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How to Communicate More Effectively with Your Boss

Updated on January 12, 2018
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Sally is a business communications coach who gives workshops on how to keep your professional reputation squeaky clean and drama-free.

Having an argument with your boss can be a career-killer. But what do you do when you genuinely don't see eye to eye with your boss? These tips on how to talk to your boss may help save your career.

Is your message being heard clearly?

When communication breaks down with your boss, you might as well be talking through a tin can telephone.
When communication breaks down with your boss, you might as well be talking through a tin can telephone.

Disagreements with your boss are inevitable. The good news is that disagreements with your superior are also a sign that you're able to think and act independently -- an important aspect of creative problem-solving. The key to having a good working relationship with your boss is to practice being a good listener so that you can understand and act on the direction you're being given and maintain a respectful working relationship with your boss.

When discussing a new or unconventional idea with your boss and the conversation feels like it's going sideways, it’s easy to get angry. Unchecked frustration can lead to one, or both, of you raising your voices or using a sarcastic tone. You might even end up agreeing to something just to put an end to a difficult conversation.

Here are some tips on how to have an effective conversation with your boss, particularly when you're not seeing eye to eye on an issue:

Be patient. When you feel like the conversation is heating up, take a deep breath, pause, and allow your naturally compassionate side to begin guiding the conversation. Being an effective communicator requires patience and a willingness to give the other person enough space and time to speak. Be an engaged listener by nodding thoughtfully and asking helpful questions in a respectful manner without interrupting the other person.

Notice your internal monologue. Sometimes what we are not saying can be just as damaging to the conversation as what we are saying, especially when our inner voice is having a temper tantrum inside our head. If you find yourself saying one thing (“Yes, I will do that”) out loud and another thing internally to yourself (“Oh, heck no!”) you’re doing yourself more harm than good. By raging on the inside, but being placid and passive on the outside, you're betraying yourself and being inauthentic.

Working in a hostile workplace can feel like you're walking on eggshells, trying not to upset your boss. That's not healthy for you or your co-workers.
Working in a hostile workplace can feel like you're walking on eggshells, trying not to upset your boss. That's not healthy for you or your co-workers.

Express yourself calmly. There is an old Aboriginal saying, “Resentment is like drinking poison while hoping that the other person gets sick.” Find a way to calmly express what you really mean because harboring negative thoughts will only harm you, not the other person. Be mindful of your mental chatter and try to stay positive and hopeful while talking to your boss.

Be mindful of physical sensations. Pay attention to what is going on in your body and in the space around you. Notice your breathing pattern. Check your body language and your sense of bodily autonomy. Sometimes it’s not what is actually being said that bothers you but rather it's the body language or proximity of the other person that is challenging you. Are they crowding around you, standing over you, blocking the exits, or making you feel trapped? If you can, try to take a step back, move your chair, or adjust your position so that you feel more at ease and your personal space is not being violated.

Practice active listening. When your boss is finished talking, let him or her know that you have been listening and paying attention. Without sounding like a robot, repeat back what you believe you heard your boss say. This will help send the message that you were listening and that you respect his or her opinion. It will also give your boss a chance to clarify any points that you may not have understood.

Learning how to be an active and empathetic listener takes practice, especially when dealing with people you perceive as having power over you (such as your boss, teacher, or some other authority figure). But at the end of the day, developing your active listen skills will help improve your communications and foster a stronger, more respectful relationship with your boss.

Communication barriers can crop up when you don't know how to pay attention to your body language and the body language of the person to whom you are speaking.
Communication barriers can crop up when you don't know how to pay attention to your body language and the body language of the person to whom you are speaking.

For every minute you remain angry, you give up sixty seconds of peace of mind.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

What do you and your boss disagree on the most often?

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Conflict in the workplace is normal. We all have different perspectives and opinions on how to get things done. We all want to be heard and have our contributions recognized. Disagreeing with a co-worker can be uncomfortable. Or it can lead to a positive exchange of new ideas. Disagreeing with your boss, on the other hand, can feel like you're being insubordinate. Clear, empathetic communication is critical to successfully working with others and being part of a productive team.

© 2012 Sally Hayes

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