Separating the Message from the Messenger

What is it that has us miss the message that is being shared with us by others? Do we see the messenger as one that isn’t familiar or can’t be trusted? Or perhaps the message is one we have been protected from or trained to dismiss? Both can come into play if we are not alert to our own biases.

When we are presented with information that doesn’t match our bias, we must find ways to make sense of this information.

Our biases create a filter in which we make meaning of the world. If I learned that authority figures have my best interest at heart, I will trust them. I may look to them to take care of my needs, even if the evidence defies my logical mind. This has me trust others to do what is best for me, even when they are NOT doing what is best for me. On the flip side, if I learned that those in authority have their own best interest at heart, I will not trust their words or deeds. I may even look for evidence of how they have taken advantage of me for their own ends. Either bias keeps me in a polarized place of right/ wrong, good/ bad. From this place, it is difficult to hear or recognize anything that could challenge my current perspective. When we are presented with information that doesn’t match our bias, we must find ways to make sense of this information. Psychologists call this cognitive dissonance. Most of us are so addicted to being right, that it is problematic to consider new information. That is, unless we are willing to let go of our current bias. Being willing to be wrong about how we think things are is a critical first step.

This is currently playing out in many areas on the planet. If a trusted messenger has a message, we embrace it wholeheartedly even if the message is twisted and biased. If a useful message comes from an authority we do not trust, we misunderstand, misconstrue, or miss the message entirely. This means we are unable to step out of right and wrong long enough to take in new information from a neutral place. What would it take to step out of our biases long enough to see another point of view?

From a racial equity perspective, those of us who grew up with overt racism, white privilege, or the idea that everyone is the same, will be unaware of our bias. Until we can fully stand in the shoes of those that have been hunted, enslaved, oppressed, discounted, traumatized, ignored, made less than, or harmed in any other way, we cannot hear their message or respond to our human family from an empathic, compassionate place.

From a political perspective, we take the sides that we have been indoctrinated into through our family or community system. Even if our instincts say something else, we are not willing to stop belonging to that which is familiar in order to challenge what we have been taught. Until we can step into a neutral place where new information can be processed, we will never have the whole picture. The narrative that we have bought into can keep us trapped in our bias and create righteous indignation towards anyone that sees a different perspective.

Next time you have a strong reaction to something that goes against how you view the world, see if you can step back for a moment, stay open, and step out of your bias. Consider that this person’s experience also has some truth to it, even if you can’t see it through your personal perspective. There is usually SOME truth to what is being said by all parties. If we can simply hear another’s experience(s), and consider our experience are equally valid, we can begin to hear the message regardless of the messenger. It is SO powerful to ask another to share the experience(s) that formed their bias. As you share your own experience, instead of your opinion, others can hear your message, and we can begin to heal the separation between us.

How will you separate the message from the messenger today?


Wendy Watson-Hallowell | The Belief Coach
Wendy Watson-Hallowell | The Belief Coach
WENDY is passionate about enabling individuals, organizations and communities to value themselves and each other in the ongoing process of change. Wendy has guided hundreds of individuals and over 750+ public and private sector organizations to achieve tangible increases in impact and performance. Her successful practice in mentoring and coaching has led to authorship of the book, ‘Live a Life You Love and Make a Living Doing It’. Over the last 30 years, Wendy’s skills have been honed in leadership roles at MTV Networks, The Rensselaerville Institute, and a variety of community based projects in her town. In 2015 she launched BeliefWorks and offers Belief Coaching as a way to address the root cause of what limits the results we can achieve both personally and professionally. This is an 'upstream' solution to change. Instead of changing limiting behavior, she focuses on changing the limiting beliefs that drive that behavior. In all cases, her clients and partners speak to the specific increases in achievement that her consulting, coaching and partnership roles make possible.

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