Advance Your Career With Improved Communication

Advance Your Career With Improved Communication

Taunee Besson, CMF, Senior Columnist

Q: I have difficulty communicating with my manager. When I have a new idea, he usually shoots it down, and he's super-slow to make decisions. He also spends most of the day shut in his office so I can't reach him, and I feel like he's ignoring my input. I like my job a lot, and I'm worried that this bad relationship with my boss will hurt me. How can I find a way to communicate with him more effectively?

A: While your boss may be tough to work with, simply blaming him for your communication problems and giving up is a surefire way to lose your job. Instead, you need to try and understand his decision-making style, and then tailor your interaction with him so the two of you can work together more effectively. If you just stay frustrated and let the awkwardness fester, everyone loses.

Fortunately, there's a simple way to figure out how to better communicate with your boss. A classic profile of decision-making styles called the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator (based on Carl Jung's personality types) is used by companies around the world to help employees work better with management and colleagues. Basically, it breaks down how people make decisions into four sets of opposites, each of which helps to determine how you handle a new task. The four opposites are:

Extrovert vs. Introvert
Sensor vs. Intuitor
Thinker vs. Feeler
Judgment vs. Perception

So what does this mean? Take a look how the Indicator defines each characteristic, and try to build a portrait of your boss' basic personality.

Extroverts tend to ask lots of questions. They enjoy brainstorming, teamwork and group consensus. You generally know what they're thinking – because they won't hesitate to tell you.

Introverts, on the other hand, are self sufficient problem solvers. They're more comfortable working on problems alone in their offices than getting input from a group. It can be hard to know where they stand, since they keep so much to themselves.

Sensors need the facts. They want concrete explanations backed by specifics. They like to "get their hands dirty" and learn the step-by-step process that gets things done. They can often be described as practical, matter-of-fact or bottom line type people.

In the opposite direction, Intuitors are big picture people. They enjoy looking at new possibilities and ideas, and thinking long term. For them, hot ideas are way more fun than boring old facts.

Thinkers are highly objective, and can easily distance themselves from a complicated situation when making decisions. They enjoy working out logical solutions to problems.

Feelers have a great concern for people, and are sensitive to how things affect staff, customers and the community. Their insight in human needs is key to their decision making.

Individuals with strong judgment prefer making decisions to gathering information. They like to move quickly and can't stand red tape. They have a low tolerance for waffling.

Perceptives would rather gather information than make decisions. They enjoy finding new knowledge. They usually adapt well to change, but can struggle to make up their minds.

  • Extrovert – Introvert
  • Sensor – Intuitor
  • Thinker – Feeler
  • Judgment – Perception

Using these tendencies, it is possible to figure out your manager's basic personality type. Based on your description, it sounds like his primary qualities can be broken down into a profile of ISTP:

  • Tends to spend a lot of time alone (Introvert)
  • Wants the nuts and bolts (Sensor)
  • Makes decisions objectively, without considering your feelings (Thinker)
  • Needs more information than you think is warranted to make a decision (Perception)

In contrast, it seems that your workplace personality profile is quite the opposite, at ENFJ:

  • Wants more direct contact with boss (Extrovert)
  • Looks at the big picture and has new ideas (iNtuitor)
  • Puts a personal stake in treatment at the office (Feeler)
  • Moves quickly on decisions (Judgement)

Since the two of you seem to be on opposite ends of the spectrum, to communicate more effectively try changing your approach a little. Understand that your boss prefers to make decisions privately. Present your ideas in a detailed, step-by-step manner, instead of taking the big picture approach. And don't expect quick answers – in fact, try giving you boss at least 50% more time to make a decision than you think it would normally take.

In this scenario, it may feel like you're the one doing all the adjusting. But keep in mind that you get all of the benefit from this technique – after all, learning to read personality types and tailor your communication won't just save your relationship with your boss; it'll set you up for continued success throughout your entire career.

Senior Columnist Taunee Besson, CMF, is president of Career Dimensions, Inc., a consulting firm founded in 1979 that works with individual and corporate clients in career transition, job search, executive coaching, talent management and small business issues. She is an award-winning columnist for and a best-selling author of the Wall Street Journal's books on resumes and cover letters. Her articles on a variety of career issues have appeared on numerous career/job websites and trade and business journals. Ms. Besson has been quoted numerous times in The Wall Street Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Business Week, Time, Smart Money, and a number of other websites and publications.

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