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Communicating with a scatterbrained boss

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Question:  “I work for a manager who thinks I can read her mind. She will come rushing up to my desk and say something like, “Did he come pick it up?”  Because I have no idea what she’s talking about, I ask what she means. Then she looks at me like I’m an idiot for not understanding. This happens all the time, and I’m starting to get really irritated. How do I deal with her weird communication pattern?” —  Not a Mind Reader

Marie’s Answer:  Although your boss might seem like a complete space cadet, she may simply have a nonlinear thinking style. These freewheeling communicators often drive more structured people crazy.  Here are some suggestions for coping:

•    Recognize that your manager’s brain works differently than yours. Because nonlinear thinkers rapidly jump from one idea to another, they sometimes make remarks that seem completely off-the-wall. However, they also tend to be creative people who can quickly grasp new concepts. 

•    When your manager asks a puzzling question like, “Did he come pick it up?”, don’t say “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”  Instead, calmly reply, “No one has picked anything up today” or “John picked up the budget report.”  Then wait to see if her next comment clarifies the situation.

•    If your boss has other redeeming qualities, try to view her mental gymnastics as an amusing personality quirk. This shift in perspective will simultaneously decrease your blood pressure and increase your job security.

Given that you work for this woman, you do need to control your irritation. Otherwise, your relationship will deteriorate and so may your career. 

For additional tips on interpreting people’s behavior, see Understanding Work Style Differences.

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