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Stop Shooting the Messenger!

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Stop Shooting the Messenger!

October 27, 2023 “Stop Shooting the Messenger!”


Shooting the messenger" (or "blaming the bearer of bad tidings") is a metaphoric phrase used to describe the act of assailing the person delivering bad news, despite that individual having no direct responsibility for the news being relayed. This destructive behavior is frequently observed in people who receive distressing news. Their first instinct is to lash out at the person telling them the information, rather than addressing the underlying issue responsibly.

As the ultimate messenger at TFC I might get a T-shirt made that says, “Don’t shoot me…point the gun at yourself!”

Midpoint and end of bootcamp days are the two biggest days that I would need to wear this shirt.  In my two professions (Registered Nurse/Fitness guru) I’m often on the receiving end of a person’s guilt, frustration, denial and anger, depending on the messages I have to relay to them.

Here are some examples of one week of interactions and me getting shot at as I relay information.

I approached a client with genuine concerns about his blood pressure. It was sky high when he received an IV therapy from me, and when I brought it to his attention, he immediately became defensive saying it’s only high because he just finished exercising. This Saturday he tried to give blood, which is admirable, however he was turned away because his blood pressure was too high. His response, their blood pressure cuff was defective, just like the one at his doctor’s office. When I pulled him into our wellness center on Monday after he had been done exercising for a while. I raised my concerns again and took his blood pressure. It was 170/110. Again, he became very defensive saying it’s because he just exercised. However, my concerns are necessary especially in this instance because, high blood pressure especially in African American men has an exceedingly high rate of leading to kidney failure or stroke, if not worse.

I was going over a client’s midpoint results today, she gained weight 5.6 lbs. of fat and lost 4.8 lbs. of lean muscle. She became extremely upset saying, “I knew this program wouldn’t work.”  This is the same client that refuses to come to Runday Monday, says she doesn’t like doing cardio, never gives past 80% effort in her workouts, and received 13 sad faces in 3 weeks in her meal plan journal. She has grand expectations; however, she gave below average effort and refuses to accept the advice I give her or to make any changes. She would rather shoot the messenger instead of addressing the underlying issue, which is that she is not really following the program or putting any effort into making it work.

I have another client whom I’m actually immensely proud of because of her results, however she is very skeptical and has her own idea about what’s right instead of trusting the “professional”. She lost 2 lbs. of fat today and was upset that it wasn’t more. I stated this can be changed by increasing your cardio. Very sternly she says, “I do a lot of cardio, I walked all around Stone Mountain yesterday and I do this and that.” I asked to see her Apple Watch stats to see what her heart rate was during her extra cardio days. During our initial assessment of the clients, I give them their fat burning zone heart rate. Her fat burning heart rate number is 156. For most of her time going around the mountain she stayed at <119 HR, the highest she went was 152 for 4 min. I explained that it was excellent that she is doing extra walking, because that’s great for overall health, mobility and long-term weight loss and maintenance.  However, if she is looking to lose more fat in a shorter time she would need to increase the intensity of her walk to a vigorous walk, trot or jog to elevate her heart rate to optimal levels for fat burning.

We shoot the messenger because it’s easy to point a finger at someone else. These are some of the reasons people do.

Fear of change

Bad news often implies the need for change that may be either unsettling or intimidating. Most people are uncomfortable with change because change tends to imply the unknown. Then one’s fear of uncertainty is a common trigger of defensive reactions. Thus, shooting the messenger becomes a way to indirectly express resistance to the need for adjustment. By directing frustration at the messenger, we are attempting to resist/ deny the necessity of change, seeking to maintain the status quo.

Defense mechanism

Some use the act of shooting the messenger as a defense mechanism employed to cope with uncomfortable or threatening information. This defense mechanism allows individuals to avoid confronting the reality or the actual source of the problem. Instead of addressing the core issue, they redirect their emotions towards the messenger, thereby alleviating some of the distress that arises from the bad news.

Often, we are unaware we are engaging in this detrimental behavior. It emerges in moments of inconvenience or disappointment, and we express our frustration or displeasure without considering the impact on the news bearer.

Shooting the messenger may seem like an instinctive response for some. However, regardless of the circumstances, this reaction is neither justified nor beneficial. In fact, it hinders problem-solving, effective communication, and the fostering of healthy relationships. Moreover, blaming or harming the messenger overlooks the fact that they are not the cause of the bad news; they are merely the conveyors of information. This form of blaming fails to address the true source of the problem and by shooting the messenger, you validate the message.

When you repeatedly lash out at the bearer of bad news, you are creating an environment of fear and hostility that discourages others from delivering to you or seeking from you critical information in the future. As a result, vital feedback, and data necessary for informed decision-making is suppressed, hindering problem-solving and leading to missed opportunities for your growth and improvement.

The Ultimate Solution, Learning to Say “Thank You”

When it comes to breaking the cycle of shooting the messenger, the ultimate solution lies in a simple yet powerful phrase: "Thank you." This expression of gratitude can significantly transform how we receive input, feedback, and assistance from others. Instead of lashing out or becoming defensive when faced with advice or assistance, saying "Thank you" serves as a gesture of acknowledgement and appreciation. As simple as it is, it acknowledges the contribution and goodwill of the messenger, reinforcing a culture that values open communication and fosters constructive feedback.

Implementing this change in behavior requires self-awareness and practice. When someone offers guidance or support, pause before reacting impulsively. Take a moment to recognize the potential benefits of their input and the fact that it comes at no cost. Gratitude can create an atmosphere of respect and encouragement, making people feel valued and more willing to contribute positively. Bottom line the practice of saying “Thank you” does not imply weakness; rather, it signifies a willingness to learn, grow and be NO MESS!


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