The Messenger Is Always Part Of The Message

The following scenario is not uncommon in corporate America:  a middle manager is summoned to dismiss a middle manager at the requirement of a senior executive – for whatever reason the supervisor has run afoul of the executive and the middle manager is asked to deliver the purposefully reasonless decision (at the request of legal counsel). As the executive completes the details of the assignment the middle manager is assured that “don’t worry, you’re only the messenger.”

If only that were the case.

Here’s why the messenger is always part of the message:

  • Even if the message is positive the recipient always wonders why the originator of the message didn’t tell them directly.
  • There is an immediate emotional reaction by the recipient, especially if the news is negative.   The emotional reaction is always connected to the deliverer because that person delivered it. Of course, this is part of the reason people ask other people to deliver their message.
  • Even when someone has been directed to deliver a message, however negative the content, they make a choice to do so or not.  The recipient knows this and even when they understand the implied threat to the deliverer, they always wish the deliverer had refused to go along.

We might even argue that delivering the negative message for another is perpetrating corporate violence – if the deliverer said, “no” or “do it yourself” what impact would that have on the process?

Know thyself before delivering someone else’s message. It may be one of the more important career decisions you’ll make.