In his book Originals, Adam Grant writes about “ambivalent relationships” – those where you are unsure of whether or not the person is supportive of you. “It takes more emotional energy and coping resources to deal with individuals that are inconsistent,” he writes. Grant says that you must remain constantly on guard in uncertain relationships – thus they are even more unhealthy for you than with negative relationships since there you know where you stand.

Nowhere is the ambivalence more stressful than when it occurs with your boss. If you are unsure that your supervisor has your back and will support you, much energy is wasted as you become tentative in your responses and stifle any creativity for fear of failure. Bosses who are like wheat – leaning one way then suddenly leaning another – cause much duplication and stress for those who must deal with the consequences.

Grant writes; “It is our instinct to sever bad relationships and salvage the ambivalent ones, but evidence suggests we ought to do the opposite.” The constant toll of being in limbo is more emotionally draining than writing off a known negative.

If you have a supervisor or colleague that is wavering in their support, maybe it’s time for you to pursue other options. Don’t be unequivocal about someone who is ambivalent toward you.

 

I'm the chief connector at leadership dots where I serve as "the string" for individuals and organizations. Like stringing pearls together to make a necklace, "being the string" is an intentional way of thinking and behaving – making linkages between things that otherwise appear random or unconnected – whether that be supervising a staff, completing a dissertation or advancing a project in the workplace. I share daily leadership dots on my blog to provide examples of “the string” in action. I use the string philosophy through coaching, consulting and teaching to help others build capacity in themselves and their organizations. I craft analogies and metaphors that help people comprehend complex topics and understand their role in the system. My favorite work involves helping those new to supervision or newly promoted supervisors build confidence and learn the skills necessary to effectively lead their team.

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