,” and you come out the winner. If they say they don’t believe it, say, “Good,” and you still win.

Let’s say someone says to you, “I heard that you cheated on the test.” Instead of saying angrily that it’s not true, ask, “Do you believe it?” Use the magic question, “Do you believe it,” and you’ll see you come out winning.

If someone asks you if it’s true, it’s okay to say once, “No,” but if they continue to ask you, just answer with, “You can believe it if you want to.” They’ll quickly get tired of asking.

But what do you do if the rumor is true? If no one can know that it’s true, you can still respond with “Do you believe it?” You don’t have to admit to anything you don’t want to.

But let’s say that the rumor is true, and everyone knows that it’s true, or it can be easily verified. What should you do then?

If you deny it, you will not only look foolish, people will know you are a liar. So instead of denying it, maturely acknowledge that it’s true. No one will disrespect you for it. On the contrary, they’ll likely admire you for having the courage to admit it. No one is perfect, and sometimes we make big mistakes. People will forgive us if we admit it.

So, let’s say you were caught cheating on a test. Not only the teacher, but lots of other students saw you doing it. Now word is going around that you cheated. When someone says to you, “I heard you cheated on a test,” instead of denying it, say, “Yeah, I can’t believe I did it. It was the dumbest thing I’ve done in a long time.” The rumor will quickly fizzle out because you’ve diffused its power.

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