Know Your Boss’s Communication Needs
Effective managers and leaders are adept at managing their boss’s job-performance expectations. But that’s hard to do if you’re not skilled at managing how you communicate with your boss. Just as in your relationships with family members or friends, you’ve got to understand your boss’s needs in terms of how and when to communicate. So to know, go ask! Start by requesting an assessment of how everything is going right now, posing questions that uncover whether you’re over-communicating, under-communicating, or not really communicating at all. Identify areas for improvement and develop corrective actions to address those issues. Through these efforts, you will improve your communication with your boss as well as your overall relationship, too.
Here are three strategies to enhance how you communicate with your boss.
Be proactive. As the saying goes, you don’t know what you don’t know. You might be annoying your boss and slowing down his or her productivity by emailing too many unnecessary progress updates. Or, you might be raising questions about what you’re really doing with your time if you’re not emailing those updates enough. So taking the initiative to find out how well you’re communicating with your boss is an important initial strategy for improving this aspect of your job. It’s also a smart step because it can prevent a less than favorable discussion about your communication skills or style in an upcoming performance review. Being proactive is about taking the lead, practicing that initiative, and demonstrating leadership qualities. Bosses appreciate it and even expect you to be proactive — even if they fail to express it themselves.
Get the facts. Every boss is different in terms of how he or she prefers to communicate and receive communications. Make a plan for what you want to know about your boss’s communication needs, focusing those questions around the goal to manage your boss better.
- What’s working, what’s not?
- In which areas of communication are you excelling; in which areas are you falling short?
- What job aspects need more updates or additional support?
- What needs less attention (e.g., duties not tied to Vital goals or strategies)?
- Which projects are important to your boss; where does he need more/less help?
- What’s the best means of communication (face-to-face, email, phone, or text messages)?
- What’s the preferred style for communications, i.e., detailed weekly reports, daily flash reports or some sort of hybrid of the two?
Be concise and consistent. Whether you’re sending an email to or talking in person with your boss, regularly make a point to get to the point. For example, don’t spend 30 minutes chatting to your boss about something that could be said in five. Also, think about the words you’ll use to communicate. Determine if they’re effective and support the goal to enhance your boss’s communication needs, not to mention your own leadership abilities. Make sure you’re not saying trigger words or expressing yourself over-emotionally, unnecessarily creating angst for your boss. Then remember, great communicators have to work at all of this — it’s generally not a skill that’s acquired naturally or overnight. But, for instance, the simple habit of checking your emails for brevity and tone, adjusting as necessary, will save your boss time and worry. Commit to such practices, and you will eventually excel at this communication skill.
What’s the biggest communication blunder direct reports commit on a regular basis?