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Managing Broad Strokes

Dear Workplace Communication Expert,

I’m writing about my manager.  He is not detail oriented at all. Often he gives me half the instructions I need in order to get a job done correctly. I find myself doing a lot of guessing and playing catch up. I’m all about the details, and his big-picture approach is making me crazy. Is there anything I can do to make this better? Other than this issue (granted, it’s a big one), I adore working for this man. He’s very smart, generous, and well respected. Help!


Dear Jennifer,

Here’s the good news: you work for someone you like. Many people would gladly change places with you. Not everyone is as fortunate, and from your note, it sounds as if you already know that. Regarding your concern, you appear to have a style conflict. You’re precise, and your boss is a big-picture person. Interestingly, that may be a good thing. You’re good where he isn’t. When we hear about situations similar to yours from participants in our training courses, we recommend they have a heart-to-heart conversation.

The key to approaching the topic is in the setup. For illustration purposes, we will assume your boss’s name is Doug. “Doug, I’d like to talk to you about my work and how I can best support you.  Do you have a minute? Great. I’ve noticed that I’ve been doing a lot of guessing and scrambling lately, and I think I know why. I’ve realized I need to get clarification about what’s expected before I jump in and tackle tasks. What I think would be helpful to me is a quick morning check-in and another in the afternoon if needed. I don’t think it will take that long, and I believe the time invested could help us both and speed up work in the long run. Would that be okay? Super. I have a few items with me here I would like to discuss. Is not a good time, or should we connect tomorrow morning?”

If for some reason Doug were to tell you he liked your work and thought you were doing a fine job, say thank you. Then refocus and try again. “I appreciate you saying that. Interestingly, I think I can do better and more with a little more input. Can we try it my way for a week?”

Given how you describe your boss, this approach should work. Keep us posted, and good luck!