Oblique

Are you oblique?

Neither parallel or right angle. Slanting, skewed, indirect, devious, sidelong.

Oblique and obtuse are slightly different the latter conveying an inability to grasp things. Oblique though is its own special form of hell.

I've coached managers in the past who suffered from this. Who they were isn't relevant (good HR people always maintain confidentiality). What is important is this:

It was awful

People left meetings scratching their heads trying to make sense of just-concluded conversations. Unclear directions left plans stillborn and projects started, stalled, jettisoned and forgotten in a continuing roulette of ineffective management miasma.

This is not good.

Over time I've noticed there seem to be three reasons people act this way:

  1. Posturing – some people just like to pose. Since I'm not a psychologist I really don't know why. What I do know is that obfuscation rarely works as a communication technique. Your vagaries won't make people dig for answers: they're already busy. They'll either be truly confused or worse unconcerned. Either way soon no one listens. Management effectiveness is lost.
  2. Unaware – sometimes there's a known unknown. Remember Johari's Window? People might act in an oblique manner without really knowing it even though others can see it. And while not malevolent this is tricky. It takes skill to convey to someone they're unclear, confusing and indirect in a way that is professional and not personal. It takes a special skill if you report to this person. But I hope when I fall into this trap someone cares enough to tell me.
  3. Fearful – contrary to popular lore fear is not a great motivator. Especially in modern management systems as we ascend hierarchies people tend to become more aware of presence, stature and pecking order than they might otherwise. Being oblique – unclear, ill-defined, vague – sometimes is used as a political tool to keep options open. Sometimes as a gambit to buy time. But mostly because people don't know (or don't think they know) as much as they should. So they become oblique rather than acknowledge the emperor has no clothes.


Acting obliquely hurts everyone

Few other management tendencies have as much collective downside. So if someone on your team is suffering from this indirectness find an intervention solution appropriate for your culture.

And if by chance this someone is you – or might be you – find someone you trust to give you some tough love.

Being oblique will not be fatal to your career success.

Unless left untreated.

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