Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant

How to manage childish boss behavior and thrive in your job

6 Ways to Make Yourself Heard with Your Boss

Set yourself up for success.

Do you ever feel like your boss is just biding time as you speak? You feel fortunate to get the time to speak him, but it’s often discounted by his or her seeming lack of interest. When your manager really does pay attention, you feel like declaring a national holiday.

Today's office distractions don't help: One recent study shows that e-mail notifications, phone calls, texts, instant messages and activity stream alerts cost the average large white-collar company more than $10 million in productivity a year. And these distractions affect supervisors as much as anyone else. Your boss may seem unable to spend the time to focus successfully on any one project, let alone yours.

There are steps you can take to mitigate this dynamic, though.

You can apply some of the same time-honored techniques with your boss that you may have used with easily distractible small children. Both share the ability to become overwhelmed and then inattentive. After all, our core, human traits and needs, such as fear, anxiety, need for achievement – and boredom – hold true whether we're two or 52. Here are some ideas to consider:

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1. No surprises.

If you descend on your boss the moment you feel an impulse to reach out, take a pause. Better to outline next steps in e-mails on pending items, and request a response. Ideally, try to arrange regular meetings, in-person or digital, so there’s always enough notice. If you don’t take your time or your boss' seriously, how can they? Send out an agenda the day before your meetings, and if your boss is off the charts on the “focus bell curve,” resend it that morning and have it handy at the meeting itself so you can both remain on message.

2. Less is more.

Time is a precious commodity, and sometimes keeping your communications simple yields better results. If you’re the type of person who plays high importance on details or has to explain things in an orderly sequence, hit Reset. If you tend to stray, an inattentive boss likely will as well. Most executives prefer to hear the “executive summary” first and then drill down to key details. If your boss is a master at taking the conversation elsewhere, come up with a “bridge,” such as, "That’s interesting…Oh, I just remembered something else I wanted to mention about my proposal."

3. Consider your timing.

If you realize that the timing of your upcoming meeting isn’t optimal, consider rescheduling. There's danger in sticking with a bad time. First thing Monday morning is obviously a bad choice, as is right before lunch. And if your company’s stock just sank 10 percent or you’re competing with 12 other people in a given hour, your time can wait.

4. Be intriguing.

As we all know, people like to be around energy and like presentations with interactivity. Use what you know about your manager to be more engaging – you’ll draw him or her in and keep their attention longer. You don't have to hire a singing quartet or be a standup comedian, but you can avoid being dry and monotone. If your boss is generally reserved or withdrawn, you can still be lively. Many people with these personality types are just uncomfortable socially and need an excuse to relax. By putting your boss at ease with some levity, you and your ideas will likely seem more captivating. Also consider whether your materials are visually attention-getting and easy to read or dull.

5. Stay focused.

You can’t have control “BADD” – Boss Attention Deficit Disorder – but remember that if there’s something for your boss in what you have to say, you’ll generally have better luck. If your meeting includes multiple people, ask them to participate; that's one guaranteed way to increase attentiveness around the table. Don’t be afraid to take control just because your boss is present. State the meeting’s purpose upfront, and if it wanders, bring it back on track with phrases like, "Great idea. I’d love to come back to that during the [XYZ] section of the agenda." That will also discourage others from taking the discussion into a tangent.

6. Hold meetings in a strategic place.

If you end up in your boss’s office, you may have less control. Consider suggesting that in your office, you have some websites open or materials at hand that will expedite the meeting. Or perhaps there is a conference room where you’ll have more room to spread out your work.

Lynn Taylor is a workplace expert specializing in boss and employee dynamics; she is the author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant

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