Tips for Dealing with Diminishers


Over the last few months I have enjoying sharing key practices of Multipliers leadership with the GovLoop community. As part of the research process for these posts I have had the privilege of connecting with many government leaders who focus on utilizing and growing all the intelligence around them – true Multipliers with truly inspiring stories.

But let’s face reality; government work is not all rainbows and unicorns. The strict hierarchies and downward pressure found within most government organizations can be a breeding ground for diminishing behaviors. Tragically Diminishers deplete their organization of engagement, morale and crucial intelligence and capability.

When conducting leadership workshops and sharing Multipliers practices, the most frequent question I am asked is, “How do I deal with my diminishing boss?”

As part of our ongoing Multipliers research, led by Liz Wiseman, we have identified several strategies for dealing with Diminishers. The most important and central conclusion: “You can be a Multiplier while working for a Diminisher.” Below are some of the strategies that can help you with your Diminisher.

If you find yourself in a diminishing situation hopefully one of these strategies can help you become one of Liz’s “Invincibles” – those who continue to utilize their greatest intelligence, despite being surrounded by diminishing behaviors:

Assume Positive Intent. You may be one of the lucky ones whose Diminisher has a positive intent – those leaders we commonly refer to as Accidental Diminishers. In these situations, interpret their behaviors in a positive light to understand what is important to them and therefore driving their behaviors. For example, if your boss demonstrates Rescuer tendencies, they may be concerned that deadlines or objectives won’t be met. Help ease her mind by demonstrating your strengths or genius. This will help her identify the areas where “you got this” and do not need her well-intentioned rescue.

Invite Them to the Party. Instead of trying to avoid a Diminisher, invite him to join you. Multipliers assume that everyone has a genius, their boss included! Maybe his genius is a hidden one. Once you identify his genius, invite him to join and focus his contribution in a manner that utilizes his talent. For example, give him a portion of a work product and ask how he can make it better. You may find that inviting your Diminisher in and letting him see the great work you are doing may result in his assumptions being changed and more space provided to you.

Strengthen Other Connections. Under the most debilitating Diminisher, we find ourselves questioning our own ability and values. This can have a potentially devastating impact at work and outside of work. Consider finding trusted colleagues or leaders who can help guide you through the difficult relationship. They can confirm your ability and give you a second assessment on your work. Think of this as building a career network.

Model Multiplier Behavior. This could take many forms, such as:

  • Asking questions and listening
  • Utilizing collective intelligence and data when making decisions
  • Admitting your mistakes and subsequent learning
  • Seeking growth through stretch challenges
  • Playing fewer chips and making space for others

When working in a Diminishing environment, you can be a beacon of light for yourself and others. I realize this may be an overused quote, but it is very appropriate in these situations: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

What other strategies have you used successfully when dealing with a Diminisher?

Jon Haverly is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

Avatar photo Nicole Blake Johnson

Thanks for the great post, Jon! Assuming the best is huge, and something I try to put into practice. It isn’t always easy, but I find it really benefits me in the long run. One of the approaches I’ve used in the past when working in a diminishing environment was to find something that connected us, even if it wasn’t work related. In fact, it was a popular television series, of all things. I won that person over by finding common ground that we could build on, and that carried over into the work environment.

Jon Haverly

Thanks Nicole. Finding common ground is a great approach. One way I have found to accomplish this is to step back and find agreement on an overall objective or vision. Hopefully this can then lead to more productive conversations regarding approach.

Terry L. dawson

You may have just saved me from quitting a reasonable low paying government job, I work to support Veterans, first; yet understanding how to serve under, ‘downward – but unnecessary pressure from diminishers’ – may solve my issues. Please continue this blog concept toward fellow workers-who also act as deminishers within teams. Thank you!

Jon Haverly

Terry, first thanks for your support of our Veterans. Unfortunately you are not alone in your struggle with diminishers. I will continue to share ideas from this important research.


Jon-Thank you for writing about this important topic in such a friendly and practical way. Taking time to identify diminshers can be a game changer that can impacts the trajectory of the day and even our overall health.

Jon Haverly

Hi Donna. Unfortunately too many times working for a diminisher can lead to tragic outcomes such as doubts of self worth and ultimately health issues. That is why I am so passionate about this topic.

Laura Drescher

I like the concept of inviting Diminishers–recently I requested comments on something, and someone mentioned something they didn’t like about it. Instead of getting frustrated, because the person didn’t give specific enough feedback to act on, I invited the person to explain how they would address their concern in the context of this specific document. I invited them to participate and at the same time sent the message that I wasn’t a mind reader!