How to Communicate with a Difficult Boss


“My vice-president is hard to work with,” a manager said to me.

“Do others feel the same way?” I asked.

“Yes, there is general frustration.”

“Exactly, what does the vice president do that causes stress?”

“His meetings last way too long and we still do not agree on what we need to do. He sometimes gives different messages to our staff members than to us.  When someone brings up an issue, he listens.  Then he joins others in identifying why it is an issue, but we do not identify a solution.”

When experiencing noisome relations with someone (including your boss), it is necessary to communicate honestly with the person.  But communication with another about a troubling behavior is akin to walking on tacks.

Pick one, and only one, issue and avoid any mention of what you think the boss may be doing wrong.  Rather, begin with something like, “I think we may be missing some opportunities here.  During our meetings, how about I list the options being discussed?  At some point, I can summarize the ideas and see if we can get support for one of them.”

Don’t expect an immediate miracle turnaround.  Be patient, stay the course, and look for small improvements.

 

Why Didn’t Someone Every Tell Me?


“I don’t understand why the manager lets Warren get away with behaving like he does,” one friend said to another after a particularly stressful team meeting.

“I know.  Warren is arrogant and downright rude.  His report did have errors in it and when someone called him on it, he starting ranting like a spoiled child.”

“It’s not the first time.  He has a history of bragging, not delivering and then shutting people down with his anger.  I think some people are afraid of him.”

Warren had been on the team for a year.  In his first two months, Warren caught a design error that saved the company considerable time and money.  But he had no other notable successes.  His team behaviors, which  were never great, worsened during the last six months.

Eventually, the manager called Warren into his office, and after listing several incidents of bad behavior, said, “Warren, your early performance showed promise.  But the team can no longer tolerate your disruptive behaviors.  I’m letting you go.”

Warren, looking like he had been betrayed by his only friend, first flashed rage and then in a downtrodden voice said, “You are firing me for that?  Why didn’t someone every tell me?”

Team Harmony May Not Always Equal Commitment


“We have a very cohesive team,” a manager commented.

“How do you determine that?” I asked.

“Members respect each other and get along really well.  I think it is because I seek consensus when making tough decisions.”

I had a chance to visit with some of the members of this manager’s team and got differing opinions.

“He calls a meeting,” said one member.  “Two team members are pretty vocal.  They offer opinions and most everyone else just goes along.”

Another member commented, “I did offer a different view at one meeting but no one responded.  The conversation continued as if I had never said anything.”

Still another, “We are all very polite and friendly and we tend to go along with whatever the talkers want.  But I don’t think the team is really committed.”

Managers who strive for consensus decisions often send signals that conflict is undesirable.  But in reality, team members will have differing ideas about almost any issue.

Effective leaders understand that “disagreement” is the natural order of teams.  They strive for passionate debates among members and then select the option that best serves the mission.  If disagreeing members have a meaningful voice, they can still support the decision.

How to Deal with Annoyances


“I know I’m supposed to be professional at all times,” a manager told me.  “But I’m human and some of my people get on my last nerve.”

“We are human,” I responded, “and we have human emotions.  Annoyance, frustration and even anger are normal emotions that all people (including managers) experience.”

I think it is important that managers, as well as employees, avoid letting the steam in their boilers build up to a red-alert level.  Even though we try not to get upset, we sometimes feel like we are walking in quicksand.

If an employee’s behavior angers you by lagging in late to meetings, say something like, “You know it may be small thing, but it upsets me that you are often late to our meetings.  The five minutes may be nugatory, but you can help me prevent an ulcer if you will show up on time.”

Often, staff members will strive to correct petty behaviors that ruffle their managers’ feathers.  But even if they don’t, it is better for all if we openly communicate our concerns.  If we try to force down annoyances, regardless of how minor, they don’t’ dissolve.  Most often, the irritations simmer and sometimes they erupt.

Do You Value Politeness More than Truth?


Adonai was feeling badly.  “I felt good about my proposal,” she said.  “I had worked really hard on it.  There were a few questions, but I got the impression the team supported my recommendations.”

Adonai commented that, although six weeks had passed, she still did not have an official go-ahead for her project.  “The team leader,” she said, “keeps giving me excuses for delaying approval.”

When I asked the team leader about Adonai’s proposal, he responded, “Some members thought it was pretty weak.”

“Were they critical of her presentation?”

“Not really.  Several told me later that they thought the proposal was flawed.”

“Why didn’t they tell her in the meeting?”

“Adonai is new.  Everyone likes her.  I don’t think they wanted to embarrass her.”

Dr. Harvey, in his Abilene Paradox Concept, explains that team members frequently avoid expressing their true thoughts during meetings.  Peers are reluctant to shoot-down another’s blue ribbon idea.  Some say it shows disrespect.  Others believe they are the only ones who were unimpressed.  Some just don’t like conflict.

In effective teams, members raucously challenge each other.  Questions, what if’s and alternate options spontaneously erupt.  Communication transparency clarifies ideas, spots weaknesses and builds commitment to the ultimate decision.

 

 

How to Handle a Negotiation Dirty Trick


After reaching an agreement on responsibilities and salary, the vice president (VP) said to a general manager (GM) candidate, “Well, I think we understand each other, but I’ll need to check this out with the president.”

A few days later the VP said to the candidate, “The president is OK with most of our agreement but wants you to be responsible for warranty settlements.  He also thought that we were about five percent too high on the salary.”

This is an example of a negotiation “dirty trick.” The GM candidate negotiated in good faith with the VP believing that the VP had decision-making authority.

The candidate faces the following options:  (1) accept the revised offer, (2) reject the offer, or (3) continue negotiating.

Option 1 is too soft. Option 2 is too hard.  Option 3, continue negotiating, might include such responses as:

“You gave me the impression this was your decision.  Now, you say you did not have the authority?  How do you expect me to accept that?   Here are some other options we could look at . . .”

The intent is for the GM to identify the VP’s behavior and continue seeking options that are reasonable.

 

Lead or Sell Ice Cream?


“Leadership is not as glamorous as it appears,” said a frustrated Vinh.

After six years as a very productive and popular employee, management promoted Vinh to lead his department.  Employees were very pleased because they liked him.

Several weeks after Vinh’s promotion, some external surprises shocked the company. A new competitor, with state-of-the art service, invaded Vinh’s territory.  An unexpected governmental regulation choked some formerly, seamless processes.   To cope, Vinh asked his team to adjust.

“Some of my former friends got mad at me,” Vinh recalled.  “I explained to them why we had to change but they could not understand.  My friends shunned me.  The work environment seemed hostile.  I dreaded my job.”

Apple founder, Steve Jobs, once said if you want to be a leader and win, you must give up the right to be liked.  Winning leaders have to make tough decisions.  Even though a team may eventually be better off because of a leader’s decision–no matter, someone will always be unhappy.

Normal people leading normal lives can seek both comfort and popularity.  Leaders must give up both and strive to win.  As Jobs said, “If you want to make everyone happy, don’t be a leader; sell ice cream.