Waffling Your Way to Failure? - The Pickering Group
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Waffling Your Way to Failure?

I’ve talked before about one of the strangely insidious archetypes of presentations: The Waffler. But did you know that a really (in)effective Waffler can derail your entire team?

You can have a great story and explain it well, but if you’re not seen as capable of delivering it, you’re never going to get it across the line – so here’s how to spot a Waffler, and why you need to cut the noise.

Re-introducing The Waffler

They’re not a discount Batman villain, sadly. The Waffler is a low impact, low energy presenter who either doesn’t have anything to say, or doesn’t know how to make their point clear.

The Waffler comes across as oblivious to their nothing-talk, and indulgent with their time. They’re prone to talking around in circles and struggling to get to the point. They like to “explore” an idea, rather than make a decision.

Whether self-conscious (and knowing about their waffling but unable to break the cycle), or self-indulgent (and rambling on and on with no thought to the audience), Wafflers are prone to heading off on frustrating tangents, pontificating on irrelevant topics, and using a lot of hedging language like “I guess what I wanted to say was…” or “I think that this might be the case…”.

The result is that audiences tend to get frustrated or confused, feeling like their time has been disrespected by an agonising talk that goes nowhere very slowly.

They’re also exactly the wrong person to lead a team.

When waffling becomes a weapon

A bad Waffler isn’t nefarious or evil. They just come across as incompetent.

Imagine that you have a Waffler leading your team. You go to a meeting or presentation, and your Waffler can’t articulate what they want. They’re talking around in circles. They’re distracted by theory and ideas. At no point does the fog ever lift, or a point or purpose emerges. But they’ll get to the end and feel glad that they had an interesting talk.

I’ve seen this happen. In one case, the team felt like they were going crazy, listening to their boss ramble on, and yet they couldn’t understand why they weren’t getting it. They felt like they were the problem, not the leadership, and as a result the team became really dysfunctional. The team themselves were competent and intelligent – but with an ineffective boss in place, who couldn’t inspire action, they were on the way to falling apart.

Effective leaders (at every level of an organisation) need to be able to communicate a point clearly and effectively, to get a shared understanding across a team. The rest is just noise.

Purpose first

I talk often about storytelling, messaging, and how to construct a compelling narrative. But all this has to come through a lens of competency, too.

The solution to waffling is purpose! You have to have a direction! Tangents are fine, but they need to have relevance. 

Purpose and competence are non-negotiable, so ensure that your team has clear, actionable goals and that your leaders are not just storytellers, but also doers.

A compelling narrative led by strong, decisive leadership (especially leadership at all levels of a team) can drive meaningful change. Without this, even the best stories will fall flat, leaving your team adrift in the fog. So, focus on clarity, build competence, and let your stories not just be heard, but felt and trusted.

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