One of the conventions of Star Trek is that all alien life forms can communicate with Star Fleet Federation vessels in perfect English. Communication is made via the Universal Translator, a device that permits fluent two-way communication. Sadly no such device exists between employee and managers.
All too often communication breakdown between boss and direct report because neither is speaking the same language, albeit they are speaking in a language common to each. The problem lies not in words but in expectation. For example, the boss wants an overview but the employee provides granular detail. Or vice versa. So unlike in Star Trek neither is truly communicating with the other.
So here’s a quick way to ensure that you are both meeting each other’s expectations.
One, get on the same wave length. When there is a communication disconnect, have a conversation on the topic, not around it. That is, exchange ideas about how you each other like to receive information. Updates can be handled via email; issues should be handled face to face. Establish a baseline for how often to communicate and about what issues. Managers can show trust for employees by asking for outcomes only on routine matters. Likewise employees can show respect for managers by providing them with timely and meaty updates on significant issues.
Two, tune into the conversation. Listen to what the other says. This is not as easy as it sounds because when boss and employee know each other well the temptation, and exacerbated by the pressure of deadlines, is to leap to conclusions. No, ease up on the schedule and pay attention. You may end up saving a good deal of time.
Three, do a quick brief-back. Put simply, either party, preferably the boss, recaps the conversation in their own words. The other party confirms the details. With a good brief back, a technique practiced by our military, boss and employee gain agreement on next steps.
If you apply these tips, you will in effect be creating your own translator. The only problem is that it is not universal. It is specific to your boss or your employee. You need to “re-program it” for each boss-supervisor relationship you have. But here’s the good news. Once you do it a few times, you’ll become expert and just as in Star Trek be able to communicate with any alien (boss or employee) you encounter!
John Baldoni is an internationally recognized leadership development consultant, executive coach, author, and speaker. In 2009, Top Leadership Gurus named John one of the world’s top 25 leadership experts. HIs newest book is Lead Your Boss: The Subtle Art of Managing Up (Amacom 2009).