Communication – The Broken Telephone

by Penny Mitchell – Communications that Matter

Broken Telephone is a party game we played in my youth. The purpose is to whisper a message person to person until it is spoken aloud by the last in line. The game makes fun of poor listening and language skills. For it to be effective, the final version of an original sentence should bear some resemblance in structure, but mean something hysterically different.

Invariably the outcome fails to inspire a belly-aching response, because people don’t get the point or follow the rules. Often a smart-alec mucks up the game by inserting a different mBroken telephone - freedigitalimages.netessage or hi-jacking the original completely. Others think the challenge is to speak so that the receiver cannot get the message.

As the self-conscious perfectionist and English lover I was in those days (now less of the former), with sensitive hearing and good diction, I found the game frustrating and usually avoided it.

Drag that through to today’s world, it is easy to see why a simple thing like reporting a breakdown and booking a tow might cause me some consternation. The process entailed several interactions. I contacted my friend and mechanic who came to my home to examine the car and see if it could be driven away for fixing – no problems there – I trust him implicitly.

The games began when I had to convey his instructions to my insurance service provider in order to arrange a tow (for a car with locked brakes) by a truck which was below a certain height restriction and available at a specific time the next day.

I called the insurance company and went through several electronic selections and a security screening, before speaking with a pleasant person in Customer Service, who seemed to have a hearing defect. Also the name, Penny, is not helpful in this context. I think perhaps I should space it out phonetically, like P—e—neeeee. We wrestled through the preliminaries, including the pick-up address (my home which is already on their system) and destination details. Fortunately, I was in no immediate danger and, to be fair, my request was non-standard.

After several repetitions, I was happy that I had conveyed the following message – book a tow truck, not a flat-bed because there is a height restriction, for 8.30 a.m. tomorrow morning, because the parking is communal and will be cleared by then, as will a space in my mechanic’s yard (destination). I must have stressed three times at least that the vehicle’s brakes were locked and the vehicle could not be moved. I also stated that I had to leave for a meeting at 9.30 a.m. – and so would all this be possible? I was assured that it was and advised that somebody else would contact the tow company to arrange everything. Wow, that was easy, I thought.

About half an hour later, I got a call from an indiscernible name and company who informed me that he was on his way and please could I give him my whereabouts. I assumed he was from the towing company, but was wary. A rough record of our conversation is as follows:

“But you are not supposed to be here until tomorrow morning.”

“I’m already on the M13, on my way to you. Please give me your address.”

“You should have my address and you’re not supposed to be here until tomorrow.”

“But I’m on my way.”

“But you’re not supposed to be.”

“Please call and tell them to call me.”

At that point, I wondered who was serving who? I called the insurance provider and spoke to a different person. I gave my reference number and the person confirmed the original booking time, apologised and said he would get the tow truck turned around.

At 8.35 a.m. the following day, the same driver informed me he had arrived and ‘please would I show him where my car was’. I went down to the basement parking to let him through the gates. Only then did I realise that he was driving a flatbed which exceeded the height restriction. I explained again.

“Oh, please phone … and tell them to send another truck.”

The driver disappeared with the flatbed and I called the insurance company. More apologies and a confirmation that they would contact the tow truck company to send a smaller truck straight away.

I got ready for my lift to my meeting, expected at 9.30 a.m., and returned to my car in the basement. The second truck arrived at 9.30 a.m., which is when I realised that the flatbed was also still there. More explanations. Don’t you just love it when people don’t believe you even when you tell them an expert has already assessed the situation? If I’d been a man, would this have been different?

The mini tow truck lifted my vehicle off the back wheels and successfully towed it outside without problems. As I finished the paperwork on which I had to record the pick up address and the destination address, the smaller truck lowered my car and left it for the flatbed which caused me more concern. Why switch vehicles? My lift fortunately arrived then and I left before my car was loaded.

According to my mechanic, the flatbed driver needed assistance to offload because he couldn’t drive my car off!!!

My version of the broken telephone game is much better – cut out the middle people and call the tow truck company supervisor direct. One lot of detailed instructions with an allocated reference number would have got the job done and cost less. But then perhaps I’ve missed the point.

car break down

Photos courtesy of


5 thoughts on “Communication – The Broken Telephone

  1. jac says:

    Penny, if this wasn’t true it would be absolutely hilarious! has your hair changed colour as a result? Perhaps calling the bank or mobile phone centres is only slightly less stressful – or is it?

  2. jac says:

    my last comment is still awaiting moderation!!!

  3. Jacky is having difficulty communicating with this page, so I thought I would give it a test.

  4. jac says:

    Aha – it works! thank you.

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