To reduce the level of stress in daily life it is important to increase the amount of empathy in your life. Once you understand why things happen, it is a lot easier to live, work and succeed.
Empathy in a simplified sense of understanding whatever goes on in other people’s heads. Why do they do what they do, why do they make decisions that they do. What are their passions and what are their fears? Everybody has a myriad of thoughts in their heads. Figure those out and get the feeling.
And the person who often has a disproportionately large impact on your well-being, quality of life, and daily stress levels is your boss. You meet the boss daily; he gives out tasks, sets goals, checks results, and validates your actions. She doles out punishments and rewards. Sets your salary. Makes your existence miserable, or maybe fills it with meaning and passion.
The simplest way how to live your life as an employee is to just do what you are told, moderately smile at praises from the boss, and try to forget unpleasant moments of his anger as soon as possible. Maybe also change your behavior to avoid repeating punishment, but do so as little as possible, as no change is very pleasant. And when you don’t understand the goals or feel that punishment is unjust, just call the boss stupid and idiot. And stronger versions of those words. Manage the stress by bitching at the dinner table with family, in the pub with friends, and at the water cooler with colleagues.
That is a simple way to live life, but ultimately bad for your health. It is just not safe to live constantly being upset about something and releasing the tension only by drinking and swearing.
My method is different — I try to understand why people do what they do, to make myself at peace, and be sure that I have taken the best course of action. And understanding the boss, of course, is a large part of that.
You have to remember, that every time your boss gives you a task, sets a target, or evaluates past performance, she has some set of rules and beliefs that she expects you to live and work by, and she has some of her own goals and targets she wants to achieve. She does not punish you just because she wants to punish you. And she does not ask you to do overtime just because she can. And the same goes for firing, hiring, promoting, and giving a pat on the back
Your boss is a human and a person, just like you. He might be compensated more, might have some more education or life experience, but often he just has had a bit more luck, better networking skills, and one or five better life choices than you. You could have been in his position. Try to understand it.
There is a corporate environment that binds your boss’s actions, you have to understand it to know what is possible in general. Is he the one giving salary raises or is it somebody else and he is just giving suggestions? Is he the one who sets company strategy on something, or he is just executing it? How are his responsibilities interweaving with the responsibilities of other managers? What changes in management have happened in the past, and why? Who is influencing whom and why? Who your manager is friends with?
There are a lot of such questions that are worth understanding. It can be called corporate politics, but that is just a name. You can despise it, but it is the environment that you spend your work life in. And it affects everything.
Once you understand what influences your boss’s decisions in the corporate environment, you need to understand what are her personal beliefs. What does she consider just and what she thinks is dangerously close to fraud? What she is ready to invest in, and what she thinks is a waste of money. What is the team she would like to create and how she would prefer daily work cooperation to work out? How much micromanagement she wants to do, and how much input into strategy she wants to hear. How pushy she likes you to be, how much independence she is willing to give and when it is ok to delegate, and when it is important to deliver a personal touch.
All those are important aspects to understand the most important driver of your boss’s decisions — his goals. Everybody has some targets set, and your boss is no exception. He has to achieve something and you are part of his toolset to do so. He needs to deliver and he wants to do it as smoothly as possible. As long as what you want fits into the landscape of corporate politics, aligns with his way of working, and directly benefits goals he wants to achieve — you have quite a large chance of getting what you want. It is just that simple.
To understand all that we have discussed before, you needed to try to think and feel like your boss. But to understand your manager’s goals, you have to get higher — you need to figure out what your manager’s boss wants. What is his thinking about your general area of responsibility? What is his way of working? What is his stake in strategic decisions and in corporate politics?
And everybody has a boss. If your manager is responsible for a small team of specialists, then his boss is managing department of different teams and his boss is the director responsible for functional division and his boss is CEO of the company, while his boss is chairman of the board, and he is answering to largest shareholders or investors, and they are answering to their fund board or husband. There can be a lot more levels of management, or there can be only a couple, but everybody has a boss. And you have to get into their shoes and you will understand yours. Be your boss’s boss.
And yes — once you understand what is required from your boss, what are his targets, problems, and environment — guess who will be the one ready to step in, if there is a need to promote somebody to fill a suddenly empty seat?