The messenger matters. This is not a new epiphany and some of you are probably thinking “How basic. Really, Welborn?” Yes. I’m constantly running into people who don’t “get it”-people who think that if their message is good, others will be willing and open to listen.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, here’s a simple example of someone who does “get it”: I drove to Charleston last week for a meeting with different programs that are addressing diabetes in the South. Dr. Anothony Emekalam, a professor at Elizabeth City State University, shared how his program’s success came from having the right people relay the message. Dr. Emekalam knows that most issues are cultural issues and require cultural change if any change is to be made at all. His program focuses on diabetes screenings and preventative education in the community around Elizabeth City State.
In the majority black communities he works in, the church is the trusted authority. Naturally, Dr. Emekalam chooses church leaders to be his messengers. We aren’t talking about manipulation here. Manipulation is “shrewd or devious management, especially for one’s own advantage.” We’re talking about communicating–communicating critical information to people who will benefit from paying attention. In Dr. Emekalam’s case, church leaders garner community buy-in and have allowed for the program’s sustainability. (Random Sidenote: Dr. Emekalam’s research has found that, contrary to popular opinion, black communities will take charge of their health if educated and their leaders are on board.)
If you have an awesome idea (or project/cause/company/etc.) pick a messenger that is TRUSTED. Fear drives people more than anything else. (Not saying that’s a good thing- it’s just reality). The need to feel safe is of utmost importance when you want people to digest and act on the information you’re relaying. People today are bombarded with information and want someone to cut through the clutter for them. Who better to do that than someone they trust?
You may not be biased/racist/un-accepting/fearful/etc., but your audience more than likely is. If you don’t want your messenger shot, as the saying goes, make sure you pick the right one.