When it comes to workplace communication, there’s the good, the bad and the ugly. If you have a fantastic manager who makes your job easy and communicates brilliantly, count your lucky stars. For everyone else, learning how to deal more effectively with your manager can increase your team’s productivity and boost your career prospects.
“If you have a great relationship with your boss, it’s quite straightforward and you can talk about all sorts of things,” says Chris Till, Chief Executive of the Human Resources Institute of New Zealand. “However, often that is not the case. In my own experience it’s about 50/50.”
Tailoring your communication style
Most of us have a preferred style of communication; a mismatch between manager and employee can cause conflict and stress. (Even a simple phrase like ‘my door is always open’ can be interpreted in a range of ways.)
“If you can recognise the preferences of your manager and adapt behaviour so there’s clear understanding, that will give you the most effective communication,” says Ali Lawrie, owner of Personality Consulting. She uses Myers Briggs to help people figure out their own personality type and how they can work together with their team. Ask yourself:
Is my manager introverted or extroverted?
Introverts won’t be as ready to initiate conversations or meetings and they need more time to process information. Request a meeting or a response then give an introvert time to respond. Don’t put them on the spot.
Am I dealing with a big-picture thinker or a details person?
If you’re details-orientated and your boss is a big-picture person, you could be losing his or her interest by dwelling on how to implement a new idea. “Use short, specific sentences with a full stop at the end,” says Lawrie.
Is my manager’s personality dominated by thinking or feeling?
The ‘thinking’ managers like to hear logical, rational information. ‘Feeling’ managers would rather hear about how the impact your proposal will have on the people affected.
Does my manager work systematically toward a goal or wait until the last minute?
Some managers are decisive, seek closure and start early to meet deadlines. Others may have the same amount of time to complete a task, but spend time absorbing information before doing all the work two hours before the deadline. If your manager is a goal-driven type, you’ll need to show that you’re making progress on a task.
Meeting, phone call, email or text?
Some people don’t like speaking on the phone and would rather have an email, while others love the immediacy and efficiency of a quick call. You manager may love to meet face-to-face whenever possible, while other managers will fire off a text. When choosing a method of communication at work, it’s best to mirror the style your manager prefers, says Lawrie.
If in doubt, speaking face-to-face is by far the best way to communicate clearly and build relationships, advises Till. You’ll pick up a wealth of information from body language which helps eliminate ambiguities from what your manager says.
If you boss loves to text, should you use text messages, too? Till describes them as “a wretched way to communicate” and the Employment Relations Authority says texting should not be used in critical conversations; they have led to problems at several local businesses, including an instance where text instructions led to a botched job, followed by a heated argument and job termination – all via text.
Unfortunately, New Zealand isn't blessed with a culture of superior managers – our leaders are ranked below average in international studies, says Till.
He believes this is caused by two factors. The first is a lack of training in management skills and the second is part of our national character: we generally try to avoid conflict, although this can cause problems to drag on or even intensify.
Till has identified seven types of stereotypically difficult managers and provides some tips on how to deal with them (known as ‘managing up’):
The Tiger Tank – will intimidate and attack others to prove their view of the world is right.
“Give them time to run out of steam, get their attention by using their name and be assertive without fighting,” says Till. “Don't be too polite in the moment, but when it’s over be friendly.”
The Know-it-all – highly productive, accurate and thorough with a low tolerance for contradiction.
“Question firmly but don't confront them,” says Till. “Acknowledge their competence and ask questions to get all the details.”
The Think-they-know-it-all – looking for admiration, they pretend to be experts when they're not.
“State your facts as an alternative and try to give them a way out so they don't have to admit they don’t know.”
Mr or Ms Super Agreeable – loves to be loved and says yes to everything, but doesn't deliver.
“Talk about what’s important to them, like their family or hobbies,” says Till, “then talk about obstacles that can prevent them doing what they've just agreed to – and give them permission to say no if they need to.”
Mr or Ms Indecisive – puts off making important decisions for fear of upsetting someone.
They use indirect words and hesitations, but keep listening, says Till, and talk until you work out where the problem lies, “then help them to solve the problem with a decision that needs to be made.”
Mr or Ms Moaner – finds fault and complains constantly.
“Listen and acknowledge, but don’t agree; if you do, you’re being submissive and confirming their belief. Engage in problem-solving to get them focused on what needs to be done.”
Mr or Ms Negative – pessimistic and dispirited, they can drag you into despair. Be optimistic but realistic, says Till: “Don’t offer quick solutions until the problem’s been thoroughly discussed. You may have to announce your plan unequivocally and take action.”
Less-than-perfect managers are a fact of life, but if your boss is bullying you or abusing you, call Employment Help New Zealand for free advice and assistance to help you sort out the problem.