Should We Blame the Messenger?

September 27, 2018 | Rowena Crosbie

Rowena Crosbie, President, Tero International

Individuals and organizations invest heavily in the development of messages they want delivered. Whether it is a parent struggling over how to talk to a child, a marketing department seeking the perfect way to present a new product to consumers or a leader seeking to inspire a group with a powerful message, we know how important words are.

What we often fail to realize is that people rarely trust the message if they don’t trust the messenger.

How can a messenger build trust with listeners? That is a task made even more challenging when the interaction is new, brief or occurs at a time of tension in a relationship.

Have you ever seen excellent ideas get rejected because of a poor delivery? Have you ever seen ideas of less merit get accepted because they were delivered by a great messenger? Are ideas accepted based on logic and facts alone?

A great message in the hands of a poor messenger does not produce desired results. In his book Rhetoric, Aristotle described the three things required to persuade another person to act. One must appeal to logos (Greek word meaning “logic”), appeal to pathos (Greek word meaning “emotions”), and appeal to ethos (Greek word meaning “disposition” or “character”). In other words, for the message delivery to be successful, the information must make sense, must evoke desirable emotions and be delivered by someone trusted. Kouzes and Posner, authors of The Leadership Challenge point out, you won’t believe the message if you don’t trust the messenger.

To persuade is the goal of every message we send. Whether we are selling an idea, a concept, a product, a service or our own credibility, we want our listener to buy. We want people to trust us and trust the information we are communicating.

The most important element of persuasion is trust. If others like you, trust you and have confidence in you, they may do what you suggest or believe what you say—even if it doesn’t make logical sense. The natural tendency of human beings is to justify on facts, but buy on feelings. People tend to do business with people they like, trust and have confidence in.

All research indicates that the impression you make as a professional is far more important than the words you actually say. So why do we spend so much time working on the content of our message with little attention to our delivery style and environment? Of course, the content must be sound, well thought through and tailored to who we are speaking to. But poor communication can destroy an otherwise technically flawless message. The opposite holds true as well; superior delivery can sometimes save a weak message. Unfair, but true.

Rowena Crosbie is president at Tero International in Clive. You may email her at She is also co-author of “Your Invisible Toolbox: The Technological Ups and Interpersonal Downs of the Millennial Generation.”