Use Your Influence: Nine Tips to Combat Tough Boss Syndrome

By Alan Vengel

August 2006

Do you have a boss who

• Changes priorities often, giving you one direction then suddenly sending you off in a different direction entirely?
• Changes priorities but doesn’t inform you?
• Doesn’t give you timely feedback on your work, so you don’t even know if you have been successful?
• Doesn’t have the time to show you appreciation with a "Thank you” or a "Hey, good job?”
• Micromanages every little thing to the nth degree?
• Is a "Big Picture” type, giving you a sense of what needs to be done but no real direction?

If any of these sounds familiar—or if you have a different, difficult scenario with your boss—you are experiencing Tough Boss Syn- drome. Don’t despair! You can empower yourself to get what you want and need.

The key is influence, which is not manipulation, but rather the ability to shape someone’s behavior positively. You can get the results you want and simultaneously build a better relationship with your boss when you influence him or her to be more communicative with you.

Most tough boss problems center on communication. With better communication, you can influence your boss more effectively and with less effort. Consider the following questions and actions.

"How does my boss like to receive information?”

How much information does your boss like to have? And what’s the best way to deliver it? The easiest way to find out what your boss prefers is through straightforward communication. Ask, "How do you like to receive information? When? And how much detail do you like?” Or ask peers who already have successful relationships with the same boss.

How much should I involve my boss?

Some bosses feel they need to be included in all decision-making while others are more hands-off. Micromanagers, for example, have a strong need for control. While you can’t change their personalities or argue away their tendencies, you can find ways to influence them to tell you exactly what they need to know in order to feel comfortable without infringing on your need for autonomy.

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 these problems, you will be a better influencer. Though you can’t force your boss to disclose problems, you can offer: "If there’s something you want to talk to me about, I’m available for that, and I have the skills to help you in those areas. The door is open for you to talk to me.”

How can I make clear to my boss what I want?

Don’t be shy about asking for what you want. When your boss can give it to you—more responsibility, coaching or a corner office—ask for it. You may initially have to work up your nerve, but you will earn the respect of your boss, even a tough one. A majority of bosses say that they wish their employees would just come right out and ask for what they want instead of being evasive, timid or passive-aggressive about their needs and wishes.

Do I need more responsibility or less?

Do you feel like you’d enjoy more responsibility in order to have a sense of accomplishment and to make your job more interesting? Or are you overburdened and stressed out so you’d like less responsibility or a different type of responsibility? Either way, you’re in an influence situation and need to ask for what you want.

Responsibility also means not being a victim; responsible people make changes when they find themselves in a situation they can change. 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. Ask yourself, "What can I do about this?”

How can I make my boss’s job easier?

Influence and negotiation are very similar; basically, everything’s a trade-off. You can make your boss’s job easier by doing something you know he or she isn’t very skilled at or feels burdened by. Offer to help by doing this for a few hours every week, while influencing your boss to relieve you of work you don’t want to do. Create a win-win situation when you offer your boss a mutually beneficial deal.

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 make him look good in the eyes of his or her boss and/or customers. If you can do this, your boss will be much more likely to listen to you and grant your requests.

How can I offer my boss feedback?

As people move up in an organization, the amount of feedback they receive lessens. In fact, upper managers and CEOs often feel as if they work in a void 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 positive feedback and encouragement to continue. Be prepared to offer constructive criticism if asked, but remain aware that sometimes bosses need a simple, sincere statement of praise for a job well done, just like you do.

What’s the best way I can influence my boss?

Most communication problems with a tough boss result from misunderstanding. Influencing your boss requires a good pair of ears and some patience, so really listen to your boss’s expectations and challenges. On a regular basis, 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 know that you have correctly heard what’s been said.

Don’t Stop With Your Boss

Everybody loves to work with somebody who listens, cares and understands. 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 is about.

Though these tips are specifically for tough bosses, you can easily use them in all of your relationships, including those with your colleagues, customers, spouses, kids, parents and friends. When you practice your influence skills and experience the positive changes, you’ll want to use your influence to turn all your relationships from tough to terrific!

About the Author
Alan Vengel has more than 20 years of experience as a consultant, speaker and trainer. He has developed skill-building programs, including the award-winning The Influence Edge. He is the author of The Influence Edge: How to Persuade Others to Help You Achieve Your Goals and Sprout!: Everything I Know About Sales I Learned from My Garden. Vengel has worked with hundreds of organizations including Microsoft, Cisco Systems, Xerox, Intel and Honeywell.

For More Information
To learn more about Vengel’s services, visit www.vengelconsulting.com or call (925) 837.0148.