• 4th May 2007 - By proteman

    We’ve all seen them.

    They stare at you in meetings as you discuss ideas. They appear to be listening as you give them feedback. They say little. They nod their heads. (That’s why I like to call them “workplace bobble-heads.”)

    Rarely will they disagree openly or challenge ideas. In fact, to the untrained human eye, they might even seem agreeable and pleasant. But beware. Behind that agreeable facade may lurk a hidden cynic, doubter, nay-sayer, or behind-the-scenes griper who would rather smile and nod than express him or herself to your face. Who are these bobble-heads…and what causes them to nod silently as if in agreement, even when they’re not?

    Customer Bobble-heads

    If you’re a salesperson, you’ve most likely met customer head bobbers. Here’s the scenario. The salesperson is making an engaging presentation, with all the bells and whistles, saying all of the “right things”…and there’s the customer, not saying a word but nodding (seemingly in agreement). But when the salesperson asks for the order, the customer (to the salesperson’s surprise) says something like “I need to think about it” or “Thanks, can you leave me some information?”

    What happened? The salesperson, who was falsely encouraged by the customer’s quiet head-bobbing, assumed that the customer’s silence meant the customer was ready to buy. She wasn’t.

    Employee Bobble-heads

    This can frustrate the heck out of managers. Here’s the scenario. A manager and employee are meeting to discuss a new project the employee is going to take on. The manager tells the employee all about the project in great detail (while the employee looks on and – you guessed it – nods his head as if he’s listening). The manager then asks something like, “Do you have any questions for me?” And the employee shrugs and says, “I guess not.”

    Fast forward…it’s three weeks later. The manager and employee meet for a project update. To the manager’s surprise, the employee is floundering. The manager wonders why the head-bobber didn’t speak up and ask questions in their initial meeting.

    What happened? The manager assumed that the employee was bought into the assignment and understood it. (Fooled again by the head bob).

    Manager Bobble-heads

    Imagine a meeting with a group of managers. A senior executive (or someone in power) is talking. She’s droning on and on – plugging through endless PowerPoint slides – and no one really knows what she’s trying to say. Instead of speaking up to get clarification, the group just sits there and nods, as if in agreement…as if what they’re hearing makes perfect sense. The meeting adjourns. In the hallway (after the exec leaves), the managers whisper to each other, “What do you think she meant?” and “I’m more confused than before the meeting!”

    What happened? Because of fear of speaking up or looking dumb, the managers just kept their mouths shut and nodded. And no doubt, this body language from the manager group assured the senior exec that she was communicating loudly and clearly. She likely left the meeting thinking it was a success.

    In my next blog (Part 2 of Beware Workplace Bobble-heads), I’ll provide tips for how to communicate more effectively with head bobbers – and engage them in dialogue.

    © 2007. Phyllis Roteman, The Loyalty Group. All Rights Reserved.

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