Is miscommunication a constant problem at your workplace? In this episode of HBR’s advice podcast, Dear HBR:, cohosts Alison Beard and Dan McGinn answer your questions with the help of Holly Weeks, a lecturer at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and the author of Failure to Communicate. They talk through what to do when your coworker won’t stop talking, your boss overcommunicates with everyone on a project, or a leader keeps changing what you’re supposed to do.
From Alison and Dan’s reading list for this episode:
Book: Failure to Communicate by Holly Weeks — “It helps to think of a tough conversation as a landscape through which we and our counterpart move. If we look at a landscape expecting to see a battlefield, that’s how we will see it. But the landscapes of difficult conversations don’t have to be battlefields.”
HBR: How to Tell a Coworker They’re Annoying You by Caroline Webb — “The trick here is to pick one specific incident and describe what I call the ‘true facts’: the things you know for sure, stripped of emotion, interpretation, or generalization. For me, that meant not saying things like ‘Your edits suck’ or ‘You’re not giving me enough space.’ These statements are debatable, because the other person can say ‘That’s not true.’ And because they’re so broadly critical, they’re more likely to put your colleague’s brain on the defensive—meaning they won’t be at their most expansive and generous as they respond. Instead, aim for something that feels more like ‘What I noticed was [fact, fact, fact].’ Be as precise and concrete as you can, even if you think there’s a big issue at stake.”
HBR: Managing 3 Types of Bad Bosses by Vineet Nayar — “Omniscient leaders will challenge you and mire your ideas in discussions about the pros and cons if you present them as prescriptions. However, they love spotting great ideas themselves. Try presenting your ideas as if they are half-baked, or as though you’re unsure of their efficacy and need to hone them. That will ensure immediate buy-in by your supervisor, and rapid decisions.”
HBR: When Your Boss Is Terrible at Leading Meetings by Paul Axtell — “Stepping up and offering to do something will usually be appreciated and respected. However, we all know that our ability to speak frankly with our boss is determined by the level of trust and respect that exists between us. If your boss values what you bring to the group, you can be straightforward: ‘Sam, I think we can raise the quality of our meetings by doing a couple of things differently. If you agree, I would be willing to do the following…’”