Do you have a boss who...
Changes priorities often, giving you one direction then suddenly sending you off in a different direction entirely?
Changes priorities but doesn't inform you? When you finish a project, do you often hear, "Oh, no. You shouldn't have done THAT. That changed."
Doesn't give you timely feedback on your work, so you don't even know if you have been successful? Doesn't have the time to show you appreciation with a "Thank you" or a "Hey, good job"?
Micromanages every little thing to the nth degree? Is a "Big Picture" type, giving you a sense of what needs to be done but no real direction?
If any of these sounds familiar - or if you have a different, difficult scenario with your boss - you are experiencing Tough Boss Syndrome. Don't despair! You can empower yourself to get what you want and need using some expert negotiations skills.
The key is influence, which is not manipulation, but rather the ability to shape someone's behavior positively. You can get the results you want and simultaneously build a better relationship with your boss when you influence him or her to be more communicative with you, shaping behavior in a way that improves the relationship and using some expert negotiations skills.
Most tough boss problems center on communication. With better communication and negotiations skills, you can influence your boss more effectively and with less effort. Consider the following questions and actions. All of them will not fit every boss, so choose those you think would be most appropriate for your situation.
1. How does my boss like to receive information?
How much information does your boss like to have? And what's the best way to deliver it? Is he or she detail-oriented or more interested in The Big Picture?
Some bosses prefer e-mails; others favor hard copies of reports. Still others want face-to-face daily, weekly, or bi-weekly meetings. The easiest way to find out what your boss prefers is through straight forward communication, asking, "How do you like to receive information? When? And how much detail do you like?" Or ask peers who already have successful relationships with the same boss.
2. How much should I involve my boss?
Some bosses feel they need to be included in all decision-making while others are more hands-off. Micromanagers, for example, have a strong need for control, and while you can't change their personalities or argue away their tendencies, you can find ways to influence them to tell you exactly what they need to know in order to feel comfortable without infringing on your need for autonomy.
An influencing conversation with a micromanager might sound like this: "These are the projects I'm doing and the decisions I am likely to make over the next six weeks. I know you'd like to know some of my decision-making criteria, so I will send you an e-mail every Friday that details the decisions I have made and why I've made them. If I do that, will you allow me to make those decisions as I assess the information?"
3. How can I solve my boss's problems?
Like it or not, your boss's problems are your problems. If you can figure out what keeps your boss awake at night and then find ways to help solve these problems, you will be a better influencer.
Though you can't force your boss to disclose problems, you can offer: "If there's something you want to talk to me about, I'm available for that, and I have the skills to help you in those areas. If you think so, too, the door is open for you to talk to me."
4. How can I make clear to my boss what I want?
Don't be shy about asking for what you want. When your boss can give it to you - more responsibility, coaching, or a corner office - ask for it using your negotiations skills. You may initially have to work up your nerve, but you will earn the respect of your boss, even a tough one.
In fact, when asked, a majority of bosses say that they wish that their employees would just come right out and ask for what they want instead of being evasive, timid, or passive aggressive about their needs and wishes.
5. Do I need more responsibility or less?
Do you feel like you'd enjoy more responsibility, in order to have a sense of accomplishment and to make your job more interesting? Or are you overburdened and stressed out so you'd like less responsibility or a different type of responsibility? Either way, you're in an influence situation and need to ask for what you want.
Responsibility also means not being a victim; responsible people make changes when they find themselves in a situation they can change. They don't blame a boss for never talking to them, for example, but instead influence him or her to talk to them more when they need it. Thats an important use of your negotiations skills. When you don't take responsibility for making a change or getting what you need, you end up blaming your boss, the organization, or your co-workers. Ask yourself, "What can I do about this?"
6. How can I make my boss's job easier?
Influence and negotiation are very similar; basically, everything's a trade-off. You can make your boss's job easier by doing something you know he or she isn't very skilled at or feels burdened by, such as putting together PowerPoint presentations, for example.
Offer to help by doing this for a few hours every week, while influencing your boss to relieve you of work you don't want to do. "I'll be glad to put together those PowerPoint slides," you might offer, "and what I need from you is to take some of my filing work and give it to someone else." Create a win-win situation when you offer your boss a mutually beneficial deal with your negotiations skills.
7. How can I make my boss look good?
One of the best ways to improve your relationship with your boss is to find ways to make your boss look good in the eyes of his or her boss and customers. If you can do this, your boss will be much more likely to listen to you and grant your requests.
For example, if your boss rarely lets others in the company know about the great things your team is doing, tell him or her that you believe that is important. Show that you're willing to take on some PR for the boss and the team by offering to talk to other teams for five minutes at their staff meetings or to put a little blurb in the company newsletter about some of the great things that your team is doing.
8. How can I offer my boss feedback?
As people move up in an organization, the amount of feedback they receive lessens. In fact, upper managers and CEOs often feel as if they work in a void because they rarely receive clear, honest assessments of their actions.
Notice when your boss's work is particularly strong or beneficial to the organization and give positive feedback and encouragement to continue. Be prepared to offer constructive criticism if asked, but remain aware that sometimes bosses need a simple, sincere statement of praise for a job well done, just like you do.
9. What's the best way I can influence my boss?
Most communication problems with a tough boss result from not understanding. Influencing your boss requires a good pair of ears and some patience, so really listen to your boss's expectations and challenges. On a regular basis, ask your boss what he or she expects from you, then summarize back what you've heard.
You may feel silly at first, but you will experience far fewer misunderstandings and missed connections. Your boss will know that you have correctly heard whats been said.
Don't stop with your boss
Everybody loves to work with somebody who listens, who cares, and who understands. Its an essential part of being a great influencer. Listening in a purposeful, skilled way will give you the opportunity to really know what your boss is about.
Though these tips are specifically for tough bosses, you can easily use them in all of your relationships, including those with your colleagues, customers, spouses, kids, parents, and friends. When you practice your influence skills and experience the positive changes, you'll want to use your influence to turn all of your relationships from tough to terrific!