When your manager says one thing and means another

By Scot Herrick | Job Performance

Jul 29

A fundamental premise of a relationship is that when you say something, you mean it. Consequently, when your manager tells you something, you generally believe what he or she is telling you.

Then you get blindsided by doing exactly what your manager told you to do!

It happened to me once…and then I learned.

The career management situation

I started working for a new manager with an initial piece that I thought really helped: he gave me some ground rules to help get the relationship off to a good start.

Here was the rule (and you’ve heard this before…): “If you come in here with a problem or a roadblock, you should come in here with a solution.”

So, I did. If I thought something was going down, I’d chat about the problem and then provided one or two possible solutions. I thought through the solutions carefully, because I believed I was being evaluated on my suggested solutions as much as the problems.

Turns out, I was being evaluated on my solutions – but not how I thought. When it came time for my annual performance review, I was rated lower than I expected. And in the verbal comments, the manager’s statement was that “I come in here and think I know everything. If there is problem, you think you have the answer.”

Which, of course, is EXACTLY what he wanted me to do.

The career management pivot

Well, the next time I had an issue that I needed to resolve, I became clueless as to the solution. Clueless. Even when he asked me how I thought I could resolve the situation, I punted and said I had no idea and was hoping he would be able to guide me.

It was like the world opened up.

All of a sudden solutions came from my manager. I could ask questions about the solutions and he could teach me from his lofty position of authority. He could pontificate about various options and debate with himself about the best solution.

And then he ended up on the same solution I would have suggested walking in the door an hour earlier. But this time he could be the one that invented the solution.

I remained clueless for the rest of the time I worked for him – and got higher rated performance reviews.

No ego about it either, by the way. If a manager wants me to act clueless, I’ll be clueless. It’s the manager’s loss and my insight.

The career management check on how to tell

After that scary incident – where I now test everybody on what they say is what they mean – I came up with a simple plan.

Test doing it the way your manager wants the relationship to work by doing exactly what your manager says. Then do it a couple of ways the manager doesn’t want the relationship to work and see the difference.

If the manager is a straight shooter about the relationship, the manager should guide you back to how he or she wants the relationship to work. If the manager doesn’t do what he or she says, you’ll see a cold reception on doing it the “manager’s way” and a warm reception when you don’t.

Frankly, the bigger the “look at me” ego that you can see, the more likely it is that the manager wants the control and all the answers. Unfortunate, but true.

It’s good to test.

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About the Author

Scot Herrick is the author of “I’ve Landed My Dream Job–Now What???” and owner of Cube Rules, LLC. Scot has a long history of management and individual contribution in multiple Fortune 100 corporations.