I remember playing the Telephone Game in grade school where a message would be passed along by whisper. The message heard by the last person was radically different than the original.

Recently I observed the Telephone Game converted into an Adult Gossip Machine on Steroids. I watched as rumor, half-truths and inaccurate “facts” spread through an organization like lava flowing down a mountain. Each time the “lava” found a receptive ear, the ear became enflamed, and then the heat quickly moved to enflame another ear.

Within a couple of days, the gossip morphed, grew several separate tentacles becoming a multi-faceted Transformer of pure, exaggerated, gossip hurt touching and confusing many people unnecessarily.

As I was observing this phenomenon transpire, my Facebook newsfeed introduced me to the old European folktale about how pulling back the words said in gossip is like trying to find feathers that blew away in the wind. I take this as a sign that I’m to write about gossip.

Gossip is so, so juicy. Of course, we want to hear it and be in the know. And, part of being in the know is passing it on. Or, better yet starting it. We also want to be good storytellers. We want to both entertain and inform our listeners. So, a little embellishment even if it’s fed mainly by our own fears or opinion doesn’t really impact the basic truth of the story. Plus, it’s so juicy.

When I first heard the above “news” it was already morphing. My first reaction was sadness and anger, and then I asked a question. Turned out there were still some basic factual information that wasn’t following the story. Within a day or so, more facts arrived and as you might expect, it was more of a mountain out of a molehill story. But the feathers are still out there.

It could have all been stopped if the origination of the story had been fact checked closer to the incident with the actual people involved. The story would then have been one built on direct feedback and observation.

Gossip is delayed, indirect, behind the back, and relays information obtained through opinion and interpretation. The results of gossip create problems and defensiveness. Immediate and direct feedback creates trust and improved performance because it is given, face-to-face and relays information obtained through observation.

If you like the dramatic role of being a Gossip Transformer, keep passing the gossip juice and watch your audience lap it up. On the other hand, if you prefer to be an effective member of your team, get curious, ask some questions, trust only what you learn in direct feedback, and refuse to play the whisper game.

In gratitude that my hearing aids can’t hear whispers,