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Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Can you be too Assertive?

A question I am ofen asked during training or coaching sessions is whether a person can be too assertive... I suppose the immediate answer is "Yes, definitely!" It is a common worry of my course participants that they will learn to be too assertive and will become a pain by being constantly "in the faces" of their friends and colleagues.

I have to admit that the idea of anyone, including myself becoming so clear about their "rights" and their "needs" that it scares other people off. Nobody likes to be bombarded with "me, me, me" do they?

However, I feel that the problem lies not with the model of communication we call "Assertiveness", but with our commonly held misunderstanding of the term. I remember on several occasions in the early days of my career as an employee, that a manager or a colleague would return from training all psyched up to be "more assertive". The problem was that the transformation was actually quite laughable. They would strut their stuff around the office, tell people in no uncertain terms what they wanted of them, and would have no problem in expressing their discontent about important issues such as washing up the tea mugs.... oh dear, it was truly a forerunner for the brilliant TV classic "The Office". If if wasn't so funny, it would be tragic!

So... what has been going wrong? Is it because people are so fed up of not being heard, of being a doormat and of not being appreciated that one word of permission to be assertive, and they swing to the other extreme? Or is it that they just haven't understood the true meaning of the assertiveness model, or how to put it into practice? I think it is probably a bit of both. Nobody likes to feel out of control of their own situations, and yet so many people find themselves unhappy with the impact of other people's power and control over them. Whether it's a domineering boss, or a pushy customer, or an insistant colleague... it's just so much easier to let them get away with it, than causing a scene or upsetting the equilibrium. The trouble is that when these issues are left to continue, resentment builds up. And a build up of resentment can often lead to either a spontaneous and embarrassing outbust, or (not so) subtle signs of irritation. Clearly, an unhappy situation. The solution? Learn to become more assertive of course! Oh dear - you can imagine another David or Davina Brent is born...

In my opinion, the real solution is definitely to become more assertive - but to learn how to do it effectively. The first step is in understanding that assertiveness is not just about knowing and asserting your rights. It is also about knowing and fulfilling your responsibilities. These being: to assert your own ideas and seek to get your own needs met, whilst valuing and respecting the rights and needs of others. Without these important responsibilites, any attempt to be assertive immediately becomes aggressive. For example, you may wish to take time off from work at short notice... previously you may have worried about it all day, and gone to your manager apologising profusely for the inconvenience and telling them that you understand if it's not possible. This is clearly an example of passive behaviour. Nothing wrong per se with passive behaviour, but the consequences are probably that you don't get your needs met. So the next time, you have a go at being more assertive. You go into your manager's office first thing and tell them that you'll be leaving early today. OK?... That's definitely more direct, and less grovelling, but without giving any option for the manager to have an opinion, or any recognition of the consequences is actually quite disrespectful and therefore aggressive. Imagine if you were that manager and had someone come into your office and speak to you like that! I wouldn't blame them for thinking that the assertivenss training was a bit of a mistake!

My point is that the second scenario is not a person being too assertive. It is actually a person trying to be assertive, but in fact being aggressive. True assertiveness is highly respectful, it involves clear and direct communication about needs, but it also includes empathy, and helpful suggestions, as well as leaving room for negotiation. In this example, a person behaving assertively would choose a convenient time for the manager to have a quick chat. They would briefly explain their reason for wanting time off, and would suggest how they could minimise any impact on the team.

So... can you be too assertive? I don't think so. In the same way that you can't be too respectful, or too balanced, or too reasonable. It is definitely time to understand the true nature of assertive communication, and to stop giving it a bad name, by mistakenly aggressing others in the name of assertiveness!

I'd be interested to hear your views and experiences of working with people who are naturally assertive, or who have really mastered the art of putting the theory into practice. Or perhaps you have a story to share about someone who transformed themselves overnight into a real life Mr or Ms Brent!

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Building Trust and Rapport

An ability to establish rapport and maintain trust is a crucial 'soft skill' - particularly for internal or external consultants, advisers, customer service staff, negotiators, or project team members. Without trust and rapport, your attempts to influence will be severely hampered, and your ability to work collaboratively will be diminished.

This was really brought home to me recently when I received a sales call from a company who we have been advertising with for a couple of years. (They shall, of course remain nameless, but if you're reading this C, you'll know who you are...!) Anyway, in a nutshell, we'd agreed to advertise on their new website 2 years ago, with promises of great things (first mistake!). At the end of the first 12 months, no results - no enquiries, no stats to back up exposure... nothing. So we were told it was probably because we hadn't paid enough and needed to enhance our entry. "OK" I eventually said... lets try again... so I paid slightly more for a second try (second mistake!). 12 months on, and I receive the call asking for a renewal again. "Well" I say, "We still have had no response - my own website stats show no links from your site to ours." He went away and gathered some of his own stats: just over 300 people had seen our information on their site in the past year. His suggestion...? "You're obviously not getting enough exposure, so how about you double your investment and you'll be more likely to get some results...?"

Of course I was a little naive to accept the suggestion to keep trying a year ago for the same fee, but to double it this year!! I was horrified. He explained that there are no guarantees - I didn't say it, but I thought to myself: "Yes there are, there's a guarantee that I won't be paying you another penny, and unless I get something to show for my money over the past two years, I am guaranteed not to endorse your company to any of my associates...!"

I told him it was like telling someone who is losing at roulette to double their stake as this will enhance their chances of winning. The conversation went on, with him trying to sell me more 'product' and me trying to explain that this was no longer a sales conversation, but a customer complaint. 300 views in a year cannot be considered value for money. Fortunately I managed to speak to the Marketing Director, and we discussed the situation in detail. He empathised with my position and said he wouldn't insult me by asking me to 'throw good money after bad'. The good news is that the company is now looking for a way for me to get some results from the money I've already invested in them. The Director took the time to find out what the problem was and accepted that a) I was probably sold the wrong product, and b) I had not received any ROI. It won't cost them anything to put the situation right, but they'll keep a customer and potentially turn me from a complainant to an advocate. What a RESULT!

I'm still waiting for the final outcome of the above scenario, but I remain hopeful. It required a lot of persistence on my part, but actually it was a useful experience and it gave me a clear contrast between two intelligent articulate guys, one of whom broke my trust and destroyed any professional rapport he'd built within a few minutes. The other was able to win me back with his empathy, ability to actively listen and willingness to accept where they had made mistakes.

Here are some tips on establishing rapport and building trust - see how many you use to create strong professional relationships at work:

Establishing rapport is an essential part of any conversation. It helps to build mutual respect, and helps to move people away from suspicion and/or ritualistic behaviour. Rapport building involves building empathetic and respectful relationships and having an awareness of conscious and unconscious acts. Establishing rapport is the first step in any face-to-face encounter, and an essential part of any conversation. When you know a person well, establishing rapport can be immediate. With strangers, more time and effort is needed.

Tips for establishing rapport
  • Greet people warmly
  • Maintain comfortable eye contact
  • Radiate accessibility – show that you’re approachable
  • Use peoples names (not too often, as it can appear patronising)
  • Match your speech to the other person’s
  • Be aware of body language – try to be open, calm and confident
  • Share a little information about yourself in order to form a personal bond
  • Select appropriate topics to talk about – particularly during your first meeting
  • Encourage the other person to talk – avoid interrupting
  • Pay full attention to the other person – listen actively
  • Be flexible to the preferred style and personality of the other person
  • Be sensitive to the occasion and environment

    When you are with friends, or in a social context, these skills are applied relatively naturally. In a work context, it is easy to let “professionalism”, formality or nerves get in the way. Remembering that colleagues are also human beings, with emotional needs and feelings should help to ensure that you apply the same rapport building skills as you would outside of work. There are a number of techniques that can be used to establish rapport, but they will only really be effective if they are matched with an inner commitment to use them appropriately and with integrity and discretion.

    Remember that too much small-talk can be distracting and can slow things down when there are more important things to discuss. Try to find a comfortable balance between setting the tone within the first couple of minutes, and moving on to the matter in hand. If you appear to be too contrived, you will be thought of as manipulative and untrustworthy.

    Trust is a reciprocal process that is at the heart of our willingness to interact with others openly and honestly. Our own experiences in life leave us with a set of beliefs about others’ intentions towards us, and this in turn affects how much trust we exhibit in others. Words such as na├»ve are often used to describe people who give too much trust in others and reticent and sceptical for those who show no trust. Getting the balance right is essential. A key factor of successful influencing is therefore to find a way of successfully getting the balance right.

    Tips for maintaining trust

    The following factors have been identified to encourage the trust of others. Clearly there are some that you can do less about than others, such as personal attractiveness or having a trustworthy role… However, you may find it useful to bear the others in mind when trying to demonstrate your own trustworthiness:
  • Demonstrating expertise, knowledge and experience shared with others
  • Having a trustworthy appearance (wearing appropriate clothes)
  • Being attractive to the other person
  • Having a trustworthy role, such as doctor, priest or lawyer
  • Developing an empathetic, respectful rapport
  • Being open and honest
  • Handling confidential information with sensitivity and respect
  • Keeping promises (only making promises you can keep)
  • Being fair, and avoiding discriminating unfairly or unlawfully
  • Taking responsibility for your actions/mistakes
  • Providing timely information
  • Being competent at your job
  • Being up-front and clear in your communications
  • Allowing people to make their own decisions (not being ‘over-pushy’)
  • Being comfortable with expressing an opposing opinion to your own
  • Displaying positive non-verbal behaviour, Eg: an open posture, eye contact, firm handshake
  • Offering unsolicited help with a problem
  • Listening to other people’s concerns, without judging them or their actions
  • Allowing people to involve you by providing your time selectively
  • Acting responsibly and professionally at all times
  • Providing timely information and/or resources to meet people’s needs
  • Providing people with honest feedback about performance
  • Sharing a business or personal confidence, but not someone else’s personal concern – that’s gossip
  • Keeping your promises, and only making promises you can keep
  • Acting consistently with your words – acting true to what you say are your beliefs

    As with rapport building, there are a number of ‘techniques’ that can be used to establish trust, however they are unlikely to work unless you have a genuine commitment to using them with integrity and discretion…

    • We'd be interested to hear your own experiences of working with people who either a) have a fantastic 'knack' of forging strong working relationships, or b) have lost your trust in them by their one-off or ongoing behaviour. We look forward to hearing from you!

      Tuesday, 24 July 2007

      Soft Skills Training – How to Get a Return on Your Investment

      A hard case for Soft Skills
      During the last decade there have been significant changes to working practices throughout the UK. In order to keep pace with increasing competition, many companies are requiring higher levels of productivity and higher quality from their employees than ever before. This, together with the move away from traditional hierarchical structures to team-based working, has brought about a greater need for new skills and strategies amongst employees at all levels, particularly in the areas of teamwork, leadership and communication. Indeed, there is compelling evidence that suggests that companies that consistently value and invest in the personal effectiveness of their staff are more likely to meet the increasing challenges of national and/or global competition.

      “The development of an organisation's people lies at the heart of its overall development and growth” - Investors in People

      Hundreds of millions of pounds each year is spent by business in the UK on soft skills training, but how big is the return on the investment (ROI)?

      Whenever budgets become the driving factor in decision-making and training strategy, courses without an obvious ROI are often the first to get the chop. This is understandable - if the results are seen as short-lived, and perhaps intangible, then it’s simply not worth the investment. Course participants may find the training useful, practical and enlightening on the day, but a month down the line? Are they really using the skills and continuing to implement their learning back in the workplace? Despite good intentions, have they returned to their familiar, but unproductive habits?

      Having worked with a wide range of different organisations in various sectors over the years, we are well aware of the need for sustainable improvements in the soft-skills. We have also discovered that long-term improvements can be made, but only where there is a change in attitudes and often company culture, which can only be achieved through a longer-term, proactive strategy.

      Here we reflect on the difference between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ skills training, and discuss some of the ways we believe will help to achieve more permanent results from soft skills training that deliver the essential ‘return on investment’.

      Hard skills vs. soft skills
      The term ‘hard skills’ relates to the skills and knowledge required to carry out the technical and administrative aspects of an organisation's business. These include IT skills, knowledge of financial procedures, ability to operate equipment and competence in administration. These skills are relatively easy to observe and measure as there are clearly defined ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ ways of doing things. For this reason, they're also easy to train.

      The ‘soft skills’ are entirely different. The skills of communication, listening, giving feedback, solving problems, delegating, negotiating, motivating others and resolving conflict (to name but a few) are typically much more difficult to observe and measure. They are also more difficult to train, because unlike the hard skills courses, people usually come along with deep-rooted behaviour patterns that are learned throughout their lives, and not just at work. Individuals learn how to deal with countless inter-personal situations and challenges by observing how other people do things, and by experimenting for themselves. They then stick with what appears to work and usually with what gives immediate benefits or relief. The ultimate result is that everyone ends up with a unique approach to interacting with others. Some of these learnt behaviours may be effective, but others can be counter-productive.

      Changing habits
      Introducing any new interpersonal skill is far more difficult than learning a new technical skill, because it almost always involves replacing old habits. As behaviour patterns are physically established at the brain cell level, any new pattern, even one that makes sense, and one that is desired and expected, will still feel extremely uncomfortable and difficult to achieve. The only way to replace old behaviour patterns is to introduce new behaviours that consistently prove to be more successful. Furthermore, only with regular reinforcement will new brain pathways take over from the old ones.

      When an individual returns to a workplace from training, more than anything else they need ongoing feedback, guidance and encouragement.
      Understanding how the brain is involved in the learning process helps us to understand that the only thing that can create permanent behavioural change is frequent reinforcement - over the long term. If an individual truly desires to change an interpersonal behaviour, and is supported by the ongoing encouragement of a knowledgeable mentor or coach, then new patterns can be established. Soft skills training programmes are of course an important first step. They provide an essential introduction to tried and tested ‘models’ of behaviour and best practice. They also ignite the motivation to change. However, after the course is over it is the ongoing reinforcement of desired behaviours that has to be provided to ensure that the changes are implemented.

      An organisation may invest heavily in a people skills training programme, but unless active reinforcement after the event is planned, the results will be limited and the investment wasted. This explains why even a well designed and delivered training programme cannot by itself change ingrained behaviour patterns. Without on-going and frequent reinforcement, even people who want to change are likely to return to their old, comfortable patterns.

      Before commissioning any training provision, it is essential to conduct a thorough assessment of existing competence. The easiest, and arguably most effective way to do this is through 360-degree feedback, which provides a fairly objective assessment of skills that are often difficult to observe and measure. Analysis of current people skills enables priority areas to be identified. This in turn enables training providers to deliver the right courses, to the right people at the right time, so funds are spent wisely. The assessment process also acts as a powerful tool for self-awareness and therefore becomes an effective motivator for change. Repeat assessments can be useful for identifying improvements and for encouraging on-going personal development.

      Develop helpful attitudes towards change
      Developing individuals and teams requires the winning of hearts as well as minds. Simply developing knowledge and skills without shifting attitudes so that people are willing to embrace change, take on different approaches and new practices, will not ensure that real lasting changes will be made. Although knowledge and skills development is clearly very important, equally important is enabling learning to take place by identifying and removing any individual barriers such as resistance, doubt, self-limiting beliefs and negativity.

      The personal development required to move individuals from rejection of change towards acceptance and commitment requires high levels of emotional intelligence, including self-esteem and self awareness, and an awareness of, and respect for others. In order to assist people to accept change, managers need to be able to encourage and motivate course participants prior to, as well as after training.

      In-house versus external delivery
      External (public/open) courses can be particularly cost-effective for training small numbers of employees. Attendance can be arranged to suit the individual, it can be arranged with little or no notice, and it gives participants the opportunity to have a glimpse into other people’s worlds at work, which can be extremely inspiring. However, sometimes people struggle to apply what they have learned on their return to the workplace. If everything at work remains unchanged, the returning trainee will find it extremely difficult to implement and sustain the required behavioural/practical changes to make a difference.

      Whilst in-house training for the whole team requires a little more logistical planning, it means that every team member shares the same training experience. Well executed training exercises in which colleagues from all levels work together as equals, in a safe and structured way has tremendous benefits: it brings a fresh perspective to all and increases team understanding and rapport. It can also enable more open communication and exploration of any conflict or tensions, allowing individuals to voice their frustrations and seek joint solutions constructively.

      The benefits
      Whilst qualitative results are hard to quantify, we believe there are many tangible benefits to investing a little more time to ensure that soft-skills training is as effective as it can be. These include creating/enabling:

      • dynamic working culture – Team members become better equipped to problem solve positively and proactively, and they have the determination to strive for excellence.
      • successful implementation of change - Effective leadership, individual motivation and improved communication brings active involvement, and commitment to planned changes.
      • increased satisfaction – Improved communication and an open, dynamic working culture improves overall satisfaction and commitment.
      • reduction in staff turnover - A more satisfied and committed, less stressed workforce is less likely to move on. Salary and other benefits become less important when team members feel respected, appreciated and supported.
      • more efficient meetings - Open and honest communication, and effective facilitation of meetings saves time and improves collaborative problem solving and decision-making.
      • meeting of deadlines – More effective communication and negotiation between departments means that targets are more likely to be met because of increased transparency, trust and rapport.
      • increased productivity – Through effective leadership, improved motivation and communication, individuals and teams are better equipped to achieve results.
      • saving of managerial time - Improved team communication and collaborative problem solving results in fewer conflicts and fewer demands on management time.
      • reduction in complaints – Improved collaboration, negotiation and resolution of problems results in fewer grievances, and a reduction in internal and external complaints.

      In summary, 'Soft Skills' Training can and does offer ROI through sustainable and valuable improvements, particularly when:
      1. It is strategically linked to individual, team and organisational needs
      2. It addresses individual, team and organisational attitudes to change
      3. It is supported by on-going reinforcements by managers and team members
      4. It is followed by real opportunities to practise “how to”.

      If you have any thoughts, comments or suggestions on how to improve ROI from Soft Skills training, we'd be glad to hear from you...

      Monday, 25 June 2007

      Can you "manage" your manager?

      It's Monday morning and you can see the days ahead stretching before you... The thought of the weekly marathon looms, but you console yourself with the idea of a drink with your mates at the weekend. Your manager is already driving you mad. They’ve got you working on a massive and tedious project that no-one else wants to do, and now they’ve asked you for some vital information ’without delay’ that you simply don’t have. You’re not convinced that you can make it through the day without saying something you shouldn’t. You feel unappreciated, out of control and stressed …

      Does any of that sound familiar? If it does, don’t worry, you're not alone: according recent surveys, 43 percent of workers interviewed say they do not feel valued by their employers. It's rarely the nature of the work, the long hours, or even the low pay that frustrates people - more often than not, it's the person's manager that sends them running to the job pages.
      If you've ever had a bad manager yourself, you'll almost certainly have your own passionate views on the subject… and it won’t surprise you that ranked amongst the top 10 sources of stress and frustration at work, employees reported:

      So... do you agree that you can indeed "manage your manager"? Have you tried any of the above tips and got a good response? Or do you think it's best to just move on when things aren't working? Let me know!

      For more information on this and many other perosnal effectiveness topics, visit the H2 website at:
      • feeling undervalued

      • having no control over the working day

      • their manager changing their minds

      • lack of support from their manager

      • pressure/unrealistic demands from their manager

      • being put-upon by their manager

      • bullying behaviour by their manager

      • interruptions by their manager…
      Of course, we'd all like to have the perfect manager, who is appreciative, supportive, honest and fair. But nobody is perfect, and very few managers deliberately try to irritate their staff! The good news, is that it's normally within your power to improve the situation. Learning what makes your manager tick – what they expect, what they need and what irritates them, can help you communicate better, and improve your chances of maintaining a positive two-way working relationship.

      The idea of ‘managing your manager’ is a fairly recent concept. Traditionally, we are expected to pander to our manager’s every whim, waiting to be told what to do and how to do it. However, more recently managers and employees have begun to realise that this approach is not particularly rewarding or productive. Although the term “managing your manager” might imply the necessity to manipulate or control your manager, that isn't the case. Rather than being an underhand exercise, it is a way for employees to help their managers do their jobs better, and to have more control of their own work life. It is about seeing your manager as your customer. If there are disagreements or a lack of clarity, then it is about being proactive in trying to work things out in order to achieve a productive working partnership.

      Begin on the right foot
      Have a meeting with your new manager to discuss key issues and groundrules. These might include: your overall job responsibilities, your expectations of each other, your jointly agreed objectives, your company and manager's core values, preferred work processes and prescribed "best practice".

      Have regular meetings
      There are many managers who don't know what their team members’ roles actually require on a day-to-day basis. Although this is not usually because they don’t care (it’s usually about other priorities taking over), this can be very damaging to morale and leave you feeling unsupported. You should aim to set up regular meetings with your manager, and be prepared to take the initiative to request them yourself. Aim for weekly meetings to keep abreast of progress on projects and changing priorities. This should be in addition to your annual reviews and quarterly updates where you and your manager revisit bigger issues, such as your career goals and what you need to achieve them.

      Work with them
      No matter what your manager is like, recognise that it is your choice to either work with them or to work against them. However, it's a lot easier and less stressful to work with them! You probably already go out of your way to accommodate your clients or customers. So why not think of your manager as another client? They have expectations, and those should define what you deliver. Keep in mind that your relationship with your manager is probably the most important one you have at work - it affects your job satisfaction as well as any opportunities for promotion.

      Take responsibility for your own development
      Most of us want a manager who will support and develop us. However, unfortunately not everyone is so lucky. If your manager isn't forthcoming in getting to know you, then you will need to help them. Make sure your manager knows your accomplishments, is aware of the extra work you put in, and knows a bit about your personal life. It will help them to appreciate your efforts. If that doesn’t work, then you can try networking with others in your management chain. It’s unreasonable to expect your manager to be entirely responsible for accelerating your career: ultimately, it's your own responsibility. Remember that an expectation is also resentment waiting to happen, and it is very difficult to hide resentment.

      Support your manager
      Every manager wants their people to be on-side. Find out about their scope of responsibility, the number of direct reports, industry background and history within the company. Also find out about their own career goals, their relationship with their manager and any outside pressures. Placing yourself your manager’s shoes can provide insight into the demands they may be under, and will help you to gain perspective. Their bad days usually end up becoming your bad days, so it's best to try to avoid them. If they seem to have little time for you, consider whether they may be under pressure from their own manager. If so, offering your assistance can come as welcome news and be a source of genuine appreciation. You might overhear your manager saying that they can't get to that meeting, so why not offer to go in their place? In short, support any weaknesses you can, and as far as is possible, help them to look as good as they can be.

      Don’t undermine your manager
      Although you will probably question your manager’s judgments from time to time, it's important to recognise that their accountability usually extends up the corporate ladder, requiring them to consider the views of others. It’s also critical that you choose your battles very carefully. Remember Sergeant Wilson's pet question in ‘Dad’s Army: ’"Do you think that's wise, sir?" Avoid saying this or anything like it at all costs! You might think it, but be strategic and come up with a well thought-out suggestion and respectfully present your case. Then simply let them take it from there. You'll get nowhere forcing the issue - a protracted argument is the last thing your manager wants.

      Work out the real problem
      If your manager is driving you crazy, take time-out to consider what exactly is going on. Are they controlling and overly involved? Are they indecisive, hesitant, and vague? Or are they unreasonable, overloading you with work? Only once you know the real problem, can you begin to work out the solutions. Maybe they need to develop more confidence in you. If so, you should do all you can to prove your capabilities, such as asking for complete control over small tasks and gradually asking for more responsibility as you prove yourself. Maybe you need to guide your indecisive and/or vague manager offering specific choices and asking for clarification. If your manager is being unreasonable with their requests, you may need to discuss priorities, and seek alternative ways of dealing with anything you can't handle.

      Learn from your experience
      If things are feeling unbearable, then you need to stop for a moment and consider whether your current attitude could be feeding into that feeling. You may need to be more flexible, as this can help others to be more flexible with you. It might be hard to swallow your pride, but if you don’t try to make it work, it never will. Ask yourself and your manager what you could be doing differently to improve your relationship. Remember that the situation is almost certainly not going to last forever, so you can see it as a learning experience. With every manager you have, make a point of learning something from them, even if it’s what not to do. The chances are that you will become a manager yourself one day, so all of your experiences are valuable.

      Be proactiveYou will impress your manager by pre-empting what they want/need. Make a point of spotting pieces of information they always pay attention to, or particular times they typically request a recurring report or assignment. Then you can begin to anticipate and meet their needs without being asked. You should also aim to update your manager regularly on progress with your ongoing projects – preferably in writing (email will do). If you can, try to include some good news. Put any really good news in its own message so they can forward it onwards and upwards. Also be proactive in asking for any resources you need to do your job to the best of your ability. Don't just wait for your manager to guess what you need. Let your manager know why you need whatever it is, and in particular how it will help you to do your job more effectively. Equally, if things are not going to plan, it's better to face the music early so that you can solve the problem together. Don't let things get bad then panic, feeling that you have to sort it out on your own.

      Communicate effectively
      Poor communication is the source of most problems in the workplace, whether it is minimal or non-existent information exchange, or just poor listening skills. If you can improve the communication flow between you and your manager, you will be on the way to a much happier time at work. If your manager isn’t forthcoming, try asking them for the information you need. Remember that face-to-face time also creates engagement and rapport, so schedule a proper appointment with them, telling them what you would like to achieve. Plan what you are going to talk about beforehand and don't leave until you have established what you want to say. It may help to have notes to refer to. If your productivity improves as a result of this communication, your manager will hopefully learn a useful lesson. If your manager is often away from the office, you’ll need to be creative in your communication methods. Get to know their timetable: try to find out when they will be in the office or if necessary, when is best to schedule in phone time.

      If all else fails…
      Sometimes, there is just no way to make the relationship with your manager work. Maybe you have conflicting personalities or work styles. Maybe you're in a dead-end position. Modifying your own style and behaviour to please them can be a big adaptation to make. If you've really lost all hope of improving your relationship with your manager, sticking with your job could damage your own self-confidence. So if you think you've reached the point of no return, and can honestly say that you are not learning or gaining anything from the situation - and it’s not just your issue - then you may need to start considering your options. Of course, if you're dealing with a larger issue, such as sexual harassment, discrimination, bullying, or privacy invasion, you should seek appropriate advice from your colleagues in Human Resources.