WHEN YOUR BOSS GIVES YOU CONFLICTING MESSAGES

7:09 AM
Managers routinely give employees conflicting messages. “Be innovative” and “Follow established protocol.” “Take risks” and “Don’t expose the company to bad press.” “Focus on the company’s #1 initiative” and “All of these projects are a priority.” We’ve written previously about the double bind that many organizations put their employees in, providing some advice for leaders on how to mitigate the impact that these mixed messages have on people. But what if you’re the employee and your manager doesn’t recognize the impossible position he’s put you in?

People who find themselves in such a double bind have pretty predictable responses. Frustration and anger are most common. Less obvious reactions are the tendency to withdraw, shut down, and wait for clear direction that may never arrive. If you’re feeling any of these reactions to your boss’s requests, there’s a good chance that a double bind is the cause. So, what can you do?

First, don’t pretend that this conflict doesn’t exist. In our previous post, we gave the same advice to managers and we explained how business theorist Chris Argyrisdescribed the sequence of events that happens when they fail to do so: Organizations and their leaders craft messages that contain inconsistencies. Then, they make the problem worse by acting as if the messages are consistent — and then, they make it nearly impossible to resolve issues by labeling the inconsistent messages as “undiscussable.”

It’s not that you can’t deal with conflicting messages; people do it all the time. But leaders put people in an impossible situation when they pretend that the messages don’t conflict and preempt any discussion of the matter.

Lusako Mwakiluma
Motivational & Inspirational Speaker


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