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Often people think the rules are different for communicating with the boss.  The only difference is that the stakes are higher.  That means you must choose your words carefully.  But the truth is Bev, it is important to choose words with care with everyone to whom we speak. 

Most people who offend or bother us, do so unintentionally – including bosses.  Having worked with hundreds of  managers over the years, I can assure you that they are as concerned about the well being of their people, as they are about results.  

Bosses are human, they know they are imperfect, and like everyone else, they want to grow.  No matter how “difficult” you perceive your boss to be, I can assure you that if their words or actions are creating a negative environment, they would want to know.   

I still recommend using the formula for assertive communication from the previous blog post, and I will add one extra step.  It’s called the “benefit of the doubt” statement.  Here are the 4 steps:

  1. When you…or When people…
  2. I feel…. (because)
  3. I respect the fact that… (or I understand that…) This added step gives them the benefit of the doubt.
  4. State what you want.

Examples:  (use a super calm, neutral voice, neutral face)

“Name, When people yell at me, I feel upset.  I understand that you are angry, and I understand why.  But it’s not necessary to yell at me to get results.” 

“Name, when you tell me to put on “my big girl panties”, I feel offended.  To me that expression is derogatory.  I respect the fact that you meant no harm by it.  My request is that you don’t use that expression with me.”

“Name, may I speak frankly with you?  When you blackberry during our one-on-one’s, I feel bothered.  Because I know that I don’t have your full attention and it’s distracting.  I respect the fact that you are pulled in a million directions with so many priorities on your plate.  However during our one-on-one time, could you please not respond to your blackberry?”

“Name, when you use foul language, I feel bothered.  I am sure that you are not meaning to offend.  However since it does bother me, I am requesting that you refrain from swearing in my presence.”

Now, in the unlikely event the boss responds with a “you’re too sensitive” comment, respond politely with this:  “I don’t see this as an issue of sensitivity, I see this as an issue of respect.”  Then stop talking.  (Tone will be very important here)

So Bev, the key is to be diplomatic, honest, and respectful in all of your communications, and pick your battles wisely (ie don’t point out the boss’ missteps daily.)  Expect that your boss may be surprised, especially if he or she did not intend to offend.  Speak respectfully and the boss will respect what you have to say.  And if the boss has any measure of integrity and character, he or she will thank you for bringing it to their attention.   

Bev, thanks for asking about what so many struggle with.

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