People First HR Services

Take steps to improve communication with boss

Colleen Coates

It likely goes back to our childhood memories of being sent to the principal’s office, but most of us still get sweaty-palmed about knocking on the boss’s door to ask for something.

Even if you have a great relationship with your manager, it can be nerve-racking to approach your boss to admit you’ve made a mistake, request additional help, seek time off or a pay raise. Fortunately, a little advance preparation and an understanding of the best way to communicate your needs can go a long way.

It is important not to let anxiety get in the way of setting up your meeting, and you can thank email for helping to make that first step a fairly easy one. According to a recent article by Deloitte, most business executives prefer communicating via email, which makes initiating your conversation with the boss simple and non-threatening.

Keep in mind that busy executives do not have time to read lengthy messages and will scan them to pick out the most relevant points. Therefore, keep your correspondence short and to the point.

For example, after a polite salutation such as “Good morning,” your message should read something like, “I would like to meet with you this week to discuss my professional development goals and future opportunities to further my career within our company. Could you please let me know the most convenient date and time for us to schedule a meeting.”

This message is not only concise; it states the benefit (your development as an employee and desired future career growth in the company) to your boss and to the organization.

When it comes time to meet face to face, it is important to make the best use of your boss’s time and to utilize good communication skills in your discussion. This includes:

— Arrive prepared to discuss the current situation, your recommendations for improvement or what you hope to achieve and the reasons to support what it is you are asking for, as well as how you propose to measure the success of your request if it is accepted.

— Suggest a process for continued communication if your request is an ongoing process, such as arranging to adjust your workload or take on a greater leadership role within the company. This process may include setting up future meetings or volunteering to submit reports documenting your progress and achievements.

— Ask your manager for advice and guidance. One of their responsibilities is to help mentor employees through the benefit of their experience, which makes them an excellent resource. Tap into it.

If you would like to improve your in-person or online communication with your boss, or at least be sure that your time together is more effective, keep these five factors in mind:

1. Trust — If trust is lacking between you and your boss for whatever reason, take the initiative to rebuild it. You can do this by doing your job competently and by speaking to them pleasantly (and never disparage them behind their back) and with respect. If you disagree over a matter, avoid any unpleasant confrontation by discussing it calmly without being overly defensive.

2. Constructive feedback — It is difficult for most people to swallow even the gentlest feedback, but remember that it is necessary in order to improve and grow. Realize that your boss is just doing their job and instead of taking the comments as hurtful, listen carefully to what is being said. If you’re unsure of how to apply it to your work situation, ask for clarification of what your boss expects. If you believe the comments to be unfair, be respectful as you voice your opinion.

3. Personality clash — Sometimes we work for people who rub us the wrong way. Even if your boss is not someone you’d want to invite to the cottage, that doesn’t mean you can’t communicate professionally. Start by finding common ground, such as your mutual objective to help the organization grow and succeed, or something personal you both enjoy, such as a round of golf. If you work at it, you can almost always find a common interest. This will go a long way to making the workplace more enjoyable.

4. Miscommunication: Is there a past matter getting in the way of your present interactions? If it’s possible that it was a misunderstanding, clear the air, and clear the way for better communication in the future.

5. Nonverbal cues: Your body language and the intensity and inflection in your voice conveys as much as the words you use. Work on establishing and maintaining good eye contact, keeping an even tone of voice and remaining in a non-threatening, neutral position (don’t cross your arms in front of you; it looks like you’re either defensive or close-minded) while talking to your boss.

It’s entirely possible that a communication shortcoming between you and your boss is not your fault or even within your control, and that’s OK. However, you can still improve the situation by following the points above to improve communication with your boss. Expressing your opinions and sharing ideas more effectively will help to create a better relationship with your boss, which will surely prove your value and help boost your career.

— With reporting by Barbara Chabai

Colleen Coates, CHRP, CCP, is a Practice Leader with People First HR Services Ltd. She can be contacted at


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 30, 2011 H1