Often one of the most difficult things to do at work is to have a positive, open channel of communication with the one who holds the most power and control over your current job success (besides yourself) – your boss. Most people realize there are certain things they can and can not say to their boss or manager, and that’s true. But, in fact, there are many things that you can and should be saying to your boss, if you want to have a rewarding relationship with him or her, and if you want to be sure you have a supporter and a defender in the person you report to.
Some of us have a love-hate relationship with our manager; we use them when we need them, but try to keep our distance the rest of the time. Some love to be in our manager’s presence; just because it feels good to be in their ‘circle’, where the respect and reverence that other people have for them sometimes transfers to us. Others hate the feeling of an overarching authority, and would prefer to just pretend they don’t have a manager. However, the truth is, no matter how you feel about your boss, you’ll always have one. So, why not have as effective a relationship with your manager as you possibly can?
We’ve all done it. We’ve had a negative interaction with a colleague or a disappointing work product, and either need a referee or a sounding board, or both. So, when the time is right, you walk to your manager’s office, plunk down in the chair across from their desk, and vent. First of all, this is OK, but only if there’s more than just venting going on. As cliché as this may sound, managers don’t want to just hear about problems, they want to hear about possible solutions. A manager’s job is to be a source of coaching and advice, but their job is not to solve all your work problems, as if you were some kind of preschooler who had a fight on the playground and need a parent to come over and break it up. It’s OK to complain, vent, grouse and even curse, but then offer up an alternative. Come up with a solution to whatever the problem is, and suggest it. Even ask your manager help you to implement it, but don’t just complain for the sake of getting your frustrations off your chest. Your manager is meant to be your work guide and supporter, not your therapist or your parent.
Once in a while, it’s a good idea to give a compliment to the boss when one is sincerely due. Most non-managers do not realize this, but compliments and positive feedback are important to managers, because they don’t really know how good (or bad) a job they’re doing as managers and are terrified to ask. Most employees would be amazed at how much their company spends on consultants to help managers learn more about their management style and what their direct reports really think of them.
Given the fact that so many managers have never received the right preparation or training before becoming managers, every once in a while it’s a good idea to compliment your boss when they do something that makes you feel appreciated, valued or respected. They may not openly acknowledge how they feel about the feedback, but even if only subconsciously, they’ll remember getting the praise for doing something that created a positive result or sentiment for someone who reports to them. In the end, it will probably make them a better manager to you or someone else.
Remember that giving someone a compliment doesn’t mean that you engage in brown-nosing activities, or lavish undue or over-the-top praise, it just means that you can and should be honest with you boss when they do something that is helpful to you. Sometimes, it’s as simple as saying, “Hey, Paul, thanks for helping me complete that negotiation with Trans Air, and for letting me take the reins on the final phase.” Or even, “I really appreciate your support in helping me get that raise. Thanks.” These little things go a long way, and encourage managers to do more of it, because they know that not only are they helping their employees, but they’re becoming more successful at managing and leading people.
Communicating is not only about talking and presenting ideas, it’s also about listening. And when dealing with your manager, there will be a multitude of times when you’ll be communicating well by simply keeping your mouth shut. There are dozens of opportunities in any given week to strengthen the relationship and bonds of communication with your manager, by listening and being receptive to coaching and feedback. So many managers complain about their ‘problem’ employees by saying things like, “I’ve tried to tell him, but he just won’t listen.” Don’t be that employee. Be open to what your manager is saying when they’re trying to give you advice on how to do something differently, or how to engage with someone in the office that you don’t get along with. You may decide in the end that the advice is just not the help you can take, but decide that later. While you’re in that moment with your boss, and he or she is giving you what is probably their best and most genuine attempt to help you, take it all in and consider the merits of it, and don’t pooh-pooh the advice until you’ve had a reasonable amount of time to digest and reflect on it.
It’s true that sometimes you’ll just have an ineffective boss, who brings you more pain than peace. But just remember that effective communication is never about one person. Even if you’re doing everything you can to get away from under the thumb of an oppressive boss, there are still things you can do, in the meantime, to lighten your own load and help make the relationship more tenable.
by Melanie Haniph