The one comment almost every teacher made about me on my report card was that I talk too much, and it’s a comment I still occasionally get from friends and family.
It’s true — I love to talk, and I’ll talk to anyone that’s happy to engage in conversation.
There did used to be one specific circumstance that would make me shut up though — having to speak to my boss.
Small talk was fine, but when it came to actually talking about the things that mattered I would become tight-lipped, because I was worried about saying the wrong thing.
Here’s the thing though: If you can’t speak up about where you want your career to head, you’ll never reach your full potential. If you can’t question the way things are done, you’ll end up feeling frustrated and unhappy.
It soon became clear to me that things had to change if I wanted to be happy at work and confident that my life was heading in the direction I knew it could.
Thankfully, all you really need to do to get over the fear of saying something stupid is by ensuring you don’t. And you can easily do that with a bit of preparation.
1. Define the Goals
Do you want more responsibility? Are you looking for some time off? Do you want to change the way business is done?
If you don’t have a clear idea about why you want a conversation your boss certainly isn’t going to either.
Your goals shouldn’t read like a shopping list. If you have something important you want to achieve, don’t distract your boss with other less important concerns that can wait.
2. See the Larger Picture
Naturally, your personal concerns are the ones that interest you the most. But however great the company or boss that you work for, your interests do not come first. So why should your boss agree to what you want?
Ideally you’ll have evidence of the tangible benefits that will result from what you want, but you can always remind them that a happy worker is a productive worker.
If what you’re asking for won’t benefit the company in any way at all, think about what you can do to make it a fair deal. If you’re asking for time off with short notice, offer reassurance that you’ll be able to meet any looming deadlines, for example.
3. Book a Time Slot
Don’t try and catch your boss at an unscheduled time. She might have an appointment looming or work to catch up on, and dealing with you will be the last thing she wants to do, which will hurt your chances of getting what you want.
Instead book an appointment, telling your boss what you wish to discuss. This will give her the opportunity to prepare for the conversation, allowing her to focus on the details of your argument rather than trying to make sense of what you’re saying.
While you need to respect that she can’t take a whole afternoon to talk to you, make sure you ask for enough time to discuss things thoroughly.
4. Don’t Rehearse Too Much
One potential pitfall of too much preparation is that instead of having a dialogue you try and work from a script you’ve rehearsed over and over again in your head. Listen to your boss and respond to what they’re actually saying, not what you assume or want them to say.
If your boss asks you something you’re unsure about, don’t try to wing an answer that you may end up regretting later. Instead, commend them on raising a valuable point that you’ll look into before getting back to them. Don’t let an unexpected hurdle knock you off your course.
5. After the Conversation
Remember to thank your boss for taking the time to talk to you. While your meeting might be over, your preparation isn’t — you now have the perfect opportunity to begin preparing for your next important conversation.
What can you learn from your encounter that will help you next time? Did your boss respond well to emotion or was he only interested in reason? Was he happy to make small talk or did he want to get straight down to business?
Take advantage of knowing how your boss likes things so the next time you need something you can get him in the perfect frame of mind before asking for it.
6. If Things Don’t Go Your Way
Whatever you do, don’t let a bad encounter permanently sour your working relationship — it will only make things worse. Remember that at the very least you’ll have a better idea of how to approach your boss the next time round.
If you think you’ve been treated unfairly, don’t jump at the chance to go above your boss’ head. Instead give it some time and ask if they’re willing to reconsider their position, bringing fresh arguments to the table. If you’re going to take your issue to someone more senior, it would be in your best interest to let your boss know.
Do you have any tips for how to talk to your boss? Leave them in the comments!