#40 Snot-Nosed Peers: How Your Message Gets Garbled

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By the summer of 2004 Joyce and I were the proud parents of a 12, 10, and 7 year old, and a 6 month old. And no, the last one was not an accident. We were resting.

I remember a single book I read that summer - Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. In those pages I learned that my children didn't need me as much as I'd thought they did. 

Gladwell came to this conclusion by studying the work of researcher Judith Harris. It was Harris who suggested that peers carry more influence than parents. That our kids were paying more attention to the kids down the street than to Joyce and I.

This doesn't mean we parents are completely useless - our genes still matter. The best guess is 50% of behaviors/preferences come from mom and dad’s genetic material. But beyond that donation, our parenting skills were found to be less critical than I'd thought. As proof, Harris pointed to studies of adopted children.

“These (adopted) children were no more similar in personality or intellectual skills to the people who reared them, fed them, clothed them, read to them, taught them, and loved them all their lives than they were to any two adults taken at random off the street.”

And here's another of her findings that also points in the same direction.

“A child is better off living in a troubled family in a good neighborhood than living in a good family in a troubled neighborhood. Peers trump parents.”

And here's a link to an article with a lot more detail if you’re interested.

Bottom line, our level of influence over our children is more limited than I’d thought. We're overshadowed by the snot-nosed kids they choose to pal around with.


Joyce and I fed them, changed their diapers, and drove them all over hell. And we continue to love them unconditionally -  yet we’re still second class influencers. We hold less sway than their peers.

Same holds for you and your kids. After all you’ve done, you’re still in second place.

And I’m going to guess that you do even less loving and nurturing for your employees than you do for your kids. So what are the odds that your employees consider you more influential than their work peers?

A big fat zero.


In the last post I talked about the telephone game. Where kids stand in a single file line and whisper a message to their downstream neighbor. The goal being to pass the message from beginning to end with zero changes. Simple, orderly, controlled. And still the message rarely seems to survive intact.

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Business telephone is more chaotic. More like folks bouncing around in a mosh pit with lots of people talking and phones ringing.

And this noise isn't the biggest challenge of business telephone. The bigger one, by a country mile, is that each person in the phone chain has a unique point of view. Just like us, they carry experiences, attitudes, and insecurities and they apply them to your message. So even if you deliver the message with perfect clarity, it will be changed. Either consciously or subconsciously, folks will apply their own spin. Their own color.

And when they share this altered message with their peers, they will be heard. Probably more clearly than you were heard. 

And to make things even more challenging, there are a whole bunch of them and only one of you. Have you ever stopped to think about how many peer relationships you’re competing with for influence? Let’s do a little math.

Guess how many one-on-one or peer-to-peer relationships exist in your 100 person business?

The answer is 4,950. That’s almost 5,000 chances for your words or actions to get garbled in peer-to-peer translations.  (The equation for unique pairs is (N(n-1))/2  where N is the total number of people. So 100*99/2= 4,950.)

That’s one helluva lot of opportunities for a mis-translation. And each one of them potentially carries more weight than your original message. Which is why the odds are a big fat zero that your message will survive intact.


You must deliver a consistent message at all times. And I’m not just talking about when you deliver your weekly or monthly state of the business remarks. It’s easy to hold attention and be consistent then. But realize that the cameras don’t turn off after your presentation. People are watching most attentively when you’re off script. The tiny informal interactions you have every day. 

This is when people find inconsistencies in attitudes, words, and actions. And that's when the business telephone game gets cranked up. 

"He says this, but he just did this."

Every facial expression, every word, every action is an opportunity to either reinforce your message or muddle it.


(This site is all about building a Map that will help me do work and life better. So at the end of each post I check in to see if any changes / insights come to mind.)

Per the above discussion, you walk into the office each morning with some sizable communication challenges. 

You're a single voice in a sea of peer-to-peer voices.
Your single voice carries less weight than those peer-to-peer voices.
Those weighty peer-to-peer voices are likely imperfect translators of your original message.

Under these conditions it is crazy hard to land a crisp clear message. Any sign of inconsistency, real or perceived, provides fuel for the doubters. It leaves room for confusion and potential mistrust. Which leads people to question your fairness and ethics. Recall the Edelman study I referenced last time where they found that only 24% of employees believe their CEO exhibits highly ethical behavior.

It’s my strong personal opinion that this terrible number comes from a lack of consistency on the part of the business leader. Yes, the system is rigged against you. You can be misinterpreted and made to look inconsistent even when you aren’t. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do a much better job of being consistent - of providing less fuel for the fire.

And the only way I know to do this, to maximize your consistency, is to make your business a reflection of your authentic self.

Sit with your thoughts. Write them. Read them. Say them out loud. Then strip away all the ego and insecurity and rewrite them. Then squeeze them again. Make sure there’s zero noise. Not a single extra word.

I call this building your SELF map. And I talked about it in posts 15 through 35. I believe it’s the necessary first step to building a great business. A business that does a whole lot more than pay your bills. One that provides the energy for you and everyone in it to grow and prosper.

So draw that SELF map and then use it to drive your WORK map. These two, as we discussed last time, must be in alignment. They have to reflect similar values and attitudes and direction. Or in map speak they must have similar WHY/ME/IF/CAN.

Once they do, then you're living and working from a single script. A place of authenticity and alignment. At that point you don’t have to worry about positioning or posturing or acting a certain way. Stick to this natural script and eventually your heartfelt, powerful consistency will drown out the misinterpretations.

It’ll be good for you and good for your business. 

And maybe starting with our SELF maps will have another benefit. Maybe our kids will notice and appreciate our greater consistency. And while we’ll probably never be their number one influencers, maybe we can at least be stronger role models.

That’s all for today.

Stay tuned for next time when we'll talk about avoiding personnel disasters. 

***Note: This site works best when you read the posts in order. So please head to the ARCHIVE to get started.