Originally published in the Boulder Daily Camera and the Longmont Daily Times-Call.

“Each year, the Great Pumpkin rises out of the pumpkin patch that he thinks is the most sincere,” Linus Van Pelt famously says each Halloween. “He’s gotta pick this one. He’s got to. I don’t see how a pumpkin patch can be more sincere than this one.” Every year Linus is sadly disappointed. Why does Linus believe this story year after year, even though it’s never been proven? Most likely because he was in an echo chamber, or heard a rumor.

When I was a little girl one of my favorite games was “Telephone”. It was also known as “Gossip” by many. The rules were simple: one person whispers a message into another person’s ear. That person whispers it to the next, and so it goes around the circle. The last person says out loud what they believe the message to be. It always resulted in laughter because by the time the message reached the end, it no longer resembled the original message. It was often quite absurd to boot. As an adult, I’ve frequently played the game as an ice-breaker. You may have too. It’s fun, but it’s also frightening to see how quickly messaging falls apart.

With Halloween around the corner, it’s a good time to think about preventing horrors and phantoms that may haunt your business or organization. Unaddressed or unrecognized perceptions could lead to nothing but rocks in your trick or treat goody bag if not recognized and understood.

I experienced this recently. I was visiting a business that I frequent on a regular basis. I knew the Manager was leaving, but one day I was told that other key employees would be leaving with the Manager. This sounded credible, and I was concerned. So, I asked if this was true. Surprise! It was not only untrue, but the employees didn’t know what was being said around town.

Businesses are often the subject of conversations on the in person, in print and on the Internet. If the rumors take a turn for the worse, it will have a very negative impact on the business’s reputation. For that reason, businesses need to monitor what people are saying about their products or services. This allows them to highlight the positive things and address and correct the potentially damaging negative information that is being spread online, or elsewhere.

It’s important to remember the lessons that we learned from the Telephone game early on in life. For example, the Telephone game reminds us just how quickly a message can be changed into something completely different when it is passed between even a few people.

It is therefore imperative to remember that the things that we learn via the rumor mill can, and often do, include incorrect information. Echo chambers also contribute to miscommunication and misperceptions concerning reality. Effective communication relies on accurate insights. So, ensure that you are receiving information from more than one person or outlet.

On a personal level, we all need to be mindful of what information we spread, given the fact that what we say can have a negative impact on the individual or business that we are talking about. As I have mentioned in other posts, words have power. In some cases, what is being said about a business can have a negative effect on the business’s reputation, employees and ultimately, its bottom line.

Edgar Allan Poe, that master of the creepy and scary, was right on when he said, “Believe nothing you hear, and only one half of what you see.” When things get spooky out there, remember to keep calm and protect your reputation and image and your goody bag.

Stacy Cornay is the owner of Communication Concepts Public Relations & Advertising.  She may be reached at 303-651-6612; scornay@comm-concepts.com; www.comm-concepts.com; Facebook.com/Communication Concepts; Twitter @CommConceptsPR; or LinkedIn.

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