How do you deal with workplace dabblers and kibitzers?

A curt ‘Howza ’bout I do my job and you do yours?’ solves nothing. Instead, demonstrate your mastery over material and messaging, and set up a workflow protocol for all to follow.

How to deal with communication dabblers

Communication professionals are subjected to landfills’ worth of unsolicited feedback.

Unlike the unfettered folks in IT, who go about shoring up firewalls and thwarting mysterious hackers without much oversight or interference, communicators face far more scrutiny—and unwanted advice.

“It’s just writing, right?” Not quite, but the subjective, creative nature of our work does lend itself to a cavalcade of not-always-helpful ideas, kibitzes and nudges from the corporate peanut gallery.

  • “Have you thought of doing a blog series on <insert boring topic important only to person suggesting it>?”
  • “We really need a video to go with this.”
  • “Can I just write in a few paragraphs of my own?”
  • “My nephew has a real knack for design; I’ll just let him make the flyers then you can shoot it out.”
  • Why don’t you just whip up a quick PowerPoint for my presentation? I need it tomorrow, BTW.”
  • “Mind if I tinker with your email template a bit?”

Does any of this sound familiar? We’ve written about meddling “communication dabblers” before, but what’s the best way to handle these irritating interlopers? How can you keep Tinkering Tinas and Opinionated Orsons at bay?

Taking the high road

Martin Munguia, a communicator with Community Transit in Washington, concedes, “It’s always a challenge to not flippantly say, ‘Hey, how about you don’t do my job and I won’t do yours?’”

A better approach, he says, is to prove your expertise.

Follow up your well-crafted, “I was hired for this job because of my 15 years’ experience in internal and crisis communications,” with a couple of researched data points that will catch them off guard. For example: “In our company, the most effective time to send an email is 8-10 a.m. on Wednesday morning, and anything sent after 3:30 p.m. on any day will get less than 15% readership. For important company messages, you need to get the key message in front of employees’ eyeballs (or ears) at least four-seven times through multiple channels within the first seven-10 days for effective stickiness.”

Brad Chase, partner at Chase Global Media, challenges dabblers—”who nine times out of 10 come from marketing and think communications is easy”— to go on record with their input.

“In most cases, they back off because they don’t have the fortitude to handle things if something goes wrong,” he says. “After all, they’ve just put themselves in the firing line with the CEO.”

They may back off, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be quiet, he warns:

Dabblers usually back off and quietly sulk, taking potshots at communications and/or me from time to time in the following months. It’s the long game approach—those who think communications is their forte because they’re a “people person” will learn the hard way if they do things without taking the advice of a qualified professional.

Altering your perspective

Brock Isanhart, director of global communications at Whirlpool Corp., suggests communicators make an effort “to understand why the individual is making the suggestions. … This can help the communicator better appreciate the desired outcome, which is usually what the individual is more concerned with.”

He adds that once you understand what they want, you can use data to support why you suggest taking a different approach.

We’re often approached to produce a video or send an email to a broad audience, but arrive at a different tactic simply by asking the question, ‘What is the outcome you’re trying to achieve?’ Taking these steps not only drive the right outcomes, they preserve important partnerships.

Linda Pophal, owner of consulting firm Strategic Communication, says having an agreed-upon “scope of work” up front keeps dabblers at bay.

“Be as specific as possible in outlining what the expectations are, and get all involved to ‘sign off’ on the specs,” she says.

You should also agree on a review process. “Who is responsible for viewing what? When? What type of input is being sought from them?”

The objective, she says, is to keep reviews/input down to no more than two rounds after a piece has been designed. The time for major copy changes should happen before copy gets laid out.

Establish one person who will gather, compile and submit all the input to the content creator, she says.

The wellspring in the corner office

When working with senior leaders, multiple departments or subject matter experts, have a routing process that starts at the top and trickles down. Dabblers will be less likely to criticize comments that come from the CEO first.

“Doing this the other way around creates a nightmare because each layer of review will want to make their mark assuming that since they are at a higher level than the previous person reviewing the content they need to find something to comment on to prove their value in the chain—and the more, the better,” Pophal suggests.

Some communicators, including Kayla Kelly, marketing manager at Paypro, suggest there might be value in insights provided by non-comms folks:

“If the person has no background in comms, listen for any insight into a potential audience/viewer’s perspective.”

Regardless of how you handle dabblers, Pophal has hope for communicators.

“Ultimately, once you establish your own reputation as an exceptional communicator, the dabblers will diminish,” she says. “That’s likely most true for those within organizations who have an opportunity to build and strengthen their reputations over time, but communicators can also establish their expertise through recommendations, referrals and testimonials.”

What say you, communicators? How do you handle colleagues who insist on offering “helpful advice” or unsolicited feedback on your work? Please leave your tips below.


One Response to “How do you deal with workplace dabblers and kibitzers?”

    Sandy Rodriguez says:

    The expert communicators you quoted all have good advice for Tinkering Teresas, Opinionated Oscars and the like. I agree, there is still often something to learn from the input, whether it is good advice or bad, and that is all part of our “job.” I like to think it’s the part we get paid for. Afterall, when you’re on a communications “roll” work can be a lot of fun. But employers don’t pay us to have fun – they pay us for results (and putting up with stuff we don’t like – like dabblers who can be annoying). Daily Headlines

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