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Telephone Exercise
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 11/27/2017

Tin can communication
The following is an installment in "Icebreakers 101: Hello, My Name is Problem", a series featuring "Ice Breaker's" designed to promote training awareness and capabilities in the corrections industry.

Do we always understand fully what is said to us? Are second-hand accounts diluted and unreliable? Will safety be compromised in your facility if you are neither thorough nor clear? If you are uncertain, try this spin on a classic icebreaker.

This is like the old-school rendering of the telephone game. If we are not directly absorbing the information, like one might do with a telephone conversation, one might not get all the nuances.
  1. Give a participant two minutes to read one of the following paragraphs to herself/himself;
  2. Let the person give back the paper to the instructor;
  3. Let the participant tell the class what was read;
  4. Give a copy of the paragraph to all in class;
  5. Have class report what was missing from the oral rendering.
Scene one:

John was watching his favorite show on a Thursday night. It is called the Odd Couple. In the show, two roommates in Manhattan verbally spar because they are so different. Oscar is messy and sarcastic. Felix is pushy, overly neat, and opinionated. Oscar owns the apartment and lives alone, but invited his friend Felix to move in when Felix and his wife divorced. Oscar is also divorced. In this episode, Felix is allergic to Oscar’s golden retriever puppy and declares, “It is the dog or me!” Oscar chooses the dog and kicks out Felix.

Scene two:

Willy started a new job at a factory on midnights. It is a tool and die shop and he has no experience in the field. This new job is working as general helper and as a die maker apprentice. Willy wants to do well, but does not know who to trust. Jim Alexander, the guy who is training Willy, believes that Willy can beat Jim Simpson at arm wrestling. Jim Alexander places five dollars on the table as a bet. Jim Simpson calls Willy a wimp and lays five dollars on the table to counter Jim Alexander’s wager. Both Jims nod at each other when the money is placed on the table and Willy sees this as a conspiracy to make him look bad.

Scene three:

Debbie is a waitress who does not like personal interaction. Still, for the goal of getting more tips, she tries to be nice. Debbie, though in her early twenties, detests children. “I hate people who bring their obnoxious kids in to eat”, is one of her common sayings. One Sunday afternoon just before closing time at 5 p.m., Debbie was given a table with two parents and three children. All kids appear to be under five years old. The two boys are quiet, but the little girl is full of questions. The girl keeps asking Debbie how old she is.

Information makes the corrections world go around. And there are times that we give too much or too little information to colleagues. Every now and again, we need to calibrate how we deliver what is necessary and what is not. Remember: This is not just a modified version of telephone. This is an exercise to help us relay facts to keep safe staff, offenders, and the public.

Joe Bouchard is a Librarian employed with the Michigan Department of Corrections and a collaborator with The International Association of Correctional Training Personnel (IACTP). He is also the author of “IACTP’s Corrections Icebreakers: The Bouchard 101, 2014” and "Operation Icebreakers: Shooting for Excellence" among others. The installments in this series include his opinions. The agency for which he works is not in any way responsible for the content or accuracy of this material, and the views are those of the contributor and not necessarily those of the agency. While some material is influenced by other works, all of the icebreakers have been developed by Joe Bouchard.

Visit the Joe Bouchard page

Other articles by Bouchard:


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