Delivering The Intended Message – Part 1

Delivering Your Intended Message


Have you ever said something to someone and thought you were crystal clear and found out they didn’t understand your message at all? What is going on?  Why didn’t they understand?   In a workshop, Lani Peterson gave this brilliant visual illustration.


There can be a number of reasons why a message is “misunderstood” .

*Trust. If there are trust issues between the speaker and listener either one (or both) may be defending themselves which makes it hard to get the message delivered.  

*I will talk more about trust and how to specifically define trust and how to build it in my next post.

Engagement of the listener.

There can be a number of reasons why the listener is not engaged.

1.    Context:
They may lack the context for the message and adopt an alternative context to the one the speaker has.

2.    Background:
The listener may not have enough background knowledge to understand the message from the point of view of the speaker.  Speaker must provide enough background knowledge for the listener to “be on the same page” for the intended message. Speakers often assume the listener has the same background knowledge that they do.

Children do this all the time.  They start to tell a person a story about something that happened as if the listener (someone that may be a near stranger) was there when the event happened.

Another common example is when adult siblings or childhood friends get together and laugh and laugh from a short phrase or goofy look from when they were kids.  Others in the room are clueless that don’t share the same background.

3.    Attention:
The listener simply has other things on the mind.


4.    Benefit:
A listener is more likely to hear a message if the message is beneficial to them.  A parent to child saying. “Go put on your shoes. We are going to weed the garden.” is not going to hear the request as clearly as “Go put on your shoes.  We are going to get ice cream.”  (Unless the child finds personal benefit from weeding the garden.)

5.    Fear:
When a person is in fear, the thinking brain shuts down and the instinctual brain, that has a drive to run or fight, kicks in.  If the thinking brain is turned off the message is sure to be muddled if heard at all.

The speaker has limited control over how the listener will hear and interpret the message.  

The more the speaker cares about the message and the more the speaker cares about the listener the more likely they are to send a clear message. 

The most powerful tool a speaker has to convey a message is the tool of storytelling. 

Fact, fact, gap. 

Human brains think in story.  We can’t help ourselves.  As soon as we hear or know a fact we have to put that fact in a story format to make sense of it.  For example, imagine this scenario.

 You walk into a room and see a friend talking to an older person that you do not recognize.  You see tears rolling down your friend’s face.  The older person reaches out and your friend melts into the embrace. 

  • What is going on?
  • Who do you think the older person is?
  • What is their conversation about?
  • Is your friend male of female?
  • How old is your friend?
  • Is the older person male or female?
  • What room are you in?
  • Is your friend happy or sad?
  • If you explained this scene to a seven-year-old girl, would she fill in the gaps like you did?
  • What about an 18 year-old-boy?
  • If a forty-year-old woman heard this scenario how old would the “older person be”?
  • For the seven-year-old girl, how old is the “older person” likely to be?

The mind automatically begins to fill in details that are based on who a person is and the experiences and patterns of the individual life.

Adding a few facts changes the story.

You walk into your neighbor’s playroom and see your little 4 year-old friend , Sadie, talking to teenager that has arrive to babysit.  You see tears rolling down your friend Sadie’s face.  The older person reaches out and your friend melts into the embrace. 

You hear a “fact”. To understand the fact it has to be connected to another fact.  When there is a gap of information between facts we make up “facts” to fill the gap.

Notice how adding some facts to the scenario changed the story in your mind.

“Stop it!”

boy-mom-bubblesWhen we get very clear on what we want our message to be it becomes easier to find ways to convey the intended message.

If you can reinforce your message with a story it becomes even more memorable.

We have all sat in a meeting and “listened” to a lecture and discover we have zoned out in the middle of the power point presentation.  The speaker begins to tell a personal
story and we find it easy to pay attention.

Being a mom of five, many of my needed messages have been toward my children.

For example, I want to deliver the message that throwing a fit when they are angry is not effective.  I can try to say to a 4 year-old “Stop it!”  I can yell or even spank, but my message is not heard or obeyed.

(When my kids were younger I was pretty good at throwing my own adult fits in reaction to their childish tantrums.)

ahns-anger-imageOne of the most effective ways for both of us to learn to be more calm was to read the picture book called “Ahn’s Anger”.   (Here’s a link to a YouTube short video that introduces the first part of the book.)

The story engages both of us whereas saying “Stop it!” doesn’t deliver the intended message.

Personal Stories

Just as effective as a picture book are well told personal stories.

You can start off “I remember when I was your age, one day I was…” That beginning can sometimes trigger “here comes a  lecture” if you have turned stories into lectures too often.

To neutralize that, try this approach “Can I tell you a story?”  Telling a personal story in third person can be a good choice too.

And this is not just for parents and their children.  Many of the best leaders in business, education and community are master storytellers in disguise.

Movies are stories in video form and we all know how powerful that can be.

For me, the most compelling part of storytelling is how it can heal.

We all tell ourselves stories ALL of the time and don’t even realize it.

Learning to hear our own stories that are part of our mind chatter or self-talk by bringing them up to our conscious mind allows us to begin to untangle them.  This is a very powerful tool.

Small groups in Kansas City have held workshops to explore how to do this for ourselves and subsequently learn how to teach it to others.   This post and others coming up are born out of that work.

The next workshop planned is Saturday, January 14, 2017. Save the date to join us.