Messengers Book Summary - Messengers Book explained in key points
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Messengers summary

Stephen Martin and Joseph Marks

Who We Listen To, Who We Don’t, And Why

4.4 (156 ratings)
26 mins

Brief summary

Messengers by Stephen Martin and Joseph Marks explores why charisma isn't the key to effective leadership, and uncovers the true qualities that make a great leader - authenticity, empathy, and humility.

Table of Contents

    Messengers
    Summary of 9 key ideas

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    Key idea 1 of 9

    Humans make snap judgments about messengers themselves, not just about their message.

    Why would a federal investigation into the 2007-08 financial crisis want to hear, not from the investor who had consistently warned of the crash before it happened, but instead from a journalist who just wrote up the story afterward? 

    And why when the British government prepared public information campaigns for the event of a nuclear attack in the 1980s, did it select as its spokespeople the country’s then top footballer, Kevin Keegan, and leading cricketer, Ian Botham?

    The answer is simple. We don’t just judge communication on its merits but on the basis of the messenger delivering it. 

    Michael Burry was one of a very few Wall Street investors who saw the financial crisis coming. He realized that the US subprime mortgage market was hugely risky. His major bets against it earned him, and a few investors who would listen to him, many millions of dollars when the crash finally came. But few listened. Even after the crash, rather than talking to Burry himself, investigators chose to talk to the journalist who wrote about him, Michael Lewis – the author of best-sellers like Moneyball and The Big Short

    Though Burry was a brilliant investor, he was an awkward communicator. He has a glass eye, the result of a childhood tumor, and that sometimes made one-on-one conversations unsettling. He didn’t fit people’s instinctive image of a Wall Street banker, wearing shorts and t-shirts to work rather than a suit, starched shirt, and tie. He wasn’t well known, so had no real status. Michael Lewis, by contrast, was a popular and successful journalist. As a messenger, he ticked a lot of boxes. 

    The important qualities of a messenger are who they are, what they look and sound like, and the nature of their social, professional, or economic statuses. That’s because we are constantly making judgments about the people we see and hear based on the briefest of views and the slightest information. 

    These snap judgments are surprisingly accurate. One study found that participants could correctly identify whether a teacher was dominant, confident, competent, or warm based on watching only a ten-second, silent video clip of the classroom. The participants’ judgments were closely correlated with assessments from students who’d been in class all term. 

    As this study highlights, we constantly make snap judgments about people, identifying them as warm, competent, or successful based on mere moments. And when we rate someone positively in one area – like Ian Botham’s clear competence and status as Britain’s leading cricketer – we are more likely to listen to them, even about completely unrelated issues, such as an impending nuclear war. 

    Let’s dive in and start to understand why the messenger is just as important as the message. 

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    What is Messengers about?

    Messengers (2019) is a fascinating exploration of why we listen to, follow, or believe in some people but not others. It explains why thoughtful experts are sometimes ignored in favor of confident blowhards. And it reveals why apparently irrelevant details, like the color of someone’s lipstick or the roundness of their face, can make a huge difference to how we respond to them. 

    Messengers Review

    Messengers (2021) is a captivating exploration of how human communication has evolved over time and its impact on society. Here's why this book is definitely worth reading:

    • Packed with eye-opening examples and anecdotes, it sheds light on the fascinating history of messaging and its enduring relevance in the digital age.
    • By dissecting the intricate mechanics of effective communication, the book empowers readers to become more persuasive and influential in their personal and professional interactions.
    • With its thought-provoking analysis of the psychology behind messaging, the book challenges conventional wisdom and encourages readers to reconsider how they convey ideas.

    Who should read Messengers?

    • Communicators who want to step up their influence 
    • Professionals who want to be more persuasive 
    • Anyone who wants to find more ways to connect with the people in their lives

    About the Author

    Stephen Martin is the CEO of Influence at Work, a consulting firm. He leads a Columbia University executive education program in behavioral science and is a million-selling author of Yes! 50 Secrets from the Science of Persuasion. Joseph Marks is a doctoral researcher in experimental psychology at University College London who has written for the New York Times and The Guardian. 

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    Messengers FAQs 

    What is the main message of Messengers?

    The main message of Messengers is that effective communication is key to influencing others and achieving success.

    How long does it take to read Messengers?

    The reading time for Messengers varies depending on the reader's speed, but it typically takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Messengers a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Messengers is definitely worth reading. It provides valuable insights and practical tips on how to master the art of communication.

    Who is the author of Messengers?

    Messengers is authored by Stephen Martin and Joseph Marks.

    What to read after Messengers?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Messengers, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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    • Objections by Jeb Blount
    • Spoon-Fed by Tim Spector
    • The Unemployed Millionaire by Matt Morris
    • The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer
    • Surrounded by Narcissists by Thomas Erikson
    • Evidence-Informed Learning Design by Mirjam Neelen & Paul A. Kirschner