Speaking Up

We know that it is important to not hide information and communicate information from the top down, but don’t forget that information and ideas need to flow from the bottom up, too.

Sometimes, though, bosses can seem unapproachable (sometimes, because they really ARE unapproachable…not every leader is good). When that happens, it may be up to the employee to try to resolve the problem…otherwise, the relationship, and the company, suffers. A friend sent me the article below and it provides some great ideas.

Almost 20 years ago Kristie Kennard, in How to Manage Your Boss, offered some tips on how an employee might try to resolve a communication gap. What was helpful for the younger Gen-Xs back then is just as useful for today’s Gen-Ys (and, actually, today’s Gen-Xs can still benefit). You might consider sharing these with your employees so that if one day they have trouble communicating with a boss (though surely that’s years in the future, because they won’t have a problem with YOU, right?) they will have some idea how to fix it.

Determine what kinds of communication problems you and your supervisor are having.
Do you feel your boss does not listen to you? Misinterprets your words? Ignores your comments and suggestions? Is too busy to discuss issues with you? Do you and your boss have conflicting communication styles? Think of recent examples of miscommunication between the two of you so you can pinpoint where communication is breaking down.

Remember that effective communication is a two-way street.
Before you start a laundry list of all the ways your boss fails to communicate, keep in mind that when communication goes wrong in any relationship, both parties have contributed their share to the problem. Take an honest look at your own communication strengths and weaknesses, and assess whether your communication style may be in conflict with your supervisor’s.

Observe your supervisor’s preferred form of communication and use it whenever possible.
While some bosses prefer casual communication — just drop in and ask a question — others find this too great an interruption. Note how your boss communicates with others up and down the chain of command. If your supervisor always seems too busy to talk to you one-on-one, this is a sure sign that he or she prefers some other form of communication. Try e-mail, memos, or voice mail and assess the results.

Always prepare for a one-on-one meeting with your boss.
It’s never advisable to “wing it” during a meeting with your supervisor, especially if your one-on-one meetings are rare. Organize your thoughts, even if you have only got a couple of minutes to do so. Be clear in your mind what you want to communicate and what outcome you want from the meeting.

Specify the topic you want to discuss and suggest a convenient time for your supervisor.
Timing is everything when it comes to effective boss-employee communication, and few supervisors appreciate problems being dropped in their laps with no warning. If your supervisor is generally feeling rushed by the end of the day, do not ask for a 4:30 p.m. meeting. Always provide your boss with a pre-meeting email — even if it’s only a sentence — outlining what you plan to cover.

Pay attention to nonverbal feedback you’re getting and giving to your boss during the meeting.
Watch for body language with a positive meaning, and make certain that you are using it too. This means good posture, strong eye contact and a pleasant, attentive facial expression. See these signs from your boss, and you are coming through loud and clear. But beware if your boss crosses her arms, checks her watch, frowns, or is stony-faced and starts tapping her toe. Stop immediately and ask for feedback, such as “How do you feel about some of the issues I have touch upon?” Address misunderstandings before you go any further.

Verbally summarize what you’ve agreed upon and end on a positive note.
The meeting should be wrapped up when the purpose of the meeting has been met. Unless your boss does so first, sum up what you have discussed, being specific as to what each of you has agreed to do in the future. End the meeting in a spirit of cooperation and thank your boss for his time.

Follow up with documentation as to what you and your boss agreed upon.
Always follow up with an email summarizing your discussion, and do it as soon as possible, while the conversation is still fresh in both you and your supervisor’s mind. Be sure to keep a copy where you can find it, maybe in a folder that is just for these notes.

This is good advice even for those cases with a good employee-to-Leader relationship. We can always improve, and these are some good ways to strengthen an already good sense of rapport.

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