Q: My manager has an annoying habit of talking nonstop about her family. She goes into great detail about her daughter's clothes, her son's sports activities or her mother's latest trip. Although I try to listen courteously, I have absolutely no interest in their activities. I obviously don't want to alienate my boss or hurt her feelings, but this is really getting on my nerves. What should I do?
A: Most people who get trapped by compulsive talkers are simply being too polite. Because they see no way to escape without being rude, they suffer in silence while the speaker drones on and on. Sadly, this only serves to reward the very behavior they would like to discourage.
To extract yourself from your manager's monologues, you must find a way to disengage without being offensive. Fortunately, at work, the need to be productive always provides a valid excuse. For example, if your boss is extolling her son's soccer prowess, just wait for an appropriate moment, then say, "That's impressive. Ryan must be quite an athlete. Well, I suppose I'd better start making those customer calls."
On occasions when you find yourself cornered in her office, the "gradual exit" maneuver may come in handy. Start by sitting up straight and leaning forward in your chair. Then, while you continue chatting, slowly stand up and begin working your way toward the door. By the time you have one hand on the doorknob, the conversation should be winding down.
Another trick is to take control of the discussion by telling a story of your own. When you finish this anecdote, quickly excuse yourself and return to work. Ending a conversation is much easier if you're the one doing the talking. Of course, these strategies only work if they are executed with a friendly attitude and a smile. But if you can pull it off, you may be able to shorten the family saga without insulting your boss.
Boss' inexperience requires teamwork
Q: I work in the marketing department of a community bank. My new manager was given the title of marketing director, even though her entire background is in accounting. She seems to realize that she has a lot to learn, but I still have trouble communicating with her. Having worked in marketing for many years, I'm not sure how to relate to a manager who has no professional qualifications.
A: Being more experienced than your boss puts you in the tough position of having to lead and follow at the same time. To manage this balancing act, try to view this as a partnership in which the two of you share the goal of helping the bank succeed. You contribute your marketing know-how, while your boss contributes managerial skills and the greater influence of her position.
If your manager is reasonably mature, she will value your expertise and use it strategically. And if you are reasonably mature, you will be careful not to flaunt your knowledge or embarrass her in front of others. Remember that making your boss look good is usually a wise career move.