Tell me if you have experienced this. A meeting begins, everyone talks, and your boss chooses to move forward with a suggestion that will prove counterproductive. Most people attending the meeting know it, but they’re nodding their heads in agreement to appease him. You, on the other hand, are left ripping off your hair.
This used to happen with me. All. The. Time. I was (relatively) soft spoken, my suggestions were different, and my voice was often drowned in the din of all the noise. The result? Boredom, frustration and resentment, which soon translated into apathy. It showed on my face.
One day, our team was called in for a meeting with Arun, a senior executive whom I knew personally. During the meeting, Arun barely spoke. The suggestions from people were unfruitful, and some were downright horrible. Arun watched amused, and I couldn’t help but notice a faint smile on his face. The meeting dispersed with little to take-away. After that, he and I caught up for some long-overdue coffee. And I described my concern to him.
“I noticed that you became disinterested during the meeting. It’s not good for you”, he said.
“Don’t ‘it’s not good for you’ me”, I retorted impatiently. “Just tell me how you make it work.” Arun had a reputation of getting his way often even if his peers were against it.
“Well, I drive with my boss to the airport.”
His boss, he explained, was the Asia-Pacific head, and traveled frequently. Face-to-face interactions were rare. Most were carried out on phone and Skype, leaving plenty of room for ambiguity and confusion. And when Arun’s boss was in town, every one vied for his attention, which led to more noise and less results. And I thought my situation was tough.
Meetings bored Arun too. They were the norm when he boss was in town though. He doodled during them. But he drove with his boss to the airport whenever possible. This enabled them to interact in an informal atmosphere. Gradually, casual conversations steered towards matters where Arun wanted to do things differently and seeked his boss’ approval. And almost always, he succeeded in making his boss agree to his point of view. Mission accomplished!
Think about it. Are important deals sealed in swanky board rooms? No. They’re sealed on golf courses, in lounges and coffee shops, or at seminars. They’re all informal environments.
You don’t need to ask your boss to fly some place he doesn’t need to visit simply because you want drive her to the airport. Nor do you need to be a VP or CXO (though you mostly are CXO-material) to implement this concept. Simply place your senior in a relaxed environment; an informal one where she is open to listening. And like the environment, make the chat causal. Sow the seeds of your ideas in her mind. Rambling about how wrong everything is, is the worst axe-on-foot scenarios you can put yourself in. Not only will you fail to accomplish what you have in mind, but you also will come across as a whiner. And neither of these will help you.
Of course, ‘driving to the airport’ needs a certain mindset. It’s for people who care about the outcome and not who hogs the limelight. If you merely want to showcase yourself and not fix underlying problems, you are better off suppressing others’ opinions and declaring yourself a ‘know-it-all’. But, if the outcome matters to you, and you want things to go your way, start interacting with seniors in informal environments. You initially may not be credited for your ideas, but with time, they will start relying on you. You will also have inside news on many situations and plans, and become indispensable not only to your boss but also your peers.
When did you chat with your boss informally and get something that was helpful for the cause done? Do leave a comment. I would love to hear from you.