Igniting Workplace Enthusiasm

Why Da Boss Is Difficult


Are you the engagement survey assassin carving up your boss or are you the victim having to explain to senior management why your team’s scores are so dismal? Naturally, the very top bosses rarely ever get surveyed, so they can be totally bolshie about your low scores. Research informs us that Japan is a bastion of bad feelings and unhappiness, leading the world in low scores. Even taking out the "Japan bias" of conservative scoring, the results here are still pretty miserable. We also know from the research that the biggest factor in lack of team engagement with the ideals, direction and aspirations of the organization is the lousy relationship staff have with their boss.

 Good communication skills are often in short supply with bosses and this leads to unhappiness. It is not that bosses can’t talk, in fact often they talk and talk and talk. It is the way they speak and the thinking behind the words that are inflaming their subordinates. Bosses can be limited by their own preferred scope and style. The latter may hit the target with those who are more like them, but leaves the rest of the troops underwhelmed, uninspired, and unhappy.

 Bosses are often oblivious to the idea of diversity. I don’t mean diversity as mainly considered in Japan, which is usually about lack of inclusion of women in the workplace. Diversity here means variations amongst the team in terms of communication preferences. There are lots of tools for determining this stuff ranging from the exotic - blood type, Chinese zodiac (both very popular in Japan), Western astrology, to the more scientific - DiSC, Myers Briggs, etc. If you don’t happen to carry this stuff around in your pocket, here are two decisions to determine the best communication style.

 Picture a horizontal scale of assertion, low on the left and high on the right. Assertion here means to what extent you have a strong opinion on things, state that opinion, speak very forthrightly, confidently, often loudly. Add a vertical scale, where the top has high people orientation and the bottom high task. A "people orientation" signifies care and attention to people around you, how they feel - the classic "people person". Task orientation is about outcomes, results, getting the job done (regardless!).

 We now have four hints to guide our communication. The top right quadrant combines both assertion and a people orientation. Often salespeople, actors, trainers fall into this group – they like people and they are looking to influence those around them. Don’t focus the conversation on gritty detail, move to discussions about big picture issues. Their diagonal opposite loves detail, proof, and statistics to three decimal places. Talk in terms of micro detail with this crowd, often accountants, technical people, scientists, lawyers. The outcomes type is assertive and task driven. Often company founders and scary CEOs, with a strong "time is money" mantra. Don’t beat around the bush or waste their time. Be direct, confident, succinct – they won’t mind. Their opposite is the non-assertive, people oriented, sensitive type. Modest, shy, usually the glue behind the scenes mopping up the damage caused by their diagonal opposite. Taking time, speaking softly, talking about how people will feel about things attracts this group.

 We can quickly tell who is which style, by carefully listening to what they say and how they say it. Mirror their style and our communication improves. We like people who are like us, so communicate in their preferred style, eliminating barriers. The boss may not be difficult after all, just different. Bosses and subordinates can very quickly become "multi-style-lingual" and much more effective in their communication. Life gets better when we can get on the other person’s wavelength and surf that wave together.


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