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Are You a Puppet?

February 21, 2013

Daily ReadAre You a Puppet?

While most people are well-meaning, there is always a subset who thinks they can get a head by manipulating others to do what they want. And believe it or not, employee-boss relationship is the most toxic. Here are the four most common ways bosses play the puppet and how to avoid them.

  1. Forcing a Card.  Magicians have a way of ensuring an audience member picks a certain card (forcing a card), and employees do something similar to force a decision. They prepare three alternative approaches to a problem so that it appears to the boss that there’s a choice, but in fact only one approach makes any sense. Defense: When presented with false alternatives, refuse to accept them. Say something like “I wanted three real alternatives and what you’ve given me here is one that’s viable and two that aren’t.”
  2. Creative Goldbricking. When employees want to avoid difficult projects or even work in general, they’ll often pretend to be so busy that you’d be insane to even consider putting something extra on their over-full agenda (not to be confused with spinning-the-wheels which is unintentionally being stuck in a rut). Defense: Clear the employee of all responsibilities then work on specific tasks, making certain that every task on the list has a concrete end-point, where there’s no question whether the task has been accomplished or not. Think “get Acme to buy a product by end of month” rather than “increase customer communications.”
  3. Hiding the Skeleton. Suppose an employee wants you to remain ignorant of a fact but also doesn’t want to be accused of holding back information. In this case, the employee may inform you of the fact without really informing you (either by burying it in an email or hiding it with weasel words or legalese). Defense: ask “Is there anything here that, if I fully understood it, might alter my decision?” Then add: “Because I’m going to hold you accountable if there is.”
  4. Rat-holing. When employees don’t like where a meeting is headed, they may try to change the subject by bringing up an issue that’s guaranteed to distract your attention. This is known as “sending the meeting down a rat-hole”. Defense: Have an agenda for every meeting and stick to that agenda, so that your meetings stay on course, even if employees surface distracting issues.

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