Working successfully with a line-manager who does not communicate well
My manager does not communicate with me. I rarely have scheduled supervision meetings. Any meetings we have are usually ad-hoc. If I send the manager an email or text, sometimes I get a reply, sometimes not. There are things I need to talk about with my manager on a regular basis. How can I handle this situation?
It’s startling that someone is hired or promoted into a position of manager and yet is not an effective communicator. But it happens. Business schools offer few courses on how to talk to customers or labor leaders, how to structure staff supervision or write effective email and text messages. Some people are hired or promoted for technical or project skills with the hope that those benefits will outweigh the lack of other interpersonal skills, including communication.
So, communication problems in the workplace can be due to someone not knowing how to do it, and not having received good supervision themselves. This, of course, does not help you who are now working under such a person.
Communication problems can also be due to misunderstandings about the role of a manager, particularly the middle manager. A middle manager has a dual communication role: communicator and filter. The middle manager must make decisions about operations and direct the work of the staff members. The middle manager must also channel communication from senior leadership – making choices about what to say and how to say it. Some managers have difficulty handling this balance. They prefer to say less than more, sometimes much less.
You have a difficult situation but there are some things you can do.
Request supervision meetings as a means to help the manager: When you do have an ad-hoc meeting with your manager, use the occasion to ask for regularly scheduled supervision meetings. Take the approach that these meetings will help the manager as much as you. You will be able to inform the manager about projects in a timely way so they will be prepared for their own meetings and supervision. You will be able to prioritize the things that are most important to the manager. You will be able to anticipate the manager’s needs.
Ask directed questions: Even if the manager is not responding promptly or at all to you, it is still important to get feedback that you need to do your work. So, don’t give up and say to yourself, “what’s the point of asking, I’m never going to get an answer anyway.” Continue to seek feedback from the manager. At the very least, you will be on record of having attempted to get guidance.
And when asking questions, make them directed, not open-ended. Don’t say: “What should I do next?” Or “What do you think I should do?” Provide choices that the manager can respond to: “Shall I do this or that first?” Offer different action steps you are considering and ask the manager for feedback.
Seek horizontal support: You may also gain support from others in the organization who are at your level. Regardless of your work position, you should be making connections with others in the company. They form your support system on the job. Plus, you may end up working with them more directly in the future depending on the course of your career. You can bounce ideas about your work off of these people to get their feedback. You would be saying, “Of course I am reviewing this with my manager, but I am interested in your feedback too.” These co-workers may also be persons to confide in or to vent your frustration. But be careful. Criticizing a supervisor publicly is not a good move, no matter how well-justified you may feel.
Enlist other direct reports (Propose group supervision): Related to seeking horizontal support, chances are that others who report to this manager share your problem of not having good communication. You could all propose group supervision to your manager. Group supervision differs from a staff meeting. The latter is most often used to share information updates or discuss department or company-wide issues. In a group supervision one or more person would present some of their challenges and accomplishments to the supervisor and the group could discuss and learn from each other as well as from the manager. You might point out to your manager that group supervision would take less of the manager’s time and also allow everyone to learn from each other.
Be a good communicator with your own team and set expectations: Learn from your experience. Communicate in a way that you know is right even if you are not being treated that way. Be responsive to the team that reports to you by scheduling regular supervisions and responding to their questions and comments. Set expectations about the format for supervision and what they should be prepared to discuss. And don’t ignore the ad-hoc meetings. They are important too, especially in the current hybrid work environment where face-to-face and informal meetings occur less frequently.
Communication is a skill that one learns continually. If you are seeking training and coaching on how to communicate more effectively, or if your organization is looking for a way to conduct manager evaluations to improve their performance, please schedule a free consultation to discuss your needs.
I am grateful to my longtime friend and colleague Elaine F. Patterson for her feedback on this piece.
Photo Credit: www.unsplash.com