WSJ’s “Avoiding Conflicts, Too-Nice Boss…” Steps You Can Take

WSJ’s “Avoiding Conflicts, Too-Nice Boss…” Steps You Can Take

On February 26 the Wall St. Journal’s Jared Sandberg wrote a column titled “Avoiding Conflicts, The Too-Nice Boss Makes Matters Worse” that I would like to comment on.

In summary, the article talked about workers’ experiences with non-confrontational bosses, dysfunctional teams and the related impacts on the company. 

I have several thoughts on this topic and the article, so I will post my views and experiences in two parts starting here.

Part One:

I must take exception to the idea that aggressive and foul tempered people are increasingly rare in the workplace. From the stories I hear and, yes, examples I’ve witnessed, this just isn’t so.  Just yesterday, one of my coaching clients was telling me about her crazy manager, and how everyone walks on eggshells to keep from setting her off.

However, managers who lack behavioral flexibility and communication skill can demonstrate their limitations in a whole host of ways, and they are certainly not limited to displays of bad temper.  Negative managers, vague managers and managers who strut around boasting of their accomplishments while ignoring the contributions of others are legion. 
That said, the ‘nice’ manager who refuses to provide needed guidance isn’t doing anyone any favors.  For many working people, a lack of direction leads to confusion, cynicism and a loss of morale. Nice is nice at the right time and place, but the rest of the time, and in fact most of the time, nice is fairly irrelevant.

The temptation is to decide that the ‘nice’ manager’s ‘style’ is the problem.  But the important thing to remember about style is that it is behavior based, not personality based, which means that it is context specific, and has its triggers.  If someone isn’t telling you what is on their mind, there’s a very good chance that the situation has somehow made it harder to do so.  And that puts the responsibility back on the person wanting the guidance and feedback. 

If you don’t like the hemming and hawing, then be relentless in holding them to account, but do it nicely.  Reply to every vague bit of input with a question asking for a more specific response, and eventually, you’ll get one. 

Sometimes, it’s a matter of knowing the specific feedback you want, and then asking for it over and over again until you get it. “I want to do better, and you can help me do better.  What am I already doing that I could do better?” and “I want to improve, and I need your guidance.  What am I not doing that I should start doing in order to increase my effectiveness?” 

There does exist the possibility that the manager doesn’t know.  It’s called the Peter Principle.  Then tendency of people in hierarchical systems to rise to the level of their incompetence.  In such a case, it again falls back on the motivated employee to look up, look around, find a model of excellence or a mentor with a clue.  Go where there’s something to get, instead of getting frustrated by the person who doesn’t know where or how you should go. 

The complete WSJ article is here.

Check back tomorrow for part 2.

Be well,

Dr. Rick Kirschner

To learn more about Dr. Kirschner, visit The Art of Change.


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