The Mixed Message


Recently I observed a very interesting sequence of statements. A woman was sharing how tough times were and how she struggled to make ends meet with her public assistance money. She pointed out that her $200 per month in food stamps was not enough to buy food for her household and that at times she would not eat so that her daughter would have food. If all I knew was this, it would have sounded like a situation of great despair.

However, what was of note was that while she said this, she was chain-smoking cigarettes, wearing a brand new shirt, and discussing that in the last two days she had been to a salon for a haircut, style, and new fingernails. All things she had earlier mentioned buying, not things given to her. 

I later learned that in addition to food stamps, she receives child support and other government assistance money that she never mentioned when bemoaning the food situation. So, while it may be true the food stamps could not feed the household alone, it was not her only source of money that could be spent on food.

Now, this is not to say this situation is any more fortunate or any less challenging than it first appeared. And my point is not to pass any judgment on her behavior or situation. As with most situations, I know there is far more to this story than I could learn in only a few minutes.

I share the story because of the great lesson I observed in this conversation,  a great lesson on effective communication. Or, in this case, ineffective communication.

No matter what you say, it can be the things you do and the things you don’t say that destroy your credibility. If your message is a mix of inconsistencies, it will struggle and likely fail.

A secondary lesson is that you should never believe those listening to you have no memory, no eyes, and no sense. Your messages are not isolated. They exist in an environment, often an environment of information you have already provided in one way or another, including non-verbal actions.

Your messages are processed within this environment and how well things match will determine your credibility (or lack thereof).

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About the Author

Glenn S. Phillips works with leaders who want to leverage technology and understand risks within. An author and blogger, Glenn is often quoted in national media, plays a really ugly tuba (it even has a bullet hole) and is a fan of dark chocolate and great puns.