My friend and I were talking about how misunderstandings and untruths get spread around by folks that have way too much time on their hands. I had remembered having a conversation with someone who thought they were repeating something I had told them, but I was perplexed by the line of questioning until later it hit me, they misheard me! I wasn’t telling them the girl’s name was Beyonce, I was saying she was his fiance! That story went from total innocence to sinister in zero minutes flat!
“It’s the Telephone Game”, my friend explained.
The Telephone Game is played by one person at the beginning of a line of people, or a circle, or just folks sitting around your den, whispers a phrase in a person’s ear. The first person is the only person in the room that knows what the original word is. That person then whispers the same phrase (or as they heard it) into the next person’s ear. You only get to repeat the word one time, so if the person doesn’t really understand you the first time they have to tell the next person a version of what they think they heard you say. That’s when the game gets interesting! This is done around the room until everyone has had a chance to hear the phrase and pass it on, until it reaches the last person. That person then gets to announce to the room what the phrase is.
Believe it or not, sometimes the game ends with the last word being the same as the original. That’s when you should look around the room at your friends and be super proud to know them.
Often and sadly, the last word is hardly ever the same as the original. I say sadly because this is your first hard look at how gossip is spread. People only hear what they want to hear sometimes and even then, they are only going to repeat what they think is pertinent to them and hardly ever tell the original story as it was told to them. I remember listening to a friend tell me a story once when her own boyfriend interrupted her and said, “Is this what really happened? Or is this one of your exaggerated versions?” I imagine she was probably pretty good at getting the word wrong during the Telephone Game.
How do you avoid being a part of a Telephone Game?
Unless the actual game is being played as part of a symbiotic team building exercise, no one should ever want to be part of a Telephone Game. Here’s some tips to keep you out of the loop of misinformation.
- Remember I just told you about the friend’s boyfriend calling her out for glossing over stories she shared? If you ever hear that, make sure that you never repeat anything this person ever tells you. In fact, try changing the subject to talk about craft ideas or a book you just read instead.
- Don’t listen to mean or malicious stories about your friends. I stopped doing that a long time ago. If a person is my friend and someone tries to malign them to me, I usually just change the subject, or tell them it’s not true, even if it might be. This shuts them down. But what if the person being talked about isn’t your friend? I learned from someone else that even if the person being discussed is not your friend, and even if the person is someone you loathe, always question what is being said to you. Make the gossiper feel small for what they’re doing and try to steer them in a healthier direction. Odds are, they will never gossip to you again and probably respect you more for your behavior.
- If the person dragging you into the Telephone Game persists, then make a hasty retreat. This isn’t someone you want to spend a lot of time around anyway. Find a better friend. People that spend most of their time discussing other friends in a mean and hurtful way, are always going to be discussing you in that same way when they’re talking to your other friends too. There is never anything so special about anyone they know, that excludes them from this person’s Telephone Game.
So the next time someone misquotes something you may have told them, think about what you like to talk about with your friends and make a plan to start steering the conversations back to healthier subjects. You will be so much happier with them and any Telephone Games that end up being about you will never make their way back onto your party line because no one will be whispering in your ear about it.