There are a number of games you could think of when it comes to ruining your workplace or business, but there’s one game played more often than others. There’s one game that is alive and well in your company and it could easily be ruining employee efforts, results, and potential. It’s the game of “Telephone” we played as children where we all sat in a circle and thoroughly twisted the original message by sharing what we thought it was with the
next person. Here’s how it’s happening and how you can stop it.
Your leader vents to you about one of your team members and asks you to address their unprofessional demeanor. You have one definition of professional. Your boss has another and the employee in question has yet another. But, without asking for clarification, you take your boss’s request and go have a conversation with the employee. Just like kids in a circle passing along a message one by one, what was told to the first person becomes something quite different when reported out by the last person. This game is played rampantly when organizations communicate strategies, goals, mission statements and
expectations. Stopping it takes a bold risk in saying what we mean with clarity. Being bold and clear happens when you put in place the following efforts.
Make a Decision
Part of what provokes the Telephone game to put into action in an organization is the fear of repercussion. For leaders, making sweeping statements or changes on the team can be tedious. Few like to change things and the backlash that results and getting everyone
to settle back down is time consuming, so most leaders prefer to be subtle. Clear and bold requests may cause some team members not to like this new request or direction. Bold statements leave little room for question and mean that the leader must have made a decision. In fact, a few of them. One: what are you willing to put up with in the form of reactions? Two: what are you really looking to achieve or have happen? And Three: What are you willing to risk or lose to make it happen? If none of those decisions have been made or even examined, leaders tend to be subtle and easily misunderstood in their communication.
Confusion also ensues among employees when more than one message is sent in a way that is mixed or simply too big. Attention spans are already shortened in the new generations of workforce team members and with high levels of workflow and busy seasons, those reduce to extraordinarily low levels. Expecting an employee to uncover the
top three priorities from an hour-long meeting is unrealistic, unless you state them repeatedly and clearly. Thinking an employee will understand what you want changed out of a coaching session when you share multiple issues as if demonstrating verbal machine gunfire is preposterous. State the most important thing. State it again. Clarify that he or she understands. If there are more issues remaining, schedule another session.
If your message, or expectation, or request, can be drawn with crayons or understood by a six-year-old, it’s simple, succinct, and usually clear. There is a reason children’s books have few words. There is a reason books written for adults are often formatted as if they’re written for children. We live in a world of character limitations and even more limits on our ability to focus. Complicated messages said with 50-cent words tend to need translation and get lost in the process. Stop it. Keep it simple. Be clear and avoid complication. Say what you mean and know what that is. This process, however, begins with leadership being clear on what they want in the first place.
If your primary goal in the team or organization is to increase professional behavior, state that as the objective. Then clarify with the specific actions you wish to see happen. Don’t create an employee handbook that covers seventeen other topics or provides a three-day training in which being professional is one of four modules buried under subtlety by merely being used as one activity’s example. Subtlety dilutes your message. A diluted message is darned hard to act upon. Focus on the result, the big picture, and the one thing, action, or change, leadership is really after. As the old saying goes, if you give people more than three choices, the answer is no. Avoid sharing so much information that choices of what to do become overwhelming and everyone ends up doing nothing. Avoid losing focus or they will play the game of Telephone with others trying to figure out what you meant.
Monica Wofford, CSP is a leadership development specialist. Through her firm Contagious Companies, managers receive coaching and training on how to be not
only promoted, but prepared for leadership. To learn more, dial 1-866-382-0121 or visit: www.ContagiousCompanies.com, www.MonicaWof ford.com.