Working with Inconsistent and Overly–Ambiguous Managers

Very often, circumstances change and managers need to be flexible and reverse decisions and actions. For example, cancellation of an order or loss of a client can change priorities big time.

In this post, I will present tips I have found useful in dealing with flip-flopping and inconsistent managers.

I am not referring  to the type described in the opening sentence of this post.

Nor am I referring to a manager to is trying to encompass dichotomies, like quality and release date.

Following are the characteristics of the type of manager I am referring to:

  1. Makes ambiguous statements which can be understood in many ways
  2. Contradicts himself, and denies it.
  3. Decides but does not act
  4. Acts in contradiction of a decision

Following are behavioural examples of the above:

  1. Makes ambiguous statements which can be understood: “We need to be Diverse-at the switchboard”
  2. Contradicts himself, and denies it. “I gave you leeway, but you should have asked before you promised this feature”.
  3. Decides but does not act “I will speak to Joe” and it never happens, yet.
  4. Acts in contradiction of a decision “I ok’ed business class travel just this one time”.

Here are a few tips I have found useful.

1)  Type down statements/assumptions made by the client and project them on a screen during a consultation. E.g., Jacques needs to be retained in 2014 because he is a key employee”. The client gets these statement typed out at the end of the session.

2)  Every decision has a written summary. (This is pretty obvious, but very important)

3)  When the client has made up his mind, ask: “Have you calculated all the risks? What can change? Are you ready to decide? Is this tentative?

4)  Bring  someone else to important meetings so that there is a witness to what was said.

5)  Try to use group interventions more than one on one interventions because a group will police a flip flopper well.

Note: The Chinese have an expression: like playing piano to the cow. 对牛弹琴 This is said in referring  to someone who just does not get what you are telling them. So, my final suggestion is not to confront the person that he is inconsistent time after time, because it is like “playing piano to the cow.”

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One thought on “Working with Inconsistent and Overly–Ambiguous Managers

  1. I find that all is in the intention. If my intention is to “catch” or “herd” the manager into his failings, however detrimental these may be to the project or contributive to the issue at hand, I personally have experienced a manifestation of increased protection on the part of the manager.

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