How to Talk to the Boss

5 August 2009 By Rubi McGrory

Navigating your way through a dialogue with your yacht’s owner can be a tricky route. While most take a general interest in their crew and some even want to create a “family atmosphere” on board, others don’t even like to engage the crew in conversation.

You may not have to remain silent or “speak only when spoken to,” but when talking to the boss and his guests, it’s best to stay away from verbal diarrhea. Here are a few more things to keep in mind:

1: It’s not about you. Or your partner or where you went on your holiday or how you injured your knee or your opinion on almost anything. Although you’re in a different, more relaxed setting than your boss will be with most of his employees, you are still an employee. Keep personal information, stories and opinions to a minimum. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t speak to your boss and his guests, but it really is about them. Focus the conversation on their needs, wants, ideas, opinions and stories.

2: It’s not about politics. There is a very good chance that you and your boss are on opposite ends of the political spectrum, if you are even in the same spectrum at all. Your passion will not sway him to change his mind, and further, he doesn’t come to his yacht to engage in political discourse with his crew. Sports, while inspiring equally fervent devotion, are a mutual and safe topic – as long as you know what you are talking about. Don’t be shy about rooting for an opposing team.

3: It’s not about other bosses and guests. Stories about previous bosses and guests may be very entertaining, but after your boss stops laughing, he will wonder what you will tell other guests and future bosses about him. He probably would be interested in hearing information you may have about other boats in the anchorage or marina (avoid discussing tacky interiors), or any celebrity stories, like the diva who chews with her mouth open or the famous football player who leaves the door open while sitting on the toilet.

4: It’s not about the past. Unless you were an Olympic gold medalist or a Nobel Laureate, your life outside of yachting isn’t germane to the job you were hired to perform. Your boss and his guests only see you in the role you play in his employ. It is best to keep mum about previous arrests and convictions. Your boss will want to brag to his guests about the professional acumen of his staff, however, so don’t be shy about letting him know you took first place on Iron Chef or have patented nautical equipment. Oh, and about that law degree or medical certification – unless you want to provide these skills without additional compensation on top of your other duties, you may want to keep this information to yourself.

5: It’s not about money. As with politics, you and your boss undoubtedly have different views on financial topics, and he is looking at a lot more of it. For every crewmember who has gotten a great stock tip from their boss, there are two who lost a bundle. Talking markets with your boss is very tricky territory, not to be handled by novices.

6: It’s not about friendship. It is, however, about professionalism. Your boss has all the friends he wants. Yes, there are bosses who will want to bring crewmembers into their fold, take you to dinner, invite you stay in their guest room ashore or join in other social activities. Be wary of these situations. In this relationship, you are not equals, you work for him.

None of these rules are hard and fast; every boat has a different climate. Use your best judgment, and remember, it’s not about you.