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Submitted by AppleJack on


BLUF: I'm looking for suggestions for how to work effectively with a direct who asks the same questions repeatedly and then still does not follow through with as instructed. I'm aware that once I let a direct wear me down (and this is what is happening) I don't have the energy reserve I need to manage them effectively. So I'm looking for tips on what I can do to not let this wear me down, more so than to correct her.

We are just starting one-on-ones so it's too early for MT style feedback. I find the repetition of the questions exhausting. Add to that this week I'm trying to work on many very detailed, time sensitive projects that need focus and concentration, so the frequent interruptions are very disruptive.

She is new seasonal direct who after I explain a project to her, has many, many questions about every detail.  For more then needed to accomplish a given project.  Most of the questions are things I've explained several times already, within the previous hour. I'm guessing that she is a high C as she wants to do everything perfectly. She also MUST do everything NOW and has to have an answer from me NOW. I'm not sure where that fits into DiSC.

I started the day by saying, I've got some work I need to do that requires that I not be interrupted. If you have any questions, please write them down and I will check in with you to see periodically through the day to answer them. However, this worked only until I checked in -- once I answered her questions the first time, then her compulsion to ask me again and again took over.


maura's picture
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Do you have someone on your team that's in a permanent role and knows the ropes?  If so, assign that person as her mentor.  It's a good growth opportunity for your permanent person, and it frees you up to work on your own projects. 

Solitaire's picture

Is she taking notes while you've trained her or can she start to do so now? Can you ask her to go back to her notes every time she asks you the same question again?

Or can you ask her how she thinks she can address whatever the issue is, without asking you? This will make her think for herself more.

Othewise I think you should give her some feedback, even if it is not totally in the MT style and you haven't rolled it out to her yet. She needs to know that she is disrupting you and not behaving as you need her to.

AppleJack's picture
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Thanks for the responses.

Maura - Unfortunately I do not have anyone permanent at this time. My only long term (seasonal) person is doing entirely different work.

Solitaire - She is taking notes and I also provide written instructions for how to handle most basic tasks. The questions are beyond the scope of the project, her skill level and knowledge as a new employee. I've told her that she has all the information she needs to accomplish the task she's been assigned, but she has a compulsive need to know far more. I'm OK with her telling customers "I'm sorry, I'm new and I can't answer all of your questions." She is not comfortable not knowing everything. And she is too new to realize that it will be 6-9 months before she develops the knowledge and skill sets needed to answer the more complex questions.

Generally I want to encourage people to ask questions. I like having people who want to know more, learn more, do more. So I find it challenging to have to say to someone not to ask questions. All the same her behavior is disrupting the work we need to do.

So on one hand, you both bring up good points that lead me to think if she continues to disrupt me and the workflow of the office as a whole, I can't continue to employ her. I've been down this road before, it does not end well. On the other hand I know I let myself get worn down by staff who behave this way. I let it impact my behavior is less than ideal ways. I have built a great team, but people like this pull the team down and I have not found an effective way to manage them.

I'm still looking for a better way for how I respond to staff making demands on my time. I want to change my behavior, so that in the moment I can handle it better, not get worn down, keep everyone on track and motivated.


falkb's picture

Explain to her your need to minimize interruptions. Agree on a system, for example: She can interrupt you four times a day, and ask up to four questions each time. Keep track of that. If she comes to you for the fifth time, or tries to ask more questions, send her away without an answer (this is important -no exceptions!).

If she asks you questions she has asked you before, give her feedback (following the MT model or not) that she has just used up one of her valuable questions (and your valuable time) with no gain to show for it.

Falk Bruegmann

Jrlz's picture

Hi Applejack,

I think the first question to answer is can this person do the job?  If they can do the job, but are just asking too many questions then you can deal with that.  If they can not do the job, well then you have to see if you can coach her up to doing the job or move her out.

Regarding the too many questions, here is what I have had success with.

First,  I coach all of my directs on the DISC model. I encourage them to use the DISC model to effectively communicate.   I am a High C, High D so I find once my directs understand that they adjust thier communication style accordingly.  By the way I also adjust mine to thiers.   I have even had one direct comment that he must drive me nuts with his long winded questions, which to me seem more like a long conversation.   This helps to build the relationship with the direct.  I believe they appreciate it when I adjust my style to thiers and knowing DISC they are aware of that.

Second, provide feedback assuming the best in your direct.   She is not doing this to drive you nuts, she may just be very eager to learn as much as possible.   Perhaps she really values your opinions.   Fact is you dont know, but assume she has the best intentions.   I would start with asking her during a conversation (not during feedback) why she asks so many questions.   She may surprise you with the answer.  I think the answer will give you the basis for providing feedback. If the behaviour persists after understanding the behaviour and providing feedback then I would be more direct with my feedback.   By the way, if she starts reducing the questions provide feedback on that as well.   Everytime you talk with her and she limits the converstation (even if it is still not to where you want) provide feedback.  

Third, could she find the answers to her questions elsewhere?   When one of my directs comes to me with a question or better yet a problem, I like to ask what they have done about it already.   Where did they look for a possible answer?  If it is a problem, what solutions have they come up with that they would like me to help them decide between?   If they are questions that they dont need know the answers to, then why do they even need to know that?  How will knowing that help accomplish the project?

Lastly, if you determine that this person can do the job and it is just that she asks too many questions, make time for her during the day.   You just started one on ones so that will help.  You can let her know that she has an open forum during her part of the one on one to ask questions.   You may have to spend an extra 10-15 minutes when you stop by her cube, just budget for it.   

As a side note I understand that your time is at a premium.  Is there anything you can delegate?   As managers we should be developing our people, however the demands of our jobs get overwhelming.   When I find that is happening, I try to find things I can delegate or stop doing altogether.  Mark has a saying of picking the things you are willing to get in trouble for.   What are your doing now that you could stop doing?  Even if you get in a little trouble.   If your team is devlivering above average results you can afford to get into a little trouble.  Often times, you need to give up some little things in order to get the above average results.  

Sorry for the lenghly answer, hope this helps.