By Gordon Hecht, Serta Simmons Bedding

Whether your organization has two layers or 22, messages and information can get diluted, changed and revised as it filters down or bubbles up.

Remember the telephone game? Long before Candy Crush and Farmville, and even before giving up my rotary dial, telephone was standard practice at parties. The first player would whisper a message to a second player, who would then relay it (as they understood it) to a third player, and so on down the line. The last person to get the message would announce what she heard, and everyone would get a big laugh as it bore little resemblance to the original. A phrase like “No man is an island” would end up as “There’s no mayonnaise in Ireland.”

Your own company may be playing the telephone game with vital information, and the results are far less hilarious. The communication breakdown is further exacerbated by fewer face-to-face conversations and the increased use of texts, emails, chat boxes, instant messages and video conferences. Most of the latter lack the facial cues, vocal inflections and body language needed for an accurate exchange of information. Stack on that the lack of personal feedback and you can see how the intent of the message can become opaque.

Delivering a message is a lot like selling a product: You need a compelling story to get your information heard above the daily clatter. But you also need to believe in your message and communicate it in a way that meshes with your listener’s wants and needs. Back up your message with facts and demonstrations and seek immediate feedback. Every sale isn’t closed on the first attempt and every message isn’t fully understood the first time it’s said.  Plan for same-day and ongoing follow up.

Here are some pointers:

The Compelling Message

Communication, like selling, is a transfer of enthusiasm. Think “IASM,” which stands for “I am sold myself” and means you fully embrace the message you deliver. Next, like newspapers of old, give your message an eye-popping headline, as even verbal messages have headlines.

The Listener’s Wants and Needs

Specs don’t sell merchandise, emotions do. It’s the same with ideas. Try to learn your team’s hot buttons. Knowing whether they get turned on by earnings, pride, customer service excellence or plain ol’ winning will help you deliver a message that is understood.

Verify Comprehension

In Missouri, it’s known as the “Show Me” step: Ask your listeners to repeat the information you just transferred. As your team is not comprised of four-year-olds (OK, they pout and don’t always play well with others), avoid asking them to regurgitate the exact words. More importantly, ask what they think you are saying, and have them share an action plan or raise any reservations they might have. Start with “What do you think about that?”

Conversation is an Everyday Thing

You deliver a message to achieve a goal. It may be as small as how to answer the phone or as big as reorganizing your methods of operation. Performance is a result of knowledge and behavior. Each person’s behavior is their choice, and despite your beliefs and efforts, you can’t change it (ask any parent of a toddler). But you can change the environment and knowledge that affects behavior, so maintain an ongoing conversation to verify knowledge skills. Be sure your team knows how to get the goal accomplished and how to use the available tools.

A party game like telephone is kinda like running your business: You win when you deliver the right message and lose when you don’t.

Gordon Hecht is Senior Regional Manager/Strategic Retail Group at Serta Simmons Bedding and a regular contributor to YSN. You can reach him at

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