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.)

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Many of the difficulties we encounter when working together don't create long-term harm, but they do cause delays, confusion, and frustration. Here's Part II of a little catalog of tactics for avoiding speed bumps. Available here and by RSS on November 30.
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Reaching consensus in technological contexts presents special challenges. Problems can arise from interactions between the technological elements of the issue at hand, and the social dynamics of the group addressing that issue. Here are three examples. Available here and by RSS on December 7.

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