Simply Said
Simply Said
Simply Said is the essential handbook for business communication.

Communicating Better with Your Boss


Getting along with your boss can be a complicated challenge. One way to foster a good relationship is to understand your manager's preferred communication style. Knowing this will allow you to better understand what motivates your boss and how he or she is most comfortable receiving and processing information.

"We all know that everyone has a unique style of communicating," comments Merna Skinner of Exec-Comm LLC, a New York communication training and consulting firm. She adds, "The key is to use that knowledge to strategize how best to communicate with others."

An important first step in improving communications is identifying your own personal style. Equipped with this information, you can then recognize in what ways you and your boss are alike or different regarding various communication needs. The goal is to not to become more like your boss but to speak to him or her in a way that will maximize their attention and involvement. In Skinner's words, "It all boils down to giving them information in the way that is most familiar and comfortable for them."

Here's a description of the four most common communicator types and some advice on how to best communicate with them:

The Director

This type of manager has a short attention span, processes information quickly and is most interested in the "bottom line". Because they are quick processors of information, it is best to come to them with a bulleted list of conclusions. You will quickly lose them if you burden them with unnecessary background information. For example, if you present them with a written report, they will react best to a succinct and action-oriented executive summary; including support documentation is fine but "more is not always better" for them. They tend to guard their time so always prepare thoroughly before you begin speaking with them and expect interruptions. Plan to start precisely on time and possibly end early.

The Free Spirit

If your boss is a free spirit you will have to learn to be patient. They are typically creative, "big picture" kinds of people who thrive on options but are not always strong on follow through. Their attitude towards time limitations or structure is relaxed so you should be prepared for lots of changes in direction. In communicating with them, give them enough time to assimilate what you have said and think about it. You should respect their need to consider lots of alternatives before making a decision. A manager who works for a "free spirit" often has to diplomatically ground their ideas in reality with timetables and budgets. Because they can be scattered you should also be prepared to discuss lots of topics at once without necessarily finishing one thoroughly before going on to the next. Plan to start late and end late.

The Humanist

For the humanist to be happy everyone else has to be happy too. This type of manager is very concerned with the feelings of others and always wants to be sure that the needs of others are thoroughly met. Be prepared to have anything you present to them to be passed around the entire department for full consensus. Working for this type of manager has its benefits in that they genuinely care about the welfare of their fellow workers; at the same time however, they set a very high standard regarding respectful behavior. The downside is that they are uncomfortable with change and slow to alter past ways of doing things. Communicating with them requires patience and tact. Plan to spend more then your allotted time discussing issues.

The Historian

This type of manager thrives on detail and reacts best to structure and precision. They respect people who always provide them with thorough analyses and background information. They tend to process information in a very linear and methodical way and do not like to jump from subject to subject. Very often they tend to be micro managers who focus on details and process more than ideas or concepts. In communicating with them it is always important to discuss things in an orderly and step by step fashion. Because they are analytical they need to know the "whole story". Plan to arrive on time and remain patient.

Contact: Bradford Agry
(212) 501-8045

Back to list