Leadership Skills to Stop the Maddening Communication from Mixed Messages

mixed messages

Summary: When stress gets high, mixed messages go even higher. Here are some ways to stay in the “safe stress zone” when you get inconsistent and unclear messages.

Dear Dr. Sylvia,

I am an intelligent vice president at a very sophisticated marketing company. I guess I shouldn’t brag. However, it’s the truth.

Most importantly, I have lived in an upside-down world lately.

For example, the mixed messages I am getting now are chaotic and make me feel crazy.

As a result, I feel pulled in two (or three) different directions.

Please help me find a way of responding that will get me and everyone else at work out of this rabbit hole of the mixed messages of poor communication.

Sadly, these communications always end with the big boss wanting to fire someone.


Alice living in Wonderland

Dear Alice,

You are not alone in this dilemma.

It does seem like we are all living in Alice in Wonderland times. Around every corner is a childish, foul-tempered boss like the queen in the story who is quick to point fingers and make excessive demands.

They only know how to effect change, saying, “Off with their heads.”

These leaders give directives that create a double bind where you lose no matter what you do.

Here are some ideas about communicating and changing what is not working.

Clear communication requires you to be open to feedback.

For example, imagine this scene. Let’s say you are up to your eyeballs in tasks at work and beg for help. Human Resources sends you a list of three great candidates to fill the assistant slot you have asked for. So far, all is good, right?

However, you claim to be too busy to set up a meeting with the candidates. Even worse, you say “only you” can do the work properly.

You want an assistant, yet if “only you” can do the work, what’s the point?

Consequently, you stay overwhelmed. However, you continue to blame “them.” The system, you say, is messed up. You stand firm in your claim you can’t get enough help.

That is until a colleague in HR finally calls you out for your confusing, mixed messages.

This encounter is the turning point.

Honest feedback is vital now for you to make positive changes.

How do you respond to the “hug me but don’t touch me?” syndrome?

Above all, you, yes you, are being held accountable for the mixed messages.

Here’s what it sounds like. “Please give me the help, but no one can help me.”

As a result, you have created a lose-lose situation.

Thus, be thankful for your honest HR colleague who shows that It’s not the system. It’s YOU!

Do you fall into the trap of mixed messages at home too?

Similarly, I was thinking back to the craziness of mixed messages when I was raising my daughters. Here are classic mixed messages.

For example, my daughters would be in one of those “gotcha’ moods,” constantly taunting each other. I asked, actually pleaded with them to be good and kind to each other. They would nod, look at me sideways, and say quietly, “that’s no fun.”

As a result, I’d make a request (more like yell). It was always a variation of “Go to your rooms and stay there for the rest of the day.”

Consequently, about an hour later, here comes the mixed message. “Please get down here! Dinner’s ready!”

So, what do you do with that?

Mixed messages give power to others who then manipulate you.

Of course, my kids would come down and eat. They also learned that they could navigate their way around me very quickly from my mixed message. Not good!

Similarly, I get many calls from clients who say that mixed messages are more than ever, driving them bonkers.

For instance, a director from a tech company said, “I handed in a proposal that took weeks to complete. My boss complimented me by saying, “Your writing is wonderful.” He took the report to critique. When I got the final draft back from him, it was full of red marks and changes. So, what’s the message I was getting? Those red marks didn’t make me feel wonderful about my writing skills. It made me nuts!”

In the same vein, I heard my memory voice, once again, telling my daughters to stay in their rooms forever and yet hurry down to dinner.

Have you ever felt ‘gobsmacked?’

In addition, another client said, ‘”We’re getting ready to hire more staff, even though this is a difficult economic time. My VP told me privately I was in line for a promotion. I was thrilled. Then, a day later, he said we wouldn’t be promoting internally. Huh? I was gobsmacked. I don’t know where I stand.”

To clarify, for those who live outside The United Kingdom, here is the definition, Gobsmacked means being utterly astonished.

So, my advice now will keep you from shock and astonishment. No more mixed messages.

Moreover, I have some exceptional advice for the receiver, the person who gets the mixed messages.

Most importantly, it’s three simple things. Simple in words, but not so simple when you want to do them.

Above all, here are the three keywords: stop, question, and reboot.

There is power in the word stop.

Firstly, stop. Just stop. When somebody gives you a mixed message, you have to stand firm and say stop now.

Furthermore, the word “stop” is what I call a pattern interrupt. The universal meaning is the same everywhere and means what it says. It means stop.

It means what we’re doing isn’t working. In the same vein, perhaps it means you have to wait for something else to happen. After that, you can continue with what you want to do.

Above all, the word stop is a powerful word.

So, please use it and use it wisely.

Use a sentence like “Stop for a minute. Perhaps say, “Stop, I feel stuck right now. I’m confused.” Or, “This is puzzling to me.” These mixed messages do not help explain what is going on.”

Here is how to ask an accountability question.

Secondly, you can ask a question. I call it an accountability question. “What question is that?” you ask. After much research, the best I have found is, “What do you want as an outcome of our discussion?” As the receiver of the mixed message, you can help gain clarity by asking.

After that, you wait. You sit quietly and wait for the answer to your question.

Further, do not give clues or add-ons. You let them answer.

What does it mean to reboot?

In addition, after saying stop and asking an accountability question, it’s time to reboot.

Above all, you say, “I would appreciate it if we could do this differently moving forward. I heard our meeting is all hands on deck with no excuses accepted. I, like others, prepare accordingly.”

Then add how the mixed message makes you feel.

“In addition, there are changes at least five times during the day. Finally, I got the notice of cancellation. There are no explanations. Then I throw my hands up in frustration. I need your help with this.”

As a result, you offer information to the other person. This method is much more effective than just complaining.

Here is the route to better communication.

To sum up, good communication is clear and concise.

Further, if you give mixed messages, you have extra work.

To clarify, you need to learn the power of consistency.

Moreover, it means a change in tackling the tensions, stressors, and anxiety in your life.

Practice aligning inner thought with outer actions.

Most importantly, you want to create alignment in your life.

Here’s how: Say what you mean and do what you say.

In summary, let’s get back to my daughters. Being so greatly annoyed, I said, “Go to your rooms for the rest of the year. Other than school, you will stay there. Period.”

I think it was January 3rd.

So, my feeling of powerlessness and frustration hit an endpoint.

How long did they stay in their rooms? You guessed it, till dinnertime.

Agh! Say what you mean, and doing what you say takes practice.

In conclusion, learn now how to handle the stress of mixed messages. Stay in what I have named “the safe stress zone.”

As a result, you won’t overreact—no need to shout out your upset. Likewise, then there is no need to keep your anger stuffed. You respond from a centered place of calm and stability.

There is much more great information about healthy communication in my Stress Busters online program. Watch the masterclass here or jump right in and sign up.

To your success,


PS. Please get a free copy of the introduction to my book “Invisible Stress (It’s NOT What YOU Think!). Here you get more information to stay out of the middle of a muddle and stay in the safe stress zone.

Creative Energy Options

Sylvia Lafair

Creative Energy Options