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Chinese Whispers

Do you remember the game called Chinese Whispers?  The game starts with one person telling a short story to someone else.  Typically they whisper it into the other person’s ear.  The person who heard the story immediately whispers the story to another person and so the story gets retold down the line.  Once the last person hears the story he retells the story for all to hear.

As a game it can be hilarious as the short story we end up with is completely different to the original story.

In the workplace it can be devastating.

When introducing a new way of doing things its not long before the Chinese Whispers start.

Say you are changing the structure of your organisation. You deliver a message to the teams and think you've nailed it. As an added precaution you follow up with an email to all staff, and to go even further you put a notice on your internal message board. There - that should do it. You have used all channels and everyone in the team has been advised of the change and its all clear.

However through past experience we also know that some people ‘scan’ messages – or do not read them at all. Some people ‘rely’ on others to pass the message on.

And we are all really good at making meaning out of anything - and making that meaning fit us. It's called distortion - and it happens to all of us. The way we interpret messages are all different. Based on what we believe to be true.

We need to take responsibility for the Chinese whispers and ensure that our team are telling the undistorted version.

We also need to speak with those that we know may unintentionally distort the message so that we know they have heard it clean.

If we come across people that have received a distorted message we do need to go over this with them so the message is clean again.

Take a proactive approach - you will more than likely know who the Chinese Whisperers are in your organisation. You will also know who the most vulnerable to Chinese Whispers are.

Talk to them, ask them if they are across the change, do they understand it, do they have any input.

By doing this in person we can address any concerns they may have and nip the Chinese Whispers in the bud.

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