Author Topic: Communication Problems with the Boss  (Read 2962 times)

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Little Girl Blue

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Communication Problems with the Boss
« on: May 18, 2013, 09:11:43 PM »
Hey everyone - you've all been such a font of wisdom that I hope you can help me with a little problem I'm having.

I work at in at a small nonprofit, and as the title suggests, I'm having a few problems communicating with my boss.  It's just the two of us in the office so we have to work very closely and I think we're both experiencing some frustration.

For example, instead of saying "Blue, I want you to do [task],"  she says things like, "What do you want to do next?  [task], or are you busy with something?" or worse yet, "What do you think about [task]?"

Then she gets annoyed with me when I weigh the options and discuss with her instead of hopping right over and starting in on [Activity].  I wish she would just tell me what she wants me to do  - boss me, in other words - and I have said about as much a couple of times. 

Initially I misunderstood and thought that she was really asking for input, not giving direction - which ended up with her getting mad at me and me getting mad at her.  Since then, when I realize what's gong on I have tried saying "It doesn't matter to me, what would you like me to do?" but she seems to think that if she tells me straight up what to do that it will offend me or hurt my feelings.

After a small event this weekend I don't know how we're going to make it through our busy summer fundraising season without throttling one another.  She's a super sweet lady, and I love my job, but this is making it hard for us to get our work done.  But she has all the knowledge, and I'm inexperienced, I'm frustrated and I'm running out of ways to tell her that I need her, her position as Executive Director, to you know direct me, executively.

Any advice you have that would help me navigate this particular dilemma with grace and a minumum of hair-pulling would be greatly appreciated.

-Blue

Outdoor Girl

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Re: Communication Problems with the Boss
« Reply #1 on: May 18, 2013, 09:19:41 PM »
When she comes out with one of her statements, maybe respond with, 'Boss, are you asking me to do 'task'?'  When she says yes, you can ask her when it needs to be done.  'Boss, I also have X, Y and Z to do.  Which would you like me to do first?'

That way, you are kind of forcing her to be your boss.
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Ontario

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Re: Communication Problems with the Boss
« Reply #2 on: May 18, 2013, 09:56:01 PM »
I have found making a "to do" list then going to the boss and saying "can you help me prioritize my tasks? Is there any thing in particular you'd like me to get done first?" can help. That way its on her and the lines of communication are open.

bopper

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Re: Communication Problems with the Boss
« Reply #3 on: May 20, 2013, 11:11:10 AM »
"What do you want to do next?  [task], or are you busy with something?"

This means she wants you to do task, but if there is something major going on then let her know.
If things are going okay and she has a good idea of what you are doing , I think 75% of the time you should be able to say "I will take care of it" and maybe 25% you could have a discussion.
If she is constantly giving you too much to do, then I agree with others for you to have some kind of list so she knows what other tasks youhave to do.

cwm

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Re: Communication Problems with the Boss
« Reply #4 on: May 21, 2013, 10:37:00 AM »
I have a boss in my organization who does this to me. He's two levels up from me, but due to a weird quirk of team shuffling, still my direct boss. I've just learned that when he's asking about something that he wants it done, and I add it to my list of jobs to do without giving it too much more thought. It's how he was trained to manage and how he does it for everyone else. I don't see it changing any time soon.

If it's just the two of you, I could see how a nice conversation might help.

Next time she asks if you're busy, or what your opinion is, you could always just turn it back on her.

"You know, boss, you've got a lot more experience than me in this. I think (whatever you think about it), but is it something I should prioritize? Can you let me know how I should be arranging my day to get things done best?"

Or, another conversation I've had to have with a boss before.

"I'm having a slight problem, I'm not getting very clear direction from you. I'm still trying to learn how things work, so it would really help me a lot if I was getting a bit more direction from you. Thanks a lot."

Slartibartfast

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Re: Communication Problems with the Boss
« Reply #5 on: May 21, 2013, 11:40:46 AM »
"Are you asking for input, or are you asking me to do X next?"  Calling her on it (gently) like this will help her remember to clarify for you what she wants.

Redsoil

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Re: Communication Problems with the Boss
« Reply #6 on: May 21, 2013, 11:44:28 AM »
Have a notepad where you write the day's tasks.  When she mentions something else, add it to the list.  Using this method, you can then ask her to clarify what needs prioritising, and you also have written information on what's being accomplished.
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veronaz

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Re: Communication Problems with the Boss
« Reply #7 on: May 21, 2013, 11:47:33 AM »
The notepad is a good idea.


jpcher

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Re: Communication Problems with the Boss
« Reply #8 on: May 21, 2013, 07:32:28 PM »
For example, instead of saying "Blue, I want you to do [task],"  she says things like, "What do you want to do next?  [task], or are you busy with something?" or worse yet, "What do you think about [task]?"

I almost get the feeling that she's asking you about which tasks you would prefer to take on. Which, in my book, is pretty awesome of a boss to do. ;D

I think that you should take her questions at face-value and respond accordingly.

Boss (presenting a list of tasks): "What do you want to do next?"

You: I'd really like to do this [task]. This sounds like something I can sink my teeth into. I have ideas . . . blah, blah, blah.

or

Boss: What do you think about [task]

You: I'm not sure about that [task]. Will you have time to teach me about it? Is this something that we can work together on? It's something that I'd like to learn more about.


Along with, as others posted, most definitely show her a list of tasks that you have on your plate. Ask her to prioritize (I do this all the time with my Boss.)

LizC

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Re: Communication Problems with the Boss
« Reply #9 on: May 22, 2013, 12:57:50 AM »
You could also respond with, "I'll add that to my list; what level of priority would you like me to give it? I have X, Y and Z in the works, and could move K around. What's your preferred time-frame?"

Little Girl Blue

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Re: Communication Problems with the Boss
« Reply #10 on: May 24, 2013, 08:44:16 PM »
For example, instead of saying "Blue, I want you to do [task],"  she says things like, "What do you want to do next?  [task], or are you busy with something?" or worse yet, "What do you think about [task]?"

I almost get the feeling that she's asking you about which tasks you would prefer to take on. Which, in my book, is pretty awesome of a boss to do. ;D

OP here - I originally thought that this was the case, but time has taught me that it's not.  Or, perhaps, it is true but what she wants is for me to want to do what she wants me to do without her having to ask me directly.  My mind reading powers aren't that great, unfortunately.

The notepad idea is perfect.  I'm putting it into practice as soon as the holiday weekend is over.

Thank you everyone :)

PrettySticks

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Re: Communication Problems with the Boss
« Reply #11 on: May 29, 2013, 04:44:48 PM »
Quote
Or, perhaps, it is true but what she wants is for me to want to do what she wants me to do without her having to ask me directly.

Ohhhhh... she sounds so much like my boss.  My boss really wants me to already be thinking what she's thinking without her having to say it.  Like she'll say "Can you write up X?  No rush - whenever you get to it."  And I'll plan to do X, right after I finish up Y, which will take about an hour, and needs to be done that day.  Before the hour is up, someone stops by her office to look at X and she's all frustrated that I haven't gotten to it yet.  Her favorite line is "Can I ask why this isn't done yet?"  When I say that she told me it was no rush and I was finishing up the deadlined item, she'll sigh and say "Well, I really needed it done right away."  How would I know that?  Naturally, I try to do her things immediately, to avoid these conversations, but most of the time it's just not possible for one reason or another. And she will not give me a deadline, even when I ask her point blank.

Another typical interaction: we're proofing a brochure or some other item from our graphic designer. 

Boss: What do you think of this font on cover?
Me: It's good - I really like that blue.
Boss: NO!  it needs to be MUCH bigger!
Me:  Bigger? Ok, I'll have the designer make it bigger.
Boss: Don't YOU think it should be bigger?
Me (studying cover): Sure - bigger would be fine.
Boss: But you didn't say that before.
Me (now I'm a little caught):  I think it's fine this size, but it's not a problem to make it bigger.
Boss: I can't believe you think this size is fine...

And on like that.  It doesn't matter that I'm not arguing with her and that that what she wants is what's going to happen - she really, really wants me to already have the same opinion that she does.  It drives me bonkers, because I always feel like she asks my opinion in order to trap me into having the "wrong" one. 

At any rate, Blue, sorry to hijack this with my own tales of woe :)  But I thought you should know that there is a kindred soul out there that shares your frustration.  I don't know how old your boss is, but mine was coming up through the ranks in the 80s and I think she has this thing where she wants to be liked (because she's human), but then she thinks she's not supposed to want to be liked (because she's a Modern Career Woman) so she gets caught in a spiral of not knowing how to ask things of her employees.  (In case you can't tell, I spend quite bit of time internally psychoanalyzing my boss.  That's what keeps me sane!)