Everything you didn't learn in school that will help you survive the world of work. A place for newbies, for working moms, for seasoned professionals and "free agents" to share strategies, tips and tales from the trenches.

Aug 23, 2008

Correcting the Boss

In a recent issue of "Real Corporate Email," a publication of the Finishing School, a discussion arose about errors made by the Bosses and just when and how (and how!) to correct them.

from one of the subscribers:

The squirmiest misuse: there I was, in the audience as my boss gave a presentation. She deftly built up to her point, clicked to go to the next slide. Here it--and she--announced in all caps, "WALLA!"

WALLA? really?
And this wasn't an episode of The Office?

It is easy enough to make fun of the pointy-haired boss, to imagine how we might let them swing in the wind, to perhaps bait them to repeat the mistake: bigger, better, to a more impressive audience. I once had a Boss who used the word "behooved" when she meant "appalled," and I enjoyed getting her to do it. I was terribly young, and she was mean, but let's try to move past that, shall we?

How do you correct Boss for her benefit, and the betterment of your team?
Don't you tell her when she has poppy seeds in her teeth?

Our WALLA storyteller offered this:

"I agonized about how to handle this forever. I couldn't spare her the initial occurrence, but I thought I could prevent future folly. Finally I decided to let a little time pass, then start using 'voila!' in my writing at work. It was tricky to find the right situations, because I didn't want to come off as (any more) pretentious (than usual), so I was on the prowl for circumstances that might merit the sardonic use of the word. I think I even managed to pull off reading it aloud from my scrawl on the whiteboard in a meeting, which I thought a special triumph. After about four sweaty usages I decided I had achieved my purpose--I was in my early 20s at the time and I took this all very, very seriously."

An excellent example for us to work with, early 20s or no. These days, it is The Boss who is likely to be in her early 20s, so this opportunity may come around more than you expect.

Let it Pass
That is to say, avoid the urge to gasp, point, or mutter "Dear Lord." Practice this in your meetings, because these moments will sneak up on you. Embarrassing her will cut off any chance you have to counsel her.

Consider your relationship
If you are the Boss's consigliere, you may be able to process the incident once the right moment comes (see below). If you do not have the Insider/Personal relationship, you may choose the route our subscriber took and lead by example. An elegant choice that can work whether she is your Mentor, or you are Eve Harrington to her Margot.

Pick your moment(s)
Consiglieres have this easiest, at the end of the day when everyone's corsets are loosened, and you have your stocking feet on her chair and she on yours and you can do the slow sleepy blink and open with, "I think the slide deck worked today. Know what, though?"

In the 2nd scenario, reenacting the event correctly at the first opportunity does the trick. You have to be humble enough never to let on what you just did.

Correct with love
The slowest zebra is individually vulnerable; legend has it that the herd will move at the speed of the slowest zebra in order to protect it. It is a variation on "only as strong as our weakest link." When that zebra is The Boss, your group is easy prey. If you have the opportunity to increase her speed, it is in your best interest to do so.

Remember your Golden Rule and she will too, the next time you make some behoovingly boneheaded move.

~~ CB

Outside Reading
Better than Perfect, Dale A. Dauten
Giving Feedback, Harvard Business School Press
Managing Up, Michael S. Dobson
Quick Solutions to Common Errors in English, Angela Burt

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