It is hard to overestimate the impact your boss can have in your life… good or bad.
On one extreme, your boss can unlock doors you never knew existed, push you to grow and expand your skills, and elevate your career. On the other extreme, your boss can torpedo your work life balance into the abyss of burnout and depression.
In short, your boss (manager, director, partner, etc.) has the power to make work life a living heaven, hell and everything else in between.
But that doesn’t mean you don’t have any power in the boss-employee relationship.
That’s because how you handle the relationship (and the assumptions you make about your boss) will heavily influence the role your boss takes in your life.
To help you establish a powerful working relationship with your boss, below are five assumptions you can safely make about your boss, and one you should not.
#1. Assume your boss is a visual person
Why this is a good assumption: According to research, 65 percent of people are visual learners. So the chances are, your boss is too.
And even if your boss is the rare exception, chances are that someone, whose buy-in you need, is.
What that means for you: Get creative about how you present information to your boss, whether you are using PowerPoint, a whiteboard, an Excel model or just your hands.
Your ability to successfully communicate and get your point across will have a dramatic impact on your working relationship with your boss.
What that does not mean: Don’t get overly creative, just for creativity’s sake. Adding too many visuals or getting crazy with animations is going to be more distracting than helpful. Your goal should be to communicate as clearly and effectively as possible with your visuals, to get the message across (see assumption #3).
#2. Assume your boss is VERY busy.
Why this is a good assumption: Your boss would not have hired you if she’d had the time to your tasks.
What it means for you: Assume that your job is to help her by taking tasks off her table, not the other way around. So every time you meet with your boss, respect her time and come prepared. Respect your boss’ time and you will instantly improve your working relationship with her.
Some phrases you can use: “When would be a good time to discuss this question about our operational procedures I have?”
“Hey, you seem really busy, but I need your input before I give our supplier an answer due today and it will just take a few minutes. Can we schedule a time to sit down and look at this together?”
What that does not mean: That you only bring solutions to your boss. Oftentimes it is helpful to bring up an issue before it becomes serious and get a second (more experienced) perspective (see assumption #5). Or, if you have a problem to bring up, come prepared with one or two possible solutions.
#3. Assume that you are a resource (and will be treated like one).
Why this is a good assumption: Your boss would not have hired you otherwise. The company has problems to solve, and you are one of their means of solving their problems.
What that means for you: Regardless of what industry you are in, find out what specific problems you were hired to solve, and start working on them ASAP.
If you discover a better problem to solve once you get started, great! Raise the new issue with your boss and see which problem she wants you to focus on solving first.
The world is full of problems, and good problem solvers will always be in high demand.
What that does not mean: Just because you are a resource does not mean that you should be treated unfairly or disrespected. You are a valuable asset and a human being, and you should be treated with dignity and respect.
Some phrases you can use: “I was looking at our falling order numbers and spent some time analyzing which customers were not renewing their purchases. It turns out…”
“Remember, we thought that disengaged employees were the reason our low customer satisfaction rating? It turns out that 70% of the customers do not receive their merchandise on time. I’d like to take a look at various vendors who offer mailing services, to see who does it better. What do you think?”
#4. Assume your boss will NOT keep track of your to-do’s
Why this is a good assumption: Your boss is probably busier than you are and has her own wall of to-dos to stay on top of. Unless your boss is a micromanager, you will be evaluated on your progress and accomplishments, not on how you manage your daily tasks.
What that means for you: Unless your company has rigid reporting standards, that means that you will be responsible for managing and tracking your own projects and tasks to completion.
Stay on top of your workload and don’t expect your boss to remind you of things.
What that does not mean: Just because you are responsible for tracking and managing your tasks, this does not mean that you should unilaterally determine what you work on and how you spend your time.
After all, your boss sets the direction and you should adhere to it.
#5. Assume your boss has ambitions outside of their current role
Why this is a good assumption. Because most people do. Even if your boss is close to retirement, your boss is likely working towards something that keeps them going.
What that means for you: Find out how you can help your boss get to the next level. If your boss needs to look good in front of the board of directors during the next meeting to meet a target or get a promotion, help set her up for success.
Making your boss look good and helping her achieve her goals within the company will immediately improve your boss-employee working relationship. On top of that, if you help your boss get to the next level, she might just take you along with them.
What that does not mean: Don’t forget about your own career aspirations. Sometimes, opportunities arise from completely unexpected places, and you should be proactive about fostering luck for yourself.
Also, making sure you’re helping your boss look good doesn’t mean that you should be groveling to them or constantly flattering them. It simply means that you are reaching for their goals too.
#6: Don’t assume you know how your boss likes to receive information
While you can safely make the five assumptions above, there is one assumption that is not safe to make about your boss.
How they prefer to receive information.
That’s because some bosses will want to be updated in person, others with a phone call, others will want to get everything via email, etc.
What that means for you: Make sure to ask your boss how she wishes to be communicated with.
Communication with your boss is one of the most critical elements in your working relationship. That’s why it’s important to have this conversation with your boss as early as possible.
That way you can adjust to your boss’s preferred communication style and ensure a smooth back and forth.
What that does not mean: Your boss may change her mind or may prefer a different communication style depending on what the topic or project is. So keep an open mind and be flexible to allow for any communication style that needs to adjust.
For example, your boss may prefer to receive your research reports via email, but she may like to get a reminder about it via SMS in case her inbox gets flooded.
Some phrases you can use: “Shall I send this to you via email or would you like me to schedule a time to go over it with you in person?”
“What is the best way to communicate with you about this?”
“I’ll plan to update you via email, but please let me know if you would rather discuss it a different way,”