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Mixed Messages Cause Damage, Create Sense of Helplessness Too!

June 14, 2010 Persuasion Politics 2

This month, we’re talking about mixed messages.  In my previous post, I gave you a list of examples of mixed messages that you are likely to hear.  I’ve worked with people whose parents gave them mixed messages, like “You never call.  I can’t talk, my show is on,” and  “You never come over. But I’m ashamed of how you look.”

But mixed messages aren’t just verbal.  When our words don’t match our bodies, that’s a mixed message too!  So is smiling while expressing sympathy.

No matter how they’re transmitted, mixed messages have consequences.   Mixed messages are confusing, and when people are confused and things don’t get better, they tend to become cynical, polarized and angry, or they collapse into a state of silence and helplessness.

Amelia Hill, in a piece she wrote for The Guardian newspaper titled “After Feminism: What Are Girls Supposed To Do?”, was referring to these consequences in the lives of teenage girls when she wrote:

The consistently mixed messages being sent to young girls, Hill notes, have lead to an increase in eating disorders, behavioral problems, and “risky behaviors” amongst the already vulnerable population: “Who, after all, wouldn’t feel confused and unhappy being raised in this brave new world that demands super-skinny, super-sexy and super-brainy all at the same time?”

Likewise, mixed messages have created some real interference with the national census.  The fearmongering of Republican politicians and pundits now has some in the GOP concerned that their foul claims about the census, so enthusiastically foisted on their followers as yet another way of interfering with the Obama administration, may be coming home to roost,  costing them seats and representation.

What mixed messages?   After all, in each moment, the messages being sent may have seemed congruent.  For example, Glenn Beck claimed that questions about race were intended to increase “…your dependence on the master in Washington.”  Michelle Malkin claimed it was part of a Democratic scheme to count illegal immigrants in order to “…ensure a permanent ruling majority.” Michelle Bachman had an even bigger idea about how bad the census is, claiming the information would be used to send people to internment camps.  But now, it’s a new moment, and some in the GOP are realizing that the consequent resistance to the census may do more harm to themselves than to Obama.     In a post on the blog Red State, Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina expressed his concern about “blatant misinformation coming from otherwise well-meaning conservatives.”

And who can forget the flap over the use of the word ‘retarded’?  First, Rahm Emanuel used the word and Sarah Palin took offense (she has a gift for that!)  Then Limbaugh used the word and she didn’t see a problem with it.  That’s just plain retarded!  (Sorry, I couldn’t resist!)   My mother used to say ‘What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”   Sarah’s mixed message approach is different.

Helplessness may actually be the desired state of the person who traffics in mixed messages.   Control freaks, sexual predators and perpetrators of domestic violence frequently use mixed messages, either intentionally, or unconsciously (because they learned the behavior pattern from the authority figures in their own lives), as a way of controlling others.  In fact, there are several hypnotic techniques that use mixed messages to break down a person’s ability to think and take them into a state of confusion.  (No, I’m not going to tell you what they are!)

There’s good news for you IF you’re able to think for yourself.  Because mixed messages have no effect if you notice them and recognize them for what they are, point them out and then straighten them out. And even if you fail to notice them in time, you can notice the confused state they trigger as a an early warning sign that someone may be messing with your head.

You know the saying… A house divided against itself cannot stand.  Said another way, an organization divided against itself, a nation divided against itself, (and yes, even an individual divided against his or her self…like the person who loves his family and spends no time with them)  cannot stand itself,  because mixed messages give rise to an ever increasing number of negative and difficult behaviors as people try to navigate the confused situation.

I’ll say this as clearly as I can.  Today is a great day to do your part to identify and eliminate mixed messages, on your team, in your department, in your relationships and in your community.

Your comments and feedback are welcome.

Be well,

Rick

 

2 Responses

  1. Then let me be clear in this message: your specific examples helped anchor your valuable conclusions about the damage of delivering mixed messages.

    Also, from my experience, when one is clear and congruent one is more likely to be conscious and present and is thus more likely to observe and understand another person.

  2. Kare, thank you for your wonderful comment! And yes, I wholeheartedly agree, congruent and present are, by nature, part of the same fabric of experience.

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