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5 things your boss isn’t telling you (but really should)

Estimated reading time: 4 mins

Contemporary management style and policy constrains managers in what they can say to employees – to protect us from abuse and discrimination. This means that your boss can’t say what is really going through their heads. Your boss might be thinking all sorts of things about you that can’t be said.

Thing is, some of these things really aught to be said…

  1. You could have done better. Your boss won’t be so blatant to say that specific aspects of your work are below standard. Instead they might use passive statements or questions like ‘How about we add this… Maybe it would be better if…’ They might ask for all your work to be routed through themselves, but not explain why. These responses don’t really help us identify the important elements of our work that need improvement. Rather, they take the ‘nice’ approach, and you’re none the wiser. We can help our boss by spotting trends in the specific areas we need more direction and input to achieve, and call it out. As an example, your boss has made several changes within the last few reports you’ve written before distribution; so you could ask your boss if there are specific aspects of your report writing that need improvement.
  2. You don’t deserve a raise, even though your colleagues have received one. Managers won’t lay this one on you. They won’t even tell you that your colleagues have received one (and neither should they.) During this salary review, you haven’t cut it, but not why. Instead, they tell you that there are goals that, once achieved, you will get a raise. Always positive. Emotions are always strong when linked to money. Ask any divorcee that. Managers will avoid the conflict and point you to the future prize, if you perform according to criteria. This area of management is one of the most tricky, but we can help our managers to be more upfront about this by asking about the criteria/measures that were used to assess and allocate raises, and take it from there. Avoid hostility, and be prepared to learn where you fell short – and accept it if the assessment is fair.
  3. You Suck. If you’re really bad at something you’re required to do, you might not even know it. Your boss will have been trained and guided to offer positive support so you can overcome the challenges he/she is observing in you. Sometimes you might even receive encouragement as praise. But what you need to know is that you suck. So you can do something about it. Wouldn’t you rather just know? Most people would. But your boss won’t tell you outright. But you can ask! You could even make it easier for your boss. List all the things you do in your job (your responsibilities) and ask, for each, on a scale of 1-10, how much investment in learning and development do you need. And ask if there is anything missing off this list too. It’s that last question where you might find the nugget of information you need.
  4. You’re a Dick. Your boss can’t assassinate your character, or get personal. They can’t tell you that you’re annoying them, or that your style isn’t to preference. They won’t even measure you on how likeable you are in your Performance Appraisal. But wouldn’t you rather know? So you can adjust your behaviors? But your boss won’t give it to you both barrels. Your colleagues might do. I am not suggesting that managers should be so blunt – but managers should be able to provide feedback about their personal experience of you. If the conversation was not between manager and subordinate, but rather between colleagues, then would this work? Doubtful, because neither manager or subordinate can simply ‘forget’ their relative positions. If you were to receive your personal feedback as an affront, then all sorts of HR interventions and tribunals will follow.
  5. You’re better than everybody else. Your boss won’t tell you that you shine above your colleagues, because they need to avoid favoritism and treat each employee without discrimination. Perhaps you would find out in your next Performance Appraisal, in six months time. But wouldn’t you rather know now? If you discovered that you have a specialism amongst equals, then you could focus on that as a strength and develop it further. You’d know that you’re above standard and gain confidence from it. What’s interesting, though, is if your organization hit hard times and was required to slim down its workforce, managers would force-rank their teams by activity/role. Perhaps a carefully worded question could tease out this information. For example, you might ask “Jane is much better than me at answering customer complaints, and I can’t answer emails as well as Bipin, but I do think that I am the best in the team when it comes to product knowledge – so is this something I can specialize more in, or is there something else?”

Do you agree with these?

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This post is part 3 of 15 in the series You and Your Boss

About the author /


Simon is a creative and passionate business leader dedicated to having fun in the pursuit of high performance and personal development. He is co-founder of Applied Change, a Business Change consultancy based in the UK. Simon is also an Ambassador for Gloucestershire business. Simon is an Associate Member of the Chartered Institute of Professional Development.

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