How to deal with ‘The Boss’

March 14, 2006

How to deal with ‘The Boss’

We asked author Andrew O?Keeffe how solve these common problems:

Question: It?s your annual performance review and you?re nervous. Your boss gives you some feedback, good and bad. What is the best way to accept criticism and discover how to improve?

Answer: First of all, we don?t do our appraisals in a vacuum. You already have a relationship with your boss, so you will know what their intentions are when they give feedback. Are they generally constructive, even though sometimes they might blunder a little with the words? Let?s say you are satisfied that your boss tries to be helpful. In receiving ?negative? feedback, there are three key dimensions. One, forget any notion that you need to be perfect. There is no such thing. So, if you accept that you are not perfect, then you?re accepting there may be some things you could do better or differently. Second, it is often better to have things raised and talked about with your boss then expect your boss to suppress their opinions. Give your boss a bit of latitude to allow them to share their opinion ? you might learn something valuable. Third, and most important, with any criticism, ask for specific information or examples. Help your boss to be specific in the feedback ? ?what was it specifically I should do differently next time?? ?When you say better quality work, what specifically should I do next time?? Being specific helps you both to be clear and have a common understanding for the future.

Once when I was new to a job I said to my boss in the first week, that in 30 days I wanted to sit down with him and get his feedback ? what were the things I was doing well, and was there anything he wasn?t appreciating that I should do better or differently? This ensured that anything on the negative side was discussed, and then we could do something about it. Sometimes ?negative? things are pretty trivial and they only get magnified because they are not discussed.

Question: Your boss is erratic and unreliable, constantly changing their opinions and the directions of projects. How do you suggest telling your boss that their work style frustrates you?

Answer: The key is to try to find a way to express this in terms of what?s in the boss?s interests. If you express it in terms of how you are feeling (such as, ?your work style frustrates me? then this is unlikely to receive the reaction you want). A better way, is to frame it from your boss?s interest. For example, ?I have been thinking about our chances of meeting the deadlines on this project. I am a bit worried. One thing that would make our chances better is if we do some project planning and get clarity around the project outcomes and the timetable. Then everyone in the project will be clear about what?s required??

Start by testing your toe in the water to see what reaction you get. Don?t jump in the deep end right away. If the erratic instructions continue, you might need to confirm things in an email.

Question: I am terrified of my boss. She only communicates via email and is very unclear in what she says. How can I get around this?

Answer: It?s not a happy place to be ? to be terrified. I presume that because she terrifies you, you don?t feel confident to ask her what she means. Do other people feel like that as well? Have they found a way to cope? You might get around the issue to some extent by emailing your boss for clarity, or to see if there is a colleague you could use as a ?go-between?. But also, think about whether you really need to work for a boss who terrifies you. Sometimes people feel trapped in a role when they should not be. Most people have choices.

Questions for the boss

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