How to Predict What Your Boss Really Wants from You

business woman on a laptop
Who wouldn't want to be a "Professor X" with the ability to read the minds of our bosses and know exactly what they want?

Imagine how much easier work would be when you know what to focus on and cut out all the noise?

You wouldn't be able to read your boss's minds but you can predict what they want or expect from you. All it takes is activating your listening skills coupled with asking for help. 

Before talking about how to read your boss's priorities, it is best to understand the differences between a want and a need. Simply put, what a boss wants is a preference. It is a need when the absence of something, the result is a problem or a conflict. With that in mind, how to determine if it is a want or a need for your boss can be distinguished by active listening.

What am I listening for?

You are picking out their values and concerns through how they express the information. The first layer of listening is in their body language, followed by matching that to the words they are saying.

Does your boss become animated when talking about the details of the project or does the eyes light up when talking about the bigger goals of the project? This can give you an indication of what your boss prefers and is looking out for in the stages of the project.

The second layer of listening is extracting information about the undercurrent meanings and concerns your boss has. If you are unsure in pinpointing the exact intention, this brings us to the next way to predict your boss's wants:

Ask, ask, ask!

The best way to find out what your boss wants or needs is to ASK. Based on my experience, there are a lot of people who do not ask or clarify their doubts. Half the time, we spend operating on their interpretation or assumption of what the boss wants. The result is usually less than satisfactory because from the start, we weren't even sure of the boss's intention for us or the project in the first place.

business woman and man in a meeting

If this solution is so simple, why do people not ask more often?

The fear of sounding stupid holds us back. Look at the alternative of not asking, it is worse! So try injecting humor in your request. Start with stating the obvious, "silly question, but I would like to verify if (paraphrase in your own words what your boss has mentioned)?".

In asking you can also distinguish for yourself if the request from you boss is a want or a need (remember your active listening skills). If the request or task is beyond your capabilities due to resources or lack of time, let your boss know your current constraints and suggest how much seems realistically feasibly, given the circumstances. If your boss agrees, it was likely a want. If your boss cannot accept the suggested outcome, it should indicate to you that it is a need.

For me, I find out about my boss's wants, needs and expectations by having a casual chat with them now and then, towards the end of the day. Such a setting allows both of us the space to wind down after work and catch up with minor details we may have overlooked during the grind of the day.

I use this time to clarify my doubts (ASK!) or get their advice and his expectations of me in the given project and/or within the department or company.This should facilitate an alignment on where to go and how to do that within that timeframe.

goal setting


In order to predict what your boss wants, asking all the time may make you be perceived as incompetent. Try another route - asking people your boss works with. These conversations are valuable in giving you the foresight on the likes and dislikes or what kind of qualities your boss values. It helps you make an educated guess on how you can work well with your boss by being the dependable person who delivers their wants.

 On predicting the needs of the organization, if you're working on a project it would be easy. Ask what is the objective and how it fits into the overall goals of the company. Seeing the big picture of the project and how it contributes to the company helps in predicting and distinguishing your boss's needs and wants.

About the Author:
Carina stands for empowerment in making dreams become reality and her clients benefit greatly from it. As a coach, Carina likes to see herself as a mirror that reflects her client's truth. That mirror has no intention to judge, to beautify or to interpret her client's reality in any way. As a coach at Executive Coach International (, her aim is to see the client as a person in that moment and to facilitate any change that the person is determined to undergo.

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