You know this kind of boss. What they say and how they say it leaves you completely befuddled about what they are trying to convey. To add to this, they might be yelling while delivering this completely incomprehensible tirade. Are we having fun yet?

Just because they’re the boss, doesn’t mean they are a pillar of perfect communication. Effective communication is one of the singularly important, yet difficult business practices to master. When you ascend to the power throne, communication is a critical part of the job. Just because the bad boss has the job, doesn’t mean they automatically master the skill.

Communication is a two-way endeavor. There is the giver and the receiver. Both people have a function to perform. The giver has to convey the message in such a way that the receiver has the best possible chance of comprehending it. The receiver is not passive. The receiver’s role is to ensure their understanding of the message. The best situation is one that can be interactive through questions and validation. Even doing that, it just doesn’t always work well. Also, it’s not just the boss communicating to you; it’s you communicating to them. There is nothing worse than a bad boss who looks like a deer in the headlights after you speak to them.

The primary career issue with a poor communicating boss is that it can impact your performance due to misdirection and misunderstanding. Poor performance leaves a bad impression with those around you and is the opposite of career enhancing. No one really cares if the genesis of your poor performance is the boss. You’re expected to push through it. You have to change your behavior, because you can’t expect the boss to.

What can you do to be more effective with a poor communicator?

Different people “take in” information in different ways. In the past decade much has been said about learning styles. Essentially, what is being taught is that not all people comprehend information/communication the same way. Some people do well in person and oral. Some people do better with things that are written, presented, or with diagrams, and sometimes even with demonstrations. If the boss isn’t giving or receiving well with the primary mode, switch it. I had a boss who was truly bad in their oral delivery. No amount of questions for clarification changed it. I started asking her to email her direction and thoughts to me; and the communication really improved. She was a good writer and expressed herself better using that mode. She received just fine with oral discussion, she just couldn’t give it. You need to start looking at what part of the communications is not working and change it.

If they’re yelling. If you are at all like me, you stop listening whenever someone starts yelling. You’re overcome with the emotion and impact of that delivery. It’s also demoralizing to be yelled at. You should consider a private discussion about the issue of yelling and help them understand its impact on you and your work. You might also learn a few things about the boss that will help mitigate some of those reactions. I once told my boss, right on the spot “If you really need for me to hear you, you will have to stop yelling”. Short and sweet. It worked.

Validate your understanding. I see many people fall short in this area. You need to test if you understand a message by asking questions and playing back what you think you heard, in your words. Many people simply receive a message, get confused and walk away. That will not help you.

We can all use ongoing improvement in our communications. You might even suggest a department training on effective communications or at least read up on the subject. It will enhance your skill set and make you more effective, even when you have a bad boss.

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