There is no question that clear and respectful communication is key for any boss to succeed and for organizations to be successful.
Unfortunately, many bosses are lacking this aspect of leadership.
Sometimes you honestly wonder how some of them got to their position!
In a survey at Badbossology.com, completed by 1,118 people, “48 percent said they would fire their boss if they could, 29 percent would have their boss assessed by a workplace psychologist and 23 per cent would send their boss for management training.”
I have had many different types of bosses in my time and actually have had different roles as a boss myself.
There is no doubt my most difficult time was when my boss was the CEO of a large organization.
He tended to speak a great deal at you but was, unfortunately, a poor communicator. He certainly had little or no interest in engaging with you and actually listening.
Being CEO, he felt it was his right to drill knowledge into you and make sure you knew exactly what he expected from you.
My one-on-one meetings with him at the beginning of our working relationship followed a pattern.
After the opening pleasantries, he would then focus on what he wanted, what his vision was and what I was expected to do in my role to get there. I would take lots of notes. Always towards the end of the meeting, he would suddenly remember he should ask me what I thought or mostly how I would go about achieving his goals.
I became very frustrated at times but what kept me going was the fact that my boss was actually not a bad person. He just lacked skills in communication.
He was very committed to the organization, had a great vision, and really wanted to make it a better place for all. I think he genuinely believed he had good leadership skills.
There are many reasons our bosses could have poor communication skills. One contributing factor is the rapidly changing world of work we are faced with.
For example, when a boss lacks confidence, they can compensate by being too loud and opinionated as it helps hide their own insecurities.
In a Forbes article, 5 Reasons Leaders Lack Communication Skills, Glenn Llopis states, “We are transitioning from a knowledge-based to a wisdom-based economy. It’s no longer about what you know, but what you do with what you know. When leaders lack subject matter expertise, they fail to develop the wisdom to communicate effectively.”
How did I learn to not only deal with my boss, the poor communicator but also to be able to do my job effectively and maintain a good level of job satisfaction?
Here are 8 tips to help you deal with a boss who doesn’t communicate with you:
1. Learn to manage up effectively
First and foremost, you need to learn to manage up well.
What I mean by this is not sucking up to your boss and being a sycophant, but building a successful working relationship and really understanding where your boss is coming from.
It is ok to disagree with them but it is important to keep the adage of treating people the way you want to be treated. In other words, be respectful in your communication.
2. Ensure there is a mutual understanding
It is really important to have clarity on your role and the expectations of your boss.
Your role is to add value to the organization and help achieve those goals and priorities agreed to with your boss.
In all relationships, it is understanding how people operate that helps us be able to work successfully together.
If you have a fixed view of how your boss should operate you are setting yourself up for failure. I know as I have been there!
Work at being a good listener. This skill will always hold you in good stead in all facets of your life.
Too many of us are concerned more about what we’re about to say rather than being present and listening fully to what the other person is saying.
If you aren’t clear on what your boss is wanting you to do, you could easily misunderstand their wishes. Many poor communicators are ramblers and can be loose cannons.
Amongst all the noise, somehow you have to be clear on what your boss is saying and what the priorities are for you.
What you don’t want is to lose your boss’s trust. That is key and even if you have lost their trust you can gain it back by developing a productive relationship.
3. Be supportive of your boss
As much as you would like to vent your frustrations to other co-workers about your boss, it is not wise.
Being loyal is a key attribute and something you would want to from your colleagues and people reporting to you.
Making sure your boss is acknowledged for their achievements is a good idea as well.
At the end of the day, most people know that it not just one person that achieves those goals in an organisation but teams of people working collaboratively and effectively together.
A good reminder for this is this famous quote on synergies: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
4. Be succinct in your interactions
Learning to be succinct and brief in my answers and suggestions (if I had the opportunity to get them across!) in my one-on-one meetings with my poor communicator boss really helped me.
These poor communicators are not good listeners and their attention span is limited.
Often, they can go off on a tangent which does not help you at all with understanding what the priorities are.
5. Be more mindful in your dealings with your boss
There is definitely a difference in the power base between a boss and a person reporting to them. It can be very tempting to get caught up in your lack of power.
If you are adding value and doing your job well, then there is no reason to focus on your perceived lack of power.
A good solution is to observe from a distance the way you and your boss interact. Regard your boss as a client, rather than having a direct reporting relationship.
This can help you separate yourself a bit from the power base and you are also practicing a form of mindfulness that can only help you.
As Dana Rousmaniere in the HBR article What Everyone Should Know About Managing Up states, “Power is the ability to get things done. Managing up helps you get the resources you need to get those things done. The classic definition of managing up is about developing a good working relationship with a superior. Better to simplify: managing up is solving problems that your stakeholders need solved.”
6. Understand the organizational vision
To help you enjoy your job more and gain satisfaction from it, I think it is important to understand the vision of the organization and definitely understand where your boss fits into this.
What are the organization’s and in particular your boss’s key priorities?
Build your own networks and work with people who are ready to move forward. Be proactive in setting your goals for what you see are really important.
Make sure you get your boss’s input and feedback. Involve them and keep him informed. Of course, make sure you also are following their priorities.
As mentioned, it is very important, particularly when your boss is a poor communicator, that you are both clear about priorities moving forward.
Like any goal in work or life, focus on what is within your control. Work hard on letting go of stuff you have no control over, your boss being a poor communicator one of them!
This is not the time to catastrophize and feel like a victim. All this does is stop the momentum of moving forward and achieving your goals.
7. Be aware of what works better
Understanding how your boss operates can only help you in this difficult situation of having a boss as a poor communicator.
We all have our own particular style we like operating with but think carefully about what your boss would like.
For example, think about whether your boss is very analytical and works from an evidence base or perhaps they are always focused on solutions.
Always be well prepared for your one-on-one meetings. Make sure your boss is kept informed of what you’re doing, always keeping them in the loop.
You could also observe and learn from others who have a better working relationship with your boss.
8. Stay aligned with your values
Be authentic. Show your own leadership skills and do as you say you are going to do.
Dana Rousmaniere in HBR writes:
“Make sure you are acting as you say, demonstrating the leadership behaviour you’d like to see from your boss. The single biggest source of your personal credibility with your boss is meeting your commitments.”
Many of us have been in the unenviable position of having bosses who are poor communicators and with generally low levels of self-awareness.
We know how frustrating it is but learning to successfully navigate this relationship and ending up working effectively is a valuable lesson that you have learnt and which can only help you in future roles and in fact your life.
At the end of the day, most bosses are good people trying to do their best in their own way.
However, let’s not be Pollyanna here. Every now and then you can have a truly bad boss who abuses their power and the reporting relationship can be almost impossible.
In this case, the only option you may have is to move away from this role if you can. If you can’t, develop your own support networks to ensure you can actually do your job and gain some satisfaction from it.
Finally, if you are someone who has ambitions to be a boss or who is in fact a boss as well, you are gaining many leadership skills which will help you become a better boss and person in the long run.
Seeing this as a learning experience also helps you be more accepting and not turn this situation into victim mode.
I hope the strategies in this article can help you develop better working relationships with your poor communicator boss.
These strategies have certainly helped me navigate my way in the workplace and in fact my life.
Let’s hope the development of leadership and communication skills for bosses becomes an integral way of operating in all workplaces.
As Jim Clifton from Gallup states in It’s the Manager, “If you give every team member in your company a great manager – a great coach – one who cares about development and growth, you have successfully engineered an organization with unlimited potential.”