Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 3, Issue 18;   April 30, 2003: A Message Is Only a Message

A Message Is Only a Message

by

When we receive messages of disapproval, we sometimes feel bad. And when we do, it can help to remember that we have the freedom to decide whether or not to accept the messages we receive.

Returning from another meaningless meeting with the site team, Rebecca stepped out of the elevator and walked to her office on autopilot — until she passed her boss's office. His door was closed again. So she poked her head into Jean's doorway. "What's happening now?"

Jean looked up, surprised. "Wolcott, and their site manager. I thought you were in there."

Rebecca blanched. Another in a long string of snubs. She stepped in, closed Jean's door and slumped in the chair.

A message is only a message.
It's not necessarily
an accurate message.
"I'm sorry," said Jean. "it just slipped out."

"No, it's not you. I'd rather know. What am I doing wrong? I ran this project for the past year, really well, I thought. New boss, and Pow. I'm worthless. I feel sick."

"We're all unhappy with Neal," said Jean, trying to console her friend.

"No, this is different. He schedules meetings I can't make, he closes the door in my face, he wants me to get his signature whenever I want to inhale. I'm a wreck."

Rebecca is going through a rough patch. Neal, her boss, is telling her indirectly — and frequently — that her contributions aren't helpful.

But a message is only a message. It's not necessarily an accurate message. Here's a simple example.

I can make the Sun do a loop-de-loop. At noon tomorrow, look outside and watch the Sun for a clear demonstration of my awesome powers.

Do you believe that message? Certainly not. It's a message, but it's false. Here's another example:

Rebecca, you're incompetent. The only way to save the company from you is to have you ask for my signature every time you want to inhale.

Sun doing a loop-de-loopThat's just another message. Rebecca can decide whether it's accurate. Given that she's been doing her job well for years, the message is probably false. No matter how often it's repeated, it remains a false message.

What can you do if your boss continually sends false messages that you're incompetent?

Begin with your Self
Do you believe the messages? Your feeling bad is clear proof that you don't — feeling bad is what happens when a negative message bumps into your self-image. If the message is false, recognize it.
Reject false messages
Sometimes we accept false messages simply because of the sender's authority. A false message is false no matter who sends it. Reject it.
Recognize your limitations
In hierarchical organizations, your status determines the size of your megaphone. A boss who intends to prove that you're a non-performer can probably win the message war.

If your boss uses these tactics, you'll probably have to find a new job — or a new boss. Whatever you do, you're in for an adventure. Choose a path that you can look back on someday and feel proud of. Go to top Top  Next issue: The Weaver's Pathway  Next Issue

Reader Comments
Dale Emery (www.dhemery.com)
Today's Point Lookout reminds me of Charlie Seashore's "Briefcase Method" of receiving feedback. Charlie says, "When you receive feedback, you don't have to act on it right then, or even think about it. Imagine putting it in your briefcase. At some later time, you can take the feedback out and examine it to see whether it fits for you. Or you can throw it away." (In a session on feedback at a workshop at the Einstein Institute way the heck out on Cape Cod.)

101 Tips for Managing Conflict Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenKuSuCQXvSvgyhKGAner@ChacrOzbMnuBlYsqSybBoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

Horses in a corralCorrales Mentales
Perhaps you've achieved every goal you've ever set yourself, but if you're like most of us, some important goals have remained elusive. Maybe you had bad luck, or you weren't in the right place at the right time. But it's just possible that you got in your own way. Getting out of your own way can help make things happen.
The damaged Apollo 13 Service Module, as seen from the command moduleHealthy Practices
Some organizational cultures are healthy; some aren't. How can you tell whether your organizational culture is healthy? Here are some indicators.
Silly BandzBusiness Fads and Their Value
Fads in business come and go, like fads anywhere. In business, though, their effects can be so expensive that they threaten the enterprise. Still, the ideas and methods that become fads can have intrinsic value. Where does that value come from? Where does it go?
Barack Obama, 44th President of the United StatesSpeak for Influence
Among the factors that determine the influence of contributions in meetings are the content of the contribution and how it fits into the conversation. Most of the time, we focus too much on content and not enough on fit.
Magic Lantern Slide of a dog jumping through a hoopJust-In-Time Hoop-Jumping
Securing approvals for projects, proposals, or other efforts is often called "jumping through hoops." Hoop-jumping can be time-consuming and frustrating. Here are some suggestions for jumping through hoops efficiently.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

September 11, 2001 attacks in New York CityComing August 23: Look Where You Aren't Looking
Being blindsided by an adverse event could indicate the event's sudden, unexpected development. It can also indicate a failure to anticipate what could have been reasonably anticipated. How can we improve our ability to prepare for adverse events? Available here and by RSS on August 23.
"The Thinker," by Auguste RodinAnd on August 30: They Just Don't Understand
When we cannot resolve an issue in open debate, we sometimes try to explain the obstinacy of others. The explanations we favor can tell us more about ourselves than they do about others. Available here and by RSS on August 30.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenqsbsXWDXxEGSjddYner@ChacUSbOkUKACDoDhSECoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here are some dates for this program:

Creating High Performance Virtual Teams
Many Creating High Performance Virtual Teamspeople experience virtual teams as awkward, slow, and sometimes frustrating. Even when most team members hail from the same nation or culture, and even when they all speak the same language, geographic dispersion or the presence of employees from multiple enterprises is often enough to exclude all possibility of high performance. The problem is that we lead, manage, and support virtual teams in ways that are too much like the way we lead, manage, and support co-located teams. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you how to change your approach to leading, managing, and supporting virtual teams to achieve high performance using Simons' Four Spans model of high performance. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…
101 Tips for Managing ConflictFed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you the target of a bully? Learn how to make peace with conflict.
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
Reader Comments About My Newsletter
A sampling:
  • Your stuff is brilliant! Thank you!
  • You and Scott Adams both secretly work here, right?
  • I really enjoy my weekly newsletters. I appreciate the quick read.
  • A sort of Dr. Phil for Management!
  • …extremely accurate, inspiring and applicable to day-to-day … invaluable.
  • More
52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around.
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.
Comprehensive collection of all e-books and e-bookletsSave a bundle and even more important save time! Order the Combo Package and download all ebooks and tips books at once.