Bonnie Siegler | Dear Bonnie

Dissatisfied in Durham

Dear Bonnie,
When there’s a communication issue between you and your boss—they ask for things in a tone that rubs you the wrong way, things get lost in the mix, neither party knows what the other needs—what are the best steps to take to fix it?

Dissatisfied in Durham

Dear D.,

I have to tell you something very important: your boss is probably never going to change. No matter how reasonable your grievances/requests/arguments/plans to organize work flow may be, your boss will make comments that annoy you, forget things she agreed to, and generally drive you crazy. In this way, bosses are exactly like parents (who will also probably never change).

The best step here is a step back. Try to see the bigger picture and separate your emotional response from the need to find a logical solution to this issue. Again, as in a parent-child relationship, the combination of your over-familiarity (familiarity breeds contempt) with your boss and her indisputable authority will necessarily grate at your nerves. Power can make a boss less sensitive and inclined to take your subservience for granted. In other words, all bosses are perfectly designed to drive you crazy.

When they’re condescending, try imagining them in a vulnerable situation themselves. This will, at the very least, help you smile through your immediate indignity. No matter what, the important thing is that you be the bigger person in the context of professionalism.

Based on the few examples you provided of what's been fueling your frustrations, I would try sending your boss a daily morning or end-of-day email outlining what’s on the agenda and what you require from her to accomplish all of your to-dos. Everything will be in writing and your boss will understand exactly what you need from her. And the email should  prompt your boss to tell you what she needs, as well. Having these emails will leave an indisputable paper trail—not to show your boss you were right, but to keep you from going insane with self-doubt.

Email can also reduce the need for some potentially annoying dialogue. I know, I know, it’s important to be able to communicate verbally, but eliminating predictably irritating exchanges will make the other conversations you have better and more productive. 

Essentially, you need to take responsibility for the change you seek yourself, rather than waiting for or hoping that your boss will change.

P.S. This approach works with spouses, girlfriends, and boyfriends too.

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