Learn about the concept of wobble and how to prevent it.

Abstract work

The higher up the organization chart you go, the more that you’ll find that the day-to-day concerns you are dealing with are more abstract, uncertain, and just plain messy. If you’re brand new to management, dealing with this very human element of the workplace can be stressful. Whereas, days spent as an individual contributor allowed constant focus around (mostly) well-defined pieces of work, your days spent as a manager open you up to issues and interactions that are much harder to define, contain, and resolve.

In addition to the unstructured and complex issues that you’ll experience through managing humans, you’ll also partake in discussions that have no clear or correct answer. Should we hire this person or that person? How do we cut costs? How do we cancel this project and do the other one instead? Should we be building this product or that product? The higher the stakes, the more likely uncertainty and the increasing seniority of those involved will create tension, conflicts of personalities, and sometimes horrible arguments and falling outs. Yuck.

You’ll begin to realize that part of your job as a manager is to shield your team from input that is too messy, disruptive, and emotional when it would be detrimental to their ability to work well. Often, you’ll need to be the person that digests information and filters it down in a more palatable way. Sometimes, you’ll need to ensure they don’t hear it at all. You need to contain the wobble that could affect your team.

Prevent wobble from occurring

Part of your job as a manager is to prevent this wobble from occurring. You must try your best to protect the part of the organization that reports to you in times of adversity. This requires a good amount of emotional intelligence, judgment, and support. When a difficult or uncertain time requires a change in the direction of your team, you want to be able to communicate this in a calm and reasoned way that results in your reports understanding the issue and being ready to work on change, rather than wanting to flip desks and set the whole place on fire.

Let’s assume you’re involved in an argument around pivoting one of the company’s products. It just so happens that it’s the product that your team builds. You’ve been invited to a meeting with the C-level leadership, and there’s a heated debate.

What should you do?

Listening and observing

The first skill to practice is mindfully listening and observing without judgment. If a bad situation is unfolding, focus on your breathing, sit or stand straight, and hear the other parties out. I’m aware this can be difficult if you have the board screaming at you, but try your best. Take in the information, and take notes if that helps. Try to identify the parts of the situation that are fact and those that are emotional and separate them. You’ll want to focus on the facts in further communication and try to ignore the emotion. However, identifying why these facts have caused high emotion is useful to think about.


Since this situation involves your team, you’ll want to create some time to digest between receiving this information and communicating it to them.

  • What does it really mean to your team once the emotion has been extracted from the situation?

  • Does anything actually change?

  • Will they need to stop what they are doing and do something else instead? How might they take the news?

  • Are there any individuals that you think will react badly to this situation? If so, why is that?

Even if you think that you are the coolest cucumber, being in emotional situations will change your character temporarily. If possible, wait until some time has passed before delivering any challenging news. Contain the wobble until you’ve composed yourself. Going home and having some distractions and time to relax allows the subconscious mind to comb through the issue. Sleep is also great at calming the emotional metronome. Often, when waking up the next morning, nothing is as bad as it seems.


Now, it’s time to deliver the news to your own people. You may want to reframe the message before passing it on. Consider that one of your teams has their project canceled because it isn’t making enough money for the business. Your CEO and CTO may have locked heads and had an impassioned debate. As the team’s manager, you’ll need to take that message and turn it into something more positive: the team has done a great job, you’re grateful for their effort, it was a challenging project for the business, and sometimes these things don’t work out because most new ideas don’t gain traction. You could introduce them to the cool new thing that they’re going to be doing next.

You’ll need to use your intuition to decide the best medium in which to deliver the news. Is it best talked through in one-on-ones before a broader announcement? Do you want to talk to the team as a group? Do you want to hold off slightly before you know what they’re doing next? Only you will have the answer. You know your team best. If you need advice, talk to your manager or a peer. The time taken to digest allows the right message to form and for you to communicate from a place of transparency and openness.

Never shy away from the facts. Only try to reframe them for the greater good. People know when their manager is hiding the truth from them, and you’ll be doing them a disservice by doing so.

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