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Dealing With a Non-Communicative Manager

Dealing With a Non-Communicative Manager

Alison Green | Ask A Manager

April 05, 2010

One other thing: Her swing between non-communicative and micromanaging is a typical one of managers who aren’t managing well and feeling frustrated as a result. Frequently a manager will start off at one extreme, discover that it doesn’t get the results she had wanted, and react by moving to the opposite extreme, only to find that doesn’t work either — because neither extreme works. The secret these managers are missing is that they need to be more hands-on in certain specific areas and more hands-off in others, and usually they’re getting it backwards. They need to be more hands-on in clearly communicating their expectations for the outcomes of the work at the start, in making sure they and the employee are on the same page about how the work will proceed, in monitoring the work while it’s ongoing, and in creating accountability and learning afterwards… and more hands-off in actually pushing the day-to-day of the work forward or doing the work themselves.

What that means for you is that she’s displaying the signs of a frustrated manager who doesn’t know how to get that balance right, and that’s an opportunity for you, the employee, to manage up to help her:

Ask to try a different system for checking in and getting questions answered. For instance, you might have a regular weekly meeting, plus ad hoc conversations throughout the rest of the week as the need arises. I’m also a huge fan of keeping an ongoing list in your email program of issues, questions, and information for your boss, which you tweak throughout the day – so when she can grab a few minutes to talk, your list is organized and waiting.

Apply the principles of good delegation upward. When a good manager delegates a responsibility to an employee, she should articulate the desired outcome, constraints, and prioritization. Do this yourself when your manager gives you an assignment, in order to make sure you’re on the same page. For instance, if your manager asks you to oversee the development of a new logo, you might say, “So we’re looking for a logo that’s professional and modern, with a global feel. It sounds like the budget needs to be kept under $2,000, and I’m guessing I shouldn’t tackle this until after we’re done with the spring conference. Does that sound right?”

You should also read this post I wrote on being micromanaged, and see if anything in there helps.

But my advice here is to talk to her, big picture. Find out how she’s seeing things and what she thinks is going on. Good luck!


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