Have you had a brief go horribly wrong? Disasters like this happen to most professionals in the workplace.
I once had a brief go so poorly that my Army boss called me by my full rank and full name (second lieutenant is a long rank to say) and scolded me for the duration of the brief. It was not good.
Some briefs are beyond saving from the start. However, learning to recognize these moments before they happen is one of the best prevention techniques to learn.
Here are four tips to consider for better communication.
Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF)
Start with the purpose of your brief, discussion, or meeting. Make your BLUF one sentence. The boss wants to understand why you’re taking his/her time.
Remember, they have many demands on their time, and you need to respect their decision to listen to you over their other competing priorities.
Having a BLUF eliminates confusion. Moreover, anyone in the meeting-especially your boss-should know precisely the reason for a meeting.
If someone doesn’t understand why they’re there, then it’s time to rearrange your BLUF or change your target audience. Regardless, your boss is the prime audience, and everyone else is there to listen in.
I have attended several status meetings that went very poorly because there was no BLUF. Usually, these are recurring meetings, but each session is different.
Still, the purpose changes depending on the focus of the meeting. Here’s a hint: the focus is usually on the boss’s most pressing issues. Make your BLUF centered on the boss’s priorities, and status meetings will go better.
Have An Outline
I highly recommend you put your BLUF at the top of the outline. Refer to it often. To avoid being too wordy, set time expectations for each agenda item.
For example, in John Wooden’s book Wooden: On Leadership, he planned his basketball practices down to the minute and did not deviate. Do this in your meetings with your supervisors.
Inevitably, mystery items creep into the meeting’s agenda. Although that item may be important, try to stick to your agenda. Your boss will appreciate that you’re organized and will cater to the company’s priorities.
Briefing Your Boss In Meetings
To avoid looking inflexible, address the new topic, write it down, and talk about it next time. Remember, the only exception should be if the boss wants to talk about it immediately. He/she is ultimately responsible. You’re just chairing the meeting.
Having an outline keeps the meeting on time and on schedule. I may sound rigid here, but your boss’s time is precious, and so is yours.
I have yet to meet someone that praised a meeting for going over an hour when it should have been only 30 minutes. It creates a time expectation for everyone involved as well.
Additionally, send out invites for more formal meetings. Attach the necessary documentation for your invite. If you have PowerPoint slides for the session, attach those to the invite along with your agenda.
Adhering to pre-set expectations is a great way to build credibility amongst your peers. And it helps people stay on track with their day.
If you’re informally talking with the boss, be upfront and brief. For example, Joseph McCormack’s book Brief: Make A Bigger Impact By Saying Less advocates for brevity while allowing for clear communication. However, being brief doesn’t always mean being clear. You must portray the right details in the correct context.
Most importantly, never hide a problem. Problems are like leftovers; they only get worse over time.
Anticipate The Boss’s Needs
As a staff officer in the Army, I needed to know my job and know what information my boss needed to know. For instance, if you’re getting bombarded with questions in meetings and closed-door discussions, then that should be a red flag for you that you’re not giving your boss what they need.
Jocko Willink and Leif Babin emphasize this concept in their book Extreme Ownership. When you don’t understand your boss’s priorities, then you can’t know what they need. Even if you disagree on the priorities, fulfill your boss’s requirements, then get to the rest. It may be difficult, but it’s also necessary for team cohesion.
What if you have a demanding boss? Watch your boss closely. It’s not about what they say that’s most important. It’s about what they do.
Actions will show priorities, so pay attention.
If you’re stuck between competing priorities, then ask your boss. For instance, request information that will support your job. Your question might open your boss to their real issue that you can solve.
Be persistent about getting feedback from your boss. For instance, I’ll usually ask my boss once per quarter about things I can improve on. The better you know your boss, the more capable you are of answering their needs and questions.
Set Your Boss Up For Success
Your whole job is to make sure your boss doesn’t get in trouble. That objective may seem shallow, but your supervisor has competing demands that require prioritization. If you’re able to tap into that prioritization process, then you will have met your boss’s goals.
Additionally, it’s not a bad idea to get to know the company’s structure. When you make your boss look good, then you’ve met their expectations.
You’re on a team. The team effort is more important than any individual accomplishment. If one person on the team is doing well but not helping their peers, then the team has failed the boss. Have a sense of ownership over your job and that you can help the team make an impact.
There’s a lot of preparation you need to do to brief your boss. Moreover, they’ll have lots of questions for you. However, if you answer those questions before the boss asks them, then you’ll be better able to articulate your message.
How do you communicate with your boss? Let me know in the comment below. Thanks for reading!
Wooden: On Leadership by John Wooden
Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. Read a review here.
Brief: Make A Bigger Impact By Saying Less by Joseph McCormack. Read a review here.
Featured Image: August de Richelieu