Dealing with a difficult boss
I see them every day from my seat in the local Tully’s coffee shop, five minutes before or after 9 a.m. There they go, out of the station and running down the street, dodging pedestrians and cars in their rush to get to work and I’m sure you could see the same thing at any train station in Tokyo. What I’m looking at are people late for work, and I imagine any number of reasons has made them late, and while sitting there sipping my “tall drink,” I wonder what it is that makes them want to run down the street to get to work on time? Is it a meeting, a project deadline, do they need to clock on for a shift, or is it a difficult boss they have to face each morning? My bet is it’s the boss!
It was only the other day that Akira was telling us in my Dale Carnegie class about the silent treatment he got from his boss whenever he was late. The icy stare, quick look to his watch and then the cold shoulder for the rest of the day. Even when Akira was on time, the silent treatment didn’t improve all that much, his boss was the strong silent type, or so he wanted everyone to think. He held everything close to his chest and only communicated with his staff when he needed to meet deadlines or get something done urgently. Akira decided to be proactive because he liked his job, his colleagues and the company, if only his boss could be a little more human, things would be almost perfect.
He began to greet his boss in a friendly way every morning and whenever an opportunity would present itself, icy stare and cold shoulder prevailing, Akira didn’t give up, he began his conversations with “small talk,” he tried to focus on topics his boss may be interested in because he also took the time to get to know his boss a little better and one day he hit the bulls-eye, instead of the normal grunts or non-committal nod of the head, his boss actually responded to his small talk in a positive way.
What happened? Akira happened to mention to his boss in passing one day of a great experience he had at a little Kyushu ramen shop he found in Tokyo and how the taste was different to anything he had already experienced in Tokyo. It just so happened that Akira’s boss really loved the ramen he grew up on in Kyushu and so was interested to know more about this ramen shop Akira had discovered. Step by step, the boss began to open up more and not just look at Akira as one of his staff but as someone with whom he could have short and fun conversations with on occasions.
Another class member, Yoko, related to us her experience with an American boss who was always busy. Yoko couldn’t catch her boss to get feedback or approval on projects. When the boss did communicate with her, it seemed like it was always to tell her that she had done something wrong. Yoko wanted to show her boss that she was capable of getting her job done on time and was able to work with him.
Yoko started out by taking the initiative to set up weekly 5-minute meetings with her boss, she was able to do a status check on pending projects and ask questions relevant to what she was doing. Yoko told us she made a list of questions before each meeting so she was fully prepared and that during the meetings she took notes to ensure she wouldn’t have to go back to the boss to double check. These meetings, we heard, eventually turned into 30-minute project reviews and in time, the boss began to make time to specifically meet with Yoko to go over work.
With the last of my coffee almost drained and tossing up whether to get another one or not, I started to think that for most of us, at some point in our lives, we find ourselves dealing with people that we just can’t win with. It makes it even worse when the person we want to persuade is our boss. It is frustrating when we know we have good ideas or are doing our job properly but no one seems to care or listen.
Here are a few recommendations on approaching people who are not as open-minded as we would want them to be:
Begin in a friendly way. Start a conversation with your boss and than see if it might be a good time to talk to him/her about your ideas. Try to focus on topics your boss would be interested in.
Know your boss. If you have previously tried putting your ideas before him/her, then you should have an idea about what they’re going to say next. Work on that and reflect… Anticipate responses and have an idea of what you’re going to say.
Don’t criticize. If the assignment that you were given was your boss’s idea, he or she might take it the wrong way when you try to change it. Make sure when you come up with a better alternative to the task, you still give credit to your boss. For example, “your assignment had inspired me to take on a greater task.”
Put yourself in his/her shoes. Why would you as a boss even consider this idea? Is this something that would be beneficial to you, the boss?
Stay professional. If you’re going to build a relationship with your boss, keep it steady, otherwise it will become very obvious that you only converse with them when you need something.
Gee, look at the time, I better be getting back to the office or I’ll be late … Luckily, I’m the boss!
The writer is president, Dale Carnegie Training® Japan (www.dale-carnegie.co.jp)