Do you think that your communication with your boss is always smooth, efficient and on point? Or do things sometimes seem disjointed? Many of the challenges that employees face in their relationships with their boss are related to communication.
How effectively you communicate with your boss can impact your success at your organization. It can determine whether or not your ideas become realities. And it can play a huge role in the level of rapport you establish with your boss.
Below are five tips that that can help you upgrade your communication skills with your boss. (We call it “communicating up.”) Follow these simple guidelines, and you and your boss will enjoy the benefits.
1. Consider Your Boss’ Communication Style
Identifying and mastering the “language” that your boss speaks is crucial to your successful collaboration. If e-mails are their preferred medium, don’t regularly pop into their office with random thoughts or questions.
The frequency of your communication is also important. Being proactive can be great in certain cases, but don’t become overwhelming, especially if your boss just needs weekly updates. On the other hand, acting too laid back and hardly letting your boss in on any developments might give them the wrong impression.
Finally, determine the amount of detail that you should share about a project or discussion item. More than likely, your boss doesn’t have time to read through your two-page e-mail, and it might distracted them from the point of your message if you overwhelm them with too much information.
2. Deliver Clear and Concise Messages
It’s important to learn to deliver information clearly. Remember, just because the point you’re making may be clear to you doesn’t mean your boss feels the same way. Consider how you communicate with your significant other. Everyone has instances where they feel they’ve explained something repeatedly, and yet their partner is genuinely surprised to hear that they have been told something numerous times. People in close personal relationships will likely let you know when your message isn’t effective. But are you sure that your boss will?
Sometimes, there is simply too much information, or the situation feels too complicated, for you to describe it clearly in one go. Prepare and rehearse before the actual conversation, and draft a plan:
- Start with a summary of your message, problem or update to let your boss know what the conversation will be about.
- State your objective, and list the relevant details. Be ready to answer questions by anticipating your boss’ suggestions and points of contention in advance.
- Move on to agreeing on the most efficient outcome.
- Summarize next steps.
This structure will help you deliver your message, brainstorm solutions and determine a plan of action.
3. Summarize and Present Recommendations
Even if you think you’ve anticipated all possible negative outcomes of a situation, you might still fail to predict one. The strength of a great manager is not foreseeing the future but dealing with challenges calmly and productively and communicating openly throughout the process.
Before presenting an issue to your boss, think about the ways you could resolve it. Weigh the options, and prepare your recommendation (and why you believe it’s the best route). And don’t forget to transmit positivity! It seems obvious, but it’s hard to do when you are stressed and deadlines are tight. Your boss is a person just like you, and if they learn to expect positive “can-do” attitude from you, they will be more open to your ideas.
4. Clarify Communication Preferences
As you learn more about your boss, take mental notes on how they prefer to receive information. Remember how you were asked to prepare a brief bullet-point report and then spent hours creating a massive presentation with spreadsheets and graphs? No wonder your work wasn’t appreciated. Delivering information in the right format will ensure that your boss will hear and understand your message and will save you time and unnecessary work.
If you still can’t figure out your boss, and you never know how to present information, don’t hesitate to ask. Instead of trying to guess or wing it, have a conversation with your boss, and ask them what they expect. Once you’ve learned the rules of the game, play it with dignity.
Remember how good it feels when people communicate with you the way you prefer. Treat your boss accordingly, and you’ll be surprised how efficient your workflow will become.
5. Match the Context of the Situation
If you need to communicate about the progress of a project, send a quick e-mail; connect on a call; or choose another medium, frequency and amount of detail that you consider appropriate.
However, if there is an issue or development that requires a meeting, make sure to schedule it in advance. Timing is everything, and knocking on your boss’ door is a gamble; they might be busy preparing for a call with a client, thinking about an upcoming quarterly meeting or even taking a mental break. Suddenly, you find yourself pitching an idea and wondering why your boss is distracted. Outside interference can kill your momentum; that is why it’s crucial to schedule the meeting at a time when you’ll have your boss’ undivided attention. You could even take it to a conference room or a coffee shop to avoid interruptions.
Communicating up is not always easy, but now you have some tricks up your sleeve that will help you stay calm, focused and effective. Continue to practice and apply these skills, and you’re on your way to becoming an expert communicator!