The first sound – the loud smack of a 4×4 piece of wood hitting shin bones. The second sound – an anguished piercing scream. The third sound – silence. Everyone stopped – mid sentence, mid action, mid thought. A 145 pound wrestler with all his might tried to keep a gymnast on a beam, unaware, she was practicing a dismount and with every fiber in her body was doing everything she could to clear the beam. The difference of one word, a cartwheel off the beam versus a cartwheel on the beam. A change of a word, the loss of intent and well meaning actions lead to pain.
There is a children’s game, sometimes called whispers, gossip or telephone. The intent is to teach children the harmful impact of gossip and rumors. It’s played with anywhere from 4 up to even 30 kids. The first person starts by telling a message to another person. The message continues to be told from person to person until it reaches the last person. The last person repeats the message aloud. Inevitably, the message becomes bears no resemblance to the original. It happens every time. Even with adults, who know the game, who know the message gets distorted and as hard as they try, it will still end unrecognizable from the original. It is true in the game and true in the workplace. The children’s game doesn’t do much for gossip. A kid about to gossip doesn’t stop and say, oh wait, I learned last week that a simple message like becomes wildly distorted, I’m going to be quiet. The greater lesson is for adults; information, even with the best intent get distorted. What about the work place? How often does nformation not reflect the intent?
With my balance beam experience, it was easy to spot the error. In life? At work, at home, think of how even one word can change the problem you’re trying to solve and lead to a different intent and action The misinterpretation is not obvious, but the consequence of mayhem, chaos and frustration are. This week, are you acting on fact or interpretation? What’s the damage if your interpretation is wrong?