An engineer is dying to tell her boss: “STOP sending me so many emails!”
Ever try to reform your boss?
You know it’s risky. Maybe your boss doesn’t want to be changed. Maybe, if there’s a problem, your boss thinks the problem is you.
The engineer elaborates: “My manager sits a few feet away. And all day long, he emails. I email him back—he emails me back. Most of these things could be resolved quickly, by talking, instead of playing email ping pong.
“Any advice?” she asks.
Well, instead of trying to STOP behavior, try “shaping” it. You shape behavior by rewarding any action that comes remotely close to the target.
Shaping is simple. Consider how you teach a baby to walk.
You don’t say, “STOP falling down so much.”
Nor do you say, “I’m totally unimpressed. You can barely walk two steps without falling flat on your face. Call me in 20 years when you’re ready to run a marathon.”
Instead, you go crazy over any effort at all, and in no time flat, your baby is walking here and there—and soon, mostly there, and then, moving to a faraway place, and all you ever get are text messages. Is it so hard to call? Even an occasional postcard would be nice.
But I digress.
Back to the engineer—let’s apply shaping.
Ever talk with your boss? I ask her.
“Only if I walk over and initiate it,” she says. “Then we usually resolve things quickly.”
Well, assuming it really is quick (otherwise, a short email can beat a long conversation), and assuming your boss doesn’t get visibly agitated the minute he sees you coming, then you really don’t have a problem.
Keep initiating conversations. Keep resolving things quickly.
And every once in a while, say, “Thanks for being so accessible. I really appreciate how fast we get things done when we talk.”
Your boss may be more malleable than you think.
Or, maybe he just wants you to take initiative. Maybe he’s shaping you.
Tip: Build on what’s working, instead of driving yourself crazy about what isn’t.
© Copyright 2012 Paul Hellman. All rights reserved.
The author is solely responsible for the content.
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Meet the Jobs Docs
Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.
Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.
Cindy Atoji Keene is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years experience. E-mail her directly here.
Peter Post is the author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business." Email questions about business etiquette to him directly here.
Stu Coleman, a partner and general manager at WinterWyman, manages the firm's Financial Contracting division, and provides strategic staffing services to Boston-area organizations needing Accounting and Finance workforce solutions and contract talent.
Tracy Cashman is a partner and the general manager of the Information Technology search division at WinterWyman. She has 20 years of experience partnering with clients in the Boston area to conduct technology searches in a wide variety of industries and technology.
Paul Hellman is the founder of Express Potential, which specializes in executive communication skills. He consults and speaks internationally on how to capture attention & influence others. Email him directly here.