How Can I Effectively Address Boss’s Directions?

Effective workplace communication is key to our career. How effective you can address your boss’ directions is a matter of communication tactic. It, in turns, affects your boss’ impression on you, your work quality, your promotion prospects and your salary increment.

For clarity, everyone who is more superior than you in the company’s hierarchy, from your direct supervisor, manager to the CEO, is your boss.

Here are some practical tips to get your career path smoother.

  1. Listen, repeat and elaborate the directions
  2. Predict the workload and communicate
  3. Get final confirmation on the to-dos – Do not make your own decision
  4. Know who your direct manager is when addressing multiple bosses

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1. Listen, repeat and elaborate the directions

“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” – Ernest Hemingway

Listen: When someone gives you directions, listen very carefully. Do not rush to speak. Wait for your boss to finish.

Repeat: Then, repeat your tasks aloud and confirm with your boss.

Elaborate: Before repeating, think broadly what you are required to work out and the overall plan of execution. In your repetition, you will need to elaborate on how you execute the tasks and confirm the work details in your own words.

For example, when you are asked to review a document, you would want to know what the focus is. Is it the scope of service, the potential liability or the payment method? How urgent is it? You will be surprised that your boss may just need a quick check on a few terms if they are consistent with the commercial intention.

Another example – you are asked to attend a client meeting with your boss tomorrow at 2 pm in the office. Instead of just checking your schedule and saying yes, tell him you will book a conference room for him. By saying this, you direct his thoughts on what needs to prepare for the meeting. He may then give further directions on the detailed arrangements.

Going through the “listen, repeat and elaborate” steps can:

  • give you a better memory of the to-do tasks
  • reduce the chance of misunderstanding directions and inaccurate execution
  • confirm the details that you need in your execution
  • test whether your boss has already had a specific execution plan in mind
  • guide your boss through the thought process for more specific directions

Ultimately, the gist of effective workplace communication is to communicate. Do not be afraid to speak, clarify and ask.

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2. Predict the workload and communicate

Once you have confirmed what you have to do, you will need to anticipate the workload.

If the workload is foreseeably heavy, communicate that with your boss. Ask whether you can get help from other members of the team. In your question, you should be able to give a rough estimate of the number of helping hands you potentially need (or at least which area of work you will need help, e.g. digital marketing). At the very least, you should flag that you may need help.

Never delegate tasks without your boss’s directions (unless you are a team head and have your team members).

Before kicking start the assignment, pause for a while and set out a checklist on the steps and resources required for completing the assignment. Once you are done with the assignment, you can review your work products against the checklist to make sure everything is in order.

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3. Get final confirmation on the to-dos – Do not make your own decision

When you arrive at some point which requires decision making, try not to make any decision yourself. Check with your boss. Get his specific (not general) green light.

For example, your boss asks you to arrange for some food and beverages for an open house event at a certain budget and get some quotes from vendors for comparison. After you have done the research, present the options to your boss – do not make any decision for him. Of course, you may let him know your views at the end of your presentation.

If he says you can make the call, you would still want to get his confirmation. You may say “then, why don’t we go for Vendor B”. At this time, he will likely say “ok”. DONE! This last step of getting final confirmation is important. By doing this, you are essentially not the one making that final decision. If anything goes wrong, you will not be the one to blame.

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4. Know who your direct manager is when addressing multiple bosses

Commonly, there are multiple bosses these days, whether your headcount is shared by more than one departments or you have multiple bosses within the team. You will face issues of overloading, conflicting directions and loyalty.

This time we focus on how to deal with multiple directions on the same specific task in a project.

The golden rule is – bear in mind who your direct manager is. You only follow the directions from your direct manager. However, if someone more senior than your direct manager gives you conflicting directions, you will need to see whether this person is your direct manager’s boss (say, the department head):

  • If so, you should reply “sure, I will also communicate this with X (your direct manager).”
  • If not, you should tell him you will discuss and check with your direct manager.

This kind of responses shows your loyalty and respect to your bosses and, meanwhile, avoids bypassing your direct manager to make any call.

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Communicate” is the key to the effectiveness of any kind of workplace communication.  Do not assume you can address your boss’s instructions well by just listening. Always remember “Clarification” and “Confirmation” when you receive any direction.

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