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Wall Street Journal: Shooting Messengers Makes Us Work Dumber

From the Sept. 12, 2007 online article: Everyone knows blaming the blameless bearer of bad news doesn't help, but we do it anyway. It's a symptom of the ill-aimed, trigger-happy nature of office blame, and the gulf between knowing a problem and solving it. Among the unwanted consequences: The shooter gets a one-way ticket from reality.

Several months ago I wrote about shooting the messenger as a tactic of workplace bullies. The Journal article has some bizarre examples. Most of the discussion is insightful. The first comment (below) points out the need for stellar communication and the complexity of today’s work. The second comment points out how to effectively handle the situation----work on the problems. And the third comment I pulled----pure entertainment looking through the rear view mirror.

The Journal writer then turns to customers shooting the messenger. Perhaps we need to think about our actions in such situations. Either type of shooting the messenger is really, really uncivil.

Readers’ comments on the story
1. “This issue is really about how organizations of all types foster or impede communication. I believe it is the gold standard of effectiveness. I also believe that people (inside the organization) who shoot messengers do not understand the complexity of the work in which they are engaged, and that being able to handle complexity is becoming the most critical skill we can develop.”

2. “I was reminded of working in Tokyo in the late 80s, the first and only foreigner in a major pharmaceutical company. What astonished me about the way my colleagues worked was the lack of personal attacks. When a problem arose--and problems in the pharmaceutical industry can be serious--folks got to work fixing the problem.”

3. “When I was the IT manager of a small Cambridge, MA consulting firm, my staff or I were blamed for everything that had to do with a network wire. Once, our Internet service was cut by a backhoe slicing a fiber cable in Virginia. When I told the president he blew up and asked what I was going to do to fix it. A phone strike in France delayed our network connection to the Paris office. Again, my fault.
Looking back I'm wondering if I should have been complimented instead of insulted. I mean, the man thought I controlled French labor unions and Virginian heavy equipment operators.”

Read the full Wall Street Journal article and the discussion

This blog, July 18, They shoot messengers, don’t they?


Okay, so the third one is funny - BUT are we hearing it only from one side? I can't help but think that there are millions of effective managers who ask for the bearer of a problem/bad news to come with at least one potential solution at the same time...

I wonder if there is a way for a messenger to survive… Reviewing the comments others left on the Wall Street Journal board, I’ve found one that at the first glance looked like there was hope. A Sales PV and a Marketing VP went to the Boss together so that together they could try to explain the problem better and perhaps offer a solution. But the assumption behind this strategy is that the boss is a type that asks “Why?” If you think about it for a moment, you'd see that this point by itself can tell you this boss is not of the dumb species.

My conclusion comes to this: work for a true leader or let the shooter trip over his own gun.