Updated: May 25
Have you ever encountered a time when you submitted a project late, or you didn’t quite get the calculation correct on an analysis report, or a client complained about your response to them? Your boss might not tell you directly that he/she is angry with you, so it’s important that you pay attention to their body language and tone of voice. For example, your boss verbally tells you that they understand that mistakes happen and that they are not mad at you however their brows are furrowed, eyes are squinted, shoulders jutted forward, and their jaw is clenched. Every ounce of their body language and tone are communicating that they are mad, disappointed or highly irritated with your mishap. And this discourse leaves you horribly confused.
So, what do you do? And how do you interpret the misfired communication expression that your boss has just conveyed? Interpreting communication from someone, especially from your boss, can be consuming and tricky when the messages are inconsistent. Paul Watzlawick, a psychologist well known for his contributions on Communication Theory, put it this way, “One cannot not communicate!” Frankly stated, even if someone does not say a word they communicate very strong messages and they do so with their bodies, their facial expressions, their posture and stance, their eye contact and movement, their hand gestures, their attire and the distance and space that they create between you and them. And those elements of nonverbal communication often send a greater message then the actual words that they say. So, when your boss communicates a message to you and their nonverbal message is different or in opposition to their verbal message you probably are cued into interpreting the nonverbal messages as they speak the loudest. Regardless of whether your boss tells you he/she is angry or you figure this out on your own, you need to address your boss’s anger. Here are three steps how to do that.
Breath Deep and Depersonalize
Reflect for a moment and take some deep breaths. Responding quickly and shooting from the hip is reactionary. Whether you are standing or sitting evaluate your body tension; are you rigid and tense? Try to relax your body starting from the top at your head and face, moving down to your shoulders, your torso and then to your legs and feet. Take a few deep breaths and get in a mental headspace where you can respond in a way that is calm and composed. Once your physical body is as relaxed as you can get it then do some head work. Tell yourself that you are not going to take your bosses reaction personally however you are going to deal with the mishap. In an article entitled Use Feedback to Your Advantage from Forbes, the author indicates that feedback is information. Remove your emotional reaction and be open to hearing information that may be useful to your professional growth.
Take Stock and Review the Mishap
Now that you are in a better headspace and frame of mind, evaluate the situation at hand. What was your role in the mishap? Was there truth in your bosses’ feedback? Were you late, inaccurate in your reporting or impatient with a client? Evaluate your performance and do your best to review it objectively. Don’t make it bigger than it was or smaller. Try to create a realistic impression and identify the recipient’s evaluation of your work. Take stock in how you handled it and determine your performance areas you that were less than ideal.
Execute a Plan to Improve
Based on the assessment of your work performance, determine what plan will best remedy the situation in the short and long term. Do you need some time management help? Can you have someone check your calculations and numbers prior to submitting an important report? Do you need to practice, and role play strategies with a colleague, so you can best deal with clients who push your buttons? Identify the mishap and specific areas you can focus on for immediate and sustained improvement. Let your boss know that you are aware, understand their concerns and have a plan so these mishaps are less likely to occur again.
Interpreting and responding to messages that your boss communicates verbally and non-verbally is an art and a science. Using these three steps can be the launching pad that will allow you to respond to your boss professionally and permit you to reflect and utilize feedback to your professional advantage.