We all know that part of being a boss is having difficult conversations. But while a perfect boss will never shy away from tackling difficult or awkward topics head-on, the reality is that no boss is perfect – because they’re human. So it’s worth thinking about what kinds of things your boss might be avoiding telling you because they feel awkward or uncomfortable bringing it up. Here are 10 to get you started.
Too much talking in meetings can come across as being enamored of your own opinions. Or it can seem like one-upsmanship – the need to let everyone know that you’re on the ball and that whatever anyone else may say, you already knew it. So before you take up the group’s time at the next meeting, ask yourself, “Do I really need to say this?”
If you’re using social networking sites or instant-messaging throughout the workday, it’s probably impacting your work. Sure, you might be getting the basics done, but you don’t want to just do the basics – you want to build a stellar reputation as someone who routinely exceeds expectations. And if nothing else, spending a lot of work time online will create the appearance that you’re not that person – whether or not it’s true.
If you complain frequently, regularly shoot down ideas, or act like the office prima donna, your boss probably considers you a pain to deal with. Guess what that means for you? Less interesting assignments, less flexibility, lower raises … and a higher chance of ending up at the top of the list if cuts ever need to be made.
You know what bosses love? Employees who pick one or two big things to achieve and then get them done. Instead of pulling yourself in multiple directions, pick a couple of big things to focus on this year. To do this, try this exercise: Pretend it’s December 2012. Looking back on the previous 12 months, what would you need to have accomplished for it to have been a really successful year? After you’ve figured that out, make those things your concrete goals for the coming months. Write them out, form plans to achieve them, and then be disciplined about sticking to them.
If you get upset or offended when getting feedback on your work, you’re making it hard (and painful) for your boss to do her job. Even worse, she might start avoiding giving you important feedback that you need to hear. You need to know what your boss thinks you could be doing better, and you’re more likely to hear it if you make it easy for her to tell you.
While there are certainly chronic micromanagers out there, it’s also true that your manager might love to back off if only you'd stay more on top of things. She might be hovering because you’ve given her reason to doubt she can trust you if she doesn’t. Again, this may or may not be the case, but if you’re feeling micromanaged, it’s always worth being brutally honest with yourself about whether there might be a reason.
If you’re like lots of people, you’re over-reliant on email, even for complicated, sensitive, or heated topics. Yes, it often feels easier to stay behind your computer to hash out difficult subjects. But sometimes you just need to pick up the phone or talk to people face-to-face.
Reasonable bosses know that no one is perfect and that mistakes will sometimes happen. What they care about is how you follow up on a mistake. If you make excuses, get defensive, or deny responsibility, your boss won’t trust that you understand why the mistake happened in the first place and what you need to do to prevent it in the future.
The next time you make a mistake, say something like this: “I made a mistake here. It happened because ____, and I’m doing ____ to fix it and ____ to make sure it doesn’t happen again.” And even if something isn’t a mistake per se, your manager may love to hear when you’re focusing on improving. For instance, you might tell her, “I wasn’t thrilled with how the conference went, and next time I’m planning to ____.”
Everyone gets frustrated at work at times, but your boss will love you if you stay calm, rational, and objective, even under stress. You’ll have more credibility if you assess people and ideas honestly, even if you have a personal dislike for them. As a result, you'll find that your opinion will be taken more seriously, you'll get the benefit of the doubt in he-said/she-said situations, and, often, potentially contentious situations will go more smoothly.
Good bosses want to hear differing opinions. If you can tell that you're on a different page than your boss—about a project, about how realistic a deadline is, or about the best way to deal with a difficult client—don’t ignore that difference. Bringing your different outlooks to the surface and explicitly talking about it may reveal that one of you has information that the other doesn't have, which can result in one of you changing your stance. Plus, if you stay silent and it turns out later that you were right, your boss may be irked that you didn't tell her about the case for proceeding differently.