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.  

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