25 ways to make yourself unpopular: #12 Be too flexible

One of the things I’ve discovered is that a lot of people need, or at least want, tightly-defined boundaries. I’ve found this to be the case not only in the management roles I’ve had, but even as an editor of Computers in Classrooms and the ICT in Education website.

For example, if I tell people I’m happy for them to contribute an article on whatever they see fit, as long as it’s in keeping with the aims and tone of the newsletter, there is every likelihood that they will ask for more information:

How long should it be?

When’s the deadline?

Is topic X alright?

The same applied when I asked people in my team to take responsibility for a unit of work, the only “restriction” being that it had to address a particular set of objectives. For example if I said “can you write a Unit which will address data protection?”, they would want to know “is it OK if I create a scenario based on X?”.

I came to the conclusion that although you might think you’re being incredibly helpful to people by giving them almost carte blanche to do what they like, the reality is that most people feel much more secure if they have a firm set of guidelines within which to work. In fact, it’s even worth creating false limitations if the end result is that people are more productive.

It’s an interesting conundrum because it is, for me, so counterintuitive. Have you had similar experiences?