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Match Your Boss’s Communication Style

Q: I have difficulty communicating with my manager. When I have a new idea, he throws cold water on it by asking all kinds of specific questions that have little bearing on the overall plan. Getting a decision from him takes forever. We often lose critical opportunities because of his failure to act quickly.

Scheduling time with him is another sore point. He spends most of the day alone with his door shut. But the funny thing is, just when I’m about to give up on trying to get through to him, we have a moment of agreement.

I like my boss as a person. I enjoy my job and its position within the company. A career move isn’t necessary, just some fine-tuning. Do you have any advice on how I can communicate more effectively with my manager?

A: While you like your boss, it sounds as if you are blaming him for your communication problem. This attitude isn’t going to improve your rapport. Instead, acknowledge that you and he have different decision-making styles which create problems when you’re discussing a new project or course of action. Neither of your styles is right or wrong, but their divergence is obviously a frustration for both of you. He probably leaves your meetings without the data he needs to make an informed decision. You chafe because he can’t make up his mind.  Everyone loses.

Fortunately, there’s a relatively simple way to change your presentation style to meet his needs. Many career planners use a decision-making profile based on Carl Jung’s personality types (The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) to help their clients communicate more effectively with management, peers, and subordinates. Essentially, your decision-making style can be described using four sets of opposites, each of which has an important bearing on how you tackle a new task:

EXTROVERT vs. INTROVERT

SENSOR vs. INTUITOR

THINKER vs. FEELER

JUDGMENT vs. PERCEPTION

Extrovert-Introvert

Extroverts tend to ask lots of questions. They enjoy brainstorming, team work, and group consensus. You generally know what they’re thinking because they tell you.

Introverts, on the other hand, are self-sufficient problem solvers. They’re more comfortable sitting in their offices by themselves, working through problems alone rather than discussing them with others. Often it’s difficult to judge their position on anything. They keep it to themselves.

Sensor-Intuitor

Sensors need the facts. They want concrete explanations backed by specifics. Their comfort level increases as they become acquainted with the step-by-step process. Their co-workers would describe them as practical, matter of fact, bottom line.

Intuitors are big-picture people. They enjoy looking at possibilities, long-range agendas, and new ways of doing things. Facts tend to bore them. Ideas are a lot more fun.

Thinker-Feeler

Thinkers make decisions objectively. They can distance themselves from a complicated situation and consider how to handle it through a rational thought process. They enjoy planning projects and seeing solutions fall logically into place.

Feelers have a great concern for people. They are sensitive to the way a given course of action will affect staff, customers, the community, etc. Their insights into human needs and desires are always an important key to any decisions they make.

Judgment-Perception

Individuals who are high in judgment prefer making decisions to gathering information.  They like to move quickly, cut through red tape, and get on with the project. They have a low tolerance for indecision.

Perceptives would rather gather information than make decisions. They enjoy finding new knowledge. They’re usually flexible in adapting to changes, but they may have difficulty making up their minds.

If you take an overall picture of your manager’s probably type (ISTP), you’ll recognize why he:

  • tends to spend a lot of time alone (I).

  • wants the nuts and bolts (S).

  • enjoys developing flow charts (T).

  • needs more information than you think is warranted to make a decision (P).

In contrast, your type (ENTJ):

  • wants more contact with him (E).

  • prefers to look at the big picture rather than get bogged down in detail (N).

  • enjoys the objective planning process (T).

  • moves quickly on decisions (J).

To communicate more effectively, try to structure your conversation to parallel his decision-making style. Acknowledge that your manager needs to assimilate your information privately. Present your case in a detailed, step-by-step manner, rather than your usual big-picture approach. And don’t expect quick answers. Give your boss at least 50% more decision-making time than you think he should take.

While you may feel this forces you to do all the adjusting, you’ll gain measurable benefits from learning to adapt your communication style. With a little practice and observation, you’ll be able to discuss problems and opportunities more effectively with friends and colleagues. You’ll also develop an increased appreciation for the way others’ differences can compensate for your deficiencies. ENTJs have many good qualities, but they need ISTPs to force them to consider the details and avoid snap decisions.


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