Source | LinkedIn | Steve Martin | New York Times Bestselling author, CEO INFLUENCE AT WORK UK. Faculty Director, Columbia University Executive Education
All of us, at some time or other, have experienced the frustration of not having our ideas or proposals listened to. It is a frustration that can quickly turn to annoyance when someone else—maybe from a different department or, worse still, an outside “agency”—says exactly the same thing we’ve been saying for weeks, and suddenly everyone thinks it’s the best idea since sliced bread. The fact that nothing about the idea has changed, or that the proposal now being enthusiastically embraced is the same one that was roundly rejected only a few days before, barely seems to register.
This commonplace scenario illustrates how, increasingly, the “Messenger is becoming the Message.” When deciding who to listen to and who to ignore, we think an audience considers all the facts being communicated and carefully weighs the arguments. In reality, they are just as likely to be swayed by something entirely irrelevant to the argument, such as the messenger delivering that argument.
When a messenger delivers a message, something intriguing happens. They become connected to the content of that message in the listener’s mind. This association can have a dramatic effect on how that messenger and their messages are evaluated. Consequently, we don’t always listen to people based on the content or accuracy of what they are saying. Rather, we listen to people perceived to possess certain traits that signal that their messages are worth listening to.
Our two-year program of research has identified two broad categories of messenger: soft and hard. Soft messengers are more likely to be listened to when their audience feels a connectedness to them. This connectedness comes as a result of an audience’s perception of their warmth, charisma, vulnerability or trustworthiness. Hard messengers, by contrast, get their messages accepted because they are perceived by an audience to possess superior status. This status comes via signs of their perceived socio-economic position, physical attractiveness, dominance and competence.