Why your boss is difficult

Are you the engagement survey assassin carving up your boss, or are you the boss and victim having to explain to senior management why your team’s scores are so dismal? Naturally, the very top bosses rarely ever get surveyed, so they can be totally sanctimonious about your low scores.

Research informs us that Japan is a bastion of bad feelings and unhappiness, leading the world in low scores in business. Even taking out the “Japan bias” of conservative scoring, the results are still pretty miserable.

We also know from research that the biggest factor in lack of team engagement with the ideals, direction and aspirations of an organisation is the poor relationship staff have with their boss.

Good communication skills are often in short supply with bosses and this leads to unhappiness. It is not that bosses cannot talk; in fact often they do nothing but talk. It is the way they speak and the thinking behind the words that are inflaming their subordinates.

Bosses can be limited by their own preferred scope and style. The latter may hit the target with those who are more like them, but leaves the rest of the troops underwhelmed, uninspired and unhappy.

Bosses are often oblivious to the idea of diversity, but I don’t refer to the main consideration of diversity in Japan: the lack of inclusion of women in the workplace. Diversity means variations amongst the team in terms of communication preferences.

There are lots of tools for determining this, ranging from the exotic—blood type, Chinese zodiac (both very popular in Japan), Western astrology—to the more scientific, such as personal assessment tool DiSC and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personal inventory. If you don’t happen to carry this stuff around in your pocket, here is a guide to determine the best communication style.

Picture a horizontal scale of assertion—low on the left and high on the right. This axis shows to what extent you have a strong opinion on things, state that opinion and speak very forthrightly, confidently and often loudly.

Add a vertical scale, where the top indicates high people orientation, and the bottom, high task. This axis signifies care and attention to people around you and how they feel: the classic “people person”. Task orientation relates to outcomes, results and getting the job done—regardless.

We now have four hints to guide our communication. The top right quadrant combines both assertion and a people orientation. Often salespeople, actors and trainers fall into this group; they like people and seek to influence those around them. For communication with them, don’t focus on gritty detail, but instead move to discussions about big picture issues.

Their diagonal opposite in the bottom left quadrant loves detail, proof and statistics to three decimal places. Talk in terms of micro detail with this group ,which is often made up of accountants, technical people, scientists and lawyers.

Of the other two types, the outcomes-focused person is assertive and task driven. Often company founders and scary chief executives, with a strong “time is money” mantra fall in this category. Don’t beat around the bush or waste their time. Be direct, confident and succinct; they won’t mind.

Their opposite is the non-assertive, people-oriented, sensitive type, who are modest, shy and usually the glue behind the scenes mopping up the damage caused by their diagonal opposite. Taking time, speaking softly and talking about how people feel about things appeals to this group.

We can quickly tell which style people are by carefully listening to what they say and how they say it. Mirror their style and our communication improves. We like people who are like us, so communicate in their preferred style, eliminating barriers.

The boss may not be difficult after all, just different. Bosses and subordinates can very quickly become multilingual in style terms and much more effective in their communication. Life gets better when we can get on the other person’s wavelength and surf that wave together.