First-Class Coach

My boss is extremely taciturn.

by Miranda Kennett
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

He never greets me and rarely tells me what he's thinking, but is critical if I don't do things in the way he wants - despite never telling me what that is.

A: Your boss is exhibiting the classic signs of an introvert as defined by Jung in the 1920s. Far from referring to a person's social preferences, this term relates to the source of an individual's energy, which, in his case, comes from his inner thoughts and feelings. The fact that he doesn't greet you in the morning is probably because the thoughts he is pursuing are far more engrossing than shooting the breeze with you. Introverts don't do small talk, unless they've recognised the need and trained themselves to engage in it.

Introverts tend to think through what they want to say before they open their mouths. By contrast, extroverts tend to work out what they think by talking about it, and sometimes regret saying what has come out of their mouths. They get their energy by interaction with others - which is why, if left on their own too long, their energy levels dive and they need to recharge their batteries by speaking to someone. Meanwhile, introverts work away on their own with great concentration for extended periods.

The theory says we're born extroverted or introverted. It's not better to have one mental preference or the other, but the world is a slightly different place according to which you hold - and both have implications for the workplace.

The positive aspects of introverts are that they often seem calm and thoughtful and offer a more considered point of view. They tend to be independent, self-sufficient and highly focused. On the negative side, they can come across as cold, aloof, even arrogant, because they are not joining in the knockabout conversation that extroverts enjoy. If I were a gambler, I'd bet Gordon Brown is an introvert.

Also, as you discovered to your irritation, introverts sometimes forget that, though they have sorted out what needs to be done in their own minds, they fail to communicate their thoughts to anyone else. And, once their minds are made up, introverts can be difficult to shift.

Similarly, people with an extrovert mental preference have their own strengths and weaknesses. Upfront, easier to get to know, more openly enthusiastic and energetic, they can also be over-loud, domineering and inefficient through endless discussion.

Clearly, the way your boss manages you is unsatisfactory, but if you can understand his mental wiring, it may help you to create a better working relationship and help him become a better boss to you.

Let's start with communication: introverts often like the written word, preferring to read reports in advance rather than being dropped into a discussion without warning. They prefer one-to-one interaction, disliking big meetings and brainstorming. Introverts tend to be private people who'd rather not reveal personal information until they know you well. Being critical can be their way of trying to improve things. They may well be sparing of praise, so it's best not to expect too much. (Extroverts sometimes overdo it, appearing to be gushing).

Changing your own behaviour around your boss, and learning not to take his behaviour too personally, should make a difference but, even so, there are things he needs to change if you are to develop a productive relationship. You may be able to forgive his failures in social interaction, but his ineptitude in briefing you about your work and his criticism need to be addressed.

I suggest you create an opportunity to have a private session with him - perhaps in an appraisal or at the start of a new project. Find your own words to say: 'I know you have been critical of my work in the past. Because I want to do a good job, I'd like you to be specific about your expectations for future projects, to make sure I understand what you want me to do. That way, I won't feel unfairly criticised for not delivering.'

This may well help, but if it doesn't, you'll need to be assertive again, telling him (briefly and calmly) how his particular behaviour has made you feel. He may be surprised by your feedback. Certainly, he will be forced to make a connection between his actions (including his tone of voice) and the adverse impact they have on you, and he's less likely to persist in his unsatisfactory old ways. Remember, this isn't just about your happiness; this behaviour is an obstacle to your boss achieving his own potential.

- Miranda Kennett is an independent coach. If you have an issue you'd like her to cover, e-mail: miranda@firstclasscoach.co.uk.

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