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He's a great guy, but it feels like he's always in meetings or going to conferences or on the phone on long calls. He has told me that he really enjoys those interactions. He and I work somewhat different hours, though with a core set of overlapping hours in common.

How can I improve our relationship and bring up issues that are slowing me down? There are some aspects of the work, the approach to take and the people that receive it that need to be discussed in a 'back-and-forth' manner, so the conversations we need to have are not suitable for emails.

  • 1
    Could you provide more information about the standing meetings that you do have, and how information typically flows already? – jcmeloni Apr 20 '12 at 10:38
  • You can also arrange a lunch appointment. – Reinstate Monica - Goodbye SE Apr 20 '12 at 11:59
  • Good feedback Chad, I've updated the Q with some more detail. Thanks for not just closing it :) – Michael Durrant Apr 20 '12 at 14:00
  • What kind of job do you have? Do you work in the same place as him? How often do you need to interact with him: is the problem that you need frequent interactions and you're not getting them, or that you need the occasional managerial decision and you're left in the lurch? – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Apr 22 '12 at 22:35
38

It's usually as simple as scheduling an appointment. It might sound formal, but it's a lot easier for him to limit distractions when he can plan ahead for you. Our team has a 15-minute meeting every morning, and my manager schedules one-on-one appointments with everyone every two weeks. Between those two we cover 99% of our communication needs.

12
  1. Try to keep a fixed regular meetings rather than agenda. E.g. we do weekly project review or bi-weekly status meeting or something. And keep reminding him. this works better than specific agenda meetings because it sets the rhythm and he probably keep in mind that i need to dedicate time.

  2. Use calender as much as possible. So even if he doesn't honor the meeting actually, as number of instances of lost meetings grow, you will get some attention.

  3. Keep him posted - of all events, consequences. Many people (specially the busy ones) focus only to attend the top priority. So when you keep sending message they will respond automatically when they find it important enough. Don't wait for meeting to discuss to send out important message.

  4. Catch him for few minutes in corridors. Sometimes leaving them with a small agenda (puzzle in their minds) is enough to activate them rather than an elaborate meeting. What you should look forward is to bring his focus to the key issue leaving so many details. Don't fight to get more time.

  5. What do you need him for? If you need for decision making - you should put up the context right to him along with deadline. But if you need his time to learn new things or understand some processes or systems, find alternative sources for information. Sometimes bosses don't really have time for coaching everyone.

  6. Last but most important. Keep going on your own! Don't get bothered so much about getting appointment. Many of my team members feel what you said - i don't give them time. Sometimes, i just don't have to. I Know things are in control, i know people are doing their job well enough and i don't need to intervene unless something break; but they just feel disappointed not to find my time; rather they should have felt happy about being empowered. [Judge him on this before you use this tip.]

7

Boss management is in important work skill. The need to communicate a particular item through a face-to-face meeting can fall into three general categories:

  • Urgent information he must know as soon as possible
  • Things that need to be resolved today
  • Things that can wait until a good time

Each of these needs to be handled slightly differntly.

If it can wait until he has some free time, simply send him a meeting request using the first available free moment you see in his calendar. Make sure to specify the topic. If there is some infomation he needs to see in prepartion for the meeting attach it to the meeting request or send and email with the attchments or links to where the information can be found.

Things that need to be resolved today require a bolder approach. First, know how you boss likes to communicate. When he is in meetings or on calls, does he read his emails or use IM? If so send him a quick note describing the situation and why it needs to be discussed today and asking him to make a time to squeeze you in. The magic words to use are: "If this doesn't get resolved today, we may not be able to meet the deadline." Do not however use those words unless they are true. No one listens to the boy who cried wolf.

If he doesn't checks his emails or IM during a meeting, you may need to get a bit more creative about finding out when the meeting will end and conveniently being near the conference room when it does, so you can ask him when he can give you the time you need. Make sure to tell him how much time you need in your request. If I need only five minutes or less, my boss will often go to the next meeting just a little late.

Finally there are genuinely urgent issues. These are typically only involving either issues concerning things already in production or upset clients. I make it a rule to never let my boss get blindsided by urgent issues that he hears about from someone higher in the organization than he is. So if he is on the phone, knock on his door anyway and go in and say, "I'm sorry to disturb you but such and such has come up." Sometimes I write those words down, so the call isn't disrupted if he is on speaker phone. I don't often know what his call is about or how urgent it is, so I then let him determine if the call or my issue is more critical. Normally my boss will either tell the call that something has come up that he has to deal with and set the meeting to be completed later or he tells me something like, "This call will be done in five minutes, I'll come get you when I'm off." In the second case, I leave until he can get back to me.

Same thing if he is in a meeting. I will knock on the door, open it slightly and say, I need to talk to _. Usually the manager then comes to the door and I tell him the problem and the urgency and he decides to leave the meeting or not. The key to this is not disrupting the meeting unless the issue is genuinely urgent. The server room is on fire is urgent. You have to leave right now because your spouse died is urgent. The CEO is going to want to talk to you about why client XYZ is upset as soon as you are free is usually urgent. I need a decision on XYZ that isn't due to production for three weeks is not.

If you are having trouble connecting well with your boss, it is possible that you and he have different ideas about the urgency of the issues you want to discuss with him. Perhaps you need to have a meeting to discuss how he would prefer to be contacted and what issues he would see as urgent enough to interrupt him.

6

Invite your manager for lunch or coffee, i.e. your treat. Consider:

  • Chances are they'll accept – even though there's really no such thing as a free lunch.

  • You'll get face time to discuss some of what you're concerned with ... but don't make it all about work.

  • Your manager may reciprocate and invite you to lunch another time.

  • 1
    Most managers in the US will decline the invitation because it puts them into the position of "obligation" to the employee. – Karlson Apr 20 '12 at 15:42
  • 2
    @Karlson Sometimes, yes, depends on the company culture and nature of the relationship with one's manager. Yet, I wouldn't hesitate to try! Even if your manager rejects such an invitation, there should be goodwill in having made a gesture, and there's a follow-on opportunity to say "Could we schedule some other time to meet, then? I've been meaning to talk to you about ___." – Chris W. Rea Apr 20 '12 at 16:06
5

Consider "selling" your manager an idea of regular 1:1's.

Be prepared that this might be a tough sell though - this practice is not (yet) widely adopted and you'll likely need an authoritative reference to bootstrap it. For such a reference, consider an excellent article The Update, The Vent, and The Disaster:

...I’m not suggesting that every 1:1 is a tortuous affair to discover deeply hidden emergent disasters, but you do want to create a weekly place where dissatisfaction might quietly appear. A 1:1 is your chance to perform weekly preventive maintenance while also understanding the health of your team.

...The sound that surrounds successful regimen of 1:1s is silence. All of the listening, questioning, and discussion that happens during a 1:1 is managerial preventative maintenance. You’ll see when interest in a project begins to wane and take action before it becomes job dissatisfaction. You’ll hear about tension between two employees and moderate a discussion before it becomes a yelling match in a meeting. Your reward for a culture of healthy 1:1s is a distinct lack of drama.

A very strong point of above article is that it is self-contained, in the sense that besides explaining benefits, it also provides a set of practical recommendations basically allowing one to start practicing regular 1:1's without digging into other sources (although looking for additional information won't hurt, you know).

Keep in mind that change like this might be "too fundamental" to approach it in one step - at least it felt that way to me when I first tried it - really like the world turning uʍop ǝpısdn. Consider gradual introduction, like eg having a test run for 2-3 months, involving part of team members (2-3) for a start - just to get a feeling how it works for you and to adjust details for your environment.

The last but not the least, don't expect meetings to be necessarily pleasant for you. To me at least, it was not the case - I felt slight discomfort no matter whether the meetings were with friendly or unfriendly manager. Guess that has something to do with my preference to communicate with computer rather than human beings. What helped me to deal with discomfort was looking at the bigger picture so to speak - I felt that uncomfortable meetings were more than sufficiently paid back by greater peace of mind I had "in exchange" for the rest of the week.

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