4 Questions to Ask to Know What Your Employer Really Wants from You

Unless you are a mind reader, knowing exactly what your employer really wants from you can be challenging. Even when you ask them, they might not explain in a way that really helps you. The key is not just to ask, but to ask the right questions in the right way. Here are four questions you need to ask to get valuable, helpful answers.

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1. What is your communication style?

Idealist.org identifies four types of communication styles: analytical, intuitive, functional, and personal. Your boss probably leans toward one of these styles. If they are analytical, they want facts and numbers, without all of the extraneous prose. If they are intuitive, they love a good brainstorming session and are all about the “new” and the “better.” If your employer has a functional communication style, they have a thing for details and to-do lists. Lastly, those with a personal communication style are willing to talk about their hobbies, interests, and other topics that are not strictly related to work.

Once you know what your employer’s communication style is, you’ll have a good idea what they want from you when they ask questions like, “how’s the report coming?” If they are analytical, and you hit them with flowery language, they will be annoyed. If you tell them, you have fifteen pages done and three to go, they will be pleased. Even if your boss cannot verbally express what communication style they prefer, you should be able to figure it out with careful observation.

2. How would you handle it?

One of the best ways to discover what your boss wants you to do is to find out what they would do. When a manager assigns a task, they will typically have a specific process and outcome in mind. And it usually mirrors what they would do if they were assigned the task. So, if you are unsure what your boss expects when they say, “find a way to cut costs by 10 percent,” you might want to say something like, “I know you have done this kind of thing a lot. What have you found to be the best approach?” Most likely, they will be happy to share their experiences and insights with you, and you can follow their lead.

3. What are your goals?

If you don’t know what your employer’s goals are for the company, for the department, or for you, how can you know what they want?  Maybe their goal is to be as innovative as possible. Or maybe their goal is to remain true to tradition. These highly divergent missions and visions are going to seriously affect what your boss expects from you.

4. Would you prefer me to ask questions, or figure it out on my own?

Some managers have an open-door policy and welcome any questions you may have. Others may tell you to ask them questions, but when you do, they seem annoyed. Then, there are those who keep their door shut at all times. For the latter, it is pretty easy to figure out that they do not want to be bothered. However, it can be exceedingly difficult to distinguish between the other two, unless you ask. After all, just because they seem annoyed by your question does not mean they would prefer you to just “wing it.” 

Your best bet is to ask them specifically what they want you to do when you have a question about something. You can actually lay out the options: “Do you want me to go to trial and error, or would you prefer I do not take chances?” and “Do you want me to come to you initially, or only as a last resort when no one else has the answers?” There is nothing wrong with seeking clarity, and it could save you both a lot of frustration in the long run.

Guessing what your employer wants from you is a risky game. It makes much more sense to find out what they want by asking the questions discussed here.

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