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A Nine-step Cure for "Tough Boss Syndrome"

Do you have a boss who:
  • Changes priorities often (usually without informing or consulting with you)?
  • Doesn't give you regular feedback on your work, so you have no way of knowing whether or not you’re meeting expectations?
  • Never shows appreciation for a job well done?
  • Micromanages every little thing to the nth degree?
  • Is a "big picture" type, giving you a vague idea about what needs to be done, but no real direction?

If any of the above scenarios sound familiar, you’re probably suffering from Tough Boss Syndrome. (This list of symptoms is by no means exhaustive.)  Don't despair; the power of the cure lies within you. You can empower yourself to improve the situation.

The key is influence, which is not manipulation, but rather the ability to shape another person’s behavior in a positive way. Most tough boss problems center on communication. You can get the results you want and build a better relationship with your boss when you influence him or her to communicate with you more effectively.

Ask yourself the following nine questions:
1. How does my boss like to receive information?
What's the best way to deliver information to your boss—e-mail, hard copy memo or face to face? The easiest way to find out is simply to ask. Also seek the advice of peers who have already established successful relationships with the same boss.

2. How much should I involve my boss?
Some bosses want to know everything and to be consulted on every decision. These micromanagers have a strong need for control. Other bosses prefer a more hand-off approach. While you can't change someone’s personality, you can find ways to influence them to tell you exactly what they need to know in order to feel comfortable in the workplace.

3. How can I solve my boss's problems?
Like it or not, your boss's problems are your problems. If you can figure out what keeps your boss awake at night and then find ways to help solve those problems, you will become more valuable and, so, more influential. You can't force your boss to disclose problems but you can say, "If there's something you want to talk to me about, I'm available to listen. I have the skills to help you in areas relating to (X). If you think so, too, let’s discuss how I can be of assistance."

4. How can I make my needs clear to my boss?
Don't be shy about asking for what you want. If it lies within your boss’s power to give it to you, that is, more responsibility, coaching or a corner office, ask for it. You may initially have to work up your nerve to ask, but your action will earn the respect of your boss, even a tough one. A majority of bosses say that they wish that their employees would just come right out and ask for what they want instead of being evasive, timid or passive-aggressive about their needs.

5. Do I want more responsibility or less?
Would additional responsibility give you a sense of accomplishment and make your job more interesting? Or are you so overburdened and stressed out that you'd like to limit your responsibilities? Either way, you need to ask for what you want.

Responsibility also means not being a victim. Responsible people make changes when they find themselves in a bad situation. When you don't take responsibility for making a change or getting what you need, you end up blaming your boss, the organization or your co-workers. Always ask yourself, "What can I do to improve this situation?"

6. How can I make my boss's job easier?
Influence and negotiation are very similar. You can make your boss's job easier by taking on some tasks that he or she either doesn’t like or isn’t very good at. You’ll create a win-win situation by doing this for a few hours every week while influencing your boss to relieve you of work you don't want to do.

7. How can I make my boss look good?
One of the best ways to improve your relationship with your boss is to find ways to look good in the eyes of his or her boss and customers. If you can accomplish this, your boss will be much more likely to listen to you and grant your requests.

8. How can I offer my boss feedback?
As people move up in an organization, they receive less feedback. In fact, upper managers and CEOs often feel as if they work in a vacuum because they rarely receive clear, honest assessments of their actions. Notice when your boss's work is particularly strong or beneficial to the organization and give him or her positive feedback and encouragement. Be prepared to offer constructive criticism if asked, but remember that sometimes bosses need a simple, sincere statement of praise for a job well done, just as you do.

9. What's the best way I can influence my boss?
Many problems with a tough boss result from misunderstandings. Influencing your boss requires good listening skills and some patience. Really listen when your boss outlines expectations and challenges. Regularly ask your boss what he or she expects from you, then summarize back what you've heard. You may feel silly at first, but you will experience far fewer misunderstandings and missed connections. Your boss will feel confident that you have correctly heard what's been said.

Don't stop with your boss: Although these tips are designed specifically for dealing with tough bosses, you can easily apply them in all of your relationships—colleagues, customers, spouses, kids, parents and friends. Everybody loves to work with somebody who listens, cares and truly takes the time to understand the needs of others. It's an essential part of being a great influencer. Listening in a purposeful, skilled way will give you the opportunity to really know what your boss and co-workers are all about.

Once you experience the positive changes brought about through the practice of these key skills you'll want to use your influence to turn all of your relationships from tough to terrific!