How to Think on Your Feet When You’re in Front of the Boss
“I know you’ve heard it a thousand times before. But it’s true — hard work pays off. If you want to be good, you have to practice, practice, practice. If you don’t love something, then don’t do it.” — Ray Bradbury
Back in my Marine Corps days, I got an e-mail that read like this: “You have an appointment Tuesday morning to meet with General Jones” (name changed to protect the guilty, er, I mean the innocent).
That was the entire text of the message.
There was no explanation, no topic, no “cordially invited” — just a date and time.
Has that ever happened to you? It was probably not a Marine Corps general who summoned you into his presence, but have you
ever been sitting at your desk, minding your own business, when the phone rings with a message that the boss wants to see you?
I don’t know about you, but my mind immediately goes to the worst possible scenario. (“That’s it! I’m going to jail.”)
In case you ever find yourself in that situation – especially when you’re nervous, here is a valuable tool to help you hit a home run in front of the boss, every time:
Chair-flying is a fighter pilot term for pre-flight practice.
Most pilots, at some time in their careers, master the art of flying an entire sortie at their desks before they ever get to an airplane. When a pilot chair-flies, he makes radio calls, deals with emergencies, and dodges hostile fire — all while sitting at his desk with his eyes closed. It is a way to build some much-needed experience even before he’s got it.
And it really works.
The following example is for those who have an actual boss. For those who don’t, the concepts below work equally well for partners, clients, customers, or patients. In fact, they even work when you’re not there; some of the best sales letters I have ever written follow these five steps.
When you get the call to the corner office, spend a minute to chair-fly your way through the meeting. When you do, follow this simple but powerful checklist:
- Briefly put yourself in the boss’s mind. What does he (or she) want to know? What is he going to ask? How is he going to ask it? Write each question or concern down on a piece of paper or an index card.
- Come up with a well-worded, clear, and short answer to each of the anticipated questions. Write the answer to each question on the back of the card. Try to write each answer in the form of a benefit statement. These usually start with, “What this means to you is…”
- Go through your answers as if you were in the boss’s office. There is no need, nor is there time, for memorization. Just practice them once or twice in your head and they will be guaranteed to come out much clearer in real life.
- In your live responses, be sure to state your boss’s likely objections — then answer them.
Example: “Tom, at first glance, it may seem like we are not going to get the return back from this investment that we normally do [OBJECTION].
“However; thinking long-term, this is a deal that will require a small investment now and should return thousands over the next 10 years [ANSWER].”
- Finally, close strong. Failing to close strong is one of the biggest mistakes you can make when talking to your boss, especially when you are thinking on your feet.
For some reason, we all clam up when it comes to the big ending (this is equally true for salesmen asking for the sale, copywriters writing the offer, contractors asking for payment, and guys asking for a date.) And unfortunately, the higher the boss’s position, the worse it usually gets.
BUT – think about it from your boss’s perspective. He wants his employees to be assertive and strong. Trust me on this.
Understanding this principle alone could get you your next promotion. To close strong, end with something like: “Finally, unless we are willing to give up a significant market share, we have little choice but to proceed with this purchase.”
So the next time you are called to the boss’s office, do a little chair-flying ahead of time and ensure your success.
- Identify one thing this last month that caught you off guard.
- Write down two things you could have done to prevent that from happening.
- Next, identify something else that could catch you off guard that hasn’t happened yet.
- Come up with a short contingency plan for that possibility.