We humans make sense of our world by classifying our experiences, conversations and other people. Our classifications are binary in nature; they are an either/or category. The most common is good or bad. Other common classifications are them and us, like me or not like me, happy or sad. We make our classifying decisions based on the emotion we experience - our feelings - at that moment.
Confusing or mixing messages occurs when the receiver of the message thought that the message was going one way ("good") but it turns out that it was going down the other way ("bad") or vice versa. Emotions are conflicted.
By allowing your emotional detectors to guide you, you'll become more aware of any mixing of your own messages, and can also learn by observing others. Here are some common examples:
When we mix our messages, we are confusing the emotional response - the feelings - we trigger in the receiver. In the first part of our message we are leading the person down the path of either good or bad, for example, and then we confuse the message - the person's emotional detectors - by diverting them down the other path.
Given our hardwired instinct for loss aversion, when we mix our messages, the negative one dominates. The negative emotion becomes the memory of the event.
The remedy to avoid mixing messages is simple - stick to one emotion associated with each event. When there are two objectives to cover, it becomes necessary to separate the events, so that the emotions attached to each don't mix.
Using the examples above:
Our guide is the receiver's emotional detector. If our message is intended to be "positive", then make that the message and don't confuse the issue by mixing with a "negative" one. Leaders should avoid trying to squeeze too much into any one interaction, and thereby will achieve greater clarity in their communications with staff.
From Facebook’s privacy breaches, the Theranos scandal, Uber’s initial failure to deal with sexual harassment, Equifax’s data breaches, Volkswagen’s emissions scandal, the examples exposed at last year’s Australian Banking Royal Commission there are many examples of leadership failures.
As organisations shift focus from culture and engagement to the employee experience, it brings a fundamental change to the role of leaders.
When it comes to leading an organisation, every leader fundamentally understands the consequences of a poor leadership approach to finances. We understand the consequences of a poor leadership approach to governance or change management. But how many leaders are fully aware of the consequences of a poor leadership approach to communication?
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