Mark Murphy, Senior Contributor
July 23, 2020
More than 10,000 people have taken the online test " Which Types Of Power Do You Use? " and the data shows that around 60% of executives and managers don't feel like they have enough power to accomplish all their goals.
Those goals could be implementing a new change, enforcing new policies, tightening budgets or adapting to remote working. But regardless of the goal being pursued, when leaders don't feel like they've got enough power to accomplish something, they get anxious and frustrated. And as you might imagine, anxiety and frustration can lead to a more autocratic leadership style (which a recent study shows most people dislike).
Here's the good news: You can eliminate a lot of your boss's anxiety and frustration, and immediately better your relationship by asking them one simple question:
What's one thing that I could do, or do differently, that would make your life easier?
This seems like an incredibly simple question, but there's quite a bit of psychology behind this exact wording. Here are four reasons why this question is so powerful.
First, I'm the one taking the initiative to ask for some feedback; I'm not waiting for my boss to come to me. And this point can't be overstated.
One of my studies called " Fewer Than Half of Employees Know If They're Doing A Good Job " found that only 29% of employees say they "Always" know whether their performance is where it should be. Meanwhile, well over half of employees "Never," "Rarely" or "Occasionally" knew.
This data means that bosses are not especially comfortable giving performance-related feedback to their employees. And to further that point, when we asked managers about their comfort giving feedback, 81% said they've avoided giving employees tough feedback because they were afraid of bad reactions from their employees.
By taking the initiative to ask the boss how I can make their life easier, I'm taking the burden off of them to approach me (something that they're likely hesitant to do anyway). And I'm also signaling to them that I truly want to hear their thoughts.
Second, I'm only asking them for one thing that I can do or do differently, and that makes this question much easier for them to answer. It would be pretty off-putting to have someone walk into your office (or call you on the phone) and out-of-the-blue demand to know all of the things that they should do better. My bewildered mind would instantly race through a series of questions, like: How am I supposed to answer that? Where do I begin? Can I have a few days to think about it?
Instead, I'm just asking for one thing. And that one thing doesn't have to be a brand new something; it could be one thing that they'd like me to do a little differently. If I asked you to think about each of your close relationships, I'm willing to bet that you can come up with one thing you'd like each of those people to do a little differently. Whether it's your spouse, kids, neighbor, friend, colleague or whoever, there's undoubtedly a little tweak that you'd like each person to make. And I promise that your boss has one little tweak they'd like you to make.
Third, I'm asking them how I can make their life easier, which is a very non-threatening turn of phrase. Imagine that a new hire walked into your office and asked, "what can I take off your plate?" or "how can I make you even more effective at your job?" Unless their tone-of-voice was absolutely perfect, lots of people would find those questions somewhat threatening. Even if I'm currently feeling overworked, it would be natural to feel uncomfortable with someone taking away my work tasks.
When I approach my boss, I need to be mindful that they're also likely to feel a little threatened if I'm too aggressive. But when I ask how I can make their life easier, I'm conveying that I'm not after their job or looking to encroach on their territory; I simply want to be helpful.
The final reason this question is so powerful is that it can signal when you've got a real problem in this relationship. If I ask my boss how I can make their life easier and they say, "you can't," that response could signal we've got a deeper problem in our relationship.
Now, perhaps they were stressed or tired on that particular day, so I might wait a few weeks and try again. But if I still don't get a response, then this could be a sign of more serious problems. And if that's the case, I need to take a hard look at the history of our relationship and any feedback they've given me in the past. Maybe the boss is just a jerk. Maybe they gave me some feedback last year that went unheeded, and now they're angry. Whatever the situation, this one simple question is an easy way to gauge the health of the relationship.
By Mark Murphy, Senior Contributor
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