Most complaints about bosses' communication styles are about those who communicate too little. There are a few, though, who just want to gab. They don't have anything to say, they just gab. It's a serious problem for your boss, but you don't have to let it become a problem for you.
Here are some insights and tips to limit the impact of this problem on your own performance.
- Direct or indirect requests probably won't work
- Since your boss is out of bounds, direct requests that the gabbing stop will likely be experienced as criticism or attack. A defensive response or even retribution are probable outcomes. Hinting is dangerous for the same reason, but since hints are less clear, the message is also less likely to arrive.
- Your boss hasn't asked for your help
- Refrain from providing "feedback" or "advice" unless you're asked. Not only is it risky when your boss is involved, but it rarely works unless the person in question asks for it.
- The problem might be only temporary
- If, in your workplace, actual job performance and performance evaluation are correlated, your boss is probably in trouble. Habitually spending so much time so unproductively can't help. If you can wait long enough, the problem will go away, because you'll have a new boss.
- Notice patterns
- Offering feedback rarely works,
because your boss hasn't
asked you for help
- Is there a time of day when you're more likely to be targeted? If so, be sure to be somewhere else if you can. If you can't see a pattern, keep a log — you'll know for sure after a few weeks.
- Exploit meeting scheduling software
- Look up your boss's schedule, and plan to be somewhere else when he or she is free. Schedule meetings for those times, or work in a conference room if you can.
- Exploit flextime and telecommuting
- Consider time-shifting your hours. If your boss is a morning person, arrive later. If you can telecommute on some days, do. If asked why you suddenly changed your schedule, say something about "so many interruptions." Keep it impersonal.
- Sign a mutual assistance treaty
- If others are also affected by your boss's chat habit, make a pact with someone else: if you see your boss chatting with your pal, put in a phone call to break up the conversation. Have your pal do the same for you.
If all else fails, pick up your coffee cup and say, "I need some more coffee." Stand, take a step, turn back, and say, "Join me?" Most people will leave your office with you — few will accompany you to the coffee station. If he or she does tag along, continue the conversation, lingering in a public place — don't return to your office. That will usually force a quick end, and you can get back to work.
For more about feedback, see "Feedback Fumbles," Point Lookout for April 2, 2003.
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