When you ask people for advice on how to get on your boss’ good side, the first thing they probably recommend is sucking up.
No, the first thing a good friend would suggest is asking your boss about her work style, and then aligning it with your own.
That’s not a bad suggestion—in fact, having that conversation can be beneficial for both parties involved.
But let’s be real: Most of us are passive when it comes to our work relationships (just ask anyone who’s ever had an annoying co-worker). And many times we don’t have the luxury of a boss who’ll take the time to tell us all their secrets. So, we take a guess at what they prefer us to do, hoping we’re doing a good enough job.
If that’s your approach, you could probably use a little guidance on analyzing your manager’s habits to get ahead.
So, with that in mind, here’s what we suggest you do when talking to them isn’t an option:
1. Glance at Their Calendar
If you have access to their calendar, you can literally take a look at the times when your boss is busy. Maybe they block off time in the afternoons for heads-down work, or they always set their meetings earlier in the week, or they often have a one-hour private hold on Wednesdays.
These signs can help you decide when’s a good time to bother your boss with an assignment and when you should put it off for later. It’ll also help you understand when your boss seems distracted or moody. If they’ve had a lot of meetings that day (or one especially long meeting), you’ll know it’s not smart to schedule a one-on-one of your own—that is, if you want it to be a productive discussion.
2. Understand How They Communicate
Next, focus in on their communication style.
First, which medium do they tend to prefer? Are they more responsive on email or chat? Do they like to talk things out in person? Or, is it a mix, depending on the conversation? This can help you figure out where you’ll get the quickest responses from them when you need it.
Next, observe how they talk over email or instant message. Are they more formal, or do they use a lot of exclamation points? Do they prefer to use bullets, or is everything they send in paragraph form? You should mimic their habits (in your own style, of course) to ensure you’re talking in their language—and thus making yourself look better in their eyes.
Crystal is an awesome (free) computer plug-in for helping you do just this. Muse Writer Kat Boogaard says it helped her not only communicate better with others, but understand herself and her own email habits.
3. Get Familiar With Their Body Language
You can probably see your manager from where you sit (or, you constantly walk by their office throughout the day). So, you know what they look like sitting at their desk, working.
Maybe they wear headphones a lot. Maybe they each lunch at their desk. Maybe they lock themselves in their office all morning.
You’re human, which means you’re aware of when people’s body language says more than their words. Use this to observe the times when your boss is at their best and worst state—and thus when they’re good to chat and when they need you to leave them alone. Also, when they look like they could use some help (and when that help is warranted by you).
4. Recognize When They’re Not in Work Mode
Finally, it’s quite possible your manager does more than sit at a computer all day, and it’s also possible they like to take breaks of their own.
Sometimes, this can be great, because you can kick back knowing your boss is, too. Other times, it can hinder your productivity when you need them to get stuff back to you and they’re distracted.
The best thing you can do is anticipate when this may happen and act accordingly. If you know Friday at 2 PM is when your supervisor tends to stop responding to emails, make sure you send any important ones earlier in the week. If you know a big client is coming in and your boss will be meeting with them for the next couple hours, schedule your check-in beforehand.
This not only ensures you’re meeting deadlines ahead of schedule, it shows you respect their time.
This of course isn’t a fool-proof plan—when in doubt, it’s always better to ask upfront for their opinion.
But when you’re working alongside someone you can’t always get a read on, it helps to become more aware of how the act, get organized, and communicate. You’ll set yourself up for success, and you’ll create more productive and cohesive relationships.