FYI to Boss? Boss says ANW

Many people I coach have challenges communicating effectively with their boss. They often think the boss automatically understands them, and that what worked previously will work again with a new company or boss.

I had coffee with one such person last week. He explained that he greatly respects his boss–thinks he’s smart, experienced, knowledgeable, someone learned. But my friend has managed to rub his boss the wrong way more than once, the most recent kerfuffle over an email. (and I should add the boss is in Europe, my friend in Asia).

* * * * * * *

“He yelled at me after I sent the email.I couldn’t believe it. Is he nuts?”

“What was the email?”

“Just an ‘FYI’. I sent him a note on something we had done, and simply said “FYI.” And for this he gets mad?”

“Tell me more.”

“There IS nothing more to tell, that was all I did.”

“What exactly did he say to you?”

“He said, ‘What do you expect me to do with it?’ Well, obviously nothing, that’s why I wrote FYI. Am I losing my mind?”

“No, but do you see his point?”

“I don’t see it at all.”

“You did not say what he should do with the email. Was he supposed to read it all–or only part? Did he need to answer? Was it OK if he ignored it? Did you want him to distribute it to others in the company, or discuss with you first? The guy probably gets more emails than he knows what to do with, and you gave him extra work with no guidance. Do you see now?”

“It was an FYI, for God’s sake.”

“How do you communicate best with him? Or, I should say, how does he like to communicate?”

“Phone seems to work best.”

“So, more of a listener than a reader?”

“I guess.”

“After a year you should know. Sounds to me that you’re not being precise in your communication with him-or at least what you think is precise is ambiguous to him, and you know who’s going to win that argument. The boss only has so much time. If you’re going to email, don’t burden him; guide him.”

* * * * * * *

We ended the conversation after talking about his body language (which needs work; he reveals his feelings by turning his head and puckering his lips far too often) but the issue of concise communication-especially to the boss-is crucial for his success.

Know how your boss likes to be communicated to; phone, face, text, email, skype, alone, with a group, regularly, formally, informally, reader or listener, visual or not, bottom line or 2 pages, actively involved or distant, emotional or aloof, organised or scattered, intellectual or visceral, Socratic or circuitous questioning… You get the picture.

Whatever the style, don’t think what may have clicked before will click again-it is always work-in-progress. Suit and modify your style accordingly, and see what happens. You may never end up as best mates, but you’re looking for as much parity as you can get to build upon.

I’m not sure my friend will change his ways yet. But he will when it’s important enough to him. We’ll see.

Oh, ANW is “And Now What?”

Written by Neal Horwitz, President of Henry Hale Maguire

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