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I am currently volunteering as a corporate English coach (of some sort) at where I work now (the COE of an industry leading IT infrastructure provider in China). Recently during a training session a Chinese team manager came to me for advice on how to combat difficulties communicating/dealing with an American boss from another GEO (US Eastern).

As I observe the language skills of this manager are not part of the bottleneck here as she is far more than capable of expressing herself adequately in English. However, located at two vastly remote sites of different GEOs this manager and her boss work completely different hours and has between themselves very limited opportunities for face to face interaction, practically as rare as occasional teleconf. And to add insult to injury her boss proclaims NOT to be an email guy (how her boss, with this special trait, manages to hold down an upper management role at an organization of such calibre is certainly beyond my widest dreams)... Which is to say the majority, if not all, of her emails are ignored or at least rarely afforded due attention by her boss regardless of their importance . Any chance of effective communication between them has hence been virtually reduced and confined to weekly hour long one on one meetings occuring at late nights for her and early mornings for her boss... And no, her boss doesn't even take calls from her during his office hours either, saying it can wait till they catch up at weekly meetings.

The above situation gravely undermines this managers ability to perform tasks and drive initiatives that require the approval of the her boss. She finds it hard to talk everything through during weekly meetings, especially to win the support of her boss to acquire critical resources that need the nod of the boss. Her immediate concern for now is that her team is seriously burning out and in dire need of reinforcement, but her boss is not giving her requests due consideration given this difficulty to communicate, with her requests constantly subject to flipant, spur-of-the-moment dismissal by her boss during the meetings.

I told her to keep sending emails and thereby set defaults in the absence of any response (i.e. I am convincdd that we should do abc to achieve xyz . If I do not hear back from you by some date I would presume you agree with me and I would set out to make it happen). But that doesn't really help when she needs her boss to act and play with her. What else can she do?

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    Given your line about the boss not taking phone calls during business hours, this really has nothing to do with language, timezones, or emails. The boss is uncommunicative and standoffish, period. – John Feltz Jan 12 '17 at 16:32
  • If your boss doesn't like email, then find a time to call. Split the time difference to make it fair. – WorkerDrone Jan 17 '17 at 12:20
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It seems that this American boss is just refusing to do his job. If the Chinese manager doesn't do anything about it, she will not be able to do her job, as she already observed.

She first needs to figure out the power situation. If things go pear shaped, will she have support from local management in her location? Will she have a job if her team fails (as it very well may, without any fault of her own or her team)? If the answer is no, she can try to take some action.

One way is sending emails like "We need to decide XYZ. I think the right thing to do is ABC. So unless I hear otherwise from you, I will do ABC". That is generally a good way to do things anyway; shows your boss you are proactive, saves him work, things go along quickly, and no problem if the boss thinks another plan would be better. Works very well with the time difference, because she can send an email like this in the evening, boss has all day time to think of it, and she can act in the morning without any waiting.

If the boss "is not an email person" which is just a different way of saying "doesn't care one bit about his job and the people he is responsible for", well, the email is the evidence needed to cover her ass, and no reply is a reply.

  • It's also good evidence of the lack of managing by her manager if it comes down to it. – Jane S Jan 17 '17 at 12:13
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    I see some cases where the usual way of dealing with this is after some mails, forward (not a new mail, forward from your sent box) it to his superior to get things done. I am not sure it is the best move still – Walfrat Jan 17 '17 at 12:54
  • @Walfrat, I agree, definitely not the best move and a surefire way to piss off your boss. Personally, I'd go through my HR's employee disputes, if they had such a body. – Teacher KSHuang Jan 18 '17 at 7:52
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Personally, and this might contradict what most people are used to, but I would just continue doing my job as needed to the point where my boss would have to call me.

Meanwhile, I would log all my actions and decision-making (perhaps by emailing myself) to cover my butt.

Lastly, I would not continue to email the boss because he has obviously already asked me not to email him.

But I might check with HR and let HR know about this issue of "a physical inability to communicate with my superior" and steps I have taken to pro-actively adapt to the situation, i.e., logging all my actions and emailing myself.

I would log this action as well.

This way, I still cover my butt, do my job, keep from angering my superior and have gone through prescribed channels for resolving issues between employees.

What do you think?

  • I just think in cases like these, I would feel disenfranchised and so in order to feel empowered again, I would just ignore my uncommunicative boss and just do what I needed to do, but also log everything in case he lies. – Teacher KSHuang Jan 17 '17 at 12:03
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First thing I would suggest, is that she should make sure that her inquiries need her manager's intervention. Maybe she could find a solution through other channels.

The fact that her boss ignores systematically her attempts obviously shows lack of interest. Now weather this is because undervalues her department or is due to his poor management skills is something that only she can possibly know.

Maybe she could try to draw his attention by copying his manager or other managers that could be affected by his actions on the emails as well. We agree that escalating issues is not the best thing in terms of building a healthy relationship but in some cases it is necessary.

Finally, if she thinks that her team needs reinforcement and she is right the results will show sooner or later. Under performance will definitely draw his attention. What remains for her is to have justified responses when he will start asking questions. Of course, this hides some dangers, especially if the manager is not very reasonable.

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