How to Communicate With Your Boss: With Tara Ross

We all have a set of beliefs that can either serve us or hurt us. Those beliefs influence our behaviors and decisions, but most of the time we are unaware of what our beliefs are.

Tara Ross, HR Director at Stackpole International and today’s guest, has a tendency to want to double-check everything with her boss, but she fears he’ll get upset, so she’s not sure where she stands.

As we keep talking, I notice that the issue is in how her beliefs reflect on her decision-making and communication, which lets us know that the key to solving this is right in front of her.

Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Kim Ades: Hello, hello. My name is Tim Ades, I'm the President and Founder of Frame of Mind Coaching and the Co-founder of The Journal That Talks Back. You have just joined The Frame of Mind Coaching Podcast, and here's what happens on this podcast.

We invite leaders from all over the world to come onto the podcast to get coached live and in-person. And so today my guest is Tara Ross, and she is the HR Director from a company called Stackpole International. Tara, did I get it right?

[00:00:35] Tara Ross: You did. Thank you.

[00:00:37] Kim Ades: Welcome! So tell us a little bit about you. Where are you located? What is Stackpole International? Just fill us in a little bit.

[00:00:46] Tara Ross: So Stackpole international is a automotive manufacturing parts company. We are located in Southern Ontario. So I work at a facility in Stratford, we have about 600 employees here, so a rather large facility. And we are owned by Johnson Electric, so they are a company from Hong Kong and they specialize in motors for all kinds of different applications.

[00:01:19] Kim Ades: Okay. And how long have you been with Stackpole?

[00:01:22] Tara Ross: I will have been with Stackpole six years at the end of March.

[00:01:26] Kim Ades: Okay. And you're the HR Director. What does that mean exactly?

[00:01:30] Tara Ross: I am responsible for HR for six facilities worldwide. Three in Ontario, one in Korea, one in China and one in Germany. And I also--

[00:01:44] Kim Ades: Sorry, say that again. Three in Ontario?

[00:01:46] Tara Ross: Three in Ontario, one in China, one in South Korea, and one in Germany.

[00:01:53] Kim Ades: Okay. That's a lot.

[00:01:55] Tara Ross: It is a lot.

[00:01:56] Kim Ades: Okay. And so you're responsible for six facilities and? I know there's an "and". [Chuckles]

[00:02:04] Tara Ross: And in Canada, I'm responsible-- we have two business units. So in Canada, those five facilities between the two business units and I'm responsible for all the legal and Canadian specific, related to those five facilities. So over the past couple of years, COVID standards, and then comp and benefits and things like that.

[00:02:26] Kim Ades: So you got a lot on your plate.

[00:02:28] Tara Ross: Yes.

[00:02:29] Kim Ades: So are you, generally speaking, do you have like so much to do that you can't breathe? Or are you managing it properly easily?

[00:02:37] Tara Ross: A little bit of both. [Laughs]

[00:02:40] Kim Ades: Okay.

[00:02:41] Tara Ross: I would say more recently, so much going on that sometimes I feel like I'm spinning.

[00:02:48] Kim Ades: Okay. So you have a lot on your plate.

[00:02:50] Tara Ross: Yes.

[00:02:51] Kim Ades: All right. So talk to me about what's going on. What is your greatest challenge that you want to share today?

[00:02:58] Tara Ross: So I have only been in this role as an HR Director for two years. It's my first position in senior management, so I am learning how to operate, manage up and manage down. And I find that I sometimes struggle with effective communication with my direct boss, that I get frustrated because I don't maybe understand what he's looking for, or I think I've given him what he's looking for.

And I'm tentative, and I don't know if it's a lack of self-confidence or whatever, to kind of frame my responses in a way that kind of says, "no, hey, this is what I think we should be doing". So I find myself probably more passive than I would be in other relationships within the workplace.

Like, I have no problem as the HR manager at my plant saying to supervisors or production managers, "Hey, this is the path we need to go. Here's what my solutions are". So I'm struggling with that transition.

[00:04:17] Kim Ades: Okay. So, let's get a little bit more specific because right now you're giving me a very, very broad picture. And normally when I coach people tend to give me a very, very broad picture, but in order for me to really understand that broad picture, I say, "okay, give me an example".

Give me one or two times when something happened where you felt like you weren't communicating properly or you felt frustrated or you felt like you were delivering, but then your boss maybe wasn't so satisfied. Give me what you have going on in your head.

[00:04:50] Tara Ross: Okay. I have two recent examples. So one really recent just from this week. So we're attempting to make a job offer overseas and it's all new for me, and the person helping us had some questions, so I forwarded them onto my boss and said, "Hey, could we have a quick meeting to go over the answers to these?"

And his response back was "well don't you know most of them?" And "just go ahead", which yes, I do know most of them, but I'm very concerned or cautious of though getting his buy-in and getting his buy-in ahead of time before I make any major decisions. So it was kind of a defensive thing for me, but his response was well, don't you kind of know how to do that?"

[00:05:44] Kim Ades: Okay. So question for you. Have you ever done something where he said, "what the heck are you doing? What did you do? What were you thinking?"

[00:05:56] Tara Ross: No, because I generally run it by him first.

[00:05:59] Kim Ades: Okay. So what you have is, I think, a person who says "you're good, you don't need to check in with me all the time". I mean, based on that conversation, right?

[00:06:10] Tara Ross: Yeah.

[00:06:11] Kim Ades: It would be different if you said, "you know what? I do things and then I get slapped on the hand every time I do things, so I'm a little unsure. I want to run it by him just to make sure I'm getting his green light, because I don't want to get slapped on the hand again", but that's not what you're telling me. What you're telling me is "I'm just a little nervous. I'm unsure of myself". He's not unsure about you, he's like "you know this stuff".

[00:06:39] Tara Ross: Yes, I don't think he's nervous about me, but I think getting him to agree without having--

[00:06:53] Kim Ades: You are cutting out. Sorry, say that again.

[00:06:57] Tara Ross: Oh.

[00:06:58] Kim Ades: Getting him to agree, you just cut out. So just say that again.

[00:07:02] Tara Ross: Okay. So I was just saying, I think he agrees that I can do things, but getting his approval or opinion ahead of time does make it easier. He likes to be aware of, and it's his role, of everything. So that's where my nervousness comes from. Like, the reason why I haven't made a major decision is because I kind of want to check that box and be like, "okay, Andrew, is this good?"

[00:07:34] Kim Ades: But hold on a second. I want to go back a little bit, okay? So... Does he actually need to make sure he's giving you a green light on everything? 'Cause it sure sounds to me like you have more of a green light than you think. What did you just say under your breath?

[00:07:55] Tara Ross: I just going to say we've never had that conversation. [Laughs]

[00:08:00] Kim Ades: How fascinating.

[00:08:02] Tara Ross: Yeah, I've never asked him kind of where is my decision making authority or "what do you want updated on?" Right now, I'm just like, wow, we have never discussed that.

[00:08:15] Kim Ades: Okay. So I want to just back up for a minute, cause I know that there's more to this conversation and there may be another example we want to talk about, but before we get into that other example, for those of you who are listening, this is really interesting because this is not uncommon.

What we see is Tara has a certain set of beliefs about what her boss wants, what he expects, what he needs, and more than anything, she has a certain idea of what she needs in order to be comfortable moving forward, without which she feels very nervous and trepidatious. Yes?

[00:08:53] Tara Ross: Yes.

[00:08:54] Kim Ades: Yes. Okay, so what I'm doing is just asking the questions. That's all I'm doing. I'm saying, is it true that he needs you to check with him on every thing?

[00:09:05] Tara Ross: No.

[00:09:06] Kim Ades: No. So that's something that you created, you decided with so. And so what are you doing in that construct is you're playing small, right? You're seeking for approval, you're seeking validation and you're keeping yourself in a small spot with respect to your career.

You know, here's another way that that could have played out. You could have answered it C to C, seed him and said, "Hey, answering all the questions, please review and make sure you're good with it".

[00:09:39] Tara Ross: Yes.

[00:09:40] Kim Ades: And then he would've said, "well, actually, there's this one thing that you answered that I might've answered a little differently".

[00:09:46] Tara Ross: Yes.

[00:09:47] Kim Ades: And in which case you're learning, but what you've just done there is you've positioned yourself as his colleague as opposed to his underling, right?

[00:09:57] Tara Ross: Yes. Very much so. [Laughs]

[00:09:59] Kim Ades: Okay. Do you have another example that you want us to kind of just-- because what we're really doing is, by the way, when we're coaching, is we're looking at how you think and how your thinking is impacting what you do and how you experience everything. Right? So what you experienced was he's going like "don't you know what you're doing?" But you're creating that.

[00:10:23] Tara Ross: Yes. So I do have one other example. So through COVID we tried to standardize all of our protocols across our five plants, just for consistency, for reporting, to provide that safety for our employees, and we developed these protocols, published them, and not all facilities follow them to the same degree. And although I kind of championed it, I am HR, and on an operational side, it really needs to be enforced by operations, we're not out on the floor and things like that.

And it wasn't consistently applied across the plants, so I had a bit of frustration there as we had put in so much time and effort. And for the first time we really were pretty consistent across five plants. We kind of run separately, so to do that from an HR side, and health and safety, it was like an achievement. But then we didn't necessarily have that support up from above to say, like, "you shall do this".

[00:11:41] Kim Ades: So you're saying some of the plants aren't following the protocols.

[00:11:47] Tara Ross: Yeah, not all of it or to the same degree, as we had written out.

[00:11:52] Kim Ades: Okay. And who are you looking to for that support? It was at your boss again?

[00:11:59] Tara Ross: Yes, because he oversees those same plants.

[00:12:03] Kim Ades: Okay, so tell me how that conversation went. Did you have a conversation that said, "hey, this one plant isn't following protocol"?

[00:12:14] Tara Ross: No, because that plant is... no [laughs] we had conversations about "let's make sure it's consistent", but no, I didn't. Yeah, no. I was going to say, to be honest with you, I'm tentative about upsetting him or challenging him. And again, it's not because he wouldn't listen. My boss and I, we have great conversations. When I'm sitting here talking with you, I fully see that it's probably 80% on my side.

[00:12:52] Kim Ades: Okay. So help me understand something. You're tentative about upsetting him, but what's going to upset him? A question about protocol? Have you seen him upset? Have you upset him in the past?

[00:13:07] Tara Ross: I have not. I don't recall having upset him. I have seen him upset and not-- just like a boss, right? But just getting him to 100% say that commitment to say, "Hey, yes, this is how it will be"... Having that conversation with him, that's what I needed from him, was a commitment that this is how it's going to be, and I didn't know how to approach that. [Laughs]

[00:13:38] Kim Ades: There are so many layers to this conversation, right?

[00:13:41] Tara Ross: Yeah.

[00:13:41] Kim Ades: Layer one is there are a whole bunch of beliefs that you have in your brain about him and how he's gonna react and how he's gonna respond, and what's going to upset him and how you don't want to ruffle his feathers and all of this stuff that you're absolutely inventing. Right? And we all do that.

[00:13:58] Tara Ross: Yes.

[00:13:58] Kim Ades: We all invent things based on our beliefs. So that's layer one. Layer two is you are not having the conversations that might be useful for you, that would help bring clarity about what's appropriate, what's inappropriate, what would upset him, what wouldn't upset him. Like, you're functioning in a dark hole where you don't know where the light is because you're not having those important conversations.

But the third point is you are looking to him to give you a sense of what's right and wrong, and you're not looking internally for that at all. Right? But you have a good sense of what's right and wrong, and you're not on any level trusting yourself.

But I'm going to throw one more thing in. I think you're not remembering that you are on his team. And why is that important? Is because if you make a recommendation, it's for the best interests of you and him and your team, and you're not trusting that your point of view on best practices has any value.

[00:15:16] Tara Ross: Yes. Yeah...

[00:15:18] Kim Ades: I can see you thinking.

[00:15:22] Tara Ross: [Laughs] Well, I'm thinking I am the HR expert and sometimes I forget that, that part of why I'm in the role I'm in is because in those areas. I am the subject matter expert. So it's approaching it from that, not again from an underling, but from a-- so yes. [Chuckles]

[00:15:48] Kim Ades: I hope that-- I mean, I'm kind of pushing back a little bit on you. I can see your reaction.

[00:15:54] Tara Ross: [Laughs]

[00:15:54] Kim Ades: I can see your reaction going, "oh my God..." [Chuckles] Right? Like, I could just see it in front of me.

[00:16:00] Tara Ross: Yeah.

[00:16:00] Kim Ades: And so I'm hoping that you're taking something away from this conversation.

[00:16:03] Tara Ross: Absolutely.

[00:16:04] Kim Ades: I'm hoping that I'm giving you some food for thought. For those of you who are listening, I think that there's a very, very important lesson here. And I mean, Tara is an amazing guest for me because she's demonstrating it so, so clearly.

We all have a set of beliefs that we walk around with that we're unaware of, and those beliefs will influence how we behave, how we show up, what we do and what we don't do. And if we're unaware of those beliefs and we don't have any control, we don't have any power to make a change.

And so when we coach people, our job is to unearth those beliefs. And we do that by asking questions, by getting the details, by understanding the storyline, by seeing what Tara does and what Tara doesn't do and understanding some of the patterns of her behavior.

And in this case, Tara has kind of demonstrated that she's probably extremely competent in her role, but she has fear about upsetting people, about not getting the approval she's looking for, about making a wrong step, et cetera.

And those are things that really need to be addressed because those fears are preventing her from having conversations that clear things up and make her life and her job and probably the life and the job of her boss a lot easier. And so that's the lesson for the day. Tara, thank you so much for being on the podcast.

[00:17:33] Tara Ross: You're welcome. Thank you for having me.

[00:17:35] Kim Ades: You were awesome. For those of you who are listening, if you have a challenge that you want to share in the podcast, please reach out to me. My email is Kim@frameofmindcoaching.com. If you have a challenge that you want to talk about, but maybe not so much on the podcast, please reach out to me as well. Again, my email address is Kim@frameofmindcoaching.com.

I am desperately looking for some feedback on the podcast. I'm looking for some input, some insights, some thoughts, some opinions. So I want to hear from you. I would love for you to like and share as well. But I hope that this podcast triggers you to pick up your email and send me a note. Love to hear from you.

In the meantime, have a great week. We will see you next week.

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