I have worked as an executive coach for many years and have learned that there are a few topics of conversation that a lot of managers will do anything not to have.
Here are some of the most avoided conversations and how to prevent the need for them.
1. You smell bad
One office I worked in many, many years ago had a staff member with an odour so strong that it came in the door before they did. Despite many pleas from their colleagues, the manager avoided giving them the feedback.
I left the job before I knew the outcome, but years later, talking to managers in a coaching capacity, smelly staff members were a common concern that rendered them all mute.
The problem with odours is the phenomenon of sensory adaptation: our olfactory systems get used to the input around us and we stop registering it. This is the reason we can't smell the perfume or aftershave we put on in the morning after the first few minutes, the reason why a pet owner can't smell the pet smell in their house and why a person can't detect their own persistent body odour.
I am still not sure why odours provoke such an uncomfortable reaction with managers.
In my experience, when managers work up the courage and have 'odorous' conversations in a respectful way, they go smoothly and the staff member is grateful to receive the feedback.
As an aside, if you are the friend or family member of someone with an odour issue: tell them!
You could say something like, "I'm not sure whether you know, but there's an unusual smell around you these days - I'm not sure if it's coming from your clothes, or something you're eating, or the brand of cigarettes you're smoking, but it's really strong."
It's better than them hearing it from the boss!
2. You disappear
This is a huge bugbear with many managers - you leave your workstation and no-one knows where you've gone. Many managers feel uncomfortable bringing it up with their staff, because for all they know, you may be legitimately working.
If you have to vanish, it is a great practice to let your manager know where you're going. Obviously, not if you're going to the bathroom or to collect your printing, but if you know you're going to be away for a little while, let your manager - or at least a colleague - know what you're up to.
3. Your desk is messy
This is a very subjective issue, but worth looking at through the lens of personal and team branding.
If your desk is piled high with paper, food wrappers, photos, motivational quotes or toys, your boss will have a strong preference for it to be different - you've just got to take my word for it on this one!
Of course it's perfectly legitimate to style your workspace to reflect your personality, but make sure it's a reflection of your effectiveness too.
4. You're always chatting
Most of us are at work for an extraordinary large part of our lives - it makes sense to have fun with the people we work with. But many managers feel a little less conversation and a little more action is in order, especially if you're prioritising your colleagues over your customers.
There is nothing more frustrating for a manager to see you chatting with a colleague as a phone goes unanswered or a customer stands there unacknowledged. Make sure your customers come first - they will love it and so will your boss.
5. You're consistently late
This one drives managers crazy. Often your lateness is not often enough to make a point about, but it's frequent enough to inconvenience others. A lot of bosses are reluctant to tackle this issue because they feel like they're being petty.
Being late damages your professional brand and the brand of your company if it's a widespread whole-of-organisation phenomenon. Start times are not a suggestion, they are a respectful request.
Be easy to give feeback to
There are so many awkward conversations that managers avoid. Help your boss by getting really good at asking for feedback and practice being really good at receiving feedback gracefully.
There's only a few ways to change: start doing something, stop doing something, or keep doing something. It might be worth asking for feedback on what your boss would like you to start, stop, keep up, do more of, or do less of. You might be surprised!
Go well, everyone!