Are you making these communications mistakes with your manager?

By Scot Herrick | Job Performance

Mar 15

Manager – employee communication is tricky. The process should be straightforward, but then, business is social and social situations are never that simple. Throw in the fact that your manager is writing your performance review and has influence on your pay and career and you get a communications nightmare. If you want to be an effective communicator with your supervisor, don’t make these killer mistakes:

Explaining your entire thought process without a decision request

Remember the writing rule that says the first sentence of your paragraph should explain what is coming in the rest of the paragraph? Same situation here. Managers are used to making decisions, so tell your manager up front what you are requesting. Once you say what you are expecting, you can then go through the reasons why and your supervisor will know where you are headed.

The longer it takes for you to put out your request, the more your supervisor will try and figure out what you want instead of listening to what you are saying.

This is especially true the higher up in the hierarchy you go. How do I know that? This point was given to me by a Senior Vice President in a Fortune 100 company. Executives are used to making many decisions a day — so put your request up front and your reasoning after it so they can follow your thoughts and make a decision.

Taking over your manager’s meeting

If your manager is running the meeting, let your manager run the meeting. If you interrupt your supervisor to make your points, bring up additional items not on the agenda or don’t follow your supervisor’s lead, you won’t do well in the communication department.

You may be the expert in the room on the subject at hand, but let your manager lead the meeting.

Fail to prototype your work

Ever had your supervisor give you a small project with a due date out a couple of weeks? We all have. But how many times have you taken that project, thought you understood the deliverable, then presented your work on the due date and were told it was all wrong?

It happens all the time. The higher up you go in the organization, the more likely it is to happen — because no one wants to bother the mucky-muck, but to deliver.

I worked with a group of people on a presentation that a Senior Vice President would give to a customer and the person running the project worked us hard for a week on the presentation. Every slide. Every nuance. Every statistic. It was a beautiful thing. When we presented it to the Senior Vice President the day before the presentation, he said it was all wrong. Wrong level of detail. Not the right information for his audience. Not enough relationship and too many statistics. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

So we threw everything out the window, stayed up all night and delivered another presentation before he flew out to meet with the customer. And not happy with our work on top of it.

When you get a project like this, take one point and follow it through to the end. Then, after completing this in a couple of days — about 5-10% of the total project, show your work to your manager. Now you will discover all the hidden requirements your manager assumed you knew when you said yes to the project. Now you will find the right level of detail. Now you will find if you are writing for the right audience. Now you will find if you are using the right delivery tool for the work.

Most importantly, you won’t have to stay up all night to fix something and you will be perceived as a collaborative person.

Providing activities in status reports instead of accomplishments

In bigger corporations, status reports are common. Most managers don’t tell you what they want in them or, if they do, they focus on activities, not accomplishments. Don’t fall for this trap.

Your accomplishments are your results that can get included in your performance review. Or your resume. Your accomplishments become the stories you tell your hiring manager for your next gig. Even if your manager wants to know that you attended twenty meetings last week (which should tell you a lot about the  type of manager you have…), put in the twenty meetings but also include what you accomplished as a result of the meetings.

Focus your personal brand on effective communications and accomplishments

Being the person on the team that consistently communicates well with management is a powerful differentiator between you and your coworkers. Communicating well means your results will be more consistent, you will show support for the manager’s initiatives and you will have more collaborative discussion about your work.

What has worked best for you communicating with your manager?

  • Pras says:

    Scott,

    I have a question that relates to this? When you meet your manager and he is rushed and assigns you a task or a project, is it good to formally set up a time to go over a prototype?

    Is it also good to get as much clarification as possible at the first meeting when they give you the assignment?

    Does this show you are taking initiative to own your results??

  • Scot Herrick says:

    Pras, if your manager is rushed, take the information you can and come back later with some work done and rework what is needed. This isn't a prototype as such, because your manager never really had the time to go through the requirements. Having done some work on the task and then going back in at a better time to talk through the requirements, however, shows you did some work, recognized the manager was busy and came back with some effort.

    On the clarifications in the first meeting, yes, get as much as you can — it still won't be enough information to give a good deliverable, but it gives you more information to get it closer. So if you are not getting a 'drive by' task and there is time, get the clarification you need. But still prototype it.

    I don't think prototyping is necessarily showing that you are taking initiative for your own results. But, it does deliver a higher quality result to your manager or customer, gets you into a collaborative mode for the results, and will help you get to a higher level of trust with the people you prototype with. A manager won't say that is showing initiative to own your results…but you know it is taking initiative to own your results.

  • […] From CubeRules: Are you making these communications mistakes with your manager? “Manager – employee communication is tricky. The process should be straightforward, but then, business is social and social situations are never that simple. Throw in the fact that your manager is writing your performance review and has influence on your pay and career and you get a communications nightmare. If you want to be an effective communicator with your supervisor, don’t make these killer mistakes.” […]

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