If you’re like me you’ve had a career that spans more than a few years and you’ve probably come across more than a few different boss types. And, if you’re like me, you may have learned the hard way what not to do when dealing with them. Managers can be an interesting bunch: Some of them will drive you crazy, some are complicated enigmas, and a few will motivate you to grow far beyond the limits you’ve set for yourself.
During workplace mediations, I’m often asked for my insight on dealing effectively with management styles. Most people doing the asking would probably be satisfied if I replied that their boss is an idiot and the employee should feel free to ignore him, but I think a more humane approach is better. Here’s what you can do.
Before you bristle at the thought of showing your boss any kind of compassion, know that there are smart, strategic reasons for applying a little humility with higher-ups. Here are three good ones.
1) They stand between you and a paycheck (or a good reference if you’re headed out of dodge!).
2) It’s better to have a difficult personality on your side rather than working against you.
3) You never know when you’ll see them again!
Start by seeing things from their perspective and consider the real motivation behind their behavior. Once you get past flip thinking like, “He does that because he wants me to be miserable,” you’ll begin to have an understanding of what drives him or her. That piece of information will be the key to unlocking how to handle things.
For instance, if your boss is a micromanager, she may be concerned with her reputation or care deeply about the final product. Knowing that, you can deal with her by steering her in the right direction. Consider what she does well and then say, “Where you really add value is with xyz.” Get her focused on areas that have the potential to help you. Create check-in points at the beginning of a project. If she’s not crazy about doing that, ask if she’s willing to give it a shot just this once and if she’s still uneasy, ask what would make her feel comfortable with fewer check-ins. Finally, ask for her overall vision or goal and pledge to make decisions based on that goal. Let her know that you believe an important part of your job is to make her look good and she may be more trusting.
What should you know if your manager is an egomaniac? It’s very likely that he’s insecure, looking for respect, or bringing a whole lot of little red wagon issues from his past into the office. So, how might you deal with him? Easy: appeal to his ego! Remember not to take his need for attention personally or think that any attention going to him is attention not going to you. Instead, find a way to share in the attention he works so hard to garner. Say things like, “I’d like your opinion on…” and “I think you could really help me with this.” If he thinks he can get a little credit from what you do, he’ll do a lot for you. Obviously, don’t forget to give him credit for things along the way.
If your boss is someone you consider to be ineffective or clueless, it might be because she’s facing too much responsibility too soon, has been put in a position she doesn’t have the skills for, (or actually lacks the information she needs). She might value her reputation as much as a micromanager and therefore is afraid to acknowledge her shortcomings. Deal with her by having a little compassion and show her how to help you. Have a few, “What are your thoughts on, abc”-type conversations so you can subtly coach her in areas you feel she needs development. When you know the answers to something ask, “What would you like me to do about this… x or y?” Giving her the answer is a great way to demonstrate how she might approach similar situations in the future and gets you to the finish line quicker. Take her through the pros and cons of each choice so she can see how you’re attacking the decision-making process and she can hear about your experience with similar problems at the same time. Blurting out what she doesn’t know and how experienced you are will probably backfire so put on a mentor hat and respectfully help her along. Oh, and there must be something she does well so make sure you point that out to her every once in a while.
What can I say about workaholics? You know the type—he goes out of his way to talk about all the hours he’s put in, brags about missing the birth of his child because he was closing a big deal, or sends you text messages at 3 o’clock in the morning. The motivation for a workaholic can be anything from insecurities to an addictive personality. If you’re dealing with a workaholic start by limiting conversation about your family and friends, cut to the chase whenever you need to talk to him, be ready with information, and don’t put off tomorrow what you can get done today. You might also think about adjusting your work schedule to fit his or find time to get work done when he’s not around (like early mornings or after the kids are in bed) so you don’t have to keep him waiting for information. With that said, helping him prioritize will help lighten your assignment load. If he’s given you six things to accomplish in the next week, take ten minutes with him to ask his advice on what he sees as the most pressing. It’s not unusual for workaholics to say everything is equally important so let him know you’re asking because you want to make sure you’re focused on whatever is going to make the best impression on his behalf. Approach everything from a business perspective. Rather than saying you’re getting burned out by the extra hours and your personal life is suffering, say something like, “I’m concerned that workload is affecting quality and has the potential to erode the team’s reputation, so I’d like to brainstorm how we could manage the tasks better.” Be sure to have at least three solutions to propose because workaholics usually don’t react well to blank stares.
If you work for someone with any of these management styles or a boss who’s overly-dramatic, someone who misunderstands the real issues, a guy who looks the other way, or a dismissive supervisor, applying a simple formula may make your life easier. Namely, figure out what the value or motivation is behind his behavior and then craft or mold your behavior to get what you want by giving him what he wants. Remember to always attack the problems, not the person.