One of the more challenging situations one can find oneself in is having a boss who consistently gives vague direction. Instead of just clearly communicating what he (she) wants, he drops hints, speaks in general terms and answers questions with one- or two-word answers. The stressful part, of course, is that you find yourself constantly trying to interpret meanings and read between unseen lines. The stress only magnifies when, after you’ve done what you assumed was a magnificent job on something, he comes back and scolds you for ‘not getting it.’
The thing is, most of these bosses really do think they are exceedingly good communicators. Many feel that giving too much detail is a form of micromanaging. Some feel that ‘dropping breadcrumbs and letting you figure things out on your own’ is a progressive leadership style. Others, of course, simply don’t understand why you can’t read their minds.
The solution to the Cryptic Boss is has four basic elements:
1. Don’t make your boss look stupid
Yes, you want to say things like, “A grunt? That’s all you’ve got?” But those sorts of comments should stay with your inside voice.
2. Don’t make yourself look stupid
Don’t just say things like “I’m confused.” The Cryptic Boss will instantly translate these comments into “I’m an idiot,” which will reinforce his belief that he is surrounded by incompetence.
3. Don’t guess
This isn’t Vegas. Gambling is a bad thing
4. Clarify things with a ‘best interests’ format
When you ask for clarification, make it clear that you want it simply so you can ensure the best possible outcome for him. i.e. “Okay, I think I’ve got it. I really want to make sure that I get this right for you, though, so can I ask a couple of questions?”
In fairness to your boss, though, there’s one last thing to keep in mind: Take a look around your workplace. If you’re the only one who is struggling with understanding your boss, it may not be his side of the equation where the communication challenge lies..