Messengers | Stephen Martin

Summary of: Messengers: Who We Listen To, Who We Don’t, and Why
By: Stephen Martin


In the age of information overload, we often find ourselves influenced by the messenger rather than the message itself. ‘Messengers: Who We Listen To, Who We Don’t, and Why’, authored by Stephen Martin, aims to unravel why some individuals are effective at captivating our attention, while others struggle to be heard. In this summary, we explore the key elements of a powerful messenger, ranging from qualities like dominance and competence to attractiveness and warmth. As we delve into insightful examples and thought-provoking studies, you’ll discover how these seemingly unrelated attributes actually affect the effectiveness of messengers in various fields.

The Power of the Messenger

The messenger is just as important as the message they deliver. Our snap judgments of people based on their appearance and social status influence how we perceive their communication. These judgments are often accurate and impact our decisions, as seen in the case of Michael Burry and Michael Lewis during the 2007-08 financial crisis. Studies show that people can accurately identify certain traits of others based on brief encounters. Therefore, it’s essential to consider who delivers a message and how they are perceived before deciding to act on it.

Status: The Unspoken Language

In a 1967 experiment, social psychologists Anthony Doob and Alan Gross discovered that someone’s socioeconomic status has a significant impact on how we respond to them. High-status people are given more attention, deference, and followers. The Just World Hypothesis suggests that being successful means you are intelligent and hardworking and, therefore, deserving of respect and attention. This belief system leads to our subconscious perception that success correlates with a higher status. Ultimately, it is an unspoken language that we all understand.

Projecting Competence

The book recounts how our brains quickly perceive competence, and how that competency can be demonstrated through the smallest of indicators. The author cites studies and reports that show how projecting professional status can lead to being perceived as competent, whether it means wearing a stethoscope for a doctor or carrying a briefcase for a businessman. The book also warns of the dangers of blindly trusting respected authorities, particularly when we assume that they know what they are doing. Instead, the author suggests that projecting competence is the key to being heard and respected, and that we must be conscious of the signals we send to those around us.

The Power of Dominance

Dominance is a powerful tool that can be conveyed through body language, posture, verbal cues, and voice. Research has shown that dominant individuals are often rewarded in various contexts, from the workplace to dating apps. While dominance may be effective for getting listened to, it does not necessarily translate to being liked.

The Advantage of Being Attractive

From infancy to adulthood, humans are wired to be drawn to attractive faces. This preference is not only subjective but also has scientific backing, as youthfulness, facial symmetry, and averageness signal good genes. Attractive people benefit in various ways, such as receiving more attention, better job opportunities, and even more lenient sentences in court. Although we can enhance attractiveness artificially, we should also consider minimizing the bias towards attractiveness in decision-making processes. Despite efforts to level the playing field, the inherent advantage of being attractive is undeniable.

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