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Improving Communication With Your Boss

Communication with your boss doesn’t have to be difficult.  If you have effective communications with other people, you already have the resources to do the same with your boss.  You just need to find out what works and what doesn’t work.  Start off by making the assumption that your boss is human just like you, with needs, preferences, and stressors.  Then use these tips to help have a mutually beneficial conversation:

  • Listen: Listen carefully.  Seek first to understand what your boss’ point of view is, and give that position equal value in your mind (think win/win).  Perhaps you are the one who came to talk but use the two ears / one mouth principal.
  • Validate: Assure your boss that his/her needs (in the given situation) are understood.  Even better is to find a way to demonstrate that you are aligned with your boss’ goals and expectations.
  • Be Prepared: Write down the key points you need to discuss, and know in advance how you will make your case.
  • Focus on Outcomes and Solutions: No boss likes to hear about problems.  Most of their day is dealing with problems.  Arrive with a description of the issue, but always come armed with a proposed solution or two.  Be able to answer the question “What is the outcome you desire in this situation?”
  • Be Concise: Most business leaders are low data users – they make decision with very little information.  They can be impatient if you are not concise.  Use the SAR model to brief your boss:  Situation / Action / R  Keep briefing on any particular issue to 7 sentences, 1 minute.  If there is a problem in the story, include obstacles and the proposed solution in your story, but keep it brief.
  • Be Professional. Don’t gossip, complain about others or badmouth anyone.  Verbalize your issue as a positive:  “I need for Joe to do….”
  • Benefit to the Buyer: You are selling something – an idea, a proposed solution – to your boss.  What’s in it for the boss?  Make sure that the “buyer” (boss) derives a clear benefit from your solution.
  • Take Responsibility. Own your mistakes. Don’t make excuses.  Bosses love people who accept responsibility and hold themselves accountable.

The Angry Boss:  Is your boss like a coiled spring, ready to pounce at the first provocation?  If you have a boss who easily gets angry, use these tips to deal with the anger:

  • Validate where your boss is coming from, no matter what. “I understand how you feel” is easy to say even if you disagree with the main point.  Being validated can calm people down.
  • Stay calm yourself. Don’t be defensive.  Ask questions; offer suggestions empathetically.  Don’t use the phrase “you should”.
  • Don’t make it personal. Bosses see that as a sign of weakness.  Keep it about the business issue and the proposed solution.
  • Use “I” statements.  Don’t say: “You don’t value my work…”  Say instead: “I need to feel valued for what I do.”
  • Try the when you.., I feel.., I need.. conversational sequence:  When you [describe boss’ action in neutral terms], I feel [describe your feeling], and what I need instead is [the outcome from your boss, defined in positive terms].”  By the way, this works at home too!
  • Commit to being part of the solution. Get on the same side as your boss. Most bosses will tolerate debate on the issues, as long as you aren’t fighting what they need to have happen.

Bosses put on their pants one leg at a time, they’re human, they’re flawed, and they don’t necessarily have better communication skills than you do in troublesome situations.  If you take the lead in handling the communication effectively, you can set the tone and the agenda for a positive exchange that will grow into a positive pattern of communication that repeats over time.