The first few weeks at a new job are always a bit awkward, aren’t they? There’s the whole dress code issue, where you turn up with your best suit on and it turns out it’s Onesie Wednesday. Or not knowing where to sit at lunch—should you have a laugh with the cool kids or network with the bosses over your sad sandwich?
But there’s one thing you have to figure out as quickly as possible, and that’s who you’re dealing with in your new manager. You don’t have a lot of time to get this one right, as first impressions tend to stick. And if you and your new boss have wildly different working styles, you might find yourself on the other side of the door before you can say “probationary period.”
So, you need to turn detective and start looking for clues that will give away the type of person your new supervisor is, how he or she likes to communicate, and what makes him or her tick. Here are some tips to get you started.
1. Pay Attention to the Morning Meet-and-Greet
If your new boss greets you each morning with a hearty “Hey newbie, how are you doing? What did you get up to last night?” then you’re probably dealing with someone for whom personal relationships are really crucial. He’ll want to know who you are, understand you, and be a friend and a listening ear as well as a manager, and he’ll likely consider your stance on things when making decisions.
And while you don’t want to get overly personal with a manager, use this as your cue to reflect his open manner right back at him. Tell him who you really are and where your passions really lie; this type of manager is all about the people, and he’ll want to help you develop into the company superstar you want to be.
On the other hand, if you’re greeted with a quick “good morning” as she barely lifts her eyes from the screen and an email with this week’s task list, you’ll probably be able to guess that you’re dealing with the polar opposite type of manager—one who is task-focused, will be directive, and likes to make sure that everyone knows the parts they play in order to get the job done.
In this case you’re going to have to prove your worth before you are let in to your manager’s more personal side—if she has one. She may well be a work-hard-play-hard type, but you won’t be invited to play until you’ve proved your ability to get your job done on time and in a way that smashes expectations.
Of course there are a thousand other tiny day-to-day clues that will let you know what type of manager you have. Does he make a coffee for himself or offer to get everyone a cup? Does she show frustration or keep her cool? People slip clues about themselves into every single interaction, so keep your eyes wide open, and you’ll soon be able to figure it out.
2. Read Between the Email Lines
You’re deep in thought, and—ping!—it’s an email from your manager.
If it outlines some ideas he’s got about how to tackle an upcoming project, then says “Can we have a quick chat about this?” or “Any ideas on your end?” you’re dealing with a team player who wants to make sure that everyone feels listened to, who appreciates collaboration, and who’s looking for ideas-people, not just worker bees.
On the other hand, if the email outlines the next project and ends with a “When can you commit to action?” or “I need your response to this by the end of the day,” then you’re likely faced with a manager who is fleet of foot, like to make things happen, and—let’s face it—already has the plan down cold and just needs you to fall in line to get it done.
Paying attention to email can also tell you how organized someone is: Does she send one comprehensive email containing all the necessary details or lots of short emails entitled “Just one more thing…?” Does he stick to the company-authorized 10pt Arial, or is he a little more creative and individual than that? (Oh, but if your new boss uses Comic Sans, then the only advice I can give is resign. Right now.) There are lots of tiny clues sprinkled through every communication, so don’t just read what someone has written, take note of how he or she writes, too.
3. Watch How Decisions Are Made
Another way you can put your sleuthing to work is to observe how your new boss makes decisions.
If she is methodical and meticulous in putting together a list of options, weighing up the pros and cons of each, and then creating a detailed project plan based on what she knows is the best way forward (after all, she’s done extensive research), then you are looking at a manager who makes decisions not with gut instinct, but with the head. Logic rules all with these types, so if you have reservations about a plan, you better do your homework before you put them on the table. If you try to show the personal effect of a logical decision, your boss might see you as whiny or weak, so back up your argument with solid facts, every time.
On the other hand, you may see someone who makes decisions by what his gut tells him, instinctively leaning one way or the other, based on how he feels about each option. He won’t feel compelled to justify decisions, he’ll “just have a hunch” about how to proceed. He’ll also consider counter-arguments from The Logic Team a bit of a bore, and probably not fully give his attention to other sides of the debate.
In this case, you need to put the facts to one side and focus on the personal; has he thought about how the decision will affect the team? How will everyone feel about it? Will they feel pressured, stressed, or disenfranchised? You’ll only be able to change decisions made by this manager by appealing to his people-pleasing nature.
Once you’ve completed initial investigations, you’ll probably have a pretty clear idea of who you’re dealing with (and you can take off the trench coat and sunglasses and put down the newspaper with cut-out eye holes). Only you will know if your new manager is someone you’ll instinctively gel with, or someone whose style you’ll have to work pretty hard to adapt to. But make sure you do take the time to figure it out, and you’ll know pretty quickly if it’s the job for you or not.