Avoid This Management Mistake – Don’t Shoot the Messenger

What does it mean?

“Don’t Shoot the Messenger”, it’s a common adage we all have heard. Shooting or Punishing the messenger in management context means getting angry at an employee who tells us something we don’t like hearing or expressing disdain against the whistleblowers. 

This is more commonplace than we believe. It’s so ingrained in our habits that we don’t even realize that we are making one of the worst mistakes when it comes to managing people. You can find many examples all around yourself both in personal and work life. In managing people, this is one of the most common mistakes committed by us.  

Don’t shoot the messenger – it seems so obvious. But, just to make your realize how ubiquitous it is, let me share some examples –

  1. You’re in a sales team meet and a team member breaks the news that a big deal just fell apart. Mostly the first reaction is an under the breath or a loud expletive depending on the culture of the organization and how cultured you are.
  2. A customer support executive told you that a customer is asking for a refund because she is not satisfied with our product. Your first reaction towards the executive will be that of disgust. You also start believing that the executive is incompetent more than she actually is.

What harm can it do?

Punishing the messenger does more harm than we think. I believe it’s the biggest enemy of growth mindset. People clearly start looking at you as one with a fixed mindset, not open to feedback. Remember, constructive feedback on people, products and processes is essential for any improvement in your well oiled organization.

The person delivering the message or the people who see you getting mad on the person who discloses the news that you don’t like, start perceiving that –

  • You’re a bad listener
  • You’re just passing the buck (if you’re also responsible for the situation)
  • You’re misattributing the blame (if someone else is responsible)
  • You’re not open to any criticism of your work or your product or your people 

How to avoid it?

Whistleblowers are extremely crucial to weed out negative people who creep into our organization. They are the ones who will help you keep politics, corruption and exploitation away from your organization.  

The best way to avoid the urge of getting angry at people who bring in bad news or pass you the feedback from customers or users of your product, is to THANK them. Don’t shoot the messenger, thank them.

They are helping you and your organization become better by passing the most relevant inputs for change – feedback, criticism, suggestions and so on. 

They deserve appreciation and not your rebuke. So every time you get a message, which might be unpleasant to hear but can be useful in the long term if acted upon, say THANK YOU.  



Let us discuss few very practical & powerful ways in which you can gain your ground faster & strong in a new leadership position. Remember these tips are for the first few weeks or months in your new work place, not for ever. This is just for starters. You can mend your ways as you get sure footed. So let’s quickly get down the rabbit hole –   

Appear Being Capable & Amicable Quickly

Your actions are narrowly observed. If you’re seen to be a gifted individual who is above all a people person, you are able to gain more men on your side, plus bind them tighter than earlier. When present is good Human beings quickly forget the past. Envy creates silent enemies. It is smart to occasionally display your vulnerabilities in order to deflect envy and appear more human and approachable.         

Never appear too perfect

Envy creates silent enemies. It is smart to occasionally display your vulnerabilities in order to deflect envy and appear more human and approachable.     

Keep your hands clean

If there is something unpleasant or unpopular that needs to be done, it is far too risky for you to do the work yourself. For example, you might be compelled to fire someone, change someone’s job role, cancel someone’s leave or reject a proposal made by them. Don’t do it yourself. You need to have someone who can do the dirty and dangerous work for you.

Know whom you are dealing with, don’t offend the wrong person

There are many different kinds of people in the world, and you can never assume that everyone will react to your strategies in the same way. Neither you can worry about every one’s individual reactions. However, you should be careful to not ruffle the wrong feathers. Be particularly cautious of the people who are very sensitive in their own pride and ego, they often take jokes and subtle comments personally perceiving it to be an attack on their character. With them always say less than necessary.

Avoid your unconventional ways

You’re free to think the way you wish.But do what others want. Don’t be in a hurry to implement your unique, unorthodox ideas. If you are in a rush people think that you are an attention hungry person and you look down upon them and their ways. Don’t criticize even if you feel that their methods are old and ineffective. Share your innovative ideas only with people (either above or below you in the hierarchy) who can appreciate your exceptional thought process.

Don’t bring reforms too fast

Always be a proponent of the need for Change but never bring too much change at one go. People become uncomfortable with too much novelty. If you ask people to suddenly break out of their old habits like bringing in discipline in office timings or more leave rejections or anything which is not their culture yet, it can lead to friction and hatred for you. When change is slow and seems like a moderate improvement from the past, people accept it more easily and at times unconsciously.