How you approach your relationship with your manager can make or break your time at the company. While each company and manager has different preferences for formality, employee engagement, and feedback processes, we have provided 15 tips that can improve communication with your manager in almost any work environment.
15 tips for better communication with your manager
- Make sure you’re on the same page
- Think ahead and offer solutions to problems
- Share suggestions that produce results
- Communicate on a personal level
- Ask for feedback
- Ask for help
- Offer your help
- Practice good body language
- Be accountable
- Don’t complain behind their back
- Be professional in your approach
- Avoid conversations when you’re emotional
- Communicate regularly
- Give praise or feedback when due
- Ask open-ended questions
1 Make sure you’re on the same page
Even the greatest boss in the world can’t read your mind. Don’t be afraid to talk to your boss about your ongoing projects, hopes for your time at the company, and current pain points.
If you’re new at the company, it’s good to ask your manager to set out a plan for what is expected from you in the first 60, 30, and 90 days with the company. Having this mutual understanding right off the bat will have you headed right for success! As you progress, continue building short- and long-term plans together.
Share your thoughts with your manager in a meeting agenda during your one-on-one meetings so you don’t forget to mention anything. Try using a tool like Fellow!
2 Think ahead and offer solutions to problems
Setting short- and long-term goals can help you stay focused on your most important tasks. Having a shared calendar or Kanban board outlining your ongoing and upcoming projects is a great way to see what your future availability might look like.
If it feels like you are overloaded on projects, talk to your manager. It’s best to also present a solution to the problem, like temporarily prioritizing one project over another or outsourcing a task. Offering solutions is a great way to show your manager that you’re a proactive thinker and that you care about the success of your projects.
3 Share suggestions that produce results (use 360 thinking)
360 thinking means considering all aspects of decision making, and can be especially useful when you’re communicating with your boss. When working on a decision with your manager, consider:
- Goals (What do you hope to achieve?)
- Tasks (What steps are you taking to meet the goal?)
- Related Parties (Who will be helping you?)
- Priorities (Do you need to step aside from another task in the meantime?)
- Challenges (What extra resources or information do you need?)
- Cost (What financial and time costs are involved?)
- Consequences (What do we hope to benefit from this?)
- Solutions (How can we circumvent risk or further improve this project?)
4 Communicate on a personal level
Getting to know your boss on a personal level can make them feel more human, and less like the scary figure you share Powerpoint presentations with.
As a new employee, you should try diving into opportunities like work lunches or sitting next to your boss at work. Corporate challenges like fitness competitions are another easy way to spark a conversation with your manager about something less related to work.
Who knows, your boss could turn out to be an enthusiast for the same hobby as you!
5 Ask for feedback
Constructive feedback exercises are a great way to connect with your boss. Especially when starting a new role, you’ll benefit from even just a little bit of feedback, since it will help you understand how you’re perceived and valued in the organization.
If your company doesn’t run regular reviews, ask for feedback about yourself. Doing so can help you understand your strengths and areas that need improvement.
6 Ask for help
If you run a review with your boss and they identify some areas for improvement, it’s a good idea to ask how you can improve.
Particularly for early-career folks, it can feel daunting to enter the workforce and constantly learn how to do new activities every day. It’s like drinking from a firehose.
Asking your manager to show you how to do a new task or to pair you with a mentor can ensure that you build the right skills and techniques you’ll need as the foundation of your career. This way, learning new skills feels more like drinking from a teacup.
7 Offer your help
Take the great feedback that you received from your manager and play to your strengths!
Having a consistent line of communication with your manager will let you know if there’s new project opportunities or areas of support needed. If one peaks your interest (perhaps since it would help you develop a new skill or is well aligned to your strengths), express your interest to your manager.
Staying in the loop with new corporate projects is an amazing way to connect with your manager while also developing your own area of expertise.
8 Practice good body language
Body language is a nonverbal line of communication in itself. When used correctly, body language helps to build trust and connections with people. When used incorrectly, body language can indicate anxiety, carelessness, or even hostility. Some types of body language to aim for include:
- Having a strong, upright posture, which indicates that you’re alert and paying attention.
- Having your shoulders turned toward the person speaking, which signals that you’re engaged in the conversation.
- Avoiding excessively tapping your toes or fingers, which can indicate anxiety or boredom.
- Making regular eye contact, which indicates confidence. Note that too much eye contact can be uncomfortable for some, so make sure not to stare too long at someone else.
9 Be accountable
An important part of building trust with your manager is being reliable. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you consistently exceed project goals or go the extra mile everyday on professional development. Being reliable means clearly and honestly communicating what you need and what you’re capable of doing. It means telling your manager early when there’s an issue on a project, and not waiting until the last possible minute. It means thinking ahead, identifying realistic goals, finding solutions for risks and gaps, and communicating the results of your project (whether good or bad) in a timely manner.
10 Don’t complain behind their back
It’s okay if your boss isn’t your best friend, or even your favourite co-worker. For most people, they aren’t.
That said, if you don’t get along well with your boss, don’t go around spreading rumours or sharing personal information about them that could hurt their reputation at the company. Regardless if you get along well with them or not, your boss has likely worked hard to be in their current position.
If you’re having any issues with your boss, reach out to your HR team and let them know how you’re feeling. From there, your HR team will have insights on the best next steps.
11 Be professional in your approach
If you have an issue at work, it’s important to remain professional. Before you jump on that video call and let out all your frustrations, give your manager a heads up. A quick, “Hey, are you free? I have a few things that have been bothering me, and I’d like to discuss them with you” goes a long way.
That bit of notice will help you maintain a good relationship with your manager. Giving them some time to prepare and reflect can also improve the feedback that you receive during your conversation.
12 Avoid conversations when you’re emotional
Missed quota? Didn’t get the promotion? As much as you may want to, discussing an issue with your manager right after receiving bad news isn’t a great idea.
When you’re emotional, it can be difficult to have rational discussions. It can also be hard to see the other person’s point of view. Taking a few days to reflect may give you more insights or a new perspective. This time to reflect will also allow you to be more receptive to their explanation, to start a feedback conversation with your manager in the best possible way.
13 Communicate regularly
Keeping a clear line of communication helps with project efficiency. Your manager is your main contact point for any questions, support, or redirection as needed. Stay connected through daily chats or short standup meetings.
In your one-on-one meetings with your manager, you can bring up your pain points as they arise. Often, your manager can help you find a solution (at least short term) that can make your work life easier. Sharing small issues more often keeps your mind clear from bottled-up frustration that is harder to solve all at once.
14 Give praise or feedback when due
If your boss helped you navigate a difficult conversation with a client or vouched for you to have that raise, give them the kudos they deserve. On the flip side, if a manager hasn’t been responsive or is somehow lacking in their support for you, it’s okay to provide them with constructive criticism. If offering feedback to your boss is difficult, try leaving room for it when you typically run your own feedback reviews.
15 Ask open-ended questions
Open-ended questions can’t be answered with only a “yes” or “no.” Asking open-ended questions and probing further into their answers can be a great step towards painting a bigger picture of what your manager sees. Try asking:
- What do you mean by [x]?
- What brought you to this decision?
- Why do you suggest that we do [x] over [y]?
Finding efficient ways of communicating with your boss can greatly improve your success in your role and help you explore new areas of your field in a supportive environment. With clear communication lines in place, your boss can be your greatest mentor, motivator, and cheerleader within the company.
Your boss doesn’t have to be a scary person. In fact, with these tips you can build a great professional relationship with your manager that could last beyond your time with the company.