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Managing your Boss - 26 April 2012

Who do you think lies, steals, and cheats the most? Lower class people, or upper class people? That’s what researchers at Berkeley wanted to find out. They determined social class as being a combination of three measures: (i) wealth, (ii) job prestige, and (iii) education. They then performed a range of studies to find an answer to the lying, stealing, and cheating question.

They analysed the types of drivers who were most likely to cut motorists off at an intersection. They looked at who was most inclined to check their phone while talking to others. They examined heart rates to see who felt the least amount of compassion when watching sad videos. And they identified who snatched lollies from a candy jar meant for children.

The answer on every occasion was … the upper class people. The researchers figured it was because wealth and abundance create a sense of freedom and independence. As one scientific summary noted: “The less we have to rely on others, the less we may care about their feelings. This leads us towards being more self-focused.”

This trend is present in a lot of senior managers. In a corporate hierarchy, they are the upper class. Indeed, they fit the three determinants that started this article: (i) they earn more, (ii) their job is more prestigious, and (iii) they’re often highly educated. This results in the freedom and independence that fuels their self-focus. And that self-focus can make life difficult for those of us in the corporate lower class.

So, if you’re aiming to manage your managers – or even just influence them a little – you need to do it by getting around their self-focus. Here’s how:

1. Don’t consider yourself to be lower class: If you feel inferior, you’ll look and sound inferior. Instead, be confident of the talents you have to contribute. Just be careful that your assertiveness doesn’t turn into arrogance.

2. Talk their talk: If your boss is analytical, communicate by using statistics and evidence. If your boss is direct, avoid long sentences full of fluff. If your boss is expressive, use stories and creativity to get your point across. If your boss is amiable, don’t be confrontational.

3. Find out what’s important to them: Many employees become too preoccupied with their own activity. To influence your boss, you need to discover his or her goals and objectives, and then demonstrate how your ideas help to accomplish them.

4. Promote your successes: Don’t be shy in letting your manager know about your wins – and those of your colleagues. Just make sure you link them back to the previous point.

5. Be interested: Be curious about your organisation and profession. Attend industry events and read industry publications. Seek mentors and listen to podcasts. It’s instantly respectful when people are passionate about what they do.

6. Concentrate on solutions: Before approaching your boss with a problem, always have at least one solution to offer as an accompaniment. Senior managers are more inclined to listen to their employees when those discussions are constructive rather than whiney.

None of the above is brown-nosing. That’s the kind of thing senior managers can sniff a mile away. Instead, it’s about diverting their attention just a fraction; enough to make them notice there’s someone of value on their side.


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