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Dealing With a Non-Communicative Manager

Dealing With a Non-Communicative Manager

Alison Green | Ask A Manager

April 05, 2010

A reader writes:

My boss is intermittently non-communicative and micromanaging, neither of which I can tolerate. We will go weeks without meeting to discuss a project and then at the last minute she will “fling” across very unclear direction to me to execute (usually in the same day). She typically talks to me about a project as if we’ve been planning and discussing it for weeks. I literally have to tell her, “did I miss a memo? I don’t have any requests from you asking me to do this until now."

It’s driving me crazy and it’s causing a breakdown in what once was a really good relationship. On the other hand, when she does “fling” her very unclear direction, when I ask questions to get clarification, she seems exasperated. So then I schedule a meeting to discuss my questions, and she goes in completely the opposite direction by editing documents for me or wanting to watch me schedule meetings in support of the project. All I can say is WTF!!!! And finally, last year I presented at our annual sales meeting, which is like the Academy Awards at my company, and this year, she won’t answer me why I haven’t been invited (I went to the sales coordinator and he sent me the info).

I am so confused, as I have always been given very high ratings, and even this quarter, I’ve gotten very positive feedback, but the performance evaluation score has not improved. I was told that the company is defaulting everyone to this score to make it more difficult to get a higher rating.

I have been with this organization for several years, have 15 years of industry experience in my field, and I am perfectly capable of doing these tasks on my own. All that I ask is to be treated as part of the team and not someone in a supporting role who is always the last to know things. I’ve even tried to schedule meetings with her, but she doesn’t show up. I feel like she is trying to sabotage my employment there because our numbers are down and either wants to find cause to lay me off/fire me or wants me to leave.

Talk to her. About the big-picture, not about a specific incident.

I see this a lot on both sides — from managers and from employees. Someone is increasingly frustrated about something the other is doing, sees it as a pattern, is wondering what the hell is going on, and yet, for some reason, doesn’t sit down with the person and talk about it. People tend to address each specific incident as it comes up, all the while growing more frustrated, when what would really help is to talk about the overall big picture.

So what that means is this: Tell her that you’d like to schedule some time to talk about how things are going. (And if she cancels, reschedule and tell her it’s important.) When you meet, say something like, “I want to talk about something that I’ve noticed happening with the two of us recently. I might be misinterpreting this, but sometimes you give me an assignment and seem surprised that I don’t know details about it yet. And I’ve been getting the sense that you’re frustrated when I ask questions about it. We used to communicate really well, and lately it seems like we’re not, and I wonder if there’s something you’re seeing that I’m not, or something I should be doing differently. I’d really like your feedback, and please don’t worry about offending me; I really want to hear your thoughts.”

Your tone during this matters. You want to be calm, non-defensive, and genuinely receptive to feedback.

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