The telephone game.

Who hasn’t played the telephone game?

It is fun to watch how a simple sentence changes after being passed along by a group of people.

A sentence like, “I want to order for breakfast scrambled eggs with spinach but no ham and a green tea.” changes to “I want to order for breakfast a fruit salad and black coffee.” And this is a simple sentence. What do you think what will happen with a sentence like, “Two tiny toads ate fat flying flies”.

Well, of course I am exaggerating a bit in the above examples, but every organization suffers from the consequences of the telephone game. Every time a message is communicated from one person to another it can be altered.

You rate the pain of the telephone game higher the moment you start managing other managers. Suddenly you don’t communicate directly with all your employees any more but instead rely on intermediaries. This can lead to miscommunication, misunderstandings, and even conflicts.

Of course, you have the option of addressing your main issues during an all staff meeting. The problem with those all staff meetings is that most of them are …. Well, how shall I put it. Extremely boring might do. Result is that people are half asleep, disengaged, or engaged in something else – if they can get away with that.

Another time I will write about how to make all staff meetings more engaging. Because yes, it is possible to have engaging staff meetings that don’t run late, are not a dreaded item on your to do list, and engage employees. For now, let’s go back to the risks of the telephone game. How can you avoid that a simple message gets changed and even gets a different meaning?

Let’s listen to the advice of someone who is leading 140,000 people. I’m sure that the risks of communication, like in telephone games, are real with that many people. Lt. General Nadja Y. West has two key tips

1. She instructs her team to pass along not only what she thinks that needs to be done but also her tone.

Comment: You know that communication is often not about what is being said but how. So, taking care that the how – the tone of the message – is being communicated is great advice.

2. She also advises to tell the “WHY.” What is the reason why something needs to be done or changed?

Comment: Employees who know the “WHY” are more likely to buy into the message.

Telephone games. We have all played that game. So we know what can happen. Take care that in your organization people know the “WHY” and your tone.