Is your boss difficult to read?  Do you feel like interactions with your boss are more like playing poker against someone who is holding their cards close to their chest?  That wondering and guessing about our boss’ intentions can quickly erode into mistrust.  One of the fundamental principles in communication is that in the absence of all communication, people always assume the worst.  Makes sense when you think about it.  Here are the most common forms this particular trust breaker takes:

–          My boss doesn’t talk… or smile… or anything – Ever have a boss that you can’t read?  Maybe they rarely talk or worse, they are expressionless.  Back in my clinical days, we used the term “flat affect” to describe individuals that walked in the world wearing a perpetual poker face.  They had extreme difficulty in forming trust with others, because frankly, no one could tell what they were thinking.

–          My boss “tows the party line” – Does your boss give you a nicely crafted, politically-correct answer to every question you ask?  Do you feel as though you are one of his/her local constituents even though you never voted for him/her?  These bosses lose trust fast because it appears as though they are more concerned with their image and political standing than telling us what they really think / feel.

–          Frankly, my boss is never around – Is your boss never around?  It’s tough to read someone that just isn’t around.  Maybe they are off doing very important work on all of our behalf.  Or perhaps they are squeezing in 18 holes?  Which are you likely to believe when you don’t see your boss around?  Exactly.

If your boss is difficult to read leading to mistrust, there is a solution.  You need to ask the right questions and get the answers you need.  I’m a big believer that there are three big questions that everyone should have an answer to (or at least try hard to get) in order to not only build a trusting relationship with his / her boss but also to be equipped to do his / her job well.  Consider asking these of your boss ASAP:

Question 1: What do you expect of me in the next XXX (month, quarter, year, etc…)?  As you can see, this is a critically important question.  If you don’t know what is expected of you, essentially you are guessing as to what your boss wants.   And with a boss that is difficult to read, you aren’t going off of very much information.  This is the equivalent of going to Vegas and throwing your career on the table.  I don’t know about you, but I always come back from Vegas a loser.  Don’t bet your career.  Ask.

Question 2: What’s expected of YOU (the boss that is)?  I ask every one of my coaching clients the same question “do you know what is expected of your boss this month, quarter, year?”  At this point, I have not gotten one “yes” response.  This question is important because if we know what is expected of our boss, we not only know how to better support him / her but also we get a better understanding of the pressures on him or her and why they might be doing what they are doing – hence improving our understanding and trust in our boss.

Question 3: Where do I stand?  Do you know where you stand?  In absence of communication we always assume the worst.  So, naturally, if you aren’t asking about your standing and if you aren’t hearing anything from your boss, you are likely assuming you are not in a good position.  Clear that up by proactively asking.  It will put your mind at ease and it will enhance your trust in him / her because you will at least know how he / she perceives your current performance and what you can be doing more of / differently.

Bosses that are tricky to read are no fun to work with.  They get our imagination working as we try to fill in the gaps and for many of us, when our imagination takes hold, horror stories get conjured up with us as the next victim in line.  Address this vacuum head on by asking the questions and owning the conversation.  The good news is that the solution rests in each of our hands.  The not-so-good news is that if we wait on our boss to start the conversation, we may be waiting a long time.  Of course, there is always the annual performance review, right?  Don’t get me started on that dysfunctional process.  Trust me, I’ve got a whole month planned for performance reviews.  What a mess…

Check out the video:  3 Critical Conversations for Building Trust with Your Boss