Did you hear?

Match the Messenger to the Message for More Effective Communication

“Will you talk to him? He will listen if he hears it from you.”  That was a request from a client when planning a course of action that would require her manager’s approval. Sound familiar?  Think about how many times you have asked someone else to deliver a message because you thought it would be more effective.  When it comes to communication, the messenger matters.

You probably already know the difference the right person can make to the effectiveness of the message. If you are a parent, like me, you have probably had the experience of your child treating information they heard from a friend or teacher as ground breaking, after virtually ignoring the same information when it came from you (her parent).  I regularly talk to leaders who have this same experience when it comes to organizational change.

Research done by James Allen[1] and his colleagues in Australia found that the source of the communication was an important factor in reducing employees’ feelings of uncertainty during change.  In fact, it may be more important than the quality of the information.  This same study also suggested that the messenger played an important role in people’s attitudes toward and acceptance of the change.

As you plan your change communication, ask yourself:

  • Will the audience relate to the person providing the information? This could be as their direct supervisor, peer or senior manager.
  • Is the level of the person delivering the information matched to the level of the message?  For example, having the Project Manager talk about a new process that will directly affect front line workers when the the Project Manager won’t ever use the process, may actually have the opposite effect than was intended.
  • Do I have enough people involved in the transition to enable the appropriate people to lead, facilitate and engage in the conversations of change?

When communicating during change, having the right messenger can be the difference between people receiving the information they need to prepare for the change, and people feeling overloaded with information but uninformed.

[1] James Allen, Nerina Jimmieso, Prashant Bordia, & Bernd Irmer (2007).  Uncertainty during organizational change: Managing perceptions through communication. Journal of Change Management 7 (2),