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Coach's Corner--July 21, 2008

To understand what the boss wants, understand the boss

The Client
Name: Joel
Age: 31
Title: Operations manager
Time at company: 5 years 
Industry: Manufacturing
Issue: Clarifying expectations
Q.  My boss isn’t very clear in his expectations for me, so I often feel like I’m falling short and not doing what I should be doing. How can I make this better?

A. Understanding and communication are the keys to improving your situation, and it’s up to you to take the lead.

The inner game
Start by reminding yourself that both you and your boss want you to be successful at your job. (If this isn’t true for your boss, then you have a different issue to address.) Then, focus on gaining a deeper understanding of what you need to be successful, as well as insights into how his mind works.

Take a recent task that your boss assigned, using this example to analyze your styles. Think about what he told you, other information that would’ve helped you, the frequency of progress checks and the clarity of the goal. Consider how you each gave or received information. Are you generally a linear thinker, or do you tend to jump around? Do you analyze the parts to see the whole, or do you look for the big picture first and then the parts? What have you noticed about your boss? 

Likewise, look at your general approach to life. Some people prefer a planned and orderly life, with lots of predictability. Others would rather go with the flow. Which better describes you and your boss?

Now, look deeply at your similarities and differences. Recall past situations or watch him in action, and compare his approach to the one you would take. Remember, this isn’t about one way being better or worse — it’s about gaining understanding. After all, if you have different ways of handling situations, you could easily get out of synch when setting expectations.

The outer game
Build on your insights by creating a plan to be more effective in working with your boss.

Your best option is to work it out together. Try meeting with him to discuss your ideas for setting clear expectations. To avoid putting him on the defensive, be sure to use “I” statements rather than starting sentences “when you…” If you’ve used the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) or any other communication/work style tools in your organization, try using your results for context.

You can also try a new approach in specific cases. For example, when a new task is assigned, take the lead in how you seek information about his expectations. If he’s more linear than you are, suggest walking through the task from start to finish. If you’re more of a planner while he tends to go with the flow, offer to plan out the task, and then set up time to review the more detailed outline you prepare. Generally, use your insights about his style to frame his expectations and increase his comfort with the steps you’re taking to do your work while you also get what you need.

The last word
Even well-intentioned people can miss the mark when communicating about work expectations, especially under time pressure. Taking time to understand how people operate and using that information to communicate effectively can ease this challenge and set you up for success.

Liz Reyer, President RCC - Posted July 20, 2008
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