My nine year old son told me last week that he reluctantly had to fire his math teacher.
His class is split into two groups, one the advanced group he was originally assigned to and the other moving at a standard pace. His work was fine — he was getting good grades and wasn’t intimidated by the work load — he just didn’t like the way the advanced teacher’s constant screaming affected him and his fellow students. I don’t blame him. I’m actually a bit proud of him.
After getting over the mild shock of hearing a fourth grader’s tales of hard management decisions, the obvious lesson came to the fore:
The message is lost when the messenger is ignored.
If you can’t connect with your audience, it doesn’t matter what you say.
Alientate your audience and your words become background noise.
There is a body of evidence (somewhere — I’d love to re-read it, so if you know the source, send it my way) that shows that once we develop a preconception about another person, we want them to behave consistently with our first impression. We can all readily agree that we get upset with superstar direct reports when they do substandard work. What’s interesting, though, is the converse: if we label someone a “C” player in our minds, we don’t like it if they suddenly perform at a higher than expected level. So it stands to reason that once you’ve blown the relationship with a peer, a manager, or an audience, they won’t care how much value you add after the fact.
In the language of influence, we’d say that “liking” has flown out the window. As a core principle guiding the development of relationships, once “liking” is gone, all the authority or consensus in the world won’t help you anymore.
We’ve always been told that “content is king.” It isn’t. “Context” is king. How we say things is often more important than what we say.
If you don’t believe me, just ask my son.