In principle, when I talk in front of a group, even if my words are directed to an individual, I am sending multiple messages. Leaders, politicians especially, are acutely aware of who they are speaking in front of and often deliver messages designed to impact multiple groups and influence multiple issues.
When I look toward the back seat and ask my teenage daughter a question in front of her friends, I know that the answer she gives is mostly a message to her friends. When the diplomat speaks on television in front of the world her words are carefully crafted for multiple audiences.
Practical Tip: Don’t take everything you hear in public too seriously. Give public speakers some slack. Recognize that anyone talking in front of others is inclined to temper their words. As you evaluate any speaker’s words, consider whom they were spoken in front of.
Give people an opportunity to talk in front of others rather than directly to others. Group facilitators, moderators, and mediators play this role when we encourage participants to talk to us – explain your story, make your argument, whatever – in front of others. Many people are much more inclined to say their peace in front of their adversaries rather than directly to them.
Talking in-front-of is less effective than talking directly, yet more effective than not talking at all.
Since I have a background in theology, I can bring a quick insight from my courses in scripture. We were taught pretty much the same lesson using the historical-critical method – that the authors of the books of the Bible were writing to a specific audience. While we strive to apply the words to the present day, there is also something to be learned – another layer of value – when we take into account the messages and nuances intended for the original audience. It also allows us to step back and appreciate the universality of that message…which, when applied to politics or the workplace, allows us to ask not only “what’s s/he saying to them?” but “how does that apply to me?” Hopefully that helps to overcome some of the partisanship (and sectarianism / denominationalism) that’s dividing us.