Is Your Boss a Poor Communicator?

Good communication skills should be a minimum requirement for promotion to management, but too often that doesn’t seem to be the case. Instead, you might find that your boss is a poor communicator, and you have to cope with that unsatisfactory situation. Unless you find a way to deal with it successfully, you might find yourself heading out the door sooner than expected–either voluntarily or involuntarily. In view of that possibility, it’s essential that you take steps before crunch-time arrives.

Poor Communicators can Have Many “Faces”

Your boss might believe he/she is doing a good job of communicating but you’re not getting the message. That might be right–maybe you’re not listening as carefully as you should, not asking questions to clarify ambiguities, etc. However, if you’re a good listener and understand how to make sure you’re moving in the right direction if your boss gives you a reasonable idea of what that is, the problem might not lie with you. You might have a boss who is a poor communicator, especially with regard to expectations for your job performance. For example:

  • Gives you “blanket” instructions on what he/she wants you to accomplish but omits one or more key points. This is like someone who gives you driving directions to a place they know well and forgets to tell you that one of the streets changes its name. The odds are that you’re not going to end up where you were supposed to–at least, not without having to retrace your steps.
  • Avoids providing specifics because of a belief that you should somehow know what he/she has in mind and figure out the rest on your own. Sometimes this comes from a genuine belief that enough information has been provided and that someone at your level should be capable of working out the rest without having to be guided to it. Other times it could be that your boss is testing you to see whether you will either pin him/her down to get the information you need or find a way to proceed without doing that.
  • Doesn’t even articulate in his/her own mind what a stated expectation involves, to make sure you “get it,” but thinks he/she has done that. For instance, he might say, “I’m not seeing from you what I expect to see from a vice president.” If you try to clarify what that expectation is and you get a vague answer that is really no answer, you might be stuck in an uncomfortable and ultimately untenable position. How can you hit a target you can’t see?
  • What Can You Do about a Boss Who’s a Poor Communicator?

    If the boss is someone you want to continue working for, you can try to strengthen the lines of communication. One option is to request regular, short meetings to compare notes on performance goals your boss has approved and your progress toward those goals. As much as possible, avoid generalities and statements that might sound as if you’re on the defensive. Strive for facts and figures that can be backed up and that clearly indicate completion of or strong progress toward specific goals.

    Anticipate comments about what hasn’t been done that was supposed to be and provide a reasonable explanation (again, without sounding defensive). Express your 100% commitment to making those things happen at the earliest possible moment. Communicate your dedication to meeting the needs of the company and link the actions you have taken and plan to take to the benefits they will bring to the company.

    However, if the situation doesn’t yield to your efforts to achieve effective communication with your boss so you can do your job at the highest level of effectiveness and meet his/her stated goals, you might have limited options to choose from. Planning your exit strategy at that point could be the wisest choice you can make.

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