How to Handle a Miscommunicating Manager – Even If It’s You

Communication. It’s the key to any successful relationship, whether personal or professional.

Our communication style – how we communicate – has an impact on our success.

The ability to clearly communicate expectations and flex your communication style so that you are understood by others is a skill, and one which many don’t (or choose not to) possess.

Are you speaking different languages?

It’s important to understand your own style and the impact that style may have on others in receiving your message. When this is lacking, miscommunication can often occur, and that can negatively impact relationships and performance.

Have you ever worked for someone where you feel as though you’re speaking one language and they’re speaking another?

Working for a miscommunicating manager can be challenging and downright frustrating. When someone doesn’t communicate properly, when their expectations and the goals and tasks at hand for any given project are not clear, this tends to have negative impacts such as wasted productivity, reduced performance, and low morale.

So, are you a miscommunicating manager? Here are the three (3) biggest types of miscommunicating managers I’ve seen:

1. The mind reader

You’re just supposed to know what they’re thinking. They don’t want to delve into the details; you should know it already because you’re an experienced professional.

These people usually have a very specific idea in their head of exactly how they want something to loo,  but they don’t want to be bothered taking the time to provide that detailed information.

You should just know. You should be able to read their mind and give them exactly what they want. Sure, we’re all psychic, right?

Often these people then get upset when a deliverable or task is not completed precisely how they envisioned it to look. Good managers and leaders take the time to explain their ideas and expectations. They make themselves approachable and offer opportunities to ask questions and clarifications – they don’t just say “go do this…”

2. The small picture thinker

It’s not just about churning out a “work product.” Tasks and deliverables often tie into a larger project, other work streams, strategic priorities, or organizational initiatives.

This type of miscommunicating manager has no idea how the task they’ve assigned fits into the bigger picture. Sometimes completing work is about just tactical execution. But not everything should be completed in a silo, or just completed for the sake of getting it done.

If the project gets handed down from leadership – without explanation – that goes back the point about being a “mind reader.” If management was handed something and doesn’t see how it fits into the bigger picture, then they should’ve clarified prior to handing it off.

Most people like to understand how the work they’re performing helps to support overall organizational success. They want to know they are adding value and not just being used as mindless drones.

For a business to truly be successful, those executing must understand the value of their work and how it ties to overall strategy – and they must be able to communicate that to those they lead.

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3. The unclear communicator

In their mind, they see the end result yet leave way too much open for interpretation.

It’s all in the details, but they can’t seem to — or don’t want to — be bothered taking the time to explain the details, the expectations, the logic, and reasoning for why something needs to be done a certain way.

These types of miscommunicating managers often then get annoyed when you interpret something in a different way than them. (That thing! You know – THAT thing! Yeah – so we need to work on that and I want it done the usual way I like it…you know that usual way.)

If you work for a miscommunicating manager, you likely aren’t hitting the mark on the project you’re working on.

Sure, sometimes it’s lack of experience and training or other reasons that may contribute to not hitting peak performance. But all too often it’s the unclear communication – part poor interpersonal skills and part poor project management skills – that are a huge contributing factor to derailing projects and negatively impacting performance.

Stuck working with a miscommunicating manager (or two…)? Don’t fret. Here are three (3) ways to improve your behaviors and interactions to prevent lost productivity.

  1. Ask questions – and lots of them. It’s your job to get the project done or instruct team members on how to complete the task. What things do you need to know? When do you need to know them? And who is involved? If something doesn’t make sense to you it’s likely not to be clear to others working on the project as well.
  2. Create processes. For every type of project, determine the right process for completion. It’s Project Management 101; know not just the who but also the when and how for successful execution. Make sure you take the time to train other’s you work with on these processes so everyone is on the same page.
  3. Communicate. This is kind of ironic, but clear communication is imperative to success. Communicate where you are, what you’re doing, and what progress has been made. Make sure all team members who need to be involved in the delivery of a project are involved – no silos – because this prevents wasted work by making sure everyone is on the same page. Checking-in frequently to ensure you have the end result heading in the right direction is a key to success.

When all the above are complete – execute the project – and execute it well.

Guilty of being a miscommunicating manager? Here are a few other tips to help increase the effectiveness of your communication. Ask yourself…

  • What is it I’m really asking? Map out the reasons for this project, the goals, and the steps you’d like to see completed. This sets the tone and allows for a more productive work environment by making sure everyone is on the same page.
  • Why am I asking? To truly hit the mark, your people need to know why you’re asking them to do this project. They need to know what role the work they’re completing plays in the big picture in order to put forth their best work possible, so inform them. If you don’t know see No. 1 above.
  • What am I really expecting? You need to detail out the specifics you want to see. If you don’t,  you leave it up to interpretation. You’re the manager for a reason, after all. Spell out how your team should implement the project and set expectations.

Even if you aren’t a miscommunicating manager,  you’re bound to encounter one. These are several key ways to improve your style, make your work life a bit better, and help to improve how responsive, productive, and profitable your organization can become – not to mention just make your day-to-day life at work that much more pleasant!

This was originally published on the Tolero Think Tank blog.

Scott Span, MSOD, is CEO & Lead Consultant of Tolero Solutions, an Organization Improvement & Strategy firm. He helps clients in achieving success through people, creating organizations that are more responsive, productive and profitable -- organizations where people enjoy working and customers enjoy doing business. 

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