Do you remember playing the telephone game? What would start as one sentence in someone’s ear, would eventually end up being a completely different understanding and context by the time the 10th person heard it. Every reiteration getting more distorted and exacerbated than the next.  

By the end of the line, the truth is no longer the truth, but instead a version of distorted words where 20 percent of the facts may or may not exist. Six years ago I learned first-hand how hurtful this could be and, while it was painful at the time, I have learned the value of being conscious of our words and how kindness truly matters.  

At the time, I was new to selling in the channel. I had truly grown up in New York City. From 2005 to 2017, all I remember is going into corporations and being grilled by COOs, so answering questions directly and candidly was commonplace. In 2017, I remember it was one of our very first years as a sponsor.  

We were a small company, privately held, so sponsorship dollars were huge. Spending $75,000 to sponsor an event was a lot ― and still is today. So we were at an event, as a Platinum sponsor, and the organization decided to place the top sponsors in the back of the pavilion. They thought that by putting us and the food in the back, they would get traffic to our area.  

Well, let’s just say that was a total bust.  

It was a complete loss, no leads, and the smaller sponsors at the front of the pavilion got all of the traffic as people just decided to see a few booths and then go to dinner. Needless to say, we were upset.  

I reached out to the organizers of the event and asked what we could do to fix the ROI off that event. It was an honest, and direct, request said with kindness. The event manager saw this as a criticism, was upset that we had gone to her manager and, from that day forward, decided that I was “difficult to work with.”  

Now, working in a largely male dominated industry, how many times have you heard an assertive male called “difficult to work with?” Rarely. Yet here was one woman, accusing another woman, in order to deflect the fact that there were learning opportunities from the event she managed. Kam today, in 2023, knows that there was an opportunity to learn from the event.  

Would I handle it differently today? 100%. But at that time, I felt I did my best. So six years ago Kam was simply hurt. It wasn’t just her words in the organization, it was the fact that she systematically told others about the incident, those who didn’t even know me, and the telephone game ensued.  

It’s taken me six years to document this event. Why? Because it required me being vulnerable enough to share it, but also, understanding the learnings and growth I have made during that time. Those who know me know that, at heart, I’m a teddy bear (a care bear in fact, and if you are close to me, ask me why Care Bears next time you see me :). But I am straight forward, direct, always kind, and fiercely loyal. Many of you think I am really strong, and yes I am, but I also hurt – we all do. It was that day that I decided that I will NEVER play a telephone game with anyone. So why share this with you today? 

Two things: One, nothing can destroy an organization, or your team morale, more than the telephone game. It’s nothing more than gossip. As a business professional, we need to be just that: Professional. Gossip in any corporate environment is toxic and organizations should never tolerate it. We don’t at ITBD. What did that incident accomplish? Not only did it alienate me from that organization, it also showed a culture and community that really didn’t live their values. They prided themselves on their community, and how they brought others together. Well, in my book, community values do not include spewing negativity and untruths.  

It was a turning point, and after that event, we learned what we did NOT want in our organization and how our culture needed to be one of true community and kindness. But it wasn’t enough to just say it, we had to live it. We once had an individual who started to spread rumors about two of our team members that was salacious and completely untrue. It didn’t matter that they were a good performer; that individual was let go the next day. We will not compromise on our culture. A true community is honest and KIND. We don’t allow telephone games in our organization and we as a community lift each other up. Every one of us has unique abilities and we value those as strengths and respect opinions. As our friends at The Collaborative Way say, we need to “Be for each other.” 

Two: As a leader, your team’s mental health matters. Six years later, as I head back into that community, I start to think about the growth that I have had over the years. The individual involved is no longer with that organization, but even if she was, I know I would handle myself differently. It was John Maxwell who finally helped me understand and really inspired the mantra that I live by today : “Your opinion of me does not define me. I define me.” But I’m strong, not everyone is. So when building your culture, remind your team, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.” Be kind to each other, you don’t know what’s happening in that person’s day today. Ask them if you can help or if they want to get a coffee. Playing telephone games with your co-workers and spreading negativity has no place in this world.  

This is the life I live by today. Perhaps that’s why I love my customers so much. They know me so well, know how loyal I am to them, that I will always be honest and go to bat for them any day of the week. And now, as others get to know me, they hopefully see me as the strong, hardworking and KIND President of  one of the largest privately held MSPs in the US (yes, there is a little swagger and a LOT of pride) that continues to give back to their community through learning and leadership initiatives.  That we share our learnings over the years, good, bad and ugly, in order to help others. I hope you all see that.   

So whether you’re reading this and thinking about a situation at home, work, in your friends circle, just remember, please be kind, your words matter, and NEVER ever play the telephone game. Having a kind and direct conversation will make all of us better communicators, and hopefully make the world a better place to live.  

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