How to deliver messages on behalf of others (and avoid being sniped at)

Frankie Kemp

29 June 2011

There you are, delivering a message on behalf of your line manager to another and as you’re relaying the information, it becomes clear to you and your listener that you haven’t a clue what you’re saying. So you either ramble, or reveal too much, potentially and unwittingly stirring up a hornet’s nest.

Is this your fault? Not entirely. Often the reason you’re in this situation in the first place is because you have been given any one of the following:


  1. abstract information;
  2. too much information;
  3. a dense message too quickly.

Overcoming the obstacles:

1. Ask Probing Questions: use ‘bums on seats’ (see below for a rough imitation of what many bums on a seat would look like): Who, What, When Why and Where are all sitting on How:

A note about ‘Why?: ‘ If you ask ‘Why are we doing this?’, the answer may be dismissive or defensive. Instead ask, “What’s the reasoning behind this?’ 

2. Feel free to interrupt assertively to clarify information: impatient tapping and rolling eyes will go down like a crate of beer at a teetotalers party.

3. Remember that the questions you ask are helping the Source (the person on behalf of whom you’re delivering the message) to define their message.

4. If you need time to think about the message before relaying it, take that time, rather than rushing to deliver it. If you don’t want to go back to The Source, ask someone else for missing pieces. Although dropping The Source a quick line so you can give the right message shouldn’t have you shot to pieces…. Know someone who’d find this useful? Feel free to forward it….

5. Take notes if you have to.

6. Be politically savvy. A great deal of people can’t be bothered with politics at work. Others thrive on it. Either way, it’s there. Do you need to report everything you’ve been told? You really don’t want to be caught in a maelstrom for spilling too many beans.

7. Lastly, the messenger may be given information in a tone that may sound impatient or aggressive. Tell yourself: ‘This is their impatience with the situation, not with me’; ‘I am instrumental in solving this’ ‘It is, therefore, necessary for me to clarify the message in order to deal with this situation.’ Relaying information succinctly and clearly makes you look authoritative and in control.

What’s the most difficult message YOU’VE had to give on behalf of someone else and how did you deal with it (or not!)?

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