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Book Review: “Messengers – Who We Listen To, Who We Don’t, & Why”

We’ve spoken at length about the ABC’s of image – appearance, behavior, and communication – in the past. How we look, comport ourselves, and what we say and how we say it is all paramount in projecting our image. Stephen Martin & Joseph Mark’s book Messengers: Who We Listen To, Who We Don’t, and Why takes this one step further: it’s not just the message that’s important, but also the messenger.

We found the book fascinating and would like to discuss it briefly.

“Messengers” Book Review

politician gesturing towards audienceBacked up by wide-ranging, deep scientific research, the book’s aims to explain why we give credence to what certain people say (or not), even when they may not be qualified to speak on a subject. In a world where we have unprecedented access to verifiable data, why is it so hard for us to agree on facts? The overarching theme is that the messenger is just as, if not more, important than the message itself.

Hard Messengers vs. Soft Messengers

We listen to messengers based on many different factors. The author divide the types of messengers into two camps: hard messengers and soft messengers.

Hard messengers use things like socio-economic status, competence, dominance, and attractiveness to get their message across. Such status is referred to as having instrumental value – that is, certain characteristics that helped them become successful and could theoretically helps others achieve the same.

doctor in a lab coatOne particularly interesting story the book shares is that of a nurse administering medication. The attending doctor properly diagnosed the patient, who had an ear infection in his right ear. He prescribed the correct medication too, instructing that it be administered in the “R.ear.” The nurse saw this handwritten note and, despite her confusion, administered the ear infection medication rectally – that is, in the patient’s “rear,” as she thought the note instructed.

You might imagine that this course of treatment was ineffective, and you would be correct.

As much of a head-scratcher as this is, it’s an example of the messenger being more powerful than the message. Doctors are known for, amongst other things, their competence. Surely a competent professional like a doctor wouldn’t make a mistake in his treatment instructions, so why question him?

Soft messengers use things like warmth, vulnerability, trustworthiness, and charisma to project their message. The value of soft messengers is in the sense of connectedness they can make their audience feel with them. This allows their message to be heard because humans have an inherent need to fit in and form connections with others.

man with glasses giving a talkA perfect example of warmth: pretty much the entirety of Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends And Influence People. It’s a classic because the concepts of the book work: “Give honest and sincere appreciation,” and “Don’t criticize, condemn, or complain,” will work wonders for getting people on your side. In fact, studies show that even infants as young as six months old gravitate towards pro-social people as opposed to anti-social or neutral ones.

Your Image As A Messenger

We find this work to be relevant because it’s directly linked to one’s image. In short, if you as a messenger are perceived as competent, warm, vulnerable, or of high socio-economic status, your message will carry more weight. More people will listen to you and follow you. This is germane to leaders, surely, but also for anyone in sales (and we’re all in sales in one way or another).

Conclusion: Highly Recommend

We can’t recommend this book highly enough. Not only is the content excellent and backed up by verifiable research, its presentation is approachable and easy to read for non-scientists.

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