In The Workplace

I’m a manager. Over the past three months, I have observed how difficult it has become to obtain my department vice-president’s approval for my proposals, including an important but inexpensive training program for my team. Even a waste reduction proposal has been ignored. Most of the time, my ideas fall on deaf ears, and often elicit irrelevant questions even for a simple proposal. Last week, he was even somewhat combative when I allowed two of my workers to go on leave for a week. Can you help me decipher what’s happening? How do I manage the situation? — White Horse.

A man was perplexed by his wife’s refusal to admit her hearing problem. Speaking with a company physician, he asked: “How can I get my wife to admit that she is hard of hearing?” The doctor replied: “I’ll tell you what to do. When you arrive home this evening, peek your head through the door and ask — ‘Honey, what’s for dinner tonight?’ If she doesn’t answer, go into the living room and repeat the question.”

“If she still does not answer, walk into the kitchen and ask: ‘Honey, what’s for dinner?’ If she still does not hear you, then walk right up behind her and speak directly into her ear: ‘Honey, what’s for dinner?’ And if she still doesn’t reply, then convince her to see a specialist for her hearing troubles.”

That evening, the man arrived home from work. Just as instructed, he opened the front door and called out: “Honey, what’s for dinner tonight?” He listened carefully but there was no reply. He walked into the living room and repeated: “Honey, what’s for dinner?” No answer. He then walked into the kitchen and asked the same question. Still no answer.

The man walked right up behind his wife and spoke directly into her ear: “Honey, what’s for dinner?” The wife turned around and replied: “My goodness, for the fourth time, I said, we’re having spaghetti!”

The lesson of this story is that you need to take a good look at yourself and your work performance, and not simply define the problem as one being caused by your boss. What most people, even seasoned managers, tend to forget is that dealing with the boss’s individual personality and management style is less than half of the problem.

You only have to look in the mirror to possibly discover the real issue. Is it about your performance or your credibility with the boss, or both? Since you mentioned that your boss changed his attitude towards you three months ago, then it could have something to do with what you did or failed to do prior to those months.

How loyal are you to your boss? Did you at one time criticize your boss to a trusted work colleague? Maybe you’ve created a situation that put your boss in a bad light. We don’t know. And yet, there could be many explanations for his attitude towards you. Therefore, getting your boss to appreciate your efforts can’t be achieved overnight. It takes time to regain your boss’s confidence. In that case, we have to explore the following tactics:

One, talk to your boss and rediscover his unspoken expectations. Does he want you to inform him about almost everything, including minor administrative tasks like approving leave applications? He may have changed his style to become detail-oriented, unlike before. To understand his “new” style, make a conscious effort to do things in terms of his “new” expectations.

Two, avoid being argumentative even if you think you’re correct. You may have been comfortable dealing with him before, but you need to adjust to the circumstances. Before you open your mouth, consider whether your ideas are not directly opposed to the boss’s ideas, your input is solicited. Be courteous. Instead of making point-blank statements expressing your doubts about his ideas, say something like: “If you don’t mind, would you like to hear another option?”

Three, make your boss look good in the eyes of his boss and other people. Even if he’s the worst credit-grabber, accept it. The fact remains that he’s still your boss. You may feel cheated that your boss is getting the credit for your direct accomplishments, but that’s nothing if you really want to grow in that company. He controls your career path and it should work to your advantage if he keeps on getting all the credit for all your hard work.

Last, protect your boss when something goes wrong in your department. If your boss has committed a mistake, you can regain his trust by displaying your loyalty to him. Take the blame if necessary, unless your boss has clearly violated a major company regulation or even the law of the land. If it’s not a serious blunder, consider helping your boss cope with the situation.

Whatever happens, don’t bypass your boss. Follow the chain of command even if you’re not in the military. It is a standard practice for all organizations that everything must have your boss’s prior approval. This includes post facto “for-your-information” notifications that may be important to your boss. Assume you don’t know many of the things that could adversely affect your work relationship.

Working for a long-time boss isn’t not necessarily better or worse than establishing a new relationship with a new boss. Many times, the differences may be subtle, if not invisible if you don’t know how to read body language. Therefore, it’s crucial to keep your eyes open and your ears on the ground to avoid surprises.

Otherwise, you may find yourself on the losing end.


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