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When your manager is difficult

They’re always wearing a frown, criticizing staff, and shooting down ideas. They are a storm cloud, blocking out sunny moods and lightheartedness. They are difficult managers.

Many of us have had the unfortunate experience of dealing with a difficult manager at some point or another. It’s amazing how a single person can sour the mood of an office, isn’t it? Their callous attitude can bring everyone down, deflate motivation, and squash innovation and creativity.

How can you possibly defeat such an energy vampire? Isn’t it easier to simply quit your job and find better management elsewhere?

Even though it can sometimes be difficult to overcome an unsupportive manager, there are a few methods you can try before raising the white flag and heading somewhere else. Start with the following five tips:

Remain calm

The way you react to your manager can have a profound effect. If you return a snippy attitude with snippiness, or if you return anger with anger, you’ll only end up more frustrated. Instead, work on detaching yourself from your manager’s poor attitude. The next time he riles you up, remove yourself from the situation (physically or mentally), count to ten, and think about the encounter logically. Is it worth it to respond in kind? Probably not. Instead, find your inner calm and return childish behavior with calm reason.

Refocus

Although it may take significant effort on your part, it is best to focus on a task, not the criticism. Unless your manager has good reason for her critiques, it is best to let them slide off your back. Strategize and forge ahead as best you can, keeping the goal—not the criticism—at the center of your mind.

Be direct, if possible

Sometimes, it’s a good idea to be direct with your manager. If one of his criticisms seems off-base, ask him to explain what he means and how you and your team can perform better next time. Alternatively, you might try bringing up your feelings in a one-on-one meeting with your manager. Let him know how you’re feeling, why you’re feeling that way, and what would make the situation better. Use the D4 model of feedback as a guide and be sure to bring up specific examples.

You’ll have to be brave to directly face your manager, but honestly, what do you have to lose? Sometimes a direct approach can be a breath of fresh air. It’s possible your manager is unaware of the profound effect of his words and actions and simply needs someone to point it out.

And if your directness completely flops? It may be a sign that it’s time to move on to greener pastures (but be sure to consult a career coach before doing anything too drastic!)

Have perspective

An article by Liz Ryan of Forbes Magazine encourages us to see our difficult managers as minor parts in our lives. She says, “Eventually you reach a point where no manager can make you fearful, because you realize that any boss is just a bit player in your movie. You are the director and the star. You could leave any boss at any moment and it wouldn’t kill you — it wouldn’t be ideal perhaps, but you’ll survive. Keep that in mind!”

Ask what you can do better, specifically

It’s possible your manager’s expectations are simply not aligning with your work. The only way to find out is to ask for specific feedback on specific projects. Small changes in your work may have a big impact on your boss’ attitude.

Be empathetic

If your manager suddenly becomes more grim and angry than usual, it’s possible she’s going through a rough patch in her personal life. Many of us leave our personal struggles at home and cover up hardships as best we can in the workplace. This might be the case with your difficult boss. With that in mind, be empathetic and understanding. Don’t take harsh words too personally. Remain calm and talk to your boss as an individual, not as a brutish machine, out to get you. Your empathy may make all the difference.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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Buzzwords lack clarity

They come in the form of KPIs, ROIs, or CTAs. They are the low-hanging fruit, the synergy, and the ballpark figures. They want to help you drill down, push the envelope, create a survival strategy, and do some heavy lifting.

This is the corporate speak that tends to spin its way into our conversations. It’s fine to use it every once in a while—especially if your audience is familiar and comfortable with the language—but it’s usually best to keep jargon to a minimum. It ends up clogging up conversations, confusing potential customers, and muddying the meaning of a sentence.

Simply put: If too much jargon is used, clarity is lost.

Instead of using a euphemism for a term, express what you actually mean. Instead of asking someone if they have “the bandwidth” to perform a project, ask them if they have the time, resources, and appropriate support. You’ll end up getting a more specific, straight-forward answer rather than a simple “yes” or “no” reply.

Be especially careful with corporate speak when you’re meeting with prospects, new clients, or potential new employees. Businesses tend to use industry-specific terminology which may be difficult for others to interpret. For instance, a company with a global presence might use the term “business process outsourcing” (or BPO), while a company specializing in education might use the term “digital literacy.” In both cases, the terminology may feel natural to those within the industry, but could confuse those outside the industry.

Language matters. The terms you use can contribute to an open, inclusive environment, or they can obfuscate meaning or leave certain people feeling confused or irritated. Do your best to use clear terms and don’t forget to ask for clarification when you need it. Chances are, if you’re confused by an acronym or unusual turn-of-phrase, others will be too.

Let’s aim for simplicity and precision in our workplaces! If you’d like some additional guidance, be sure to check out my short video on clarity.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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Whether we’re talking about an individual or a large corporation, branding is important. As an individual, your personal brand is what others see—the qualities (whether good or bad!) and the characteristics that comprise your reputation. As a company, branding is similar. It’s the reputation that people associate with the company when they hear its name or see its logo.

When many people hear the word “brand,” they think of a logo or tagline. They might see the McDonalds arches, the Nike swoosh, or the green and yellow of a John Deere tractor. But there’s more to it than that. Much more.

On an individual level, how you look and what you say make a difference. Of course they do. BUT, your appearance and your words pale in comparison to what you DO. You might be the sharpest dresser in the office, but if you fail to turn in your work on time, you’ll be perceived in a negative light.

Your appearance and your words pale in comparison to what you DO.

Similarly, a company may have a knock-out logo and a great tagline…but those elements mean nothing if they can’t deliver a quality product or service.

So what does make a quality brand? What are some of the factors you can put into place to elevate your personal brand in the eyes of others? (The same guidelines apply to both individuals and businesses!) Consider these four…

1. Put others first

Make other people the center of everything you do. Whether co-workers or clients, consider their needs and how best to serve them. In order to do this, it’s essential to get to know others on a deep level. Listen carefully to any concerns and frustrations, as well as positive experiences. Constantly ask questions and begin to develop an understanding of those with whom you work (be they your customers, team members, or boss).

2. Be authentic

Others can see right through a faux personality. Let your best self shine!

3. Check your ego

As much as you’d like to take credit for the success of an entire project, be sure to give credit where credit is due. Acknowledge the achievements of your team members and be sure to tell them you appreciate their contributions.

Additionally, keep in mind that your ideas are not the only ideas. Build a positive personal brand by being inclusive of others and open to their thoughts and opinions.

4. Be bold with your ideas

Much like a company, individuals are more likely to be successful if they are innovators. If you have a bold new idea, talk about it! Create action. Present your idea to your boss and ask permission to pursue it. This kind of bold, self-starter behavior is what many bosses look for when considering who to promote. Just make sure to present your ideas in a respectful way that opens the door to a discourse…not a “my way or the highway” speech.

5. Focus on the day-to-day

How you act, what you say, and what you do every day can either build or detract from your personal brand. Don’t underestimate the importance of your daily interactions. Your consistent, positive presence is important for building and maintaining your brand.

Make sure your daily actions are, in general, supporting your big-picture goals. If you’d like to, for example, rise to a leadership position, think about how your typical to-do list offers opportunities to achieve that goal. What can you do to put your big-picture goals in the center of your day?

 

As you work on building your personal brand, remember: success doesn’t usually come over night. Focus on small actions and interactions. Everything matters.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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