3 Ways to Communicate Better with Your Boss

Sep 17, 2014 | Communication

Two businesspeople discussing paper

I just did the math (which is quite the feat for a gal who considers math a four-letter word), and out of the decade I’ve spent in the business world, seven years were in a manager or director role. In that time, I’ve learned a thing or two about communicating with those in leadership.

Let’s look at three ways you can improve communication with your boss:

1. Watch Your Timing.

Chances are your boss has an agenda crammed with appointments. On top of of his meeting marathon, he has his own responsibilities. So, be careful when you approach him. Just because he’s in his office doesn’t mean he’s available for questions. Ask first.

Tap, tap, tap…“Do you have a minute to discuss the proposal?”

If the topic cannot be addressed in under five minutes, consider setting a meeting time. If your boss has an assistant, request the next available opening. Then, compile all of your questions so they can be answered in one session—or send an email. Your boss can reply when he sees it, and you don’t have to stalk his office.

Bonus: Be very careful when marking emails as important. If you do this too much, for topics that aren’t really important, they’ll become easy to ignore. Let your subject line speak for the importance of the question.

Example subject line: Final approval needed by Thursday.

2. Clearly State What You Need.

Don’t go to your boss and say, “So, we have this deadline…” She’ll just stare blankly at you, waiting for you to get on with it. Get to the crux of the matter. Don’t assume she’ll understand a hint. Ask your question as concisely as possible.

“Did you get a chance to read the email I sent yesterday about the client’s request? I’d like to reply today.”

The same goes for backstory/explanations:
Wrong: “See, first we thought Suzie would be able to do the editing, but then she was needed to work on the content development for another client, and then we thought she could still do it, but then she decided she couldn’t, and so we all know we need to meet the deadline, right? Yeah, well, so, um, can we outsource the editing? We just aren’t sure we’ll be able to meet the deadline, ya know?”

Right: “In order to meet the deadline, we’ll likely need to outsource the editing. What would you like to do?”

3. Return the Favor.

Just like you expect your boss to reply to your email in a timely manner—and communicate effectively by providing direction and tools for your job—do the same for him.

When your boss emails, reply quickly. When he leaves a voicemail, respond right away. When your boss visits your office to discuss something, don’t pick up your phone, stare at your computer, or give the “just a minute” signal. (Yup, I’ve been on the receiving end of all these!) Instead, be respectful, turn toward your boss, take out your earbuds, and give your full attention to the matter. Be a part of the team, not deadweight.

Each boss is different. The key is to make an effort to have the best communication possible, as much as is dependent on you. What tips do you have for improving communication with those in leadership?

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