“Well, the real reason John got fired was because Cindy in Cincinnati is trying to take over the whole department. It’s the first move in getting rid of our office. There’s no other reason it would happen.”
The Conspiracy Theorist. The coworker who is always seeing nefarious intent in even the most innocuous of situations. Nothing is as it appears. The conspiracy theorist is like the office gossip, only the ‘news’ they pass along has less to do with concrete information and more to do with a deep-seated need for drama in their lives. They can really become a distraction for those of us who just want to do our jobs without the drama. What can you do?
Challenging their assertions won’t work. They can make up stuff a lot faster than you can knock it down. “You’re just naive,” they’ll say. “There’s a lot going on at the top you don’t know about.” You also won’t be able to really change their way of thinking. For them, believing in hidden agendas, office politics and conspiracies are a way to think of themselves as innocent victims instead of accepting responsibility for their own actions. It’s a lot easier to point fingers outward than to look in the mirror.
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The best approach is to, as quickly as you can, move the conversation to things that can be controlled, and away from the things you can’t. So, for example, if your conspiracy theorist tells you that Cindy is trying to get rid of your office, you might say, “Well, I guess we’d better make sure we focus on doing great work so that we’ll have good references.” Or, “There’s always change going on in companies. Fortunately if we’re good at what we do we’ll always have work somewhere.”
You can also be direct, and say something like, “No point in worrying about that sort of stuff – I can’t change it. I’m just focused on doing my job the best I can.”
Eventually, the conspiracy theorist will get the message that you’re not interested in the drama, and move on to somebody else who is more interested in listening to them.