Assuming you don’t want to write an open letter that goes viral, brings you all sorts of attention (good and bad), and sparks debates about Millennials, wages and more, here are five tips for talking to your boss about a workplace issue.
1. Ensure the issue is legit and outside of your control.
Take a moment. Take a breath. OK, now reflect on the issue. Is this a major issue that significantly impacts your job or the jobs of your coworkers? Is it a short-term or a long-term issue? Do you think the issue will get better or worse if you raise it? It’s usually not great to let our emotions trump rationale, especially at work, so make sure you exhaust all reasonable avenues that could allow you to fix the issue on your own, before bringing it to your boss.
2. Carefully craft your approach.
Think about how you plan on approaching your boss. What setting will work best for both parties? Does your boss prefer an “office pop-in” or calendar meeting? Do they prefer a casual or formal conversation? Find a medium that will make both of you comfortable and schedule some time if necessary. And, depending on the nature of the issue, select an angle to attack. For instance, if your boss is all about the bottom line, focus on how the issue impacts revenue (if it does). Or, if he/she is all about culture, you can convey how it’s casting a black cloud over the office environment.
3. Know that your boss has been through this before.
This isn’t their first rodeo; you’re certainly not the first to address an issue. And you won’t be the last. Knowing this will allow you to walk in with more confidence and less apprehension. Managers, directors and C-suite executives are trained to deal with employee issues of all sorts, from interpersonal quarrels to poor work-life balance to salary issues and much more. How they handle each situation can depend on the magnitude of the complaint, the timing, their experience, their personality and a litany of other variables, but rest assured, your conversation won’t be completely new and awkward.
4. Acknowledge the positives.
Start on a positive note. Thank them for their time and mention the promising aspects of your job. Second, mention the fact that you’re trying to improve other aspects in an effort to be happier and more productive. Then, tactfully transition into your issue, concisely (remember, your boss is busy being a boss) explaining why it’s important. You can even be extra proactive by making suggestions that might rectify things. Once you’ve stated your case, carefully and respectfully listen to the reply, whether it’s a simple “thank you for bringing this to me, I’ll think about,” or a complex “ok, thanks, now let’s discuss this in more detail…”
5. Be yourself.
Don’t let the situation overwhelm you. Don’t get wound so tight that you lose composure. Yeah, we all have our own ways of coping with tense situations, but think of this as an opportunity to improve your career and impress your boss. If you’re honest and don’t depart too much from your normal personality, you’ll come off more genuine and resolute, and your boss will appreciate that. It’s effective communication and shows that you truly care.
Hey, no one wants to have workplace issues, but when you do, be prepared to settle them professionally. For one last bit of motivation, we leave you with this quote from workplace guru Lynn Taylor, “… problems fester when they’re shoved under the rug. Communication dissipates, and so does the relationship, until someone bravely steps forward. That person should be you, if you want to reduce stress and thrive in your job.”
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