Hearsay evidence is defined as information gathered by one person concerning some event, condition or another person who had no direct experience nor can be adequately substantiated.
The reason I bring up hearsay evidence as it relates to leading and managing people is, well ….it comes up. You experience it almost every day and may not even realize it as it is coming across your face. In my humble opinion what you do with hearsay evidence is what separates GREAT leaders from AVERAGE ones. It’s what differentiates OUTSTANDING managers and UNTRUSTED ones. Mastering this one simple skill is the difference between your people saying “This is the best person I’ve ever worked for” and “He’s just like every other boss out there.”
Let me give you a couple examples:
Example #1 You have an employee come in and report that a customer just informed them that the customer isn’t very happy with someone else who works in your organization. Just to be clear this informant isn’t trying to get anyone in trouble or tattle, they are just trying to inform you that there is an unhappy customer who needs their situation resolved. Apparently the customer is reporting that a service that they paid for wasn’t done completely and they are unsatisfied. They feel corners were cut.
Example #2 Someone that you know personally comes to you with a concern about someone in your organization. They report that every time they see this person in your organization they don’t seem to be working. They have seen them two different times not working each time. One time they were on the phone and the next they were reading a book. There’s no way they can be getting any work done.
Now as a director of success, what do you do with the information? You only have a few options and what you choose to do will determine whether you succeed in business and relationship or fall flat on your face. The problem with these two examples is they are HEARSAY EVIDENCE but you can sense the call of action tapping on your heart so you have to respond.
Mistake #1 If you decide that you will immediately address this; be careful. It’s a dangerous path. Most people have an urge to go in and bust some skulls. They will confront the situation and reports of bad behavior and fix the malfunction. This is a terrible idea. If they reports aren’t true you have already weighed and measured the evidence and determined a sentence. You have found someone guilty off the word of someone else, and that’s how the employee will take it. When you tell them someone reported that they are cutting corners and goofing off, their defenses will immediately go up. They will instantly try to find who the person who said this and discredit them. “Who said I was doing these things? Oh well the only reason they are saying that is bla bla bla bla.” Regardless if they were doing something wrong or not, they will try to discredit their accuser. What’s worse is you are viewed as someone who has already found them guilty because you believed what their accuser said. Trust is now lost and the healthy environment you are trying to create is crumbling before your feet. They will tell themselves, “What really upsets me is he really thinks I did it.”
Mistake #2 Say nothing. You are defending your people and you decide there is no way the claims are true. You trust your people and they wouldn’t do something like that. But if we are completely honest with ourselves we know that’s not true. Sometimes even good people do bad things (sometimes bad people do good things). It’s a certainty that no one likes to face but if you don’t you may be blindsided and I care enough to open your eyes to this reality. Saying nothing is not an answer. If you tell yourself I’m only going to think positive saying “There’s no weeds. There’s no weeds. There’s no weeds.” Soon they will take over the garden.
A good leader never brings up hearsay evidence. Every single time you do you get caught with your pants down (excuse my language) and have the potential for looking foolish. Hearsay evidence only serves to kick start an investigation. When a good leader has hearsay information dropped in their lap their response should always be, “Okay. Thank you. I’ll take a look into it.” You haven’t committed to taking action against the accused. You only agreed to open an investigation.
An investigation should be private and not involve anyone else. This person may have done nothing wrong so if you involve other people, in a sense you have tarnished their good name. You are looking for concrete proof that missteps were taken. You want to gather evidence and determine if the claims hold any weight. If they don’t, you can drop it with a clear conscious because you have done your due diligence and found that your people have done the right things.
If you find that the claims do hold weight and are true, you have something to work with. Don’t worry about the claims only work with the evidence. Facts can’t be disputed but the perception of the facts and assumptions can be.
What if no evidence can be found?
Sometimes you may not be able to find out if someone is goofing off, on the phone too often or cutting corners. You review their work and determine that the quality is meeting and even exceeding the standards you set up. You can’t very well be mad about that. You can however give reminders to your staff individually or as a group. You can let them know that the perception the customers have of what they do is just as important as what they actually do. Having a quick training on this aspect should follow.
Other times someone can be doing something wrong but you can’t for the life of you find any evidence to support it. When this happens stick to the facts. If someone has multiple customer complaints you don’t have to catch them red handed to address it. “You know I really didn’t think anything about when it was just one, but recently I’ve had three complains about the quality of your work.” Regardless if they think they are doing a good job or not, the issue still stands firm that they’ve had the three complaints.
Hearsay evidence is very valuable and also very dangerous if you don’t know how to use it. There’s a reason it isn’t permitted in a court of law. It doesn’t have merit until it is investigated. That’s what you do. Hearsay evidence only serves to open a private investigation.