Don't Shoot The Messenger

You don’t have to get up to leave the room.

All of us are probably guilty of tuning out information we don’t want to hear. At work we may label the bearers of bad news as “nay-sayers,” as people who are doing nothing more than fight the changes that are being implemented. At home we may see the negative comments made by our family members as the same old thing we’ve heard a thousand times before.

What do you do when you’re confronted with bad news? Do you pretend to listen, or do you focus your entire attention on what is being said? Do you try to talk the other person out of feeling what he is feeling, or do you ask questions? Do you fake caring, saying an occasional “uh-huh,” or do you paraphrase the essence of the other person’s comments? As I said before, you don’t have to get up to leave the room.

In business, we’ve long talked about the phenomenon of “shooting the messenger.” In other words, when people bring too much “bad news,” it’s easier to shoot them than listen to them. It’s easier to criticize them, berate them or ignore them than thank them, encourage them, and listen to them. It’s easier to see them as eternally negative, complaining pains-in-the-butt than team players who could be doing us a favor.

That’s right. They’re doing us a favor. The customer who complains is giving you a chance to recover his business. The customer who says nothing probably goes elsewhere. The spouse who complains is suggesting how things could be better. The spouse who says nothing leaves you in the dark.

So I’m suggesting that you listen to bad news rather than “shoot the messenger.” Do three things. First, CREATE AN ATMOSPHERE THAT INVITES, ENCOURAGES, AND REWARDS BAD NEWS. Tell people you appreciate them taking the time to tell you what you need to know. Not everyone would bother. Ask them to let you know as soon as any other problems turn up.

Second, DO SOMETHING ABOUT THE BAD NEWS. People feel good when you take the time to listen to them, but they won’t feel good if you don’t do something about what they said. That doesn’t mean you have to do exactly what they want, but you have to do something. And tell them what you did.

Third, DO SOMETHING BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE. I’ve had lots of people tell me they could have saved a lot of time and money it they had read my book on Creating Customer Service Champions. The trouble is–they read it AFTER they lost a lot of customers. And I’ve had lots of people tell me they could have saved their marriage if they had listened to my CDs. The tragedy is–they listened to them AFTER their spouses had left.

Did you ever notice that you always find something in the last place you look? Likewise, you always learn something when you finally decide to listen, and I mean really listen.

Action:  The next time you hear something you don’t want to hear, thank the person for sharing his concern. Tell the person what you heard, and tell them one thing you’re going to do as a result.