What a 4-Year-Old Can Teach You About Managing Your Boss - MSN Careers
By J.T. O'Donnell, author of "CAREEREALISM: The Smart Approach to a Satisfying Career"
I had a revelation last week: My 4-year-old daughter is gifted at managing up.
Does she work? No -- but as I see it, right now, I'm the boss and she's an employee in our family firm. And I've noticed that she's become quite adept at getting what she wants from upper management.
Please know, I'm no pushover. I stand my ground on the important issues like "No popsicles for breakfast" and "Socks are not optional when it's 2 degrees outside." But on the fuzzier stuff, I must concede that she's mastered the art of persuasion.
So, it occurred to me that we could all learn from her expertise. Consider these three techniques as performed by my pint-sized employee:
1. Learn how to say "no" disarmingly
When my daughter doesn't want to do something, she stares deeply in my eyes and with an "I'm so sorry to disappoint you" smile and calmly says, "No thank you." It throws me off every time.
First, the thank-you is so polite, who can criticize that? Second, her body language and facial expressions are soft and nonconfrontational. It's hard to respond negatively to someone who is displaying no anger or tension of their own.
Translation: Employees who learn to engage in conflict without confrontation are appreciated for their calm communications skills by management.
2. When you want something, be a sweet but squeaky wheel
Once my daughter has decided she wants something, here's what she does: First, she asks for your time and tells you it's serious. She sits right down and holds your attention with her eyes. Then, she explains in detail what she wants and why it is so important that she have it. She is energetic and passionate in her description.
If she doesn't get it, she asks why. And if she doesn't like the answer, she says no more and walks away.
But that's not the end of it.
Shortly thereafter, she returns, having thoughtfully pondered my denial and ready to further explain additional reasons for me to change my mind, as well as reasons why my own argument doesn't hold water. Additionally, if I say "no" yet again, she solemnly walks away, waits awhile, and then comes back again and asks for the same thing in a slightly different way, hoping her willingness to compromise will pay off.
At this point, she watches me intently for signs that I am going to either A) cave in and let her win, or B) start to raise my voice and get angry. If it's the latter, she immediately calls it quits -- for the day.
She knows just how far to rock the boat and has no problem waiting for a better time to try again. She doesn't hold a grudge, she stays happy and upbeat, as if nothing has happened. In her mind, it's a minor setback, as opposed to a crushing loss.
This approach always makes me want to be able to say "yes" to her next request because I'm so impressed that she accepted the "no" without making a scene.
Translation: Employees who patiently promote their cause and can accept an unfavorable decision gracefully are respected and valued by management.
3. Use unexpected recognition as a way to score points
My daughter doesn't butter me up. She doesn't gush with compliments in an effort to get what she wants. But every so often, quite randomly, she will say or do something that makes me feel fabulous.
One day, when I was especially frustrated and feeling overwhelmed by all that I had to do, she looked at me with a compassionate face and simply said, "It must be tough to be a mommy."
Ironically, it's technically not even a compliment. She didn't have to lie and say she thought I was a great mommy. I wouldn't expect her to. I'm the rule enforcer -- who likes that? But, she acknowledged the difficulty of my role and that recognition felt wonderful. So much so, that I canceled an appointment and took her out for ice cream.
Translation: Employees who convey their respect and appreciation for the level of responsibility and efforts of management are seen as good team players.
These are just a few of the ways that my 4-year-old manages her boss. Why not try them? With a little practice, you could be managing up with the finesse of a pre-schooler while reaping the rewards bestowed to wise employees.
JT O'Donnell is a nationally syndicated workplace columnist and author of the book "Careerealism: The Smart Approach to a Satisfying Career."
Copyright 2008 J.T. O'Donnell. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without prior written authority.
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