Having Difficult Conversations….with Your Boss

It’s natural – so work hierarchy goes – for a supervisor to call in a subordinate and have that conversation:

  • You’re performance has been lacking lately.
  • You come in to work late too often.
  • You’ve missed two project deadlines in the last month.
  • And so on.

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But sometimes it’s the subordinate who needs to bring up a difficult topic with the boss:

  • I’ve noticed you didn’t assign me to the new project.
  • You provided me only a “meets expectations” rating on my annual review and I disagree with your assessment.
  • You refused to let me take Friday off when I worked the last three Saturdays in a row.
  • And so on.

Notice all the topics mentioned above have to do with the employee’s performance. Many people may be wary of bringing up such things to a manager: “If the manager had an issue with me, surely she would bring it up? No news is good news, right?”

No.

Being proactive in all things that have to do with your performance always is best when it comes to succeeding on the job and in your career. Speaking up in a professional, respectful manner puts you on a more even footing with a supervisor and helps the esteem a manager feels for you rise.

In addition, mentioning something that troubles you about your manager’s interactions with you allows you to find out if your boss does have an issue, or – and far more likely – discover that the “new” way of interacting with you is a fluke: the boss was distracted,  worried, stressed, etc.

Still, bringing it up is a very good thing. You may not want to do so at the first instance of a change in your manager’s interactions with you, but if it continues, gird yourself and ask.

Here’s how to have this conversation.

  1. Ask for permission to meet. When your boss appears calm and open, ask to meet to discuss. You should be somewhat specific, but don’t go into detail: “I’d like to discuss my review.” “I’d like to ask you something I’ve been wondering about.” And so on. You also can request a meeting in an email. Regardless of which method you choose, make it a brief request.
  2. Be clear. Don’t go into detail. Don’t whine: “I gave up three Saturdays to work here because I knew how important this project is for you. You mentioned a couple of weeks ago I could take a Friday off. Yet when I asked Wednesday, you said no. May I ask why?”
  3. Ask for your manager’s perspective. “I don’t remember any negative aspects of my review. Perhaps I missed something?” Or “Did something come up of which I’m not aware?”
  4. Listen closely and ask questions. If you’re confused about something, ask for clarification Remember, don’t whine/complain. Don’t make excuses. Explain your thinking in more detail but don’t become defensive.
  5. The goal isn’t for you to “win” and your manager to “lose.” Instead, your goal should be to arrive at a resolution about which both of you will be satisfied. For example, perhaps your boss gave you only a “meets expectations” rating because she believes your work has been better in the past and she noticed a decline. The two of you could work out an agreement that if your performance rises back to its previous level by a certain date, she will change her assessment to “exceeds expectations.”

Yes, chances are good you’re going to feel uncomfortable asking for a meeting/during the meeting.  But careers are made and broken on one’s ability – or lack of – to have difficult discussions. Look at this as an opportunity to exercise your ability to deal with discomfort.

When looking for a new job or career, check out the opportunities here at Helpmates. For more information on how we can help you find work, contact the branch office nearest you.

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