Wondering what it is you did to infuriate the boss?
The boss just always seems to be mad at you. You’re trying to lead your team the best you can, but every time you turn around he’s in your face about something.
You might be thinking, “What’s his problem?”
But it might be something you are doing and not even realize. Today we’ll look at nine ways you might unwittingly infuriate the boss, and for each offense, I’ll also offer you practical techniques to turn that negative into a positive.
A Sure Road to Perdition
Here’s a sarcastic look at nine things you might be doing to really infuriate the boss.
Using a rambling narrative. You can bet that a busy boss just loves to wade through an emotional, rambling four-page email that explains in detail who did what to whom, and why something isn’t your fault.
And that “A” you got in English composition will really pay off when your message is artfully buried in the middle of the paragraph on the last page.
Better: I once had a boss who famously shouted, “Don’t give me the labor pains, just give me the baby.” Put the Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF). Tell them what they need to know at the beginning, then fill them in on the detail if they ask for it. This applies to speaking as well as writing.
“The Smith project is going to be late by about two days, but we have everything under control. Here’s what happened…”
Related: 20 Email Best Practices for Leaders
Forgetting stuff. The more they say and the less you write down, the greater the chance for error. This can lead to missed deadlines, wasted money, useless effort, and frustration. Bosses love that.
Better: Get organized. Carry a notebook, smart phone, something, and take notes when the boss is talking to you. If you are not sure what they are asking you to do, restate and get clarification. Then be sure to follow up with them about how it’s going.
“So just to be sure, did you want the final Smith report by Thursday, or were you looking for the draft by then?”
Making them wait. They have so much free time. And what you are doing is way more important than whatever they have to do. So go ahead, be late for the meeting; walk in part way through the presentation; let them sit awkwardly with the client. They won’t mind.
Better: Think “Early is on time; on time is late.” If you are ready and waiting before they get there, it makes you seem more organized, better prepared, and ready to support. So do that.
Giving them an excuse. Nothing is likely to make you look as good as being able to blame a problem on someone else. Bosses love it when you try to avoid responsibility, go back on your word, or tell them that they misunderstood.
Better: Take responsibility for your actions. Even if you didn’t do it, if someone on your team did, you still own it. You’ll get a lot farther if you start with an apology, then talk about how it won’t happen again.
“I lost track of the due date for the Smith project; that was my responsibility; I’m sorry. To make sure it won’t happen again, now we’re putting everything on the team calendar so we can remind each other and stay on track.”
Making it their fault. Put lots of “you” in your sentences when talking with them as in, “You haven’t given me guidance,” or “You didn’t make it clear that this was due on Tuesday.” Phrasing your words this way makes it look like they didn’t do their job, and that’s just what they love to hear from you.
Better: As they say over at Employee Assistance Network, start with using “I” instead, as in, “I’d like to get your guidance on this to make sure we deliver what you’re looking for” or “I didn’t realize that you needed this on Tuesday, I’ll get right on it.”
Making them guess. With nothing to do in their corner office but stare out the window all day, they probably appreciate the chance to play guessing games. Questions like “Where’s that report I asked for?” or “When will you get back to me about that thing I wanted” are sure to keep their minds happily occupied.
Better: Keep them up to date about what is going on. If a report is going to be a little late, let them know ahead of time. If they asked you to take care of something, shoot them a quick note when it’s done. If it’s a bigger project, give them regular progress updates about how it’s going.
Bringing them problems. This is a great technique. Make it a habit that the only time they see you is when you have another problem to solve. Pretty soon they’ll just start associating you with problems, and then eventually you become the problem.
Better: If there is a problem you need help solving, you definitely need to talk the boss about it.
But if you also take them a possible solution or two, show that you are thinking about it and want to be part of making things right, it softens the blow. They are more likely to see you as a someone who helps, not someone who hinders.
“The Smith project is going to be late by about two days, but here are two ideas we came up with about how we can get back on track…”
Making key decisions without them. They always appreciate when you commit resources, change policy, or make decisions for them without asking first. They are sure to enjoy adjusting their plans for those resources, correcting inconsistencies, and explaining what’s going on to their boss.
Better: Be clear about where your decision authority lies; if you are not sure, check with the boss. So long as you are within the limits you have agreed on, go ahead and make the call. But if your actions will tie the boss’s hands, you’ll want to bring him in on it.
Surprising them. This is a classic. A problem is brewing and rapidly getting out of hand. But don’t bother the boss about it – they will only get upset. Besides, sometimes they like to hear about things that are going wrong from their boss – that’s always sure to be a pleaser.
Better: Your boss loses credibility if it appears that they don’t know what is going on with thier team. Even if the news is bad, it’s better to read them in on what’s happening than for them to about it from someone else. Go ugly early; they still might be mad, but at least you gave them a chance to do something about it.
“The Smith project is going to be late by about two days; I hate to tell you that, but thought you should know before the big meeting.”
Infuriate the Boss – The Takeaway
One other reason your boss may be infuriated by all of this: you aren’t setting a good example for the rest of your team.
When you are late, careless, hoard information, shift blame and fail to focus, you make it all the more likely that your teammates will begin to adopt similar habits.
As Mickey Addison at Leading Leaders says, leaders who fail to set a good example will ultimately be responsible for their own failure.
One good way to look at all of this is simply to put yourself in your boss’s shoes. What would you want to know? When would you want to know it? What is most important from their perspective?
It’s the golden rule applied to leadership. Instead of doing things that make the boss mad, do the things that make life easier for the boss. Life will get better for everyone.
Question: What other great techniques have you see that are sure to infuriate the boss?