I Just Work Here

Bosses, think before you speak

There are no bad bosses, just bad communicators, as the old saying goes

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It's communication

There are no bad bosses -- just bad communication. (John Cumming, Getty Images / May 18, 2012)

Dear Bosses:

You're doing it wrong.


The Employees

OK, that might be a slight generalization of the way many workers feel about their leaders. But I don't think it's far off, and I conveniently have some data to back that up.

Consider these numbers from a new survey by Harris Interactive and talent management company Development Dimensions International:

•34 percent of workers don't think their boss is effective.

•60 percent say their boss sometimes damages their self-esteem.

•Half of workers say their boss doesn't ask for ideas about how to solve problems.

There's clearly a problem here, and it's not that humans who obtain the title of "boss" immediately become insufferable jerkfaces. The root of the problem is Communication. (That's Communication with a capital "C" and that rhymes with "B" and that stands for "Boy, does my boss stink.")

Pete Weaver, senior vice president of leadership solutions at Development Dimensions International, said he sees bosses and managers focused too much on knowledge and not enough on skill — in other words, we have smart, well-educated leaders who aren't adept at delivering information.

"The ability to lead people means having skill at communication and interactions," Weaver said.

While we are all equipped with mouths and minds and a shared language, we tend to be rather bad at communicating. That's true in all realms, from family life to the workplace, but failures to connect can be particularly pronounced in a boss/employee relationship.

I spoke with Ben Benjamin, a communications consultant and co-author of the book "Conversation Transformation," which examines an array of "destructive communication patterns."

"Everybody who talks communicates, but most people communicate badly most of the time," Benjamin said.

One of the most common mistakes business leaders make is asking leading questions, like: "Do you really think people will buy that product?" or "This is what our main focus should be, right?"

These questions are part opinion, part inquiry. They leave the employee with two crummy choices:

Give the answer you think the boss wants, even if it's not what you think.

Give an answer the conflicts with the boss' thinking, which can feel risky and uncomfortable.

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