Fill in the blanks

I’ve been noticing what’s missing lately. In some ways, its harder to see what’s not there than what is. But there’s lost of useful information in what isn’t said, as well as what is.

For example:

A manager, talking about one of the people who reported to him said:

“He’s difficult to manage.”

What’s missing?

“He’s difficult (for me) to manage.”

“(When he does X), he’s difficult (for me) to manage.”

“(When he does X,) he’s difficult (for me) to manage (because I don’t understand his actions).”

“(When he does X), he’s difficult (for me) to manage (because I don’t understand his actions and I don’t know what to do).”

There may be another follow-on sentence, that hints at the crux of the matter.  That sentence might be…

And I’m worried that if I can’t bring him around, I’ll miss my goals and my boss will think I’m not competent.

And I have judgements about that behavior because I was criticized for that when I was in school.

And I feel threatened.

And I feel I have to defend my ideas.

I know what I’m asking doesn’t make sense, but my boss told me to do it.

It may have been more comfortable for the manager to say the first sentence, as he did.  He may even believe it.

As long as the manager deletes parts of the sentence, it’s easy for him to see the other person as the problem. As long as the problem resides entirely with the other person, there’s not much he can do to improve the situation (other than fire the “difficult to manage” person).  But the deletions contain important information that could help him improve the situation.

What examples would you add?

5 Replies to “Fill in the blanks”

    • Hi, Danie –

      It’s a bit tricky to help another person recover the deletions.

      The other person may be looking for allies to bolster his view, not a challenge to his perception. He may not want help. He may not want help from you. He may view your attempt at help as an implicit evaluation.

      A lot depends on your relationship, and the setting.

  1. I agree with the general spirit, but do you think it is always true? I was meeting a person today who said “Oh, I don’t have a job. I have huge problems in the workplace, and I typically fail at interviews. This is because I am not polite, I always tell people what I think to get the job done.”. I interact with her through a neighborhood association. My experience is, dealing with her requires constantly setting and enforcing boundaries, and handling with a barrage of complaints and threats of legal action if any of her requests are refused (even if the refusal is based on clear and unambiguous legal rules). This takes a lot of time and energy. So I was not at all surprised by her statement about workplace problems, and she would be the perfect definition of someone who is difficult to manage: a person who constantly violates boundaries and takes a lot of time and energy from people around them.

    • From your description, you know how to manage this person. You set and reinforce boundaries, You don’t allow her to bully you with her complains and threats. In that sense, she’s not difficult for you to manage.

      It seems that she’s unaware that her style of “I’m not polite, I always tell people what I think to get the job done” actually makes the job take longer.

      As you point out, there’s a trade off between how much time and energy get focused on one person vs. the functioning of the group as a whole. I can see why an employer might decide that her contribution didn’t justify the costs in other people’s productivity.

  2. Thanks for your inspiering writing Ester 🙂

    Filling in with samples for distortion and generalization, which also causes unclear communication.

    Generalizing: “because I don’t understand his actions”
    To clarify the generalized statement you may ask something like “Never? I’m sure that you sometimes understand, could you be more specific about when?… What sort of actions and what is it about them is it that you do not understand”.

    Generalizing more: “… and I don’t know what to do”, to clarify “I’m sure that you probably got some ideas or thoughts”

    Distortion: “I’ll miss my goals and my boss will think I’m not competent”, Mind reading and assuming? Your boss might just as well admire you for trying.

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