I will guess that at some time we’ve all been in a social group of people when someone decides to play the ‘whisper and pass on the secret’ game and it passes from one person to the next. Ultimately, after everyone has been the recipient of the message from the person next to them, the last person states what they were told out loud. Invariably, this has little relationship to the original message that began the game. Of course we laugh and we’re often amazed at how far the original message strayed.
However, when mixed or conflicting messages happen in business it’s anything but a game the result is not considered fun. A mixed message (or double message) is communication that sends conflicting information, verbally and/or non-verbally. In fact, it can be seriously damaging to the organization … internally among employees and externally
First of all, you need to know when you are receiving a mixed message or one is being delivered to others. The way you know is by your feelings (confused) and your thoughts (puzzled). These feelings and thoughts are your cues to guide what you say and do in response. The real question becomes what can be done about this? What can you do within your company to minimize if not eliminate this kind of wasteful, destructive and frustrating occurrence? Here are some situations you may experience and suggestions may be helpful in curtailing the mixed messaging:
- When you deliver a message that you believe is correct and then the ‘boss’ delivers a conflicting one.
FEEL FOOLISH? Of course. To the extent possible, check with the boss with your intended message to obtain her/his buy-in to it before actually delivering it. You may well avoid a potential conflict and the resulting fall out.
- When you think you clearly understand the boss’ position and see no need to check in for clarity.
STOP! If you are making an assumption that you understand the position, you are at risk of being wrong. Acting on your assumption rather than fact brings with it the potential of being out of line with the boss’ position. Avoid this by stating to the boss your understanding prior to you passing it on to another. This gives you the opportunity to correct or shift your understanding and related message to one that is in sync with the boss.
- When a customer of yours goes directly to the boss to ask for an exception to the rule and is given what she/he wants without you being consulted or informed.
OUCH! This undermines the customer’s confidence in you related to future dealings and they then know they can always go to the boss for the answer they seek. You must have a conversation with the boss and come to an agreement pertaining to future dealings as to a process that will include you and keep your relationship with the customer intact.
Mixed messages have the potential of causing serious communication problems in all types of relationships. The importance of resolving these kinds of communication glitches in business is critical to the overall health of the organization. Some bosses operate in an unchained fashion in response to their own personal feelings and without a concern for prior messages that have been delivered. Admittedly, changing such behavior is difficult and rather limited. On the other hand, there are leaders who react ‘on the spot’ in the name of being responsive to customers and don’t take the time to confer with an employee of a different or previous mindset. Although their intention is not to create havoc or company issues, their spontaneous reactions bring about the resulting challenges. And yet, people like this are open to doing it better. Fortunately, there are more bosses who fall into this group than those who operate as a team of one.
One’s willingness to confront mixed messaging is often the difference between job satisfaction and the desire/need to move on. It’s not always easy to confront this and yet, doing so just may enable you to save the job you enjoy and contribute to building the desired company reputation and image envisioned by all.