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How to effectively communicate with your boss

Jul 2, 2018 Eric Titner

How to effectively communicate with your boss

Anyone who’s ever been employed and has had to answer to a boss—whether you have one destined for the great boss hall of fame or one who's the devil incarnate—has come to learn that the key to having an effective working relationship is communication. Developing and maintaining an appropriate flow of thoughts, ideas, and work updates with the person you report to on a daily basis does the following:
  • It empowers you to perform the varied tasks and responsibilities associated with your job while minimizing confusion or miscommunication.
  • It helps you stay connected to the flow of essential information across teams and departments.
  • It allows you to build a relationship of mutual respect and trust with your superiors and colleagues—all allowing you to do your best at work every day.
Ideally, this communication flow goes two ways—and your boss will be just as eager to maintain a helpful sharing of information with you as you are with them, all of which serves to benefit your team’s productivity and effectiveness. However, we don’t always get to live in the perfect world of our dreams, and most of us don’t get to control every aspect of our work lives. Although some of us are lucky enough to work with great bosses who are naturally gifted communicators, some of us aren’t so lucky and must work harder to ensure that key information gets communicated effectively. The flip-side of the coin is also true—some of us are great communicators with minimal effort while others among us have to work harder at it. If you’re in a position where you need to figure out how to communicate effectively with your boss—whether the issue lies with you, your boss, or somewhere in the middle—there are ways to improve the situation. Like learning any new skill, effective communication requires extensive practice and effort until you get good at it. Use the following strategies to enhance communication with your boss.

Cut to the chase

In today’s insanely hectic work world, most of us are doing multiple jobs and juggling a small universe of responsibilities at any given time. With limited hours in the day to get things done, your work time is extremely valuable—and so is your boss’s. Therefore, it’s essential that you make the most of the limited time you have to communicate with your boss. Avoid meandering stories, long speeches, and lengthy preambles when talking to your boss—if you get a rep for being too unnecessarily verbose or too much of a time drain, they may start trying to avoid you at all costs and your relationship might suffer. Whenever possible, just cut to the chase with the precise information you need to share, which hopefully will inspire your boss to do the same. Then, your lives can move on with minimal disruption. Also, be sure to strategically choose your moments for communication. Is your boss about to go into an important meeting or is heading out for the day? Perhaps those aren’t the best times to drop an important work bombshell. Choose wisely.

Look ahead

When communicating with your boss, try to anticipate their reaction to the information you’re about to share. Do you foresee specific questions? If so, then try to have answers prepared for them. Can you envision them asking for additional data or stats to back up something you’re going to share? Have it at the ready. Not only will you save time and effort every time you speak with your boss, you’ll also come across as more prepared and effective every time you interact with them—a real win-win for you.

Choose your communication approach

Of course, the substance of your communication matters a great deal, but what also matters is how you deliver the message. Make sure your body language and tone are appropriate and professional. It might be helpful if you took a second to make sure you look polished and put together when interacting with your boss. Figure out how and when your boss likes to communicate with others, and do your best to adapt to their preferred style and approach—it will benefit your relationship in the long run.

Don’t wait

If you have important information to share with your boss—even if it’s not great news—don’t wait. If you put off providing them with actionable information until it’s too late to act, then your news will never be well received, whether it’s good or bad. In almost every conceivable scenario, it’s to your advantage to communicate as quickly as possible, allowing everyone involved to understand and digest the information, formulate an appropriate reaction, and respond accordingly. If it is bad news, your early warning just might allow for sufficient planning to minimize the damage. Above all, remain professional, polite, direct, and clear—all traits that will move your communication in the right direction during your time at your current place of work.

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