Things our bosses do that make us stupid (part 3 of 6) – assumptions about personal motivations

This is the third in a series of 6 blogs about things our bosses do that make us stupid.

Let’s talk about how bosses often make huge assumptions about us – about our capabilities, about our interests, and perhaps most importantly, about our motivations.

Making these assumptions can make us stupid because when our boss assumes these things, they take actions and make decisions based on these assumptions. We end up in a relationship in which our boss is speaking one language, and we’re speaking another altogether.

For example:

  • Dangling promotions in front of us, assuming we’re upwardly mobile in the same way they might be. Of course, some of our assumptions are projections – and many bosses, because they are upwardly mobile people, scratch their heads and wonder why everyone doesn’t share their passion for promotion. They assume that highly energized and capable workers must be looking to promote.
  • And just as commonly, assuming some of us aren’t ambitious when indeed we are. They hurl us into a box of “B Players,” perhaps “competent but not leadership material.”

With so many things I talk about on this blog, these are things I have to own up to. There are times when I was guilty of making assumptions about people’s motivations. And really, it’s just amazing that this happens, because in both cases above, a 30-minute conversation could probably clear up any misunderstandings.

Other things bosses can make assumptions about:

  • Our ability to master a new skill.
  • The nature of our relationships with our co-workers.
  • Whether we’re happy, sad, mad, disengaged, engaged, about to leave the company, or just hungry.
  • Our “sense of urgency.” Our “work ethic.” Our “desire to succeed.” Our “loyalty.”
  • Whether we are unhappy with our compensation. Clue: we might be, we might not. Try asking!

So, if your boss is an assumer, you may need to take the lead: this is what I want, this is how I feel, this is what motivates me, this is what demotivates me, this is troubling me, or even this is something I did that I’m really proud of and I want you to know about it. And why not turn it around: hey boss, what motivates you

It’s remarkable to think how seldom some of us stop to ask the people in our circle of influence if we’re doing right by them. (We’re probably much better at asking this question of our customers!) This silence and failure to communicate appropriately cut down on both our individual and collective intelligence.  

About the Author

Sarah Thomson

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