Matching Your Boss’s Communication Style


Presenting your ideas or monetary requests in a way that resonates with your boss can mean the difference between success and failure. In fact, matching your boss’s communication style isn’t disingenuous, it’s smart business.

“Many IT professionals mistakenly think that technical skills trump style, so they don’t pay attention to what’s going on around them,” said Beverly Plaxington, a human behavior coach and author based in Medfield, Mass. “Then they wonder why they don’t get the rewards they deserve.”

People are drawn to others with similar styles. Here’s how to present your message for the best chance of success.

Determine Your Boss’s Style

Observing the way your boss communicates and interacts with you and your co-workers can tell you a lot about his or her style. Are they “Big Picture” oriented and quick to make decisions? Do they ask for details and take their time before rendering a final verdict? Do they share their opinions, and base decisions on emotions or facts?

“A person’s communication style is defined by four elements,” Plaxington explained. “The words they use, their tone, pace and body language. You can figure out your boss’s style by paying attention to those four things and learning from other people’s mistakes.”

Before approaching a new boss to suggest a major change (such as altering a testing process or investing in a new tool), avoid a baptism by fire by asking for feedback and floating a few trial balloons. “Even if you’ve connected with previous bosses, don’t assume that you’re good to go when you change jobs,” said Karin Hurt, CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, a leadership-consulting firm based in Baltimore. “Bosses think their style is right. Failing to notice the differences in your styles damages your credibility.”

Consider the environment and the challenges your boss is facing. For instance, a big-picture thinker may suddenly become a stickler for detail if he’s under pressure to improve security or documentation. Failing to adapt can lead to frustration and rework.

Align Your Style

There’s a relatively simple way to align your styles: Structure your conversation and edit your content to parallel your boss’s preferred format in terms of pace, tone, body language and detail.

“Framing an idea or request in an identical fashion helps you connect with your boss and shows that you’re paying attention,” Plaxington said.

For instance, a Big Picture boss may decide that you’re not strategic enough for management if you bombard him with minute, technical details, while a detail-oriented manager may conclude that you don’t know your stuff if you skim over major issues during a project update.

When dealing with intuitive “big thinkers,” focus on the long-term benefits when pitching new projects. Use bullet points and omit superfluous details. If they openly share their opinions, share yours. If they’re enthusiastic, use gestures and positive body language. If they speak quickly, get to the point.

If your boss is detail-oriented and cautious, take the time to walk through a detailed project proposal. Anticipate questions, and offer data and case studies to alleviate any concerns. Don’t rush, take your time and try to gain agreement on each point before moving on.

Ignoring your boss’s communication style, or expecting them to adjust, seldom leads to a positive outcome. By matching your boss’s style, you can more easily secure a “yes” for whatever project you’re working on.