One of the things every working person  learns is that the hard part about having a job has nothing to do with the work on your desk.

If the work is confusing or complicated, you can ask someone what to do or find another way to get the information you need.

The work itself is the easy part. The hard part about having a job is the human part!

Bosses are confusing at times. They don’t say what they mean. They say one thing on Tuesday, and then they change their mind and they don’t tell you!

I had a boss one time ask me “Have you got your reservations for the trip to Las Vegas?”

“What trip?” I asked. “I don’t have any plans to go to Las Vegas.”

“What do you mean?” he asked me, in a sudden panic or rage – I couldn’t tell which. “You’re going with me to Las Vegas next week!”

“That’s news to me,” I said. I saw my boss every day. He had never said a word about a trip out of town. He must have thought he told me about it, but he didn’t.

“I told you about it,” he said. I tried to stay calm. “Have you ever known me to forget about an upcoming business trip?” I asked him. “I think you forget to tell me. That’s okay. If you still want me to come with you, I can do it, but the airfare will cost a fortune now because the travel dates are so close.”

Suddenly I had an insight. Why would my boss spend the money to bring me on a trip with him if he didn’t need me there? He did. For some reason he wanted me along for moral support.

Every boss has moments of fear and anxiety. If you become a manager or if you’re a manager already, you will have them too!

Fear and hostility are two sides of the same coin. When managers get fearful, they can act in very strange ways! They can get hostile, the way my old boss momentarily got upset with me. I calmed him down, but the lesson I learned that day stuck with me.

Bosses get fearful just as easily as anybody else does, if not more so!

If you want to read your boss’s mind and stop getting blindsided by off-the-wall requests or random displays of anger and other strong emotions, here are three things to remember.

Managers Forget What You Tell Them

Some years ago I went to a series of sales training workshops. There I learned, among many other things, that buyers forget almost everything they talk about with salespeople. In sales training, salespeople are taught to expect a prospective buyer to forget eighty or ninety percent of what you and they talked about.

It’s the same way with managers. They are busy. You will have a thoughtful conversation with your boss, and that will  lead you to believe you and your boss are on the same page. It’s not true! Every time you talk with your boss about a particular topic, you have to go back to the beginning. You can’t say “So, we’re almost to the finish line with the new manual.”

Your boss is likely to say “What manual?”

You have to go back to the starting line and say “So Angie – remember that the salespeople asked for a manual to help them understand the new product features?”

“That rings a bell,” Angie will say. Then you’ll say “Well, I’ve been working on it for the past month. The manual is almost ready. Would you like to see it?”

Your communication with your boss will get easier and better when you remember that they have forgotten most of what you told them – and most of what they told you!

Managers Get Anxious About Their Own Performance

If you want to read your boss’s mind, keep in mind how your manager is evaluated at the end of the year or the quarter. What are the most important metrics and the most important goals your manager is responsible for?

Your boss may have told you “This project you’re working on is our highest priority!” but that was then — this is now! It doesn’t matter when your boss told you what your highest priority was. It could have been yesterday. In a manager’s world, things change fast!

Keep in mind how your boss’s boss evaluates your manager’s work. Remind your manager when you’re working on something that is close to the top of his or her priority list. Managers get nervous about lots of things, but especially about the things that will hit them at their annual review if they aren’t perfect.

Your Manager Has a Home Life, Too

We are all aware of our own commitments outside of work, but your manager has commitments at home, too. If you want to get inside your manager’s mind and understand his or her thinking, keep in mind that your boss’s job is not his or her only priority.

I had a boss one time who was dealing with a very difficult situation at home. Her teenage son got in trouble at school and then dropped out. Then he got into trouble with the police and my poor boss could hardly function.

Before we could talk with our boss about anything during that time period, we had to start out by making sure that she could focus. “Is your son doing okay?” we asked.

She wanted to talk – and who could blame her? Anyone would, in the same situation. “So much better,” she’d say on some days, and then we could talk about workplace topics.

On other days, she’d say “He’s not doing that well – I’m so worried.” On those days, we’d back off. Why talk to a person who can’t hear you?

One of our mottos at Human Workplace is “Follow the energy.” We all know when the energy at work is lively and when it’s dead. When your boss can hear you, jump on that wave! When he or she can’t, don’t push it. You are a complex, vibrant human being and so is your manager.

You’ll get better at reading your boss’s mind — and everybody’s mind around you — when you take each person’s perspective and see the world through his or her eyes. It’s a good skill to cultivate. You can start right now!


What have you been experiencing with your boss? What do you think about this? Leave us a comment!