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Behind The Mask: Carnac The Magnificent

Remember when Johnny Carson would put a crazy hat on his head, hold a sealed envelope to his forehead, and come up with an answer that matched the question inside? That approach made a great comedy sketch for Carson, but mind reading is the least effective communication style in the office.

The Carnac persona always leaves other people guessing. You get murky directions (at best) when he’s the boss. Sadly, this manager simply cannot tell you what he wants. It is nearly impossible to meet the Mind Reader’s expectations−and certainly never on the first try.

When the Mind Reader reviews your work he can only tell you that it is not quite right. He may offer vague suggestions about how to improve the quality of what he sees. Or, perhaps you get specific feedback, but it’s in a code you don’t understand. Either way, you try again and again with the same failed results. Eventually the Mind Reader may just do the work himself. The end result: You produce very little. The boss thinks you’re wholly inept. You hate your job.

It can take months of working together before you start to crack the Mind Reader’s personal code. Even after you’ve begun to interpret what may be inside the sealed envelopes, you’ll continue to shoot in the dark most of the time. When you work for a Mind Reader, then, you either have to push hard to define expectations before beginning a task or give up and go with the flow. Most people choose to go with the flow because they don’t want to rock the boat with the boss.

If you have a Mind Reader as a direct report, however, you have an opportunity to break the mind reading habit before he climbs too far up the corporate ladder. When people offer constructive feedback about a situation (or work that someone else has produced), require them to offer three suggestions for improvement. And ask for a preferred recommendation. This process teaches any up-and-coming Mind Readers critical thinking skills, how to stand behind recommendations, and to communicate more effectively.

Things work much more smoothly when we let Carnac play a comedic role on stage or in the app store.

© 2012. All rights reserved.

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