Questions That Shed Light On Your Boss’ Bad Behavior

Just when you thought it was time to start the weekend, your boss comes into your office with more urgent work to do. Why does this always happen on Friday afternoons?

Trying to understand your boss’ behavior can be difficult. Often law firm managers are under pressure to produce certain work product for clients or bill a certain number of hours in the week. Although these requirements may contribute to an associate’s woes, they are not a complete explanation for all of a boss’ bad behavior.

For example, does your boss play favorites? Schedule Friday evening meetings? Worse yet—are these Friday evening meetings regularly canceled and rescheduled for Saturday mornings?

To associates, it often appears like your supervisor is less of a mentor and more of a tormentor. So, as a subordinate, how can you tell the difference between management and mis-management?

“Start by doing some diagnostic work,” writes John Beeson in “Dealing with a Bad Boss,” for the Harvard Business Review Blog.

“What are your boss’s goals and interests? What does he value? A sense of urgency, attention to detail, getting everyone on board before advancing a proposed initiative?”

These questions can help employees identify their boss’ motivations. Once you understand what your boss prioritizes, it will be easier to predict what tasks with which you will be delegated.

“By helping your boss achieve his goals and communicating actively on those issues he cares about—and doing so in his preferred style—you can begin to build the boss’s confidence and make an imperfect relationship acceptable for the period of time you report to him,” concludes Beeson.

“Also, try to identify your boss’s base of knowledge and expertise and convey a desire to learn from him. Often when a boss feels valued and confident that he is receiving all of the information he feels necessary to do his job, the seeds of a more positive relationship are sown.”

So, next time you think your boss is micromanaging your work, consider this: If your boss is the type of person to feel more valued when his advice or approval is constantly sought, why not preempt the micromanaging and report to him on an hourly basis.

Adapt your working style to your boss’ management style. You may reap the rewards. For example, when your boss feels up-to-date on the status of all your assignments, he may feel it’s no longer necessary to conduct that Friday evening meeting.

Another way to gain insight into the complicated mind of a manager is to simply ask questions.

Not only should you perform a silent diagnostic assessment of your supervisor’s management style, you should also start asking direct questions. Questions demonstrate your tendency as an employee to be detail-oriented, goal-oriented, and cooperative. Answers from your boss may assuage your concerns about their mis-behavior.

If you think your boss is playing favorites, for example, ask a simple question. “Can I be assigned such-and-such important task next time?” If your boss doesn’t trust you enough, you’ll find out. If your boss isn’t actually playing favorites, he should oblige your request.

The more questions you ask, the more insight you’ll gain into a manager’s working style, preferences, and–frankly–their opinion about you.

The point is, before you start placing blame, think hard about whether or not problems with you boss involve your behavior, or their bad behavior. Asking questions is the first step in finding answers.

“In their landmark study, The Lessons of Experience: How Successful Executives Develop on the Job, Morgan McCall, Mike Lombardo, and Ann Morrison found that having a bad boss was actually one of a future leader’s most formative developmental experiences since those leaders were able to identify the ways they didn’t want to manage,” Beeson reminds us in his HBR article.

So if you can’t get inside your boss’ head to understand his bad behavior—if internal analysis and external questioning can’t solve it—then at least feel comforted by the fact that you’re the better for it.



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