You probably have encountered this problem: you need something signed off or acted on urgently, but your boss doesn’t seem to have the same sense of urgency as you. You’ve reminded her twice, but know that she might just bite your head off if you pester her for the third time.
So how do you chase her without losing your job? Well, it’s all about 'managing up'. We asked James Choles, Academic Manager of the Professional Development Centre at the British Council in Singapore, for some tips.
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James says, 'When you’re emailing your boss for action, always remember the 4 Ws. If your action statement doesn’t include the ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘when’ and ‘why’, then it’s possible that a busy boss won’t do what you need them to do.'
He also suggests starting with the ‘why’ so that it’s clear to your boss why you need it by a certain deadline.
E.g. 'So that I can submit the report on time, could you send me the figures by 5 p.m.? Thanks.'
James says, 'You can still use the 4 Ws when making a verbal request, although it probably won’t work to start with ‘why’.' He suggests saying, 'I’m working on that report we spoke about. Do you think you’d be able to get the figures to me by 5 p.m.?'
He explains, 'By talking about a possible future rather than a definite one (‘you’d be able to’ rather than ‘you’ll be able to’) the request is softened, and you put your boss under less pressure.'
He also suggests making things as simple as possible for your boss, such as doing part of the work yourself, or getting information for someone else. He says, 'Remember that what may be urgent for you may only be one of many priorities for your manager.'
While he opines that you can show a bit of initiative by offering to help your boss, he advises to tread carefully when it comes to doing tasks that your boss is responsible for. 'In situations like these you’ll need to be quite diplomatic. You could say something like: ‘I’d be happy get the figures for the report, but do you need to sign off on them first?’'
So you’ve armed yourself with these tips but still got chastised by your boss for chasing. How do you deal with it? Although James thinks 'an emotionally intelligent boss should never ‘snap’ at her staff', he suggests handling it professionally. Scroll through the gallery for tips.
Name the emotion
A key part of emotional intelligence is being able to name the emotions that you're feeling or witnessing. If your boss snaps, you could say something like: 'I can see you're really frustrated' or 'You seem angry about that'. It tales a lot of courage to be this direct with a boss, but you may find that it defuses the tension.
It's not easy being a boss, and there could be good reasons why they've forgotten to do what you asked. Try to show a bit of empathy, and realise that they're just as stressed and overworked as you!
When we're being 'attracked' we stop thinking logically and often the fight, flight or freeze reflect kicks in. Breathe, stay composed and resist the urge to snap back.
To learn more about 'Managing up' and other skills for the workplace in small, manageable sessions, visit the British Council's Bitesize 90 programme and send us your details.