Do you ever feel like your boss is speaking an entirely different language? That’s because she probably is. Every company has its own culture, and management types are more enmeshed in that culture than anyone else. That’s why they pay them the medium bucks.
Unfortunately, communication is key to all human relationships, even those that take place in cubicles and boardrooms and involve forms signed in triplicate, and it’s unlikely that your boss will accommodate you by relearning non-corporate speak. If you want to succeed in your job, you’ll have to learn to speak the same language as your manager.
Until science fiction becomes reality and we get those instantaneous translators we’ve been waiting for, here’s what your boss really means when she makes these common statements:
She says: “Your performance is a 3, on a scale of 1 to 5.”
She means: “You’re doing just fine.”
Blame grade inflation in school or every generation’s growing sense of entitlement, but many of us are used to getting pretty good grades if we put in the effort. As a result, when review time rolls around, we tend to look at middling marks as if they were Cs on a report card.
Most businesses are pretty careful to benchmark so that those “satisfactory” marks mean just that: that the employee in question is doing everything he should. Why are they so grudging with high marks? Because ratings are tied to raises, and they want to use their budget to ensure that the highest possible performers get the biggest share. That’s not fantastic news for everyone else, of course, but it also doesn’t mean that you’re doing a bad job, that your job is in jeopardy, or that you’re in trouble.
She says: “Let’s order dinner. The company will pick up the tab!”
She means: “Everyone is staying late.”
Job seekers, beware companies with amazing perks like free food, car service after X o’clock, or unlimited vacation time. Those are all nice ways to saying that the organization and your manager hope that you’ll be burning the midnight oil on the regular. You know that saying about how there’s no such thing as a free lunch? The same goes for breakfast and dinner.
It’s also important to note that your boss’s invitation to any meal — whether it’s late-night takeout, a working lunch, or an impromptu coffee — isn’t really a request the same way it is when your friend asks you grab a bite. Sure, you can say no if you have to power through a deadline or make a daycare pickup, but you should understand that every time you do, you’re using social capital that you’ll have to earn back.
She says: “We can talk about raises and promotions at review time.”
She means: “I’m actually not allowed to give you any more money until then.”
Especially if you don’t have management experience yet, it can seem like your manager is a pretty big deal. Certainly, you’d think that she’d be able to give you more money if you really deserved it, right? In reality, her power is limited. Most companies are pretty precise about when they’ll allow their managers to dole out bonuses, raises, and promotions, and that time is during the duly designated review period.
That doesn’t mean that you should never talk to your manager about where you hope your career will take you. Ideally, you should be discussing your goals and the company’s goals for you on a regular basis, for example, at a weekly one-on-one with your manager. It just means that no matter how well you’re doing, there might not be any more room in the budget to reward you, until review time rolls around again.
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