Many thanks to Jill Geisler whose post on managers’ “Evil Twins” inspired this post.
From Wikipedia: [a warning about] Evil Twins: Not to be confused with a single character who has a secret identity. (Good to know.)
Jill Geisler’s management consulting and writing always includes her take on managers’ “evil twins.” I love the evil twin concept, and hope it doesn’t die with the soap operas that were my first exposure to them. Geisler describes the evil twin phenomenon as a common occurrence “for skilled supervisors, trying to do something positive, but their actions are misread by those they manage.”
Geisler cites an example: suppose you’re a manager who believes in rolling up your sleeves and working alongside the staff. You happily pitch in on a project and give helpful feedback along the way. You see this as an egalitarian ‘Boss of the Year’ moment; your staff sees micromanaging interference. I’ve seen it myself; a boss who thinks he’s being deliberate and judicious in his decision making is perceived as dithering and indecisive by his staff. What’s a leader to do?
You’re not immune as a worker bee, either. What you see as your team-building daily pep talks and check-ins may be seen as frivolous time-wasting by management. When you helpfully point out potential pitfalls in the latest plan, your boss may be rolling her eyes at yet another wet blanket moment. Geisler writes: “’Evil twins’ are often the result of good ideas poorly executed and positive intentions inadequately expressed. Under these circumstances, forthrightness can come across as tactlessness, consensus building as indecisiveness, or positive feedback as puffery.”
She suggests some steps for preventing your Evil Twin from taking the stage at work. One is to talk about your values often. In my experience, this is not something people do easily at the office; many don’t even think in terms of “values.” Simply put, values are your personal beliefs about the ideas you think are most important as a course of action or an outcome. So if you talk often about your belief that letting a person make her own mistakes is the best way to grow, your team will be less likely to interpret your non-interference as cold and unsupportive. If you talk about your commitment to your elderly parents with health issues, they will be more tolerant when you take a quick call from your mom during work.
That’s not to say that oversharing is the solution; details aren’t always necessary. Simple statements about what you believe and what works for you may be enough. I take a long lunch twice a week and attend a yoga class. My team is supportive because I’ve talked to them about my commitment to healthier and more mindful living. They might react differently if I simply disappeared for long periods.
Geisler cites research that indicates that people will be more tolerant of behavior – even if they dislike it – when they believe that someone has good intentions. She writes: “People appreciate more deeply and forgive more easily when they believe that the other person means well.” So your intent matters. Let people know you care. Talk to them about what matters to you – and ask them what matters to them. If their behavior surprises – or dismays – you, ask a neutral question to start a conversation. “I saw you (do something / choose something.) Tell me about your thinking on that.” You never know what you’ll hear. And you just might banish an Evil Twin forever.