WSJ’s “Avoiding Conflicts, Too-Nice Boss…” Steps You Can Take, Part 2
Wishy Washy Upper Managers
I’ve got just short of three decades of experience working with managers in organizations large and small. And it occurs to me that it doesn’t matter which sector of the workplace you’re considering, private or public, educational or governmental, healthcare or manufacturing, the very serious problem of wishy washy behavior in upper management, supervisors and even executives has very serious negative consequences.
- Why do people in positions of authority and responsibility abdicate on their responsibility?
- Is this really a matter of style?
Well, it depends on who you ask. Vague folks give vague answers, usually in the form of vague excuses. “Don’t want to demotivate the employee.” “Not sure where to start.” “They’re only human.” “They’re doing the best they can.”
However, in my experience, there are only three reasons why people say yes when they mean maybe and maybe when they mean no, or nothing when what’s needed is something. Reason number one is fear. Reason number two is disorganized thinking. Reason number three is some combination of both.
This is a behavioral problem, requiring a behavioral solution. To get the vague person to give you the desired feedback, you’ve got to make it safe to be honest, and bring any internal conflicts about telling you the straight answer to the surface, before you ask for the straight answer.
Making it safe isn’t hard to do, but it does take a little time. You ask, ‘Is this a good time to talk? I have a favor to ask. There’s something I need from you, and you’re in the best position to give it. And the result is that our working relationship will improve as will my performance. I need your specific feedback. But first, I’m sure there is a very good reason why you’ve not given it to me already. That’s ok. Just tell me, what’s in the way of you giving me an honest appraisal of my work?”
Ask Your Manager Specific Questions
Once you get the comfort level up, it’s time to get down to the specifics that you’re actually after. You do this by asking specific questions in an organized way. You may have to repeat the questions to get past the general answers. If so, make sure you say back what you’ve heard first, in order to free your manager from repeating it. Then back to the question.
Take your time with it, and repeat a few times when necessary, and you can actually train a vague person to be comfortable enough to learn the kind of feedback you desire and how to provide it to you in a coherent and useful way.
Let me know how this technique works for you.
Dr. Rick Kirschner
Rick is a best selling author and the founder of the Art of Change Skills for Life. His book titles include, Dealing with People You Can’t Stand: How to bring out the best in people at their worst, Life by Design and Influence and the Art of Persuasion. These days he is spending quality time away from the spotlight enjoying the company of his wife and practicing his electric guitar.