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

Last updated: April 15, 2019

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

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? rbrendVZJCGCiOODMSrUSner@ChacvNUeqenXxvuyuITwoCanyon.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:

Don't start meetings on the hourMastering Meeting Madness
If you lead an organization, and people are mired in meeting madness, you can end it. Here are a few tips that can free everyone to finally get some work done.
PizzaCritical Thinking and Midnight Pizza
When we notice patterns or coincidences, we draw conclusions about things we can't or didn't directly observe. Sometimes the conclusions are right, and sometimes not. When they're not, organizations, careers, and people can suffer. To be right more often, we must master critical thinking.
Jack-in-the-boxNo Surprises
If you tell people "I want no surprises," prepare for disappointment. For the kind of work that most of us do, surprises are inevitable. Still, there's some core of useful meaning in "I want no surprises," and if we think about it carefully, we can get what we really need.
Well-wishers greet physicist Stephen Hawking (in wheelchair) at the Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing FacilityLogically Illogical
Discussions in meetings and in written media can get long and complex. When a chain of reasoning gets long enough, we sometimes make fundamental errors of logic, especially when we're under time pressure. Here are just a few.
The cockpit of an A340 Airbus airlinerThe Limits of Status Reports: II
We aren't completely free to specify the content or frequency of status reports from the people who write them. There are limits on both. Here's Part II of an exploration of those limits.

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

The road to Cottonwood Pass, ColoradoComing April 24: Big, Complicated Problems
Big, complicated problems can be difficult to solve. Even contemplating them can be daunting. But we can survive them if we get advice we can trust, know our resources, recall solutions to past problems, find workarounds, or as a last resort, escape. Available here and by RSS on April 24.
Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD)And on May 1: Full Disclosure
The term "full disclosure" is now a fairly common phrase, especially in news interviews and in film and fiction thrillers involving government employees or attorneys. It also has relevance in the knowledge workplace, and nuances associated with it can affect your credibility. Available here and by RSS on May 1.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenJqQCZbosKlVUPnCnner@ChacwaglhAtgrDiqgShUoCanyon.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 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

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 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.