The Missing Stapler and the Message We Send

February 11, 2019 10:20 am Published by

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Real Estate companies have paging systems by which the companys receptionist can dispatch calls to the appropriate salesperson, or salespeople. If you call for Jeff Neumann and I am not in (quite possible), I will get a page dispatched to my cell phone. If you call on a listing that happens to be listed with more than one agent, the system has the flexibility to page the same message to multiple recipients. On the odd occasion that we want to send all of our salespeople the same message, we send what is known as an all page. A handy thing, until it isnt.

Several years ago I, and every salesperson in our office, received an all page from our front desk. It read: would whoever borrowed the stapler from the front desk kindly return it please and thank you. An innocuous message from someone rightly frustrated by the missing stapler you may say? As the person with the privilege of being accountable to the 50 or so people who chose to work with us, here is how I interpreted the situation: in all likelihood, the missing stapler was the work of one person, probably meaning no harm, walking off absentmindedly with the stapler. What is more, the receptionist, because they generally learn the habits of employees better than anyone else in the organization, probably had a very good idea as to the identity of the guilty party. Yet here we interrupted the days of 59 innocent parties with a message that did not apply to them. The problem with messages, is that hidden within them are often unintended messages the receiver may interpret – none of them useful for the ongoing function of the enterprise. Among them in this instance: the front desk is in disarray, doesnt have a stapler, the secretary is grumpy today, and we have a thief in our midst – I wonder what they may steal next!

Admittedly, this is a relatively harmless example of something most of us have probably been guilty of on occasion -namely, spread a message to all, because addressing only the one who needs the message most seems like a lot of work, or perhaps feels a little outside our comfort zone. In essence, it is the easy way out, and I have been guilty of it many times myself.

When I used to coach hockey, I often found myself tempted to generalize my post game message after a loss. You got outworked tonight seemed to be a whole lot easier to say than identifying who worked hard and who in my view, let their teammates down. ( it results in fewer emails from parents too! ) But what message have I inadvertently delivered ? Not the one I intended. Not the one that the hard worker deserves to hear. And certainly not the one the lazy kid needs to hear. In one well meaning sentence, I have shirked my responsibility and done a disservice to all involved.

An all page, or any message delivered to the masses by any means is a blunt instrument, unless that message really is applicable to all. If it is only meant for the guy who borrowed the stapler, all I have achieved is taught the other 49 people to stop reading our messages. It would be far cheaper to buy a new stapler.

Thanks for reading,

Jeff Neumann

P.S. lest our current cheerful staff fret, this is an old example committed by someone long moved on to better things!

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