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What To Do If You Have Two Bosses


Robby

I’m sure this problem is not unique to Central Indiana, but since I’m based in Indianapolis I hear over and over again about local employees who have to report to two different supervisors. It’s already painful enough to deal with one boss for many workers, but what do you do if you have two?

Two Wolves
© Flickr User Tabako the Jaguar

Let’s start by reviewing the kinds of problems you’re likely to have if you have multiple supervisors:

  • Conflicting priorities – Each person may tell you what’s most important, and they might disagree with each other.
  • Conflicting styles – One boss might be more relaxed, the other may be a micromanager and control-freak.
  • Alternating schedules – They may be in the office different times and not overlap.
  • Different relationships – One boss might trust you and respect you, but the other may not.
  • Infighting among the bosses – Wherever they disagree may spill over into your professional life, as they may take it out on you.
  • One may technically be the boss of the other – Sometimes one supervisor is above the other in the hierarchy, which can make things awkward

These are all serious issues. So what should you do?

Turn Them Toward Each Other

This is the only viable strategy for having multiple managers. You cannot serve two different people at the same time, so you need to get them to work out their differences directly. Of course, this is easy to say and hard to do. There are a bunch of strategies to consider:

  • Use the phrase “Have you had a chance to confer with [Fred]?” – This can be sensitive, but it helps to use it before you get direct instructions. That way, you’re jumping ahead of the problem.
  • Ask “do you mind if I put that back to you in an email?” – Almost no supervisor will mind you typing up what was just agreed to. If they do, you can explain you want to have it in writing to make sure you got everything correct. And when you do, put both of your supervisors on the “to” line.
  • Get the other boss involved. If you’re asked to do something by one boss, go to the second boss and say “Fred asked me to do this, but I need clarification. Fred is busy, can you help?”
  • Explain, gently, that you have two supervisors. A good technique is “I know you and Fred are both leading, but I’m unclear as to where to go for guidance. Can we agree to have me report to just one person?

The best thing to do when you have two bosses is to get them talking to each other and not to you. The more often you can do that, the less you’ll have to deal with both of them.

It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. Good luck, and may you only have one person to report to in the future!

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About the Blogger: Robby Slaughter is a productivity speaker and expert. He is a principal with a AccelaWork, an Indianapolis consulting firm.

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Wed, November 2 2016 » Corporate Culture, Time Management

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