Your New Magic Phrase

This is a way I like to start some conversations with my boss:

“We don’t have to make a decision right now, but let’s talk about…”

This is great for things coming up in the next month, but not much further out than that. I do this for a few reasons. First and foremost, I don’t like putting my boss in any situation where he needs to make a decision on the spot. It’s not fair unless there’s an emergency, and it’s my job to see far enough into the future so he can get the time he needs to make the right decisions.

Saying that magic line allows the boss to immediately relax into his chair and listen, knowing that he’s not expected to make a decision right that minute. He has a night to sleep on it, ask more questions, or discuss it with others so we can see an issue from all sides. Many decisions take a few days to make correctly, but only if we talk early.

That magic phrase tells your boss that you’re looking ahead and are aware of the things on the immediate horizon that affect the organization. Perhaps a new policy has to be written, maybe a project is floundering and will have to be addressed, or some lean times are coming and the boss needs to talk to the staff. I’m not saying to start every discussion with this phrase, but you’ll know the right ones on your radar that may not be on the boss’s.

I find it’s best to let the boss know the decision point is coming, but it’s more important to let him know that it’s not right now. It allows for more relaxed discussions and more information to be gathered, and the organization benefits from having someone who doesn’t make hasty decisions in a vacuum. This way, when you do say a decision needs immediate attention, the boss will be more apt to understand the sense of urgency since you’ve proven that you know the sky isn’t always falling. Every boss needs someone like that.

Since you and the boss have a topic that needs to be discussed but not dealt with immediately, you have a chance to engage in something closer to an academic discussion about the issue. Again, it allows time for the boss to make a decision correctly the first time, but secondly, that discussion allows you to understand your boss better, hear the questions he asks, and gain insight into his decision process. You’re in the room, you have time because you started the conversation early, and you have something that should be talked about. I can’t see how that won’t benefit you in some way. I know I’m better at my job when I understand how my boss makes decisions.

I can tell you from experience that it’s a real luxury to know I don’t have to make a decision on the spot. And honestly, there are very few emergencies that need action in five minutes. Sometimes I use the phrase at the beginning of the day, and it sounds a lot like this:

“We don’t need to make a decision right now, but before we leave today…”

It’s not much, but it’s better than coming around at the end of the day and asking for an answer on the spot.

More often than not, people want the answer right this minute so everyone involved can take action. The longer it takes to make a decision, the less time everyone has to make it happen. I understand that, but it’s not fair to your boss to expect him to make a decision the minute you ask for one. He may have some other projects that are more important, but I understand your need for the answer you’re looking for.

Your boss understands too, and will think he needs to make a fast decision so you can work your magic. Telling him right up front that he has time to breathe is perhaps the best thing you can say to him. It shows that you understand the process that makes good decisions, you respect that you’re not the only thing going on in the building, and it will allow you to learn how your boss thinks. You’ll consistently bring more of the information early, and decisions can be made more clearly because you create a buffer of time between questions and answers.

Here’s the hitch: You can only use your new magic phrase if you’re far enough ahead of a decision to communicate it early.

– What decisions are coming within a week or month that needs your manager’s input?

– When will you talk about it?

Have a great week out there.

– JT

James Tinker

About James Tinker

James was born and raised in Bangor, and left home at 18 for the Navy. Twenty-five years later, he retired as a Command Master Chief, the highest enlisted rank on a warship in San Diego. His popular blog series, The Day Job, shares personal and professional lessons learned through his career.