The Right (And Wrong) Way To Talk To An Impatient Boss
This article originally appeared on Forbes by Mark Murphy, Founder of Leadership IQ
Most impatient seeming bosses aren’t suffering from some chronic character flaw. More often than not, they just have a particular communication style that likes things at a high level, without too much detail, and a focus on cutting-to-the-chase. And for the record, that describes a lot of bosses. C-level executives, and especially CEOs, are often wired this way.
Not everybody likes to give and get information in the same way. A lot of bosses, and especially those that seem impatient, are Intuitive communicators that want non-linear communications. That means being short and to the point and without much emotion. If you give this boss the bottom line, big picture view first to gain their buy-in, you’ve got a good shot at winning them over to hearing your other points. But if you’re someone who naturally gravitates towards process-driven, detailed communication (what I call Functional communicators), and you give this boss point a, then point b, then point c, slowly and incrementally building to point z, you are absolutely going to make their head explode.
Of course, it’s helpful to know your own communication style. There are four major communication styles: Intuitive, Functional, Analytical and Personal. No one communication style is inherently better than another, but picking the wrong style when communicating with the boss, or assuming that your preferred style will work just fine, is likely what’s triggering the boss’s impatience. You can use this communication styles assessment to learn your preferred style.
Here’s another way to think about Intuitive communicators. Imagine you invite your Intuitive personality type boss to go see a movie. Let’s say Titanic since most folks have seen it and we’re not risking any spoilers. Your invitation hits the boss’s brain and the first thing she asks is “How does the movie end?”
If you’re not an Intuitive communicator, you might be shocked and respond “I can’t tell you that! It would ruin the whole thing!” But while knowing the ending might ruin the movie for you, the Intuitive person likely won’t even buy a ticket until they know the big picture (and that includes knowing the ending).
So, instead of saying “I can’t tell you that it will ruin the movie” and then trying to persuade the boss to go to the movie (or approve your new project, idea, proposal, etc.) with a pile of details about the outstanding box office returns, the Academy Award nominations, the great acting, costumes and sets and all the rest, why not just give the boss the big picture information she wants. Tell her how the movie ends: “The boat sinks and Leo dies.” It’s really that easy.
This isn’t about what you’d want to know or how you’d like to have it communicated to you. It’s about what the boss wants to know and how the boss wants it communicated. Intuitive communicators really want to know how the movie ends. That big picture endpoint is what tells them whether or not they want to invest their time in watching the movie, or listening to your proposal, or idea or whatever.
Let’s move our example out of the movie theater and into the workplace. You’re giving your boss a presentation on 10 recommendations you have for increasing customer experience on the company website. The mistake, if you’re dealing with an Intuitive communicator, would be to march into that meeting and say something like this:
Recommendation number 1 is we revamp our sales funnel to take a consultative approach to the sales process. I suggest creating three distinct sales funnels that are based upon the customers’ skill level: straight to shopping cart for professionals and a question/answer for novices. Recommendation number 2 is we increase our testing and monitoring. We can do this by hosting user-testing days that let us observe our website users live and listen to them narrate their experience so we know where people are having trouble and what their opinions are about the site. Recommendation number 3 is to employ customer service surveys and have constant communication between our customer service department and our tech team…
I’m going to stop there because my head is already exploding and they’re only on recommendation number 3.
Instead, what you want to do is get right to the endpoint, cut to the chase and say:
I have 10 recommendations for improving customer experience on our website. #1: take a consultative approach, #2: test and monitor, #3: customer surveys, #4: educate consumers, #5: interview users, #6: optimize language capabilities, #7: track what’s hot, #8: implement responsive web design, #9: determine calls to action and #10: make it more social. Please tell me which of these 10 things you want to hear more about.
Here, the seemingly-impatient boss gets to pick and choose the recommendations they want to explore. So instead of eye rolls and finger drumming and other impatient behaviors, you’re going to hear, “Number 3 sounds really interesting. Tell me more about that.” Now you’ll get the chance to go back and give your detail while the boss listens. And if you don’t have a list to work from, you can simply ask, “What information would make this a good use of your time?”
Speaking to the boss using non-linear communication puts an end to impatient behavior, builds the boss’s trust in you, showcases your competence in delivering the results the boss wants, and allows you to grow a fruitful and successful relationship with the boss.