What Can You Do When Your Boss is
Q: For the past three years, I’ve
worked for a manager who is a brilliant technician with no people
skills. While I admire Dave’s technical expertise, his lack of
communication is a real problem. Example: In the pat month I have
devoted my time almost exclusively to a “hot” project he said was
highest priority. I turned it in about a week ago and haven’t heard
a word since. Has he read it? Is he pleased or disappointed: Wasn’t
it important after all? How does his boss feel about it What’s the
next step? Instead of moving on to another assignment, I’m still
looking for closure on this one. When I asked for feedback, he said,
“Right, we’ll have to get together on this, “but so far there’s been
no meeting scheduled.
While I’ve enjoyed the fast-paced,
sink-or-swim environment Dave’s management style requires, I’d
prefer to work with someone who can be a mentor, or at least be
available for consultation. As it’s unlikely my boss will change,
How can I find a manager, preferably within my company who will be
more accessible when I need him and give me feedback on my
A: A non-communicative manager
can be a real problem, but not an in insurmountable one. Before you
write him off, see if you can train him to five the feedback you
While part of any supervisor’s job
description includes effective communication with his staff,
managers are rarely promoted because of their people skills.
Technical expertise and seniority often are the main selection
criteria. Consequently, many managers are superb in dealing with
complicated tasks and mediocre or poor in day-to-day interaction.
Typically, professionals who have
little communication with their bosses tend to think the worst. They
wonder why their manager is avoiding them. Perhaps lurking in the
back of your mind is a concern that Dave hates your report and is
too perturbed to discuss it. Catastrophic expectations run rampant
in a communication void.
While Dave may be unhappy with your
work and reluctant to confront you, that’s probably not the case.
While managers with poor people skills avoid unpleasant
conversation, they’re equally uncomfortable offering praise. As a
result, their subordinates often feel puzzled about where they
It’s natural to assume that our
colleague’s priorities match our own, especially when we’re told,
“This is a hot project.” However, Dave is probably involved with a
variety of hot projects and yours has likely become lukewarm
compared to others. He may think that since you’ve completed your
report on time, the project is a “done deal” and he can concentrate
on more important matters. He doesn’t understand your need for
You’re probably right that Dave wont’
change on his own, because he doesn’t have the inherent skill or
insight. But he can improve his communication style with some
diplomatic but persistent coaching from you.
The key to modifying his behavior
()and yours) lies in asking for what you want. If he doesn’t know
what you want, how can he give it to you? By taking responsibility
for initiating contact with him you will get his attention and
feedback and polish your communication skills in the process.
Let’s examine some possible solutions
for your problem, as well as some long-term strategies for improving
your relationship with him and other managers (should Dave be a
Realize that you will have to force
your manager to make an appointment to discuss your project.
You’re entitled to his attention, so don’t feel embarrassed or
pushy about asking for it. Walk into his office, calendar in
hand, and request a specific time when you can get together.
Mark it on your calendar and suggest he do the same.
Tell him why it’s important for
both you and the department to have closure on this issue. He
may be amazed that you need this meeting, but should understand
if you spell it out.
Give him a list of questions in
advance you want to discuss so he’ll have some time to prepare
answers. Let him know that you really look forward to talking
over the project results.
Prepare an agenda for your meeting.
Include the questions you gave him as well as some observations
and insights you’ve gleaned from your research. Have several
options in mind for where to go from here.
If Dave seems a little perplexed
about how to conduct the meeting, help him by following your
agenda. If he has one of his own, run with it, but be sure to
cover your important points as well.
Ask for both positive and negative
feedback. Don’t be content with, “Your report is good.” Find out
specifics. What’s good about it? What can be improved?
Be sure to thank Dave for his time
and reiterate the advantages of your discussing the report.
Verbal reinforcement should help him see why a project
debriefing is essential.
Now that you have some momentum in
your relationship, build on it. Suggest to Dave that he hold weekly
or bi-weekly staff meetings to discuss on-going projects, new
developments, departmental problems, and ideas for solving them.
Tell him these get-togethers can be short and informal, yet
effective in keeping everyone informed. It may be wise to advance
this idea with a couple of key colleagues to enlist their support.
They’re probably equally frustrated with Dave’s unavailability and
will enthusiastically back you.
Also schedule a once-a-month talk
about your work in particular. If you already have staff meetings,
many of your questions and concerns will be addressed there, but you
should set aside time alone with Dave, too. These meetings can cover
issues not pertinent to the whole department, as well as priorities,
goals, and problems related to your specific projects.
Ask for an annual performance
appraisal. Find out Dave’s views on how you’re handling your job.
Discuss what you’re doing well and what you need to improve. Also,
formulate some long-term goals for your position and, if possible,
your career. Talk about ways to expand your expertise, courses to
take, skills to learn, and people to meet. While Dave may be
uncomfortable with this discussion, it’s important for both of your
careers. You need the information to move forward, and he needs the
practice to hone his management skills.
If he follows your lead and
institutes similar meetings with others in his department, your
initiative can reap benefits for all of your colleagues. Even if he
doesn’t, you will have learned how to ask for what you want.
If Dave continues to be
uncommunicative and distant, it’s time to activate Plan B.
(Actually, pursuing plans A and B simultaneously is an even better
idea.) Instead of concentrating solely on reforming Dave, develop
opportunities beyond his circle of influence. There are many ways to
extend your visibility within your company, industry, and career
field. Here are some of them:
·Work on as many projects as
possible involving other departments. In technical fields,
reports often require input from several areas. Meet with
colleagues in other parts of the company and try to win their
respect. Then if you want a transfer, they’ll be eager to help
·If there’s an interdepartmental
task force operating to improve quality control, develop a new
product, put an advanced computer system on line, etc.,
volunteer to serve on it. Working together toward a common goal
is a great way to meet and make friends with people throughout
·Play on the firm’s softball team.
Volunteer for its charitable projects. Join one of its wellness
·Attend in-house training programs
and make an effort to get to know your fellow participants.
·Ask acquaintances from other
departments out to lunch at least twice a month. Find out what
they’re doing and whether their work is similar to yours.
·If you uncover an exciting new
area, consider taking a course or two to increase your
expertise. Along with valuable information, you’ll also meet
people who are currently in that field.
·Join a professional organization.
Companies often have chapters in-house. If not, you’ll probably
find one in your city.
·Cultivate your relationship with
Dave’s manager. That person has the power to make your career
goals a reality. Look for opportunities to present reports or
represent your department to him or her whenever possible. But
be sure you have Dave’s blessing. Otherwise he may resent your
·Talk to Personnel about your desire
to know the company better. Ask them for managers who would be
good to “information interview.” (This one may be a little risky
if you do it without Dave’s knowledge or with a loose-lipped
human resources staff person.)
People who take the initiative for
going after what they want usually find a mentor in the process. Yet
because they develop exceptional skills in building relationships
and networks, they often don’t need one. By expanding your people
skills, you help yourself and your colleagues and decrease your
dependence on others. Enlightened self-reliance beats finding a
mentor any day.