There are many aspects to being the type of employee every supervisor wants to have on their team. There is the “base-line” type that includes such things as being on time for meetings, not missing deadlines, getting along with fellow employees and such. These are well and good but really should be considered the minimal bar to reach. In other words, these are things your supervisor simply expects, so one shouldn’t pat themselves on the back for doing them. The next level of performance would include such behaviors as being proactive on tasks, enthusiastic about assignments, and oriented to solving problems over creating them. These are also really good characteristics to seek to model and can begin to move you forward, however, what you want to think about are the true behaviors that begin to set you apart from other employees.

One key area not many employees think about is what role they have in making a supervisor’s job a little easier.

For many, the orientation is that the supervisor is there to solve problems or even sometimes create them for the staff, but the wise employee understands that they can enable a good supervisor’s effectiveness with a few simple practices. One key is understanding how to maximize the information flow between you and your supervisor and create practices that leverage your supervisor’s energies toward strategic problem solving over simply loading them down with extra decisions. Here are few practices to consider that will improve your communication with your supervisor and make you the type of employee that they want to interact with around important matters. Do they want bullet points or do they value context? If you are seen as someone who is always bringing up things that aren’t critically important you will find you will get a very short attention span from your supervisor.

  1. Learn how they want to receive information

    There are two key facts to remember: 1) everyone has a preferred learning method and 2) most supervisors value efficiency. Now I’m not saying that if your supervisor is a kinetic learner that you have to invent a game to give them a report. The more important distinction is how they want info. Do they want bullet points or do they value context? Some supervisors will want a report that is no more than a page of short bullet points and others will want several pages of graphs and charts. Often the type of research project will play a role in what you produce but in the end you need to know what the supervisor wants. If your supervisor wants bullet points and you send a dissertation you run a risk of your work not being read. If your supervisor wants context then they may simply dismiss a list of bullet points as incomplete work. Know what your supervisor wants and adapt to it, even if it’s not your natural default way to share.

  2. Learn when they want to receive information.

    It’s important to have a broad understanding of your supervisor’s cycle of work. What I mean by cycle of work is being aware of their work rhythms; what times of the day or month that they are especially pressed. If your work has some type of monthly closing, for example, this might not be the best time to get your supervisor’s full attention. Same would be true for when annual budget requests are due to be turned in. Realistically you are not going to know what your supervisor is doing every hour of every day but having a good awareness of when their attention and urgencies are not totally directed to something else is valuable for making sure the information you need to give to them is getting the attention you want it to get.

  3. Learn how to give helpful information.

    This one is a bit more nuanced but also critically important. Being able to discern what is helpful and important information and what is not is fundamental to that supervisor’s attention to you. If you are seen as someone who is always bringing up things that aren’t critically important or related to what the supervisor can do about it then you will find you will get a very short attention span from them. While the old adage that you should always have possible solutions to the problems you are bringing to a supervisor’s attention not wasting their time with things they would believe are trivial or simply can’t change will cause them to begin to tune you out and not see your input as valuable. Try to think through what is critical for them to know that is within the realm of things they can act on and change. When you bring these scenarios to their attention, along with a few possible solutions for them to consider, you will show yourself as an invaluable member of their team.All three of these things take a little time to get a handle on. It takes paying attention as well as utilizing some emotional intelligence and self-awareness. It may be you need to watch a new work environment for a while to pick up on all the rhythms and how the relationships work. A little patience and some proactive observations can go a long way in helping you stand out as a valuable team member and position you for greater influence in your day to day work.

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