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Managing a waffler

When hard opinions turn soft

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in Leaders & Managers

Wafflers constantly change their minds and give wishy-washy answers to even the most simple fact-finding questions. Unless you’re dealing with a seasoned politician—where waffling often comes naturally—such ambivalence hardly instills confidence.

To hold a waffler accountable, try these techniques:

Put it in writing. When you sift through your employee’s fuzzy remarks and stumble upon a reasonably clear answer, write it down. The act of committing someone’s comments to paper lends an air of finality. You may even want to send a confirmation memo to the waffler that concisely summarizes the “hard” information you extracted from the conversation.

Wait ’em out. Wafflers master the art of stalling. When asked a point-blank question, they hem and haw and test your patience to the point where you eventually jump in with your views and redirect the conversation away from them. Don’t fall for this trick. When you pose a question, wait in silence for them to respond. Even as they stop and start over and continually shift gears, don’t interrupt. When they’re finally finished, focus on the most concrete thing they’ve just said and run with it.

Repeat questions. Let’s say you want a waffler to buy into your proposal. Ask them, “Would you wholeheartedly support this plan?” Their first answer will probably offer some vague or conditional support.

Your response: Ask the identical question again, this time addressing their reservations. “Would you wholeheartedly support this plan if your points about confidentiality and cost were fully addressed?” Continue along this line of questioning until they exhaust their qualifications and finally give a yes/no answer.

Try not to lose your cool with a waffler. Some people are deliberate thinkers who do not like to express opinions without careful, even plodding analysis. If you give them time to work around all sides of an issue, then their vacillating may not be in vain.

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