I was listening to a National Public Radio piece recently about employees who don’t get along with their boss. The piece cited a Gallup study that found that 50% of US employees have left a job to get away from their manager. Yes, half! Anyway, it got me thinking how failing to communicate clear expectations to your employees represents one of those things that managers inadvertently do to drive employees away.
But what if you’re on the other side—namely, what if you can’t get your boss to set aside time to talk, set clear expectations, and provide feedback? What can you do on your end to communicate with him and get your work done? Focus on three things:
#1. Try a little empathy
You’re probably thinking, “What?! My boss doesn’t bother to make time for me and communicate her expectations effectively, and you want me to show empathy?” Well, sort of. Even if you don’t actually show empathy, you could benefit from just putting yourself in her shoes. Think about what could be worrying your manager, and then think about ways to help her with that.
For example, your manager may be feeling overloaded with responsibilities of her own and unreasonable expectations from her manager. If so, maybe you could offer to re-prioritize some of your current projects and responsibilities to help out with whatever is a burning issue right now.
#2. Figure out what interests them
It’s easy to look at someone who’s extremely busy with work and think, “They’re spread too thin, they don’t have any time.” But here’s the truth of the matter: We all make time for what truly interests us. Even in the throes of stress (and maybe even especially in those times), we look to those things that energize us and help us refuel and reset.
Pay attention to what interests and fuels your manager. Maybe he really likes thinking big picture and strategically about the organization, or about the industry, to help him get perspective on what he’s dealing with at work. If so, find an opportunity to casually pose a strategic, big-picture question—via email, IM, or as you pass by his office—that sparks his interest. If you pique his interest, he’ll likely welcome the opportunity to spend a little time with you to ponder the question.
#3. Ask less and tell more
It’s human nature to want to ask questions when we’re feeling disoriented. And at work, we want to know if we’re “doing it right” or at least if we’re on the right track. But rather than bombard your boss with questions, try providing information instead.
Busy managers have a lot on their plate already. And if they get the sense that you’re asking questions more than you’re getting things done, they could perceive you as needy and get impatient. Rather than sitting your manager down to go through a list of 20 questions, consider providing her a brief report that articulates what you’re working on and how you prioritized it all. Invite her to provide you with feedback and direction, but don’t make it about getting all your questions answered. She’ll likely admire your initiative and ability to work with minimal direction, and she’ll appreciate your effort to communicate with her and keep her informed.
Do you have a boss that you have trouble communicating with? What have your tried? What would help you to get what you need from him? Give these three tips a try to improve your communication with your manager, and see what progress you can make.
Guillermo Villar is principal coach with Cambio Coaching. He helps high-achieving individuals and teams communicate with Purpose to get the business results they want.