When The Boss Says “Do It,” Do It

She’s still trying to get over the bad experience she had at her last job. The guy she worked for “wasn’t that good of a manager.” She let him know when he was wrong or didn’t have his facts right. She was very good at arguing her point. If he gave her an assignment, she would discuss it with him at length and ask lots of questions before doing anything on it.

Is anyone surprised that he told her she didn’t have a job anymore? She is. She thought she was doing the right thing by showing him how much she knows. He really needed her help (or so she thought). But that’s not what her boss thought. Not by a long shot.    

Men go at work the same way they play sports, says Pat Heim, PhD. and author of “Hardball for Women.” The office is a hierarchy. Work is a competition and the singular goal is to win. The team is charged with winning and the coach is in charge of the team. When the coach says do something, you do it. Period. You never tell the coach his idea won’t work, or that there’s a better way. You don’t delay play by peppering him with questions. And you definitely don’t say you’re not doing it (unless you already have your desk cleaned out and another job lined up.)

I explained this to a client a while back and her eyes got as big as saucers. While introducing her newly hired boss to her clients, he took the lead on explaining how an upcoming product test was going to go. She made sure to correct the points he wasn’t getting right. She was the product expert and really understood the details.

“I thought I was giving him my best thinking, but he shot me through with daggers in his eyes.” she lamented. No kidding. Contradicting the boss in front of a client (or anyone else for that matter) will only hurt you. Is the correction really necessary (is someone going to die?) or are you just proving how smart you are?       

Women generally believe they work best when they understand an assignment in context. That often leads to them asking a lot of questions. A male boss can experience questions and corrections as a challenge to his authority. “I just want her to do it. She wants to have a long discussion about it.”

Does that mean you have no chance of contributing your brilliant ideas? It does not. Here’s how to smooth the path for both you and your boss.

Make the boss happy you are on the team.  Do this and he will think you are REALLY smart. Every human appreciates recognition and encouragement. Your boss is no different. If you are going to disagree with the boss, do it in private. Bring solutions not problems.

Get your timing right. Accept an assignment by asking for a clear time/date for completion. Ask “When do you need this?” If you have more questions, get agreement on when to address them. “Will you have time before the deadline or should I hold them until later?” Then get as far as you can on the task before coming back for more information.

Agree on the ground rules. Often times the clash of the genders can be attributed to both sides operating from different cultural norms. Even before an assignment is given, a conversation about your work preferences and his is a useful topic for building a trusting work relationship. “I do my best work when I can see the big picture. So I ask a lot of questions that help me build context. Sometimes that’s too much for people. Just say so.” And if he says stop, then stop.


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