A common issue encountered in the professional environment is the lack of clarity or guidance
provided by a manager to a subordinate when assigning a task. Assumptions are made by both
parties when faced with ambiguity; we all have heard that to “assume” makes an “ass” out of “u” and
“me,” and this is the scenario’s principle lesson. However, ambiguity can be made worse by
communication difficulties, carry-over from past behaviors, and unequal power relationships: as we
shall see…
(Kim the enters classroom, followed closely by Sarah)
Kim: why do you have to bring this up right before class?
Sarah: you’re never in your office, and anyhow, it’s too far away
Kim: Look Sarah, I know we had an agreement, but I'm not going to pay for substandard work.
Sarah: (make point about how previous work always has been acceptable before)
Kim: You got the job based on your previous class designs, but that doesn’t mean your
current work is automatically acceptable.
Sarah: (question about why current work is not as good as before)
Kim: I can’t put my finger on it; I just don’t like it. It looks like you rushed it
Sarah: (comment about not receiving enough guidance or guidelines)
Kim: You could have emailed me, or called.
Sarah: I DID email you, but you never replied.
Kim: it’s your responsibility to follow-up. Besides, it’s not my job to tell you how to do every
little bit; you’re the expert…you’re supposed to know what to do
Sarah: (introduce past conflict; e.g. “you’re just still upset with me for speaking-out in class last
Kim: you’re allowed to say whatever you want in class; the grading is designed to be
objective. My opinion doesn’t enter into it.
(Note: during this part of the argument, decide about “getting in your face,” or “invading
personal space.”)
Sarah: (reinforce bias, e.g. “that doesn’t mean that you aren’t looking for other ways to take it out on
me, like not paying me for my design.”
Kim: Ms Coffman, I resent that remark; that’s not very fair or respectful.
Sarah: (e.g. “Well…DR. UHLIK…I resent being criticized, too. I think it’s time I spoke with the
department chair.”)
(Sarah begins to exit the classroom. Kim follows her)
Kim (in hallway): Fine…you do that. I’ll even show you the way to her office.
Intended outcomes
1. recognition that a lack of guidelines is the underlying issue;
2. that the manager’s failure to acknowledge the lack of guidelines complicates the issue;
3. that lack of proper communication contributes to the problem;
4. that past conflicts contribute to the problem;
5. that power-plays by both parties exacerbate the problem.
Actual outcomes
The principle difficulty turned-out to be the players’ inability to capture the learners’ attention. Typical
before-class chatter continued during most of the scenario presentation, resulting in very few of the
learners witnessing the entire exchange. As the players’ volume levels increased, the learners’
conversation levels raised to match that volume. The attempt to present the argument as a “natural”
event was perceived by the learners as just that – natural – meaning that they needn’t pay attention!
Nevertheless, an in-class reflection process did reveal that many of the intended outcomes –
eventually – were achieved, as those learners who did witness all or parts of the exchange were able
to “piece-together” the important details, from which informative conclusions were reached.
The players may need to sacrifice some of the “naturalness” in order to gain the learners’ undivided