When most of you started your professional journeys you likely thought your most important responsibility was managing yourself and your work tasks. Over time, the most successful among you learned managing your manager had a much bigger impact on career success.

Trying to talk to your boss can be intimidating, uncomfortable and awkward. But if you know the right way to approach your manager, you can not only survive the conversation, you can thrive in your workplace.

Effective communication with your manager is critical for a number of reasons. If you want to ask for a raise or get support for a new project or initiative, communicating effectively increases your chances of success.

If you want to make a suggestion that you think could help the company, your idea will be received better if you master the communication skills needed to manage up.

How to have an effective conversation with your manager

Here are some suggestions to get your conversation off on the right foot when managing your manager:

Be Respectful of Your Manager’s Time

If you don’t know your boss’ schedule, you risk approaching her when she’s not receptive. There are times when she’s more stressed and times when she’s more relaxed, so focus on talking with her at her convenience. Pay attention to her signals and respect her time boundaries.

Haven’t you had this happen? You’re racing out of your office, late for a meeting and somebody stops by to ‘ask a quick question’. You explain tactfully that you don’t have a minute, but they don’t listen to you and keep pushing forward. How does that taste? You could care less what they’re saying because you don’t have time to listen. If they are asking a question, they are likely to get a no. Don’t be that person.

Bosses are often busy and stressed. If she’s busy with someone else, pick a different time to address your concern or ask your question. If possible, schedule some dedicated time to talk to your boss so you’re not interrupting anything. When you plan meetings, it shows that you respect your manager’s time and have her best interests in mind.

It’s simple to show her that you understand time is valuable to both of you. Schedule the meeting in advance so that other things don’t interfere with your chances of success. If you’re considerate of her busy schedule, your boss will likely be more receptive to what you have to say.

Be Prepared to Keep Emotions Under Control

Don’t walk into an ‘asking’ conversation cold. An asking conversation is when you want something specific–a new position, additional staff, time off, etc. If you are emotional about your request, rehearse the conversation. Think about how your manager might respond and think through how those responses could make you feel.

Planning for results that might make you emotional gives you a chance to experience those emotions in private BEFORE you talk to your manager. Click to Tweet

The key here is not to just walk through getting exactly what you want. What if your judgment is questioned? What if the answer is no? I am not telling you to plan to fail, I am asking you to be professional and consider all the possibilities. Thinking about the results that might make you emotional gives you a chance to experience those emotions in private BEFORE you talk to your manager. You are not a robot, emotions are part of life, but you can choose where to have an emotional response to the subject.

Stay Abreast of Industry Trends

One way to get your boss’ attention is to know what’s going on in your industry. Staying knowledgeable can help you get ahead and make your conversation with your boss more impressive. And, your boss is more likely to remember the conversation in a positive way.

Ways to stay up-to-date with industry trends include:

  • Reading industry trade magazines
  • Talking with others in the same profession
  • Attending conferences and listening to speakers
  • Keeping up with the news

If you pay close attention to what’s happening around you, you’ll be able to show your boss that the company’s goals are important to you. This is music to your manager’s ears. Communicating this commitment can help you get promoted, keep your job in a tight economy, and make your opinion appear more essential to others who can help your career.

Develop Good Communication Before You ‘Need’ It

Everything about how you communicate with others illustrates who you are and your feelings about them and yourself. When it comes to managing your manager, your voice, speech, and word choice demonstrate how well you get along with others. Learn to take advantage of strong communication skills to demonstrate your competence and confidence.

When communicating with your manager:

  1. Use the tone of your voice to show self-assurance. Maintaining a pleasant tone of voice, even in stressful situations, shows that you can handle pressure. A calm tone will make you appear much more confident.
  2. Choose your volume wisely. Projecting too loudly is never a good look at work. Sometimes we raise our voices if we’re afraid we won’t be heard. Actually, it can be more effective to lower your voice when saying something important, as it tends to grab and hold attention. You’ll notice others leaning in toward you when you drop your voice volume. Use this carefully at first, until you get the right volume. You don’t want to become the work whisperer.
  3. Your word choice matters. Confident people choose words that indicate they have at least a basic understanding of grammar and know the best way to get their ideas across.
  4. Speak in concise, complete sentences. Although you may be thinking, “Of course, I talk in whole sentences,” you may be surprised when you really listen to bits of your own conversation. Focus on expressing a complete, concise idea to colleagues when providing your ideas or instructions.
  5. Thinking before speaking is always your best option. You’ll find that your ability to access relevant thoughts and suggestions increases vastly when you give yourself some time to thoroughly consider the options involved in a work project or situation.

Stand Up For Yourself

Everyone fears rejection, but giving in to that fear can stop you from achieving the career success you deserve. If you have something important to discuss, you should do so. Just remember to stay calm and present your concerns professionally. Do I need to tell you to avoid profanity, slang, being too informal, and other things that might turn your boss off from what you have to say? OK, we’re straight.

How you tell your story matters. You can stand up for yourself most effectively when you are ready to be heard.

Every company is different. Effective communication with your manager in a heavily-regulated environment is different than in a super-casual corporate office. In every setting, however, the general keys to successfully managing your manager are the same. Remain polite and professional. Your boss will notice and your communication with her will be more effective as a result.

Go Apply the Magic of Managing Your Manager

Pick a great time to have your conversations, respecting both of your time and commitments. Manage your emotions under pressure by experiencing them privately first. Keep current with industry trends so your manager will be confident you want the organization to succeed. And don’t let fear keep you from advocating for yourself when something is important to you.

Your communication skills can help you rise above any type of challenging conversation at the office. How you speak to others also demonstrates that you believe in yourself and are skilled at dealing with stressful situations and managing relationships.

Do you have questions about a particular scenario regarding managing your manager? Let me know and I’ll be sure to address your question on a future episode of the show.

About Allegra Sinclair


Allegra Sinclair is a professional coach and confidence expert. She hates to see women living small and loves to help them change how they show up in the world.