You aren’t alone if you have difficulty communicating with your supervisors or managers. The thought of disagreeing or pointing out a concern evokes a range of emotions from discomfort to stress to panic - even fear of losing one’s job. We perceive something “bad” might happen.
These emotions occur because we engage the limbic part of the brain which is responsible for the “fight or flight” response. How our limbic systems react to confrontation has a lot to do with our value systems, core beliefs, and self-confidence. It also has a great deal to do with how you learned to problem-solve.
In most cases, we don’t need to be fearful. We just need to communicate effectively - particularly when a problem arises. And the truth is: there will always be problems.
How to communicate with a supervisor or manager
How to communicate and solve a problem with a supervisor or manager
- Be respectful. If the situation is not urgent, ask when a good time to speak would be and show up at that time.
- Be clear and stick to business, not the background. Just stay on topic, state your case, and wait for an acknowledgment.
- Answer questions. Provide succinct explanations if asked for further information.
- Be attentive. Listening involves more than being attentive. It includes being fully present - not letting your mind wander but focusing on what the other person is saying and summarizing what he/she said as feedback to verify understanding of what was heard.
- Follow-through. Nod or say “thank you” then exit respectfully.
Enlist the steps above, with a few additions.
- Be mindful of circumstances. If the problem has shut down manufacturing, it needs immediate attention. You may not have a choice but to interrupt management.
- Identify the issue. Be clear about what the problem is and what others’ interests might be. (This step is good information and shows a maturity of thought to your manager.)
- Let your manager know you have potential solutions to propose if he/she would like to hear them.
- Slow down. It takes time and intention to solve a problem. Rushing only creates more concerns.
- Describe your ideas clearly. Briefly state actions you would implement and suggest when you would finish the task.
- Do not become so attached to your solution that you fail to listen to others.
- With your supervisor, evaluate the options and confirm the solution.
- Will there be a contingency? Conditions change, and it pays to be prepared.
- Implement the solution. Keep your word and do as you agreed.
- When time permits, evaluate the solution with your supervisor/manager.
Most often, the key to improving any relationship - especially those with supervisors and managers - is effective communication. Like any job skill, becoming proficient takes intention and practice.
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