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How to Tell Your Boss How You Feel

Teach your boss how to manage you.

Whether you like your boss or not, there are times he or she will do something that makes you feel angry, frustrated, betrayed, or afraid. You can’t count on your boss knowing how you feel or knowing what to say to improve the situation.

Even if your boss has good communications skills, he is not an expert on dealing with you. You need to teach him how to best manage you—what motivates you and demotivates you—so you can perform at your best. This includes asking for what you need instead of expecting to be understood and taken care of.

Try this technique to respectfully and effectively educate your boss about you. You probably won’t make matters worse and you could create a mutually satisfying relationship.

  1. After a difficult conversation, notice what you are feeling—angry, sad, resentful, frustrated or afraid?
  2. Ask yourself what you think your boss took or didn’t give you that you expected to receive. Or maybe your boss is indicating you won’t get something you thought you should get. This could be something tangible such as an expected promotion or project. Or your expectation could be intangible, such as recognition for your work, inclusion in a decision, control over tasks, consistency in the present or predictability about tomorrow, a sense of orderrespectautonomy, or the freedomto do what you want.
  3. Determine what you want to ask your boss to do differently in the future. Then set a time and place to meet with your boss where you will feel comfortable enough asking for what you need.
  4. Follow these steps for your conversation:
    1. Briefly state what happened in your view. Simply describe what occurred in the conversation that affected you negatively. Do not go into details. Do not speculate why your boss acted this way. Just describe how your boss interrupted you, told you about a decision that impacted you, ignored what you said, changed the subject, or explained a situation.
    2. State the impact the event had on you. This is the critical piece for you to clearly express and more important than dwelling on what happened. State what emotion you felt and why you felt that way, meaning that you felt you were not recognized or included, that control or consistency was taken away, that you feel a loss of predictability or order, or that you don’t feel you will have the autonomy or freedom you need to do your work well.
    3. Ask for what you need. What do you want your boss to do in the future? Make a clear and brief request.
    4. Allow your boss to respond without defending yourself. Let your boss have an emotional reaction. Stay calm and patient. You have stated your case. You don’t need anything else at this time. In my experience, even if your boss responds poorly, you are likely to get what you ask for in the future.

Talking about your feelings may be uncomfortable, but the discussion could to lead to a better relationship with your boss. You can find more techniques in The Discomfort Zone: How Leaders Turn Difficult Conversations into Breakthroughs.

On the other hand, if you don’t ask for what you need, your resentment or resignation could spiral, making you dislike your job and viewing everything your manager does in a negative light.  

Can you muster the courage and patience to ask for what you need? Here is an example:

In my last job, I spent three weeks researching and writing a proposal for building a learning center that I was to present to the CEO.

The day before my presentation, I dropped by my manager’s office to show him my work. He quickly flipped through the proposal stopping on the last page. “You can’t ask for that,” he said pointing at a line item in the budget.

I jumped into the battle, intent on proving him wrong. Then something clicked in my head. I said, “Time out. You may be right. I’ll review that part. But you just flipped through the proposal until you found one thing wrong which made me feel as if my work is incomplete or not good enough to present. I was hoping you would notice the detail I included throughout the document.

He answered, “What are you talking about? You always do good work. Do I have to tell you?”

I stood my ground. “I need to hear you tell me that once in a while.”

He rolled his eyes, sighed and said, “All right.” As I turned to go, he added, “But you never tell me when I do a good job.”

I was stunned. He was right. Stuck in my own need for appreciation, I couldn’t see that he had the same need as I. I forgot that I had to manage up as well as down.

As a result, we started treating each other with more respect and care. It was awkward at first but improved over time.

Some additional tips:

1. Be Positive: Enter the conversation expecting a good result. Feel positive emotions and approach your boss with respect.

2. Don’t Fight: Don’t get stuck arguing about who is right or who is at fault. Communicate with the sense of we’re in this together. Listen to your boss’s perspective too so you can get a sense of the bigger picture.

3. Use the Word And Instead of But: If your boss asks you to do something in a different way, don’t say “but I’m not sure if it will work.” Instead say, “Yes, and this is how I think it may work even better.”

4. Role model the behavior you want from your boss: Even if your boss responds badly, don’t react with your own bad behavior. If you want your boss to listen to you more, you need to listen to your boss. Demonstrate how you want to be treated.

Speaking up for yourself will lower your workplace stress and hopefully, improve your relationship with your boss.


Originally published at Psychology Today

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