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 nonperformer 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

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!

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.)

Your comments are welcome

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

About Point Lookout

This article in its entirety was written by a 
          human being. No machine intelligence was involved in any way.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.

This article in its entirety was written by a human being. No machine intelligence was involved in any way.

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:

A time ManagerTime Management in a Hurry
Many of us own books on time management. Here are five tips on time management for those of us who don't have time to read the time management books we've already bought.
A MetronomeSelling Uphill: The Pitch
Whether you're a CEO or a project champion, you occasionally have to persuade decision makers who have some kind of power over you. What do they look for? What are the key elements of an effective pitch? What does it take to Persuade Power?
Computer monitors being recycled by the Nevada Division of Environmental ProtectionHow Not to Accumulate Junk
Look around your office. Look around your home. Very likely, some of your belongings are useless and provide neither enjoyment nor cause for contemplation. Where does this stuff come from? Why can't we get rid of it?
Roald Amundsen, Helmer Hanssen, Sverre Hassel, and Oscar Wisting at the South PoleOne Cost of Split Assignments
Sometimes management practices have unintended consequences. To reduce costs, we keep staff ranks thin, but that leads to split assignments for those with rare skills. Here's one way split assignments can lead to higher costs.
Robert S. McNamara as Secretary of the U.S. Department of DefenseThe McNamara Fallacy
The McNamara Fallacy is the idea that measuring properly chosen attributes of inputs and outputs provides all we need for decisions about organizational and human performance. And we can safely ignore anything that can't be measured. It doesn't work.

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Old books, the standard symbol of knowledgeComing April 17: How to Answer When You Don't Know How to Answer
People engaged in knowledge work must often respond to questions that test the limits of their knowledge, or the limits of everyone's knowledge. Responding effectively to such questions advances us all. Available here and by RSS on April 17.
Three gears in a configuration that's inherently locked upAnd on April 24: Antipatterns for Time-Constrained Communication: 1
Knowing how to recognize just a few patterns that can lead to miscommunication can be helpful in reducing the incidence of problems. Here is Part 1 of a collection of communication antipatterns that arise in technical communication under time pressure. Available here and by RSS on April 24.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrendPtoGuFOkTSMQOzxner@ChacEgGqaylUnkmwIkkwoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, 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 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at X, 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.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
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.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!