Boss Has Gone Silent? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

Ever since the beginning of this work-from-home situation, our entire department feels like it is on hold. The reason? Our seriously old school boss is not at all comfortable with meeting via phone or web conferencing. He was always a stickler for meeting in person, and has just kind of fallen apart. I can’t even get him to return calls or respond to emails.

I have serious questions about how to prioritize work—about 50% of our department has been laid off and the workload is staggering. I have no insight into what is going on in our organization and I am having a hard time concentrating.

On My Own

Dear On My Own,

Things are unsettled enough without your boss going radio silent. That must feel scary. Now is the time for managers to be spending more time with their people, not less! Here are some ideas for you.

  • Ask for feedback on your communication style. Maybe you are annoying. Maybe just ask, “Is there something I should know?”
  • Make your communications easy to answer, with clear subject lines and questions that can be answered with either yes or no. When people get “wall of words” emails with lots of ideas in them, they sometimes leave them for later because they require focus and time to respond. Relieve your boss of the need to think, and you might just get a response.
  • If you really need your boss to think, make your emails super succinct and easy to read. One of my favorite tools is the ABC method from The Hamster Revolution. The ABC method splits your message into three parts: Action, Background and Close. A – Action summarizes exactly what you want. B – Background provides key context; why you want it. C – Close proposes next steps and how/when you expect follow-up.
  • In terms of priorities, use your own judgment to lay out what you think they should be. Put your work/task list in priority order and make clear what will not get done in a normal work week. Make your subject line: My Priorities Unless I Hear Otherwise. (Well, that’s what I would say—that might feel aggressive to you. Soften if you must.)
  • I have no sense of what your work life was like before the Covid crazy. Did you and your boss have a decent relationship? If so, you might ask him if he is okay and if there is anything you can do for him. Maybe tell him you are worried about him.
  • If you don’t hear anything in the next seven days, go to HR or your boss’s boss. Maybe he was fired, or has gone on leave of some sort, and they forgot to tell you. Crazier things have happened—and goodness knows, these are certainly off times.
  • It sounds like you are awfully isolated. Get in touch with peers and friends you have in the organization to see what you can find out, and make some connections.

Breathe deeply—and remember, before all of this you were capable, competent, and able to concentrate. Now use your best judgment about how to spend your work time and go to it. Do your best. That’s all you can do.

Love, Madeleine

About the Author

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is the co-founder of The Ken Blanchard Companies’ Coaching Services team.  Since 2000, Blanchard’s 150 coaches have worked with over 16,000 individuals in more than 250 companies throughout the world. Learn more at Blanchard Coaching Services.

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