Steve recently joined the sales team in an analyst role. Being early in his career, Steve is learning to juggle projects and communicate sufficient detail to his boss. Steve often goes to a more senior colleague, Jeff, for advice.

A recent conversation between Steve and Jeff went something like this:

Jeff: “Hey, Bud, what’s up?”

Steve: “Not much.”

Jeff: “You seem off today. What’s up?”

Steve: “It’s Doug. He’s micromanaging me again. What do you do when Doug is too involved in your projects?”

Jeff: “I tell him to butt out.”

Steve: “Really? You tell him to butt out?”

Jeff: “More or less, yeah”

The next day, Jeff walks into a meeting with Doug and their conversation went something like this:

Jeff: “Hey, Doug, how are you?”

Doug: “Irritated. Can you believe Steve told me to ‘butt out’ of his projects today? Who does he think he is!?”

Jeff: “Wait, his actual words were ‘butt out’?”

Doug: “Yes. Those were his exact words. He’s got strong feedback coming his way later today!”

While you might expect me to share feedback on Jeff’s approach with Steve, I’m not. This isn’t Jeff’s issue to fix. This was Steve’s mistake.

Without considering his personal style or what might be the most effective approach with his boss given their own 1-to-1 relationship, Steve ran with Jeff’s input verbatim. While “butt out” might work for Jeff in his communication with the boss, it certainly may not be the best approach for Steve. In this case, it wasn’t. Steve made a political misstep with his boss that will take a little time to repair to regain trust.

Finding your communication style is a little like trying on new clothes. Look around for styles you like, try them on and see what fits you best.

Had Steve taken a little time to consider his best approach, and perhaps asked Jeff more questions, he may have learned that Jeff is actually never that abrupt with their boss. In fact, Jeff uses actual feedback such as, “Thanks for offering to help, Doug, but I have this covered now. I’ll let you know if anything changes and I’ll bring you in right away.”

Sometimes, it’s best to try before you buy – meaning, think through your approach before trying on a new communication style.  A peer or trusted colleague can be a great sounding board to test your approach and get feedback.

Practice makes perfect.

(Steve was able to recover from his mistake. He was recently promoted to Account Executive and now reports to Jeff.)

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