Removing roadblocks

Removing roadblocks

Unfortunately, this post is here by popular demand.  

So, here goes...

How do you move forward when you're working with a...."challenging"....personality?  Every time you try to move forward, they stick a roadblock in your way.  (Think advisors or coauthors).

But don't resign yourself to a life of feeling stuck!  Sometimes, a little careful communication can help.  

Here's a 2-step process used in the business world. Try it out (though I hope you never have to).


1. Feed back their feedback

Just repeat their point back to them.

  • "So you’re saying I should replace section 6 with a discussion on extensions?"
  • “So you're suggesting I rewrite the introduction to speak more clearly to an applied audience?" 

It may seem silly to do this, but they NEED to hear you say it.  It calms them down--now, they know you've heard their concern. Also, you might not have understood them, and this is the best way to find out. 


    2. Agree on a goalpost

    You've gotten them to say "yes, that's what I'm saying" or "no, I'm actually saying this other thing." Great!  Now, you both need to shake on a goalpost.  Take the lead and spell it out.

    • "OK.  So if I replace section 6 with a discussion on extensions, would you be ready to sign off on this?"  
    • If you disagree with their feedback, you still need to spell out a goalpost.  Don't brush this under the rug, because it WILL come back to haunt you in a few weeks.  “OK.  Well, if I could show you that section 6 actually addresses a crucial gap in the literature, would you be ready to sign off on this?"


    Again, it may not seem natural to do this, especially if this is not how you usually communicate.  But both you and the other person need to be looking at the same finish line.

    Also, sometimes, hearing things out loud reveals just how ridiculous the roadblock is:

    • "OK.  So if I dance around campus in a unitard while singing your praises, would you be ready to sign off on this?"  


    Of course, you may not get straight answers.  Often, you will need to start the process again: repeat their revised feedback and propose a new goalpost.  Hopefully, after a few rounds, they will get tired and let you pass.







    Image by By Jarkko Laine from Tampere, Finland (Honeymoon in Norway) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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