Thinking Out Loud

Just Let Me Do My Job

Barry has fifteen years experience in public accounting. He takes pride in his work and likes new challenges. Henry, Barry’s boss, likes to stay connected to his team. He asks questions about how things are going, frequently asks for updates, and is genuinely curious about others. He’ll stop a team member in the hallway or pop into someone’s office to get information about pretty much everything.

Early on in their working relationship, Barry appreciated Henry’s friendliness and attentiveness. In the last few years, however, something had changed and Barry became easily annoyed by Henry’s questions. Barry likes having responsibility, figuring out how to organize and accomplish tasks, setting goals, and being independent. He began feeling micromanaged, robbed of his sense of agency. 

Henry sees himself as a collaborator, involved with team members to help problem-solve, support, and share responsibility. He also feels a responsibility to the organization to have his finger on the pulse, knowing what’s going on in every area of his department.

Recently, Henry became aware of the mounting tension with Barry when he spoke sharply about Henry not trusting him. Henry was taken aback because he absolutely trusts Barry. When he tried to follow-up later that day, Barry let loose a barrage of strong feelings about being micromanaged, not trusted, and feeling that Henry didn’t respect the quality of his work. Henry was stunned and couldn’t understand how they had arrived at this point of disconnect and anger. He knew they needed to talk about this tension but didn’t know how to approach it without putting Barry on the defensive. The last thing he wanted was for Barry to start looking for another job, either before he could have that conversation or as an outcome of it. So, Henry called me.

I found both Barry and Henry genuinely saddened by the situation they found themselves in, yet bringing them together was a challenge because both feared a confrontation that would further damage the relationship. We began by deconstructing their working styles, which directly related to their core processing styles and reflected by how each communicates.

Barry visualizes tasks, breaking them down into subtasks that move around in his mind’s eye as he begins organizing the project. It is difficult for him to verbalize this process because it is fluid. Trying to share it (initially) is disruptive. He is also strongly intrapersonal, so he needs to do a lot of internal sifting through his experience to fully grasp the concepts of a specific project. His sense of ownership and responsibility for his work are fundamental to his working and organizational style.

Henry’s managing style is to stay connected with others. Weaving in and out of each other’s work spaces feels natural to him. It’s how he stays current with new information, so he can plug it into his strongly logical framework. Each new piece of information affects everything. Because he both wants and needs to stay current, he constantly gathers new data, which allows him to anticipate problems and be available for problem solving.

Once Henry and Barry realized this, it was easy for me to help them understand the points of friction and why the tension between them had grown. From there both saw how they were attributing incorrect motivation to the other—observing behaviors and attaching meaning without understanding the other’s intentions or goals. Barry believed that Henry didn’t trust the quality of his work and therefore didn’t respect him. Henry believed that Barry was trying to undermine his authority in the organization and just plain didn’t like him anymore. None of this was true.

They were relieved to discover this and began working at how to better account for each other’s needs. Finding ways to keep the lines of communication open so they could give consistent feedback was essential to continue the successful working relationship they’d had.

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