7 Tips for Communicating with Your Boss

Communication is always a top challenge within the companies I serve and the leaders I coach. Why is that? It’s interesting to think we need to focus on improving something we’re constantly doing!

I think one reason good communication remains a challenge is because we don’t take the time (or pay attention long enough) to learn how we should communicate with each other, our bosses included. Our goal in communicating up should be to lead up. How can we communicate in a way that removes work from out boss’s plate and helps carry their load? With that in mind, here are seven thoughts many bosses may be thinking and tips how we can better connect with and serve them by doing a better job communicating with them.

  1. “I don’t read paragraphs! Just give me the bullets.”  Do you know how your boss prefers to communicate? For example, do they want you to provide them with all the details before a decision is made, do they want you to just give them a high level overview or do they not care to know until after you make a decision? What channel do they prefer – phone, email, or in-person? Pay attention to how they communicate, and adapt to their style.
  2. “Just tell me what I need to know.” Whether you’re in a department meeting or a one-on-one with your leader, always try to get to the bottom line. Though you likely came to your opinion or decision based on tons of details, your leader probably doesn’t need to know all of them. If he wants more information, he’ll ask.
  3. “What do you think we should do?”Don’t ask your leader questions that you can answer yourself if you spend time thinking about it or take the time to find the answer. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t ask questions. Good questions offer clarity and trigger better thinking. Just don’t make your leader think for you.
  4. “Can I help you again?” On the same subject of questions, if you’re working on something that does require you ask a lot of them, refrain from interrupting your leader every time a new question or concern enters your mind. Instead, keep a list and try to get their answers all at once.
  5. “Are you winging it?” We all need to be able to speak on our feet and react to quick changes, but we also need to prepare whenever possible. If you anticipate your boss might turn to you for advice, information, or input in an upcoming meeting, know what’s expected of you and put in the work beforehand, so you’ll be ready when the opportunity comes for you to speak up.
  6. “Where’s my ROI?” Your leader probably regards their time spent with you as an investment, so make sure they can see a return! Use what you learn, and demonstrate how their input is valuable to you and results in your growth. Think about how you can lead up to your leader by bringing new ideas to the table or thoughts on how you can improve on your current products, processes, customer support, and so on.
  7. “The horse is dead. It’s time to dismount!” You’ve probably heard that saying. In matters of ethics, safety, or other crucial issues in your area of responsibility regarding employee well-being or company integrity, hold the line. However, if it’s a matter of personal opinion, or if you find yourself pushing for your idea instead of the best idea, you need to take a step back and stop pushing for your way.

Learning how to better communicate with our bosses is a worthwhile investment of our time, and it increases the value we add to the leaders we serve.

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  • Tom Schulte says:

    Great article, Linda!

    It brings up two quick phrases that have stuck in my head over the years that I try to keep in the forefront of my mind when speaking with a busy boss (or client, customer, spouse, etc…)

    1) “Just the headlines, please…”

    I had a boss tell me this and the clarity took away me breath. I realized that all I had to do was come up with a poignant “headline” to convey the entire topic and this helped EVERYONE out. It respected everyone’s time and allowed everyone to use the available time working on a solution rather than hashing over the minutia and ‘administrivia’ that really only wasted valuable time for busy professionals.

    2) “Show up with three solutions.”

    I was once instructed that if I was to go to my boss with a problem, that I should think about three likely solutions and present them after I discussed the problem at hand. I found that this was an incredibly gracious gift for any busy, distracted, or otherwise-focused executive who needed my assistance, not just my complaints. I also found that it helped me look like a problem-solver and helped my career along the way. It also allowed me to influence the process and I could tailor potential solutions toward what I knew might be the best outcome.

    Thanks again for such a great piece!

    Tom Schulte

    • Linda Sasser says:

      Great additions Tom!! Thanks so much. Having 3 solutions will not only help solve the challenge fast and with buy in, but it will also decrease the number of people who come to you with a whining attitude. Thanks for your input!