Talking to your manager

I had someone approach me after a MWA talk I did on this trip wanting to get some suggestions on the “right way” to talk to their manager because they weren’t connecting.

My first impulse was to put this responsibility on the manager’s shoulders, for if you are a manager this is something your employees shouldn’t have to figure out.

a) There really shouldn’t be any wrong way to talk to you: managers must be open to all approaches because it’s about the employee and not about you.

b) If there is a way that you prefer they talk to you (and work with you) you should explain it to them on their very first day of work and as changing situations require it, not have them go through the pain and suffering of discerning these things for themselves.

However at the moment, these thoughts weren’t going to be much help to the person standing in front of me ”“ or were they? This is how I answered her: “Ask him.”

If you have a manager who unfortunately doesn’t get it, you have to take matters into your own hands.

First, look for a time to set up a good time. Say, “There is something very important that I’d like to talk with you about. When can we sit down and have some uninterrupted time, because I think our talk will help us out a great deal.” This last phrase is important; be positive and smile. You want him to look forward to it, and not be apprehensive about it. You want him to be intrigued enough to schedule it as soon as possible. In fact, be ready: have it be a good time for you just in case he says, “Well how about right now?”

When you do have the conversation, have it in a good place, preferably a neutral one, i.e. not in the manager’s office. Sit so there is nothing between you (like a desk or counter) so you are two people having a conversation, not superior and subordinate. Remember to choose a place you will have some privacy and not be interrupted. If someone walks in to get an answer or decision from him on something else, you risk him immediately shifting to his “power persona” as the one in charge.

Start by saying, “Thank you for spending this time with me, for working here is important to me. What I want to talk to you about is how I can do that in the best possible way for both of us. I’m not sure how I should be communicating with you in a manner that is the most effective, and I was hoping you could tell me.”

Unless you have a manager that is absolutely clueless, that should be enough for the conversation to roll from there. If he responds with his own question, something like, “Do you feel we aren’t communicating well right now?” be brave and answer him truthfully.

At first, I thought the situation this young woman approached me about was one where her manager simply doesn’t listen well, (and that may have been part of the problem), however she had started to internalize it. She now was feeling that the problem was her and her approach too, further complicating matters.

Talking to each other at work shouldn’t be this difficult! Not about anything. And managers, this is your responsibility. It is up to you to create an environment where communication flows easily and effectively, and no employee ever hesitates to approach you when they need to — or walks away from a conversation with you thinking, “What in the world just happened there?”

Communication and how we talk to each other is something that does have to be talked about. Work styles do differ. When you are making your rounds in the workplace, is that a time you are focused on something and prefer not to be interrupted, or is that a time you’d love to have employees freely approach you instead of setting appointments with you for later? Tell them so they know!

And by the way, if you are a manager who practices the Daily Five Minutes, this entire scenario — where an employee has to wonder how to talk to you — will never happen.



  1. says

    I think the flip side to this young woman’s apprehension is the young person who is direct, honest and right to the point. Some managers morph into the defensive when approached in such a manner. More and more younger people today have either no knowledge or time for diplomacy / politics. As an older generation of management, we must not be so sensitive to such directness and deal with the situation at hand.
    From where I can see, the Daily Five Minutes is a perfect solution as Rosa states.

  2. says

    I heard someone give a talk once on the 360 degree leader; that we don’t just lead down (people who report to us), but also up (our managers and bosses), around (our peers), and within (ourselves). I thought that was a helpful concept, and liked very much the way you coached this young lady in the fine art of leading up.

  3. says

    Aloha Dave and Rob,
    Thank you for adding your perspectives to this, for you both had good insights to share with us.
    Isn’t it funny (and a bit sad) how something that should be so easy and natural – talking with the person you work with – actually takes such thought and effort?

  4. says

    Hey boss, what do you want to know? – Part 1

    This was a nice May Lei to get yesterday: an email conversation. Anytime someone asks me for coaching on Managing with Aloha, that’s a lei for me! It started like this: “Aloha Rosa, Well, you got my boss convinced. She