Decoding Dilbert

Decoding Dilbert (Part 1)

Since its debut in 1989, the comic strip Dilbert has exemplified the plight of office workers. The short, funny, and often all-too-familiar scenarios go great with morning coffee, and remind workers everywhere that “we’re in this together.” However, from a human resources perspective, a lot can be learned from the mishaps of Dilbert and his co-workers. The situations in the comic strips represent real office problems; even when disguised with robots, Dogbert, and Elbonians. Perhaps especially when disguised with robots, Dogbert, and Elbonians. Let’s dive into the world of comic strips, and discover a new way of looking at our offices by Decoding Dilbert.

Decoding Dilbert

In this strip, Dilbert is chatting with the pointy-haired boss. Nope, he doesn’t have a real name—from here on out we’ll call him PHB. Dilbert asks a simple question (well, not so simple, but we’ll get to that in a minute). PHB completely misses the point. Dilbert decides that the problem with the company is PHB’s terrible listening skills.

At first glance, it seems that PHB is solely to blame. However, this strip actually shows an overall lack of communication between employees and management. Dilbert’s initial question, “Why can’t we be more like that?” is vague. How could management, even competent management, determine when the company is “like a company that provides Wi-Fi-enabled busses”? Part of the problem is PHB’s inability to understand basic sentence structure. The other problem is that Dilbert’s request isn’t clear. There’s no reason to think that a Wi-Fi-enabled bus would be of any help whatsoever to Dilbert’s company specifically.

Good communication between management and employees should include feedback from employees. Encourage your employees to regularly give feedback on company culture, specific work practices, and new ideas for the company. However, help employees avoid Dilbert’s mistake by encouraging the same SMART system we use with setting goals. Good goals are:






The same is true for good feedback and requests from employees. Dilbert’s request was not SMART, and so it’s not altogether surprising that communication fell through with PHB.

This is not to say that PHB isn’t at fault. Like any communication failure, both parties share in the blame. PHB clearly didn’t listen very closely to what Dilbert was saying. His response shows a consistent lack of communication with his employees. Why would any employee want to be more like a bus?

Keep your managers from spewing nonsense like PHB by encouraging consistent conversations—over coffee, or around a meeting table—between management and employees. A manager who spends enough quality time with his/her employees would understand Dilbert’s question better. He/she would be able to drive the conversation in a more productive direction.

Any favorite Dilbert comics you’d like us to decode? Leave a comment linking the strip below, or tweet one to me: @ithinkther4iamb #DecodingDilbert

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