My Mind-Reading Skills Keep Failing Me!

As a manager, I would often take on new teams and one of the first things I would discuss with them is the need for them to talk to me. Of course I needed to know what was being achieved, expectations against targets, when mistakes have happened etc. But importantly, I also needed them to tell me about them as people: what their skills were, their preferences in the way they worked, how they’re doing and feeling, what stresses them, what they were personally aiming to achieve.

I hear many managers say, “if they don’t tell me, how am I supposed to know?” about all manner of circumstances.

However, that said, those same managers will often still expect their team members to know instinctively what they want from them, or to know how they also like to work. Although “they know what I’m like”, the manager is also confused that “they come to me with things in completely the wrong way” (for example, too much detail or without a solution).

Could you be expecting people to read your mind too?

I appreciate that some people have a more finely tuned intuition and emotional intelligence, but there are others who aren’t able to read faces and feelings so well. We also have a number of cognitive biases at play here such as

  • Projection bias – “If I don’t know what you think, I’ll assume you’ll think what I think”
  • Illusion of transparency – our own thoughts, feelings and intentions are more obvious to people than they actually are.

As a coach, I recommend all leaders spend a little time to help their direct reports to understand them better. Expressing yourself clearly takes the guesswork out of communication and builds stronger working relationships. You could let your team know:

  • What your values are (the line you won’t cross).
  • How you define success.
  • What your priorities are, what you care about and what goals are important to you.
  • Your preferred working style: learning from mistakes, solutions-based discussions, time management.
  • Your preferred communication style: emails or verbal, summary or details, structured or informal meetings.
  • What kinds of decisions you want/need to be involved in.

In return, team members would ideally like their manager to understand what motivates them, know why they come to work, their learning style, what challenges they enjoy or need support with. They want their manager to delegate effectively and trust them to do the job well. However, as we know, that often includes an assumption that their manager should know and understand them. So, it’s worth taking a bit of time encouraging ongoing discussions and reducing the need for those elusive mind-reading skills!