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Do You Have a Bottom Line Boss?

Businessman and businesswoman working in office

© yanlev –

 If your boss prefers to keep things at a high level and just wants the bottom line, and you are more detailed in your thinking and communication style, this may create challenges. The boss may not understand the complexities of what they are asking you to do, or appreciate the hoops you will have to jump through to deliver those results. It is really hard to please that boss or come to a workable, agreeable plan because a bottom line boss hates it when you go into verbal detail to work out those intricacies within your conversation.

I like to describe this situation using two triangles. The first symbolizes getting to the point first and then adding more detail only if needed. Think like a journalist: give a headline and summary, then follow with substantiating details later. This is how the bottom line boss prefers to communicate; though he or she may stop after the headline and give no specifics.

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The next triangle has the point on the bottom, which symbolizes that the bottom line is the last thing that is said. A lot of details are given before the person finally gets to the bottom line. If this is your style of communication, you may lose your listeners or make them impatient while they wait for the point of the matter – the bottom line – to be revealed.

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What to do?

  1. Just say yes. When your bottom line boss gives you an assignment, resist the urge to explain all the steps or think out loud. It’s fine to walk through the project details in your head, but if you verbalize that process and go into too many steps, the boss will think you are not going with the flow, are overly complicating things or worse yet, unsure of yourself. They last thing you want is your boss to lose faith in your abilities. By talking out all of your questions or comments, you will irritate a bottom line boss, who tends by nature to be impatient. He or she won’t wait for you to finally get to the bottom line. If you go into detail at this step, the boss may get defensive and frustrated, and you will have a real problem on your hands and wonder how that happened.

  2. Come back later. Take time on your own to analyze the situation, write a high-level project plan and then go back to your manager with an update. Do the thinking for the boss and come back to him in his preferred communication style. For example, “You wanted to improve our selling process. I analyzed it and have made progress on it. I defined the project into three parts and I need you to select option A or B so our team can move ahead. What do you think?” You are keeping your points high level and bottom line. You’re making it easy for your boss to understand you, make a decision, and let you get back to work.

  3. Be bottom line yourself. In your communications back to the boss, plan what you want to say and flip the triangle so the point is on the top. Get to the bottom line first and only add substantiating details if you need to. Take the boss’s lead; if he or she asks questions, go deeper.

  4. Use simple communication tools. Keep written communication to a minimum – one-page reports with the project name, the deliverables (high level), the main categories, the timeline and the possible risks. Use clear, easy to understand graphics.

  5. Wait it out. Even if you feel the boss’s idea is not a good one, or is an impossible request, just wait. The emotion will not be as high if you speak up later. As well, your boss may not really understand what he/she is asking for and time will help bring more clarity. If your boss is a big idea generator, they may even move on to a new idea, and you won’t have to address the issue after all.

Here’s the bottom line for dealing with a bottom line boss:

Speak in bottom line terms. Flip that triangle so that the point is on the top and you save the detail for only when the boss is ready to hear it.

Do you have a bottom line boss? How have you adjusted your communication style to make it work? Please add your comment below, or share with me on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or email.



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