I work in a unit where communication between different people and teams isn't functioning well. That is a problem in itself. But since, after trying for months, I came to the conclusion I can't change the culture in the unit, I wouldn't like to focus on it here.

The problem is this: Some colleagues are working on a project or change without explaining it to other people or just explaining it in very, very general terms. Questions are answered very generally ("the decision won't have consequences for you", etc.). People affected aren't consulted or even informed about changes till the last moment.

Then they tell the rest of the group what decisions have been taken or I learn from other sources a bit more about the consequences the decisions have for the rest of us. And they are often really bad. To give you an example, in one case, a decision was taken, which could make our work break the law in the country.

When I learn about the decisions, which as I say is normally in the very last moment, I bring the risks up.

Then I'm branded a negative person by our boss. The risks I point to aren't put into question - these are objective risks, but I'm criticized for even bringing them up.

I'm not sure how I should tackle similar situations in the future:

  • If I don't point to specific risks not being considered, projects will be implemented, which have negative consequences for both the organization (non-compliance, etc.) and me (a sometimes hugely increased workload which will make my work simply impossible)
  • If I bring it up, I'm branded a troublemaker. I'm asked why I haven't signaled it before. When I explain I've just learned about it, I'm branded "not proactive".

Any ideas what a good strategy to deal with such a situation is? I use an objective tone and factual information when pointing to risks and negative consequences.

  • 9
    @JoeStrazzere The problem is that with a boss like that, if you don't bring up risks, when problems occur, it's the your fault for "not identifying risks". It sound like the OP is in a no-win situation. – DaveG Oct 12 at 14:44
  • 5
    This is a question I've always wondered about but never thought to ask. Thank you for asking! – AffableAmbler Oct 12 at 16:02
  • What vertical do you work in, and how large is the company or firm? Or maybe, does your company have a risk management program and a risk committee? – jww Oct 13 at 6:01
  • In my language there is a saying : “If the truth hurts, you do not want to hear it”. The company seems to risk with compliance issues. It seems that your job covers to design a system to be compliant as well to a degree. You will seem negative if you will "overengineer” over that compliance and miss the point on other crucial issues. – Ge Peace Oct 13 at 10:27
up vote 10 down vote accepted

I use a matter-of-fact tone and factual information when pointing to risks and negative consequences.

Two points jump to mind here:

  • A lot of the time it's not so much what you say, but how you say it. If you're perceived as the person who only ever says matter of fact, negative stuff about projects or decisions, then you're going to be perceived as a bit of a negative kill-joy (rightly or wrongly.)
  • Secondly, you don't necessarily have to be the bearer of bad news all the time, you can simply point out that it needs investigating, and let someone else be the bearer of that result.

So instead of saying something matter of fact, negative, and unarguable:

This project is a big risk as it affects our x compliance. This isn't a good idea, as it could result in legal consequences for the company with fines up to y.

You can mention something positive first and then suggest that someone else takes your concern into consideration and makes a decision:

Something like this would be fantastic for x if implemented, good work! One thing I'm aware of that might be relevant in this space is y compliance, which could affect some decisions we make around this - I'd suggest looking into this as a priority.

They can then take your advice and look into it and go "Ah crap, we need to start again" and you've given them a helpful tip off, or they can decide that they don't need to take any action and carry on. In the former case you've become helpful, and in the latter case you have a paper trail to CYA if it hits the fan later on.

  • I'm not a native speaker and I'm not sure whether I used "matter-of-fact" correctly. I wanted to say that I use fact-based, unemotional tone and don't attack people. – 385703 Oct 12 at 11:49
  • @385703 You did use it mostly correctly, except that it should also have hyphens between the words in the answer, just as you did in your comment. – Southpaw Hare Oct 12 at 12:17
  • 4
    Yes, framing is a huge part of it. My dad talked to me about this once; his boss got upset with people who, when he proposed something, would launch straight into a discussion of risks or problems. What he wanted to hear wasn't "These problems have to be solved first." What he wanted to hear was something more like "Yes, we can do that! ...Here are a couple of things we need to consider as we do." – Kyralessa Oct 12 at 19:30

You're persisting in using a strategy that hasn't worked in the past. You're casting doubt on the professionals in charge of projects and everything, no matter what your tone, is negative. Lastly it's not even your role. This is a recipe for becoming unpopular and having your opinions disregarded. It also may be the reason you're left out of the loop during the building/consultation phase.

If it is your role to be included, then your authority and role are being undermined, which is a separate problem that needs to be dealt with, but would be primary causation for these other issues as they wouldn't exist.

You shouldn't present problems without solutions if possible. You should look for positives in stuff like this, remember you're dealing with the people who made it. Show some enthusiasm, discuss the positives, mention the negatives as an afterthought. And you shouldn't get involved negatively at all if it's not part of your role. Don't assume that your opinions will automatically be taken seriously, it doesn't work like that in the real World. You have to prove your contributions add value, if you can, this will get you included at higher levels. If you can't, it's best to keep quiet and focus on your role.

Any change or project is a wholistic thing, they're very unlikely to go to trouble and expense for something that is uniformly negative to the company. If it's not your job to oversee things, don't second guess those who's role it is all the time. It's important to always keep foremost in your mind that it's not your company.

If I bring it up, I'm branded a troublemaker. I'm asked why I haven't signaled it before. When I explain I've just learned about it, I'm branded "not proactive".

This is called "shooting the messenger" and it is a very common organizational problem.

However, your observation above basically contains the solution.

You have to get involved with the other teams before it comes down to that meeting. Get to know them and what they do. Introduce your concerns at an early stage. Don't wait until a project manager asks them to throw their "deliverables" over the wall to you. This requires developing a relationship of trust with the upstream teams.

Some organizations use meetings (or project phase/gate changes) as a rubber-stamp formality where there are not supposed to be "surprises". Such meetings/events are run almost like a legal proceeding that give the illusion to "the suits" that work is done in predictable stages and handed-off from one team to another cleanly. You are throwing a monkey-wrench in that expectation by raising actual problems during these transitional events which you mistakenly (and understandably) thought was designed to raise concerns.

Trying to take an "objective" or "factual" tone in raising your concerns during these times isn't going to help. In fact, it will make the others even more defensive and less willing to trust you. Do what your boss suggested and take a more proactive approach (and when you do, your objective/factual tone will be appreciated).

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.