The IKWB (I-Know-What’s-Best) manager who enjoys talking in great detail about all the reasons we should follow their advice. Confident that without their profound guidance we will flounder in the simplest of tasks. We are accountable for doing it their way even if it isn’t the best way.
The BTDT (Been-There-Done-That) manager who regales us with stories of battles past and how they learned the ropes. A subtle message to those less seasoned that they don’t have anything useful to offer. No need for fresh ideas here, they’ve seen it all.
The TYIS (Talk-You-Into-Submission) manager who feels the need to over-explain every decision and goes on so long that people give up on asking any questions or challenging assumptions. In exasperation, the response becomes, “just tell us what you want us to do.”
The SSAO (Spin-Early-And-Often) manager who delivers a lengthy presentation on why this change is really good for us. They really believe that through sheer volume of words and buffering comments we’ll miss the underlying story and potential consequences.
And finally, the PTLF (Pretend-To-Listen-First) manager who feigns interest in our opinions and then quickly overrides our points with a prepared speech. It’s pretty clear the only reason they asked for our input was to set the stage for their agenda.
Why do we do it?
Managersplaining might be perceived as an act of hubris but it’s really a sign of fear and insecurity. An attempt to talk others into submission so that you don’t have to answer any hard questions or be transparent about your uncertainty.
This behavior is common when someone wants to impress or suppress others. It’s driven by the ego. The goal is to keep others in their place and protect your position by controlling the conversation. Some managers master the art of polite managerplaining so that it actually seems like they are engaging in dialogue but the goal is still the same. They want to control the conversation and do most of the talking.
Just stop it.
All this talking at people just makes them tired, frustrated and disinterested. It tells people that your agenda is really about you, not them. No doubt you have some wisdom to impart or you wouldn’t have progressed to this point in your career, but there are better ways to transmit your knowledge.
The other problem is that if you are the one talking about everything you aren’t learning much of anything. Your experience is just one small slice of the many life and work experiences that are possible and available. There is way more stuff out there that you don’t yet know and that you’ll ever know.
The research is clear on the value of active listening. The impulse to explain is strong, especially when we have developed the habit of telling versus teaching. It feels easier and safer to direct versus engage. But in the long run, both you and your team will miss out on a wealth of valuable insights and limit the creativity and innovation you can produce.
When people want your input they’ll ask for it.
Yes, there are times we are the expert and people expect us to provide the guidance and information they need for the task at hand. Or maybe the situation is urgent and needs quick and clear direction, (with minimal words). But more often than not they just need the what and why so that they can figure out the best how.
If the team asks for help or wants to run their ideas by you that’s perfect. Now you have the opportunity to teach, collaborate, and help them grow. You’re building new leaders instead of creating dependent followers who are unwilling to make a decision without your input.
Next time you are tempted to managersplain,
- lead with a question.
- ask others how they see it.
- keep it simple.
- leave out the filler.
- pause and see if someone else takes initiative.
- be a contributor, not a controller.
- stick to the present situation.
- focus on teaching instead of telling.
- listen without an agenda.
- build on the input of others.
“When we fear what other people think about us, we are frequently more focused on ‘being interesting’ and less focused on ‘taking an interest.’ That’s why many people talk a great deal when they are anxious and why many people never feel heard. If both people and conversation are trying to be interesting, there is no one left to genuinely listen.” – John Yokoyama