As a Quality Engineer lead in my mid twenties, I reported to the Engineering Manager of my department. At that time, there was a transition where the Director appointed a new outside hire to be the Engineering Manager. I’ve always felt like I was a good communicator, but for some reason I really had a communication barrier with my manager. I mean literally! He would ask me something and I would have to ask him clarifying questions each time to really get at what he was saying. It got so bad that he snapped at me one time asking why I always answered his questions with a question! Wow! This was a wake up call for me.
Communicating with your boss (or any other co-worker) can be tough due to gender, ethnic, background and personality differences. There are bound to be some barriers, but it can be done!
Once I realized I had a communication gap with my boss, I took a step back to assess why. Why couldn’t I “get” him? Here are some things I observed. Before he was hired at my company, he was in the US Marines, which was VERY different than our avionics-electronics manufacturing company. Due to this background, he had a very direct and dominant style of communicating. He was used to people doing what he said without any questions.
Once I took a step back and assessed his style, I understood him better and was less offended by his direct ways. My style of communication is less direct and dominant, however when I spoke to him, I purposely tailored my communication style to fit his better. This “mirroring” approach served me well. As time went on, we were able to understand each and built a good working relationship and eventually got a long great!
Here are some tips on working through communication differences with your boss or other co-workers.
- Observe their communication style – Are they direct and to the point? Are they social and like to talk about personal things before getting down to business? Do they dislike small talk? Do they prefer data to feelings?
- Tailor your communication style to theirs – Be direct if that is how they communicate. If they like socialization, ask them about their day before getting down to business. If they avoid small talk, get to the point. If they like data, give them the data!
- As a blanket to this strategy, build a relationship with the person! Having a good working relationship built on trust is the icing on the cake of communicating effectively.
What communication strategies have you used that worked for you?