‘She doesn’t listen to me anymore.’ This was my mantra during the early teenage years with my daughter. When she turned 11, suddenly I became the stupidest person on the planet – and anything I said was automatically discounted and dismissed. While I understood that this was part of her growing up, it also concerned me because I did have good information for her. But, I didn’t know what to do or what to try. It was my friend and colleague, Susan, who gave me the solution. She said to me, ‘It isn’t your message that is the problem. You just aren’t the right messenger.’
At first, I resisted her comment. After all, I was the mother. I kept telling myself that of course I was the right messenger. But as even my most basic messages were rejected, I began to wonder. I finally ‘got it’ when I said to her – to take care of your skin, you need to clean, moisturize, and use a sun screen. She completely dismissed this message. However, then as part of a Girl Scout field trip, every girl got a facial. My daughter came out of the facial and said to me, ‘Mom – do you know that to take care of your skin, you need to clean, moisturize, and use a sun screen? I am going to do this!’ It was all I could do not to scream and yell at her – hadn’t I been telling her this all along? As I held my tongue, I realized that Susan was correct. My message clearly wasn’t getting through, and could get through from a different person. Maybe part of the African Proverb ‘It takes a village to raise a child’, might include a village of messengers.
Organizationally, this happens quite a bit of the time. Especially during a change, the messengers spend time and energy trying to create the ‘perfect message’ – usually to try to prevent the emotional reaction that always accompanies a change. The truth is that there is no perfect message during a change. It would be time better spent to create a good message, identify the appropriate messenger, and then teach people how to work through their own emotional reaction.
Identifying the messenger is usually not that difficult. With a customer or the hierarchy, think about who they listen to. Do they have a trusted advisor? It could be a peer, subordinate, an old colleague, an administrative assistant, etc. With children, it may be even simpler – perhaps a coach, a friend of yours who shares the child’s interests? Or, sometimes it just has to be someone that isn’t you.
This also extends into project implementations. When a new idea or process or product is being implemented, ALL of the people don’t have to be convinced to try. You need about 20% convinced for the organization to flip and adopt the change. But, it must be the right 20% — the right messengers. These folks have credibility within the organization – so if they participate in the implementation and the adoption, so will 10 other people. The others are more willing to listen to the message just because of the messenger.
So the next time it seems like you have considered the audience and crafted the right message, but the message isn’t getting through – ask yourself – ‘Do we have the right messenger?’ It can be a significant shift with children, with hierarchy, and with projects. No longer will you just get frustrated and push the same message over and over and over again. Before a message is created, you will let go of having to be the messenger and ask about the right messenger. The payoff is having the message you intended to communicate – able to be heard and received just as you intended it; so that the behavior changes, the project gets adopted, the funding gets approved, and the results get delivered.
Let us know about your messages and how you have used different messengers to ensure that the communication got through.