Your Spouse and Your Boss Agree, You’re a Bad Communicator

Bill was frustrated; his boss just didn’t get it. Bill thought his boss expected too much. In my conversation with Bill he said, “My boss worries about the smallest things, then he freaks out if they’re not done perfectly.”

As he spoke, something about the way Bill described his boss, “freaking out about small things” told me, Bill had been given voice to this complaint before. It has the familiar ring of someone retelling their favorite story at a family reunion.

On a hunch I asked Bill, “Does anyone else in your life make a big deal over small things? At first he said no, then I rephrased asking, “Have you ever found yourself annoyed at someone, wondering, “Why are you freaking out over this insignificant thing? A light bulb went off. Bill said, “I get in that fight with my wife all the time.


If you’re hearing the same complaints from your spouse and your boss, chances are, the common denominator is you.

In Bill’s case, he was dealing with a classic avoider problem. Bill never wanted to make waves or face potential conflict, so whenever his boss or spouse asked him to do something, he reflexively said yes. His eagerness to please (and end the conversation quickly) left the other person with the impression that Bill would handle it. Later when Bill felt overwhelmed, he would start to question whether or not the task was worthwhile. If he deemed it small potatoes, he’d put it off, or do it half-baked.

Like many conflict avoiders, Bill actually created a situation where he was constantly in conflict with the people closest to him. His attempts to stay under the radar backfired. Bill thought his spouse and boss were overly demanding. But from their vantage point, Bill didn’t deliver on his promises.

I learned the, “Have you ever had this frustration with others?” technique from one of my mentors Marshall Goldsmith, who coaches CEOs. As part of his process, Goldsmith gets feedback from the CEO’s team about their perceptions of the boss. Not surprisingly, themes emerge. People won’t tell their boss he’s a poor listener, or a micromanager. But they’ll report it on an internal assessment. When Goldsmith, the author of What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, addresses the issues with his CEO clients he often gets pushback from high-powered leaders who aren’t used to being criticized. When a CEO says, “I’m not a poor listener, I just don’t have time to chit chat,” or “I don’t micromanage, I get things done,” Goldsmith cuts right to the chase asking, “If I were to ask your spouse about this issue, what would they say?”

It’s funny when it happens to someone else, especially a CEO, but not so funny when it happened to us. But we all have our stuff.

In Bill’s case, the common thread of experiencing other people as overly demanding didn’t mean Bill was a slacker. Bill’s problem was he often said yes when he really meant no. The solution was for Bill to consider requests more carefully, and if he didn’t think the task merited attention, speak up earlier, instead of waiting until someone was frustrated.

You only have one life, you can try to separate work and home, but at the end of the day you’re still you. The more effort you put into being a better you, the more benefit you’ll get from others.