IT Employment

The self-fulfilling prophesy: "It won't do any good"

Expressing yourself may not always get you what you want at work, but not expressing yourself will never get you what you want. Here's why "It won't do any good" is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Expressing yourself may not always get you what you want at work, but not expressing yourself will never get you what you want. Here's why "It won't do any good" is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Editor's note: Toni is out on a long-overdue vacation this week. In her absence, we are posting repeats of some of her more popular blogs.

Some of my newest friends would never believe me when I say this, but up into my early 20s, I was painfully shy. I'm not sure what happened, maybe just life experience, but I have grown out of it. I don't think I'm too aggressive or talk so much that people are pooling their money to buy industrial size rolls of duct tape for my mouth, but I am no longer afraid to express myself.

That's because I've learned that expressing yourself may not always get you what you want, but not expressing yourself will never get you what you want. Have you ever known a passive-aggressive person and made that person angry in some way? Every "What's wrong?" is answered with "Nothing," although you can see him seething or pouting. And it's not true that if you cared about the person, you would know what you did. Sometimes you just don't know unless you're told.

Dealing with passive-aggressive or submissive people has taught me a powerful lesson --never, ever assume someone can read your mind. If you've got a beef, the only way to get it out there is to, well, get it out there. And not just to the three colleagues who sit around you. Although it may feel like your complaints are so justified that they will magically float from your cubicle down the hall to the boss's office, where they will magically ping into his brain, it's not going to happen.

I hear a lot of people in the workplace use the words "It won't do any good" when referring to why they don't bring a problem to the attention of management. Sometimes that's true. Sometimes you can describe a problem to a nodding, smiling manager until you're blue in the face and get nothing accomplished. That's because some managers are afraid that if they heed your words or use your advice, it will be like admitting they were somehow deficient in their own role. Sometimes they think they know better than you. Sometimes they just don't care. Sometimes they think the solution to the problem would take too much energy. But, sometimes, just sometimes, pointing out a problem could be the first step in making a difference. I think it's worth the chance.

Of course, you don't need to barge in, put your foot up on the boss's desk, and say, "OK, listen up, pops" or deliver your speech like that old guy in the movie Network who was mad as hell and wasn't going to take it anymore. It requires some finesse. It requires preparation and a logical, not emotional, presentation of facts. It also requires that you be open to the possibility that what appears to be wrong to you might be right for business reasons that you're not privy to. But at least you will have tried.

It's easy to not take action. You never really know for sure if something will do any good. The more important question to ask is "Will it do any harm?" If not, give it a try.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

16 comments
Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

Rule 1: Unless your boss is a total manager, he or she is probably functioning as a working supervisor. Which means she or he has a bunch of jobs in addition to herding the cats working for him or her. You, and your cohorts in crime should leave half the day uninterrupted for your boss to do their working tasks. Then divy up the other 4 hours (heh) of their day with 1 share per each employee supervised, plus 2 shares for your boss's boss. This becomes your maximum daily face time with your boss. Rule 2: Never bring your boss a problem without a proposed solution. Remember the saying, "If you want a job done right, you have to do it yourself?" That especially applies to personal problems. If you have someone else, like your boss, come up with a solution for you, you can almost guarrantee you aren't going to like it. Cut down on their mental processing time by providing a best suggestion (or maybe a couple of alternatives if the problem is really difficult and intractable). Rule 3: ABCs & Cs. NCO Leadership School used to have a block of instruction for Communication. For briefings, we were told to keep them Accurate, Brief, and Concise. In the civilian world, you can add Condensed. When dealing with managers and even C-level folks, this comes down to making your interactions all elevator briefings. Make your pitch, fast, with no excess verbage. And don't forget to include the proposed solution from rule 2.

shermp
shermp

Kudos to Dr_Zinj. Follow these rules and communications will usually go well. I think the key is to make sure you aren't just dumping a problem into your supervisors lap, or merely venting to let off steam. Save the venting part for friends (better if not at work - gossip gets around). Think about the situation from other points of view and try and gain an understanding of it. Consider what you would do if you were in charge. Bring up the matter in a calm, professional and non-emotional manner. Explain it factually. Clearly differentiate when you are stating your feelings and impressions from when you are stating facts. Make yourself into an ally with your manager - someone who is bringing pertinent information on an issue and who is willing to help resolve it.

m.drum
m.drum

Hmm, this has been mentioned in a round-about way, but where I work, we call it "Tag, you're it"! If you bring a problem to your boss' attention, you had better be prepared to be the sole "implementer" of the solution. It seems fairly obvious, but it took me a long time to learn. If you already have a full plate, you'd better keep your mouth shut, or you're going to have even more work to do. To all managers out there: Sometimes it can't be helped, but if you sincerely want your people to bring issues to your attention, you can't ALWAYS play "Tag you're it"!

shermp
shermp

Yeah, that is the danger - I've hit that some places. I view it as a cousin to the "kill the messenger" attitude - believe that it's due to a lack of willingness to investigate problems, instead just pushing back on the poor sap who brings the issue up. When I've faced that kind of boss I do exactly what you suggested - and stop bringing up anything. But I'd still rather try first, and do feel that the people to whom the article was addressed - the ones who wait for that magical Vulcan mind share to happen - need some pointers on how to present a problem.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Quite possibly to your career. Particularly if your disagreement with the boss became public and you were subsequently proven right. The nodding smiling pointy head you wasted your time with will waste no time at all, in assassinating your reputation to detract from what usually turns out to be abysmal cowardice. Oh and in the sprit of the topic, I have to point out again that again, you put the onus on the managed for correcting/coping with a manager's faults. :p PS Why when you click in the subect box of these what do you think? fellows does the previous text disappear?

bburgess66
bburgess66

The same thing I hear always is .. why take the risk? .. As long as I myself am protected and feel ok, why bother?!

bburgess66
bburgess66

The same thing I hear always is .. why take the risk? .. As long as I myself am protected and feel ok about everything, why bother?!

brucemandate
brucemandate

What about bosses that request that you refrain from communicating with them, since they are sooo... busy. This situation amazes me that their bosses find them worthy of their salt. After all, it is their job to provide a cohesive, efficient working environment, and this is not possible when they haven't a clue what is going on. I am suggesting that at this level important operational problems are being addressed/money being made, and they either don't care or are to ignorant of reality to take responsibility.

No User
No User

Yet another witty post from Toni.

contradancer
contradancer

"I am only one, but I am still one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do. " ---Helen Keller More of her wisdom can be found here: http://en.thinkexist.com/quotes/Helen_Keller

zaferus
zaferus

I've heard the saying lots of times "No harm in trying" like the author says. Well actually there can be a lot of harm depending on the organization and your approach. If approached properly most organizations are good about how they handle issues brought to their attention; but I've also seen good people tagged as "troublemakers" for doing this - even when it was handled professionally. Once that happens it's a label that is very difficult to shake. I've also seen bad timing put people on the wrong side of management in an organization that is normally very welcoming to bringing issues forward. I'm not saying the author is wrong, but before you stick your neck out, make sure you are aware of the political climate and timing before you bring forward problems in your organization. Sometimes it really can do harm.

MAJ JBM
MAJ JBM

Sometimes, people are perceived as troublemakers or whiners if the only time anyone hears from them is if there's something negative or sarcastic to say. A person who is willing to give just as many kudos or express positive feelings will be taken more seriously when they have a complaint or misgivings. Also, you may have to pick your spots to get your point across effectively. If you complain about absolutely everything, you become like the football coach who constantly yells at players; after a while, players start to tune him out, or worse, turn on him. If you are new to an organization, wait a little bit before expressing negative comments about the operation. Just because it's not the way you've been accustomed to doing business doesn't mean it's wrong...it may well be wrong, but wait until you get a feel for the way the company does business (and, as the previous poster noted, the company culture). It may make perfect sense once you see the big picture, but if it still doesn't make sense, then speak up.

Craig_B
Craig_B

I think that you need to first try to understand the problem you are facing and come up with some possible solutions. If you approach reasonable people with a possible solution and be open to other solutions yourself you have a good chance of effecting things. If you are just complaining it most likey will not go too far. Ah, what if the people you are dealing with are not reasonable? You can still try but go slowly and show how a solution may help this person as well. If you are not making headway you can always try to implement some small portion of your solution that you have controll over. Example: You feel that if everyone documented there servers it would make your job easier. Everyone says that they are too busy, well make some time to document the server you control or create a basic documentation template. The key is to focus your energy on defining the problem and working toward a solution. If nothing else you generally will feel better for trying.

drowningnotwaving
drowningnotwaving

Solutions are great and I'm not ever trivialising the need to make sure you have some ideas about how to actually solve a problem. But knowing the problem and having ideas isn't always going to get the resources to change. But if you really want to get your suggestion or change or alteration or whatever heard and made, then what you need to do is focus on the WIN. And not your win. The person that has the power to pay for / authorise / order the change. Their win. Ever wonder why some people ALWAYS get what they want? Always get their change prioritised above others? Typically it's because they have worked out the 'win' for the person who needs to authorise it. Sometimes that 'win' is as simple as their friendship and the person will just favour them because of that. Sometimes because they have worked out how their suggestion will either improve the decision-maker's life, or remove risk from it. So, instead of focussing on why the change will be good for all, or good for the company - find out the personal reason why the change will either increase bonuses, mean more time at home with the kids, less headaches from complaints etc. Whatever it is - if you speak in the language that talks about the win for the person, your chances of getting the nod are immeasurably increased. Think of it as "what it is, what it does or how to do it, and what it does for you". What it is - this is the change you are promoting. "I suggest we have a better backup facility". What it does or how to do it: "that would mean that everyone's pc is automatically backed up every night and we reduce the chance of losing all the data like we did a few times before". What's in it for them: "And your boss will never scream at you again for losing all the letters to that client like last time" (Apologies for the trivial nature of the example but I hope the point comes across). If you had endless budget and resources it wouldn't matter. You could do what you want. But the reality is that with contended and competitive resource allocation you have to speak in the language that the decision maker speaks. And, at a fundamental level, that means to appeal to either their self-interest or their fear. It always helps to find out exactly how your boss is remunerated or targetted. Becuase, as a generalisation, the opposite is more often true than not: if you cannot determine a personal WIN for the decision-maker, either find another problem or wait until you can. Because in all likelihood they wont actually care about it too much. So to pursue it will make you look like the complainer that you don't really want to be, as well as frustrating the crap out of you that no-one seems to listen to your brilliant ideas.

somethinggood4
somethinggood4

But what if the problem is of a more personal nature? What if the problem is that the decision maker wants to make all the decisions, but expects you to do all the legwork? My manager wants to have the final say about all the large improvements we make to the office. In this particular example, we'll use the sign out front of the shop. The sign that has been there for the last 25 years is showing its age, and has birds living in it. It needs to go. So the boss tells me to call sign companies and get three quotes for having the sign replaced. So I go and get three quotes, and the boss asks "Why didn't they send me a little drawing of what the new sign will look like?" What new sign? Oh, he's changed his mind. He wants the existing sign torn down, and a new one, in a new location erected. So now, because he didn't tell me what he wanted in the first place, I have to crawl back to the suppliers, my credibility in tatters, and ask them to do MORE work to provide a quote on a job they have a 2/3 chance of NOT getting. This has been going on since May, and the old sign is STILL there...

drowningnotwaving
drowningnotwaving

"NO I wont call them up until you tell me exactly what it is that you want 'cos otherwise you make me look like a fool by not telling me and having me take up their time again and again and again". That's also appealing to the emotion of the guy. In my experience, even pushy bosses want people to tell them how to do things properly. Now, if he/she doesn't care about that . . .

Editor's Picks