Psst! Your Boss Is Human, Too.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Over at Ask a Manager, I ran into an item that illustrates how very common assumptions can hamper communication. (Scroll down to Item 5.) The questioner is concerned that a very inconvenient meeting time with his boss is going to cost him a day of work and incur lodging expenses. Obviously, he'd like to change that. Before offering a straightforward way to ask the question, Allison Green explains how assumptions by both parties led to this even becoming an issue in the first place:

He's probably just not thinking about the logistics the way you are. It's really normal for this to happen -- managers don't always think as deeply about logistics for this type of thing because they assume that if there's an issue, someone will say so, whereas employees often assume that if the manager is suggesting it, that must be the way they want it and there's no room to push back. [bold added]
But the manager probably doesn't want to waste time or money, and his employee's request will help him realize that what he is asking for isn't really so desirable, after all. It is clear to me why a manager might think in this way: He has to delegate the responsibility for finding small problems all the time.

More interesting is why an employee might fail to push back. Inexperience can certainly contribute, but I think several attitudes common in our culture also come into play. Consider how often businessmen are smeared, and how self-interest is frowned upon in the dominant culture, to the extent that "dog-eat-dog world" is a common expression. Consider how frequently movies depict management and rank-and-file as having conflicting interests. No wonder it might not naturally occur to an employee to ask such a question. We are all steeped in the idea that bosses are imperious jerks (and, doubtless, some internalize this and live up to the stereotype), and don't have to think about the same considerations "the rest of us" have to. The result is that we have to un-learn lots of silliness in order to become truly effective.

-- CAV

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